The angel of the orient steams weaponless to war
FEW SHIPS of any naval force are without weapons of war or protective armor, but the hospital ship Repose is an angel sans disguise.
In contrast to combat counterparts, Repose and her sister ships of mercy are awkwardly conspicuous and as vulnerable and harmless as a luxury liner. Her construction more consistently resembles the Queen Mary than it does any ship of the American Navy, yet her mission is no less serious than the most powerful man o'war.
"Protected" by rules of the Geneva Convention, Repose steams within sight of battle and amid hostile fire from both land and sea, fighting not with shore bombardment but with medical car, saving the lives that others aim to destroy.
But Repose is also involved in war - sanitary and quiet as it is. Her deadly enemies are the infectious elements of conflict against death and disease not confined to battlefields ashore.
Following the tradition she established in World War II and later as "Angel of the Orient" in Korea, Repose steams independently of the combatant fleet, her stark while silhouette and red crosses beckoning instead of discouraging all who seek treatment and care.
Since arrival off the coast of South Vietnam in February, 1968, Repose had admitted more than 10,000 patients and performed over 5,000 major surgical operations. And, her mercy mission is not only a contrast, but a countermeasure in the Vietnam war.
Her first arrival off Chu Lai did more, however, than revive this legendary ship of the white fleet. It immediately doubled the number of hospital beds available to the tactical zone nearest the demilitarized zone.
Initially, the 750-bed floating hospital steamed between Chu Lai and Da Nang, headquarters of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force. Her operating schedule includes stops offshore near Hue, Vietnam's imperial city, and Dong Ha near the 17th parallel.
Here, at the no-man's land bordering North Vietnam, the "Angel of the Orient" currently steams in slow, graceful circles three days each week.
Most patients are U.S. Marines and allied battle casualties form this sector which comprises 10,000 square miles, three million Vietnamese civilians and some 100,000 militarymen.
Like any hospital, however, here service is not limited to any national or social group. She is available to all humanity where a need exists.
In a suite of wards called International House, Vietnamese and other Asian men, women and children - civilian and military alike - receive the most advanced medical and surgical treatment and care the United States has to offer.
A landmark occasion occurred on Repose in August 1966, when the first open heart surgery at sea was successfully accomplished on a 13-year old Vietnamese girl. Many others since then have been saved by use of the cardio-pulmonary bypass technique.
Recalling a year as chief surgeon on Repose, Capt. William A. Snyder, a thoracic surgeon from Baltimore, Md., says, "We remember a lot of skinny, sick Vietnamese children who depart, often many months later."
According to Capt. James M. Campbell of Coronado, Calif., commanding officer of Repose, "Our humanitarian purpose just exudes and is apparent to everyone aboard."
Repose is equipped with the most modern equipment and facilities available, including a 250-unit frozen blood bank, an artificial heart and lung machine and an ultrasonic diagnostic device similar to a sonar.
Comparing the casualty treatment provided in Vietnam with the past, Capt. Herbert A. Markowitz, of Cleveland, Ohio says, "There are innovations and improvements in just the routine things. It's not unusual now to give a patient 50 or 60 units of blood, but in World War II this was almost unheard of and during Korea it was not common."
Now the third commanding officer of the hospital in Repose since here arrival in Vietnam, Dr. Markowitz was an orthopedic surgeon before World War II when he spent four years as a prisoner of war.
Currently, he says, the mortality rate is at an all time low of about 1.4 per cent for casualty treatment. About three-fourths of all patients admitted to Repose, however, will return to duty or a normal life and the remaining percentage of patients are transferred or evacuated to hospitals ashore for continuing treatment or recovery.
But the mercy mission of Repose and ships like her cannot be assessed accurately by the figures alone, staggering as they sometimes are. "Numbers are often deceiving here," says Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Donald G. Oppedal of Decatur, Ill., the senior enlisted man aboard. "Our effectiveness is measured by individuals every time."
Doctors, nurses, corpsmen and ship's crewmen total about 600, a small staff when compared to a large general hospital ashore. But on Repose, all hands are constantly on call. What's more, they cannot go home for a year.
By JO2 RICHARD EDWARDS
Stars and Stripes 18Feb68