Party and surgery leads to curve ball, a military medical story

Our Bullseye newspaper staff at the party. They were a great bunch of guys. PFC Phipps is in the middle, back row, in civilian clothes. Staff Sgt. Perkins took the photo.

By Bill Derby, Publisher

Private First Class Phipps was assigned to our I Corps ‘Bullseye’ newspaper office at Camp Red Cloud in Uijongbu, Korea. He was from Bemidji, Minnesota. None of us had heard of such a place. Phipps even had a full year of college before being drafted. His higher education English class qualified him as an official U.S. Army correspondent.

It took a while for Phipps to fit into our close-knit office staff. He was married and very homesick. We were homesick too but were resigned to finishing our 13-month tour of duty half way around the world. Phipps was a quite person and wrote a letter to his wife every evening.

In a short time Private Phipps made friends and settled into Army life working on our newspaper. Camp Red Cloud had regular sports programs. Our football team was always last in the Korean Army league but our fast pitch softball team was number one. Phipps was a softball player. He joined the Red Cloud team as pitcher.

The moment Phipps stepped on the mound his quiet demeanor left him. He became another person. He let fly fast ball after fast ball. No one could put a bat on his fast ball. Our other team players couldn’t believe his speed. Overnight he went from a homesick PFC to base hero. He had every pitch but a curve ball. He didn’t need a curve ball. His fast ball was enough.

Our office had scheduled a reunion party for our previous Major Public Information Officer who was coming back from the states to visit us. We couldn’t figure why he wanted to come back to Korea. He had a reputation, not as a top-notch professional journalist but, as one of the biggest party guys on the whole base. Numerous stories circulated about his exploits. Every morning he would sneak out the back door of our office and head over to the nearby officer’s club and have a few ‘wake up’ drinks of crème de menthe, a flavorful liqueur. We knew when he returned as our office smelled of fresh mint.

For the party we all dressed in our class A’s and headed to a club across the road from the 51st Signal compound for the reunion party. Officers and enlisted were seated for dinner. A band played on stage. We posed for pictures with our old visiting Major. He smelled of ‘crème de menthe. He insisted we toast his return visit numerous times.

Phipps from Bemidji was not use to the liquid refreshments being served. As every veteran knows who has served away from home, you occasionally get a bad case of melancholy. Phipps had a double case of melancholy along with too many toasts. His emotions got the best of him and he accidentally crushed a glass in his hand. His right index finger was severely cut. Our career Cajun Staff Sergeant Perkins immediately unlaced his combat boot and wrapped the lace completely around Phipps finger to stop the flow of blood. Four of us volunteered to take him to our MASH unit hospital back at Camp Red Cloud. We loaded Phipps in the jeep and headed back.

We arrived at our MASH unit in our makeshift office ambulance. The Red Cloud MASH doctors were also having a party in celebration of a Friday night very much like the MASH TV show doctors. The Captain physician unwrapped the tight boot lace from around Phipps, now purple colored finger, and instructed us to put him onto the operating table and would be along shortly to sew him up.

The Captain and his enlisted medic soon arrived carrying a six-pack of beer. We were asked to leave the operating room. We peeked through the door, concerned about our friend. We heard the Captain ask the enlisted medic if he would like to sew Phipps up. Obviously the Captain was in no shape to sew anything that evening. Phipps also was in dire need of a bed pan from consuming the previous party liquids. We broke up laughing as our friend’s finger was being sewed up laying half naked on the operating table. After the operation we took Phipps back to his quarters. The next day he asked what had happened to his finger and we shared his medical procedure.

After a couple weeks of recuperation, the medics removed his stitches. His scar looked a bit crooked with an extra lump of flesh. Phipps didn’t seem to mind the ugly scar.

Softball season was soon approaching. Phipps began to get his pitching back into shape after his surgery. He still had the fast ball. But low and behold Phipps was now able to throw a vicious curve ball. He said he had never been able to throw a curve ball before. It must be the scar tissue putting the extra spin on the ball. Phipps again won the championship for us that year with his fast ball and new curve ball no one could hit.

And that’s the true story of how PFC Phipps got his curve ball.


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