I’m Greg McIntyre and this is lunch with a veteran. Today’s guest is Dr Frank Sincox who is a physician and a Flight Surgeon for years in the US Navy.
He already has a warm spot in my heart because he was in the Navy and spent time on aircraft carriers. I like to say there is no better uniform out there than dress blues.
FS: I like dress whites.
GM: You like the dress whites better?
GM: You were on the CVS15 USS Randolph, that was a big carrier. I was on the Nimitz and the Constellation. I want to say the Constellation was CVN64 and I think the Nimitz was CVN68. The difference was the Constellation was a diesel and the Nimitz was a nuclear carrier. The Randolph I’ll bet was a conventional diesel.
FS: It is. It’s basically Essex class left over from world war two.
GM: On the picture of the Randolph you can see more advanced aircraft.
FS: They had hydraulic catapults and they can’t handle the weight of new aircraft. They require steam catapults. There’s more energy in steam.
GM: Now there is a new catapult system?
FS: Yes, there is electromagnetic.
GM: Like a rail gun kind of thing in the new, is it the Reagan class?
FS: I’m not sure.
GM: I think they are going to shift to those. I remember sleeping in a ninety man berthing on the Constellation and the Nimitz right below the flight deck essentially. In that front area of the carrier on the hangar deck level up in the front they had the steam catapults going off and you just learned to sleep through it.
FS: My sleeping area or berthing compartment had the same thing, it was on the 02 level and all night long you could hear that catapult, CABOOM, and the whole ship shakes. Tremendous amount of energy.
GM: I don’t ever remember not sleeping because of it though. I just got used to it.
FS: Yeah, it’s like living in a town close to the railroad tracks, you get used to it.
GM: And it is like living in a town. You’ve got a ship full of five thousand men, or men and women now, it’s like living in a town.
FS: It is.
GM: So, you live in Kings Mountain and practiced your career there?
FS: Since leaving the Navy.
GM: You were born in Michigan and moved around with your parents, and you have gone through experiences with different levels of service. I think this show is a great example of how the military can assist you, although you may have been a physician without being in the military but it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you are doing, the military can assist you as long as you have the drive and the intelligence to do it. You were closely affiliated with the military from a very young age?
FS: I was, my dad was in the Navy, he was in the Navy in world war one. He sure did a couple of different ships, and I think, what the veterans have given this country and the people of this country is not fully appreciated by the young people today. They take it for granted that all these freedoms were somehow descended from heaven and weren’t earned. There are people like me who served and came back and there are people who served and didn’t come back. We talk about the national debt but there is a debt that everyone is this country owes to veterans as a group. Those who served in combat and those who didn’t serve in combat but at any time could have, it’s not like I respect them any less. Anyone who was a store keeper or worked in a warehouse could have been pulled and sent to the front lines at any time, so I don’t think there should be a distinction between combat veterans and non-combat veterans. I think organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and many others as they try and tell people what veterans do for them, they need our support.
GM: I agree, when you sign a contract to enlist or be commissioned into our armed services, you are basically signing your life away saying, do with me what you will and I’m willing to sacrifice my life, and in exchange the military gives me certain benefits. Sometimes this includes healthcare and paying for college.
FS: I think one of the biggest benefits, there are so many young people growing up who maybe don’t have a good role model, or have no goal orientation, they are just sort of drifting around and the military is not for everyone but the biggest benefit is, you learn some self-discipline, goal orientation and you learn the satisfaction of a job performed well.
GM: I think another big thing for me is when you’re a kid going in, we don’t like dealing with things, people don’t, but you learn to, and I learned to operate in their system and accomplish my goals was a big part of it.
FS: Some of the things in the military system such as taking orders, if you don’t like it you get out and get a job, and guess what, you have to take orders there too.
GM: I have my own business and I have a ton of bosses to contend with. First my wife, my employees, judges, clerks, so I have a ton of bosses and systems that I may not always agree with but I need to learn to operate within it to be successful.
FS: And that is one of the advantages of military service is you learn there are some great bosses and great leaders and there are some that aren’t so great. You learn how to get along with them and do your job. Another benefit of being in the service is goal orientation.
GM: And it’s the same in civilian life as well, people conduct their lives with their habits and how they take care of themselves.
FS: Self-discipline is another thing. I had junior ROTC and ROTC.
GM: So, you started off in high school in junior ROTC when the Korean war was going on.
FS: You march and you drill and you say why is this important? You learn how to do something with a group of people. I really didn’t like the marching and drilling until I had done it a while, and then it was like, this is how you work as a unit. Yes, in the military you have to work as a unit but in civilian life you also have to.
GM: You have to work with people. Some people will say, I just couldn’t go into the military and I just chuckle because I wonder how you conduct yourself with your regular job. Can you perform well for your clients, or employees or your boss?
