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Saluting Our Vets

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Air Force Captain & Surgeon Bailey, MD Has Done It All

 

ImageDr. Joseph A. Bailey, II served as a Captain in the United States Airforce from 1962 to 1964.  During his military stay, Bailey served as an orthopaedic surgeon for the military.

(From Bailey's book: Manhood in Black Americans p.370), Bailey states: By means of the Berry Plan, physician interns were allowed to choose the time they went into the military. My choice was at the completion of my internship because this provided the time needed time to get my teeth (e.g. cavities) fixed and do other "stuff" as a captain. While at the military base in San Antonio, Texas, a Meharry classmate and I went to a café to eat. Despite being in uniform, they would not serve us "colored people".  This took something out of me, as shown in no longer continuing to study for "wings" as a flight surgeon. It also started driving home the reality of the permanence of racial hatred and the necessity of preparing for it. 

In the Philippines, I was in charge of the outpatient department, including nine Filipino physicians and tropical medicine.  In medical school, I had elected to not pay much attention to tropical medicine since I thought it was a waste of time.  This taught me that every field of medicine is important if I was to be a good general practitioner.

The Filipino physicians under my command were excellent. They had been trained to perfect their observation, touch, smell, hearing, and perhaps taste skills as applied to diagnosis and treatment.  Therefore I spent time learning whatever they would teach me.  It was so enjoyable to treat patients that instead of seeing only the required 20 a day, I saw 80.  Seeing so many patients exposed me to all aspects of medicine and that was helpful in exposing me to medical options for subsequent specialization. 

Orthopaedics fascinated me because it was the only subspecialty of general practice I could not figure out.  Its variety seemed infinite. To learn more about it, I spent my off-duty hours helping the orthopaedists treat the wounded soldiers coming in directly from Vietnam to Clark Field.  The pleasure of learning while doing became a mindset which has persisted at an extremely high level to the present.  Orthopaedics suited my taste for carpentry and doing research on unique problems. Besides, it was so disorganized that it provided me innumerable opportunities to "create" in all its realms.

It was in the Philippines that I again came in contact with the Filipino "We" people and being among them off base allowed me to relax and really get to know them.  On base, however, I was alone because there were only two or three Black officers--whom I rarely saw.  Yet, I made several friends with Whites -- friendships lasting up to the present.  Still, the tension inherent in racism was palpable immediately upon returning to the USA as with the stares of walking down the street with a White girl next to me and her boyfriend on the other side.

While in the Air Force I learned the significance of having a "Presence" (giving off the sense of sitting right next to another even though you are standing at a distance) and a "Command Appearance" (the way you carry yourself causes others to respect you and not "mess" with you).  To maintain respect requires also talking the language of the listener(s).

There were many attractive features of the military, as in having subordinates do what you command them to do.  However, I did not like the focus on war and killing people (especially in order to satisfy the greed of Euro-American leaders). Thus, I left after two years and one day. I would not trade the experience but would not want to do it again.

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