The Snoop

The Snoopgs

While pulling tidbits of history from the archives for the Looking Backward column this week, I found an article in the November 11, 1943 edition of the Douglas County Herald that referred to Elzie Hutchison.  

You may recall in October of this year, the Herald ran an article about Elza Evan Hutchison (LZ), an Ava native who was being honored at the College of the Ozarks.  During a private dinner ceremony hosted at the College, the family of LZ donated several items to the war museum, including the Red Chief notebooks LZ recorded his military stories in, artifacts and a flag brought back from the war, all items belonging to LZ.  The dinner was held on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and according to family members, LZ had quite a colorful military career, and the Red Chief notebooks were full of stories about LZ’s naval experiences on submarines, his daring escapes, and feats of survival.  

In the Nov. 11, 1943 edition, this story, as told by LZ, was written for The Snoop, and it is likely the column was written by Associate Editor David Joslyn who took the opportunity to share with readers the following incident.  The story provides insight into the challenges WWII soldiers overcame, and the tenacity and bravery they exhibited for a fellow soldier and friend.

The Snoop at the Keyhole

When Elzie Hutchison was here on leave from the south Pacific, where he had been in the thick of things since the war started, he mentioned knowing a pharmacist’s mate named Lipes, member of a submarine crew who performed an appendectomy on a fellow member of the sub crew when such an operation become necessary and the nearest naval surgeon was thousands of miles away. 

Elzie was not on the submarine on which the operation was performed, but he told of the incident because it is an unusual story and because he was personally acquainted with the pharmacist’s mate who had the nerve to attempt such a delicate operation. 

An account of the operation was also received here by Louis Davenport in the form of a newspaper clipping sent by Mr. Davenport’s son, Howard, who has been receiving training in pharmacy in the Navy station at Farragut, Idaho. 

Quoting the account, the story goes: 

“It was an acute appendix inside Dean Rector of Chautauqua, Kansas. The stabbing pains had become unendurable the day before, which was Rector’s first birthday at sea. He was 19. 

“The submarine was in enemy waters, Jap destroyers crossing the surface above it. 

The nearest Naval surgeon competent to operate on the young seaman was thousands of miles away. There was just one way to prevent the appendix from bursting, and that was for the crew to operate. 

The ‘chief surgeon’ was a 23-year-old pharmarcist’s mate, wearing a blue blouse with white-taped collar and squashy white duck cap. His name was Wheeler B. Lipes.  Once or twice he had seen Navy doctors perform an appendectomy, but that was all. 

In a room as big as a Pullman car drawing room, and so shallow you could do no more than kneel, they laid the agonized man on a table. 

First they got a medical book and read up on appendix. Every man from the box plane man to the cook had a role to play. The cook improvised an ether mask from an inverted tea strainer covered with gauze. The machinist rigged a handle for the scalpel from a hemostat. 

But what about ‘muscular reactors’ used in holding open the wound after the incision had been made – there were none.  Again they went to the cook’s galley, found the tablespoons, and bent these are right angles. 

Sterilizers? They went to one of the greasy, copper-colored torpedoes and milked the alcohol from the torpedo mechanism. One of the big flood lamps used for night loadings was rigged inside the dimly lit wardroom. 

It took Lipes twenty minutes, in his flap-fingered rubber gloves, to find the appendix. 

‘I’ve tried one side of the cecum,’ he whispered after several minutes, ‘I’ll try the other.’ 

Whispered bulletins seeped back into the engine room and crew’s quarters. 

‘The doc has tried one side of something and now is trying the other side.’ 

Suddenly, ‘I think I’ve got it. It’s curled way up into the blind gut.’

‘Two more spoons.’ They passed the word. 

‘More flashlights, and another battle lantern,’ demanded Lipes. 

The patient’s face, lathered with white petrolatum, began to grimace. 

‘Give him more ether!’ The can of ether was getting low. The fumes mounted up, making the crew giddy. Quietly the doc reached out his hand, pointing toward the needle threaded with 20-day chromic catgut. 

One by one the sponges came out.  Next, the tablespoons.  At the end, the skipper nudged Lipes.  One [spoon] was missing, Lipes reached inside the patient for the last time and withdrew the wishboned spoon and closed the incision. 

Half an hour later Rector opened his eyes. His first words were, “I’m still in here pitching.” 

Thirteen days later, Rector was again manning the battle phones, and the submarine was again launching her torpedoes. And in one of the bottles vibrating on the submarines shelves swayed the first appendix ever known to have been removed in a submarine.”

That, we think, is an epic of resourcefulness and probably will be one of the great stories to come out of this war. 

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