FS: In the Navy, you stood watches and showed up on your watch ten minutes before duty time. If you’re not on time, you’re in trouble. If you don’t like that, go into civilian life and you show up to your job not on time, pretty soon you won’t have a job. There’s not a lot of difference.
GM: After the junior ROTC you were in the US Navy reserves inactive during your first two years of medical school. You said you went to medical school from 1954 to 1956 at Emory University in Atlanta. In 1956 to 1957 the rules changes and you were allowed to join the US Naval Reserve.
FS: One weekend a month and two weeks in summer.
GM: And 1957 to 1958 you were active duty.
FS: You had a chance to go on active duty, get Ensigns pay and that helped with my medical school expenses. It also incurred another one year obligation.
GM: You had to pay back the military?
GM: So the military paid for your medical school?
FS: No. Now they pay for it all but then they didn’t pay for med school, I got a monthly check.
GM: The military paid for my undergrad and when I got out I went through the GI. Bill and I got about a thousand a month which paid for my mortgage and some groceries. It allowed me to complete my education.
FS: The GI. Bill has helped a lot of people. None of what I was on was GI Bill. The military is a great opportunity for our young people, whether you stay in it or not for a two year reserve or a four year active duty, it can help in civilian life. Sometimes you go in and have a job that has a close connection to a civilian job and other times there is no connection. If you were on a carrier and you’re loading bombs, well there’s no civilian job like that. There are hazardous material jobs so it can be useful.
GM: It would be like the AO’s, or red shirts. I would walk past the AO stations on my way to breakfast or wherever, and there were the bombs, right beneath where we slept. I never thought a thing about it then but if one of those had gone up, the whole thing would have.
FS: You wind up having so much trust in your fellow shipmate. You feel safe because this guy took fire training and knows how to put out a fire. It is said that in actual combat, the usual fear is not of getting injured or dying, the average guy in combat, his biggest fear is that he will let his buddy down. There is such a bond in combat and even in practice for combat. There is a pride and a bond that makes you proud that you’ve done that.
GM: You have had a distinguished career. During the cold war you were on the USS Randolph aircraft carrier which was a sub hunting aircraft carrier and you were patrolling the Atlantic and between Cuba and the North Sea ports of Russia.
FS: The Russian subs we were concerned about were the guided missile subs. They had sixteen nuclear weapons, that’s sixteen American cities. Each sub could destroy that. We knew we couldn’t get all of them but one we got would save sixteen cities. The submarines would come out of the North Sea ports and transect the Atlantic to be near our coast and go down to Cuba to refuel. We could destroy them but we sure wanted to keep track of them. We also kept track of the ships going to Cuba. We would take pictures of them. One time we took a picture of one of them and right on the deck was a missile, and then we knew Russia was sending missiles to Cuba and that was when President Kennedy came in.
GM: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
FS: Yes. From your time at sea, that ocean is big. You get on a ship and you figure it’s going twenty knots, that’s twenty two miles an hour, and you go for a day, that’s four hundred miles, two days that’s eight hundred miles and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see anything, just the sea. That’s a big ocean.
GM: They’re a lot faster now. I would think the fastest ship would be a carrier, that’s my guess.
FS: Well, some of those new subs are pretty fast too.
GM: I don’t consider those ships though, they sink. Who would get on a ship that sinks. I’ll have to interview some bubble heads.
FS: For us, subs weren’t ships they were targets but to them we were targets. The submariners that’s what they say, there are two kinds of ships, submarines and targets.
GM: I met some of our submariners at the Military extravaganza recently, they had a booth there.
FS: I saw them too, I talked to them.
GM: They told me they were called bubble heads. I didn’t realize that was the nickname. They affectionately call themselves bubble heads.
We were like the geeks who worked on the electronic circuitry. It was very good experience in trouble shooting problems.
FS: When you trouble shoot a radar set, there are certain steps you go through like a logarithm, I’m sure how you trouble shoot a problem has helped you through school and in your job.
GM: It helped my trouble shooting skills as well as discipline, and I imagine trouble shooting a human being isn’t too far off.
FS: Same thing, you say these are the possibilities and how am I going to separate which is which. Problem solving is the same whether it’s legal or medical.
GM: It’s just simply problem solving, and you can get really creative, even within the discipline of that.
Now, you were a Flight Surgeon in the Navy and you were involved in some of the NASA pick ups, such as John Glenn?
FS: Well, he came back to the carrier but I wasn’t directly involved, I was aboard the ship.
GM: If you were aboard the ship you were involved.
