Missouri veteran recalls service as surgical technician
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — In 1952, Emil Fischer had graduated from Russellville High School the previous year and was working on his father’s farm in Lohman. It was at this point he chose to join the newest branch of the armed forces — the U.S. Air Force — which, at the time, was weeks away from turning 5-years-old.
“My older brother had already been in the Air Force for a couple of years and the idea of flight for some reason had always intrigued me,” Fischer said. “I went to see the recruiter in the old post office in Jefferson City, signed up, and they sent me to St. Louis for my physical and in-processing.”
Shortly after signing his enlistment documents in May 1952, the young recruit was on a train bound for his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Weeks later, with his initial training complete, he recalled sitting in the barracks for several days and watching as his fellow airmen departed for their various duty assignments.
“There had been about 50 of us in the two-story barracks, but after a few days, it was just me and our technical instructor staying there,” Fischer said. “Eventually, I went down to talk to our captain, and he said not to worry about it, just to have my duffel bag packed and be ready to go.”
The following day, the veteran said, he was picked up in an Air Force truck and driven across town to Fort Sam Houston, an Army base where he spent the next few weeks undergoing specialized training to become qualified as a surgical technician, the Jefferson City News-Tribune reported.
“I learned everything about general medical procedures, such as cleaning wounds and giving shots,” the veteran said. “One of my primary jobs was to hand the correct surgical instruments and medical supplies to the doctor during a surgical procedure.”
When his medical training was finished, he received orders for his first duty assignment at the former Walker Air Force Base near Roswell, New Mexico. Shortly after his arrival, he was assigned to the base hospital, spending the next two years of his enlistment assisting with surgical procedures.
“I assisted in about every type of operation you can think of — tonsils, appendectomies, caesarians,” he said. “It was really interesting. It really was.”
Although he was accustomed to providing medical support to others assigned to the New Mexico air base, Fischer became a patient when he began feeling ill on a day he was off work. Hours later, he was in the base hospital having his appendix removed by the medical personnel with whom he served.
In the fall of 1954, the young airman from rural Lohman received his first overseas experience when he was transferred to Sidi Slimane Air Base in Morocco (Northwest Africa). The base was used by the Strategic Air Command to house bombers that could deploy in response to Cold War threats posed by the former Soviet Union.
“We were about 100 miles from Casa Blanca, and I spent a year there working as a surgical technician in the base hospital,” he said. “We lived in these long wooden huts that were not cooled; rather than windows, they had screens with a wooden cover that you could open to let air in,” he added.
While stationed at the overseas air base, Fischer said he and other medical personnel were sent to Algiers for a brief period to provide medical care to individuals injured in an earthquake. In addition to the humanitarian medical mission, the overseas duty assignment also provided certain recreational opportunities.
“A team that I played with won the softball championship for the base, and me and a lieutenant won the table tennis championship for the base,” Fischer recalled. “We’d also take trips and on one occasion I got to see the Rock of Gibraltar, which really intrigued me because I had read about it years earlier.”
The airman completed his overseas duty in the fall of 1955 and was transferred to Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster to finish out the remainder of his enlistment by working in the office for a flight surgeon. Receiving his discharge in May 1956, he married his fiancée, Juanita, days after returning home.
Using education benefits he earned by serving in the Air Force, Fischer enrolled in a trade school in St. Louis in 1957, studying indoor electrical work for the next year. He then returned to Jefferson City and joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 257 (IBEW 257).
“For several years, I worked at Howerton Electric and at the nuclear power plant,” Fischer said. “Eventually, I became assistant business manager for (IBEW 257) and later became their financial secretary and business manager before retiring in the late 1990s.”
A member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fischer affirmed his experience with the Air Force — most notably his service overseas — helped him realize the quality of life he has enjoyed as a U.S. citizen.
“A lot of people don’t realize how well we have it here in the U.S. or what it takes to keep it that way,” he said. “I have always believed that every U.S. citizen has a responsibility to serve their country in some capacity because it gives you an appreciation of the sacrifices that have been made.”
He added, “Once I was out of the service, I would have gone back in a second had they needed me and called me back to serve.”
Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, http://www.newstribune.com