FS: Well, actually what happened is, the NASA physicians came up and they sort of took over our sick bay area, our medical area, and so when John Glenn came aboard I was all excited and wanted to offer my help as a Navy Flight Surgeon, and I said, what can I do, and they said you can get out of here and leave us alone. They chased me away, didn’t want anything to do with me.
GM: The only time I remember going to sick bay on the aircraft carrier was when I was walking through the hangar bay one evening, it had been a long day, we worked twelve hour shifts and there was an F18 Hornet rear wing that I didn’t see and I walked right into it and it split my head right open. I have a scar on my head from it. I had to go get a shave and get stitched up.
FS: Like you said, an aircraft carrier is like a city, and just like in any city there are accidents. If you cut your head, I would be the one who stitches you up.
GM: I might have had some dental work also.
FS: The sick bay aboard ship is just a couple of rooms where you could examine people, there’s an operating room and about twenty beds for sick people, but there is another area of about a hundred beds. We talk about a carrier fighting wars but if there is volcanic activity, or a hurricane, or typhoon in one of the Pacific islands, you send a carrier down there, they can distill and produce enough fresh water for a town of ten thousand people. They can serve ten thousand meals a day to people and provide hospitalization and care for several hundred people. It’s a war machine but it can be used as an instrument of peace too, so when there is a natural disaster just send your carriers there. How many other countries do that?
GM: Not a lot. There’s not many with that type of capability.
FS: Other countries would to but don’t have aircraft carriers.
GM: The US, Britain, Russia, France and now China.
FS: It can be used as an instrument of war and has a tremendous destructive capability but can be used as an instrument of peace too.
GM: And political capabilities. You can park a carrier in Hong Kong Bay and you are there to protect and intimidate.
FS: The one that first came out with that, a great president Teddy Roosevelt came out with what he called the great white fleet. He painted his ships white so they would stand out. He would send them to foreign ports to say, hey, this is the United States Navy, don’t mess with us. Speak softly and carry a big stick. The white fleet was his big stick, and today our carriers are our big stick for war but also for peace.
GM: You guys also picked up Gus Grissom right?
FS: Yes. John Glenn was supposed to land close to the carrier, he actually landed near a destroyer, the USS Noah which picked him up and brought him to us because that was where the media was, Walter Cronkite, and the NASA physicians. Gus Grissom we picked up directly. That was an exciting thing to be a part of.
You know how crowded it is aboard ship but imagine you bring your whole group with you. There’s about five or six thousand men and then you bring in five hundred media and press and NASA and everybody else. Everyone gets sandwiched in like sardines in a can.
GM: They would bring people on ship from time to time, movie stars and such people and the press, and it was crowded. I never felt too crowded when aboard even though we had two or three berthing but I always managed to get top bunk.
FS: Let me tell you another story of peace time. One time I was aboard the carrier in the sickbay and we had to do an inventory of all our surgical instruments. We had a bunch of surgical instruments, but way down in the hold of the ship we had tons more of them and we had to do an inventory.
FS: You had to do it periodically. So I went down there.
GM: Into the bowels of the ship?
GM: That always made me nervous the lower I went.
FS: There was all these surgical instruments ready to be sterilized, there was forceps used to deliver babies in there. We didn’t have women aboard ship then. I said, what in the world is someone thinking putting all these things aboard ship. There were boxes there and I’m thinking they don’t know what they’re doing, why would they do this? Well, a couple of months later we were cruising around and the dictator of the Dominican Republic got shot and they thought there would be a civil war, so we went full speed towards the port. Our job was to evacuate American citizens and I said, you know, some of them might be pregnant women, and so the people who provided those instruments weren’t so dumb after all. I was the dumb one, I didn’t think. I thought it was a fighting ship, I never thought it might have a mission of evacuating civilians from a civil war possibility in a foreign country. Things that look like they don’t make sense may make sense after all.
I’m sure during your career you got an order and you thought that doesn’t make sense, they don’t know what they’re doing, and later you found out that the one who didn’t know was you.
GM: You were called back up for service in the Gulf War as well. Did you go to Iraq?
FS: I was. We went over and were about twenty miles from the Iraq border because we were in Saudi Arabia which was friendly to us. We flew Cobra helicopters over there which were basically tank killers, and Saddam had tanks but someone had got there before us and most of the tanks were smoldering ruins. That was a war that was over almost before it started. We faced the possibility of doing an amphibious invasion on the beaches of Kuwait to push Saddam out. We knew the beaches were mined and from a medical side we were looking at five to ten thousand casualties first day from mines but it never happened, we didn’t have to invade so we didn’t get the casualties but you had to prepare for it. Things like the cold war and the military in peace time, it seems after every war we just tear down our military and then something happens and we are caught unprepared. We need to keep ready, not just stand down.
GM: I agree, we need to be ready. Thank you so much for talking with me and for your years of service to our country.
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