Tales From the Sick Bay: Navy Medic Recalls His Time Aboard the Intrepid During the Vietnam War

Normally, Roger Jarboe was sent to handle cases of the common cold and broken bones.

“The men and women of World War II were the greatest generation,” said veteran Roger Jarboe, 69, of Colorado. “And they were, but I think each generation is great in its own way.”

Jarboe was a hospital corpsman serving in the medical department aboard the USS Intrepid during the Vietnam War.

Earlier this month, Jarboe returned to the former aircraft carrier for the 75th anniversary of its first commission – shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. The Intrepid, also known as the Fighting “I,” is now docked in the Hudson River just west of midtown Manhattan as one of several military vessels that make up the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum open to the public.

“You’re tripping down memory lane,” Jarboe told InsideEdition.com of his visit. “I stood in this chow line, I worked up on the flight deck, that’s the crash stack, that’s where I hung out. It really jars memories – the stuff you thought you forgotten.”

He said every day on board the Intrepid, from 1971 to 1973, he would roll out of bed at 6 a.m., get cleaned up, have breakfast and report to the treatment room in the sick bay for working duties.

“The medical service corps officer – if there was something going on that he’d need me to do, he’d say, ‘OK, you need to go start checking the first aid boxes,’” Jarboe recalled. “I was in charge of ordering the supplies, storing it – and we had seven different store rooms scattered around the ship because you didn’t want all your stores in one area because if you took battle damage, you’d be wiped out.”

Jarboe explained he often helped treat run-of-the-mill illnesses, like the common cold, seasickness and broken bones. More serious circumstances, he explained, would warrant the patient being sent to a nearby hospital with the help of a carrier onboard delivery (COD) flight.

There was one scenario, however, in which doctors decided it was too late and they would have to operate on board when they diagnosed a seaman with acute appendicitis.

“The doctor saw him, said, ‘We’ve got a hot tummy,’ and they [prepared to do] an emergency appendectomy on him,” Jarboe recalled.

They set up the small operating room in the sick bay area, set the patient on the table and began the surgery.

“In the middle of that appendectomy, we lost power. Instant total blackness,” Jarboe said. “The doctors were hollering their heads off, and some of us had to go in and literally hold battle lanterns shining down over their shoulders into the field of operation so they could see to finish up the procedure.”

He added, “The guy survived. He had no clue what happened.”

Not every patient was as lucky.

“We did have a couple fatalities while I was aboard, and those were always very sad, very hard,” he recalled. “That was part of the job.”

During his free time, Jarboe recalled watching movies or socializing with his fellow crew members.

“They had a soda fountain here, and when it was open, you could go down,” he said. “Did a lot of reading, lot of playing cards – Yahtzee, Acey Deucey. Anything to pass time.”

While some crew members complained about the food, Jarboe said he enjoyed the meals they were served on board.

“It was very good chow – got kind of old after a while but they had a menu that rotated every 30 days,” he said. “When the weather got bad and it was too rough to cook, you lived on cold beans and bologna sandwiches on paper plates. They couldn’t have the tables set up, so you just find a corner, plop down and try to eat your dinner – and hope it stayed down.”

Even though Jarboe explained the ship had certain mechanisms to ensure rough seas never affected the sick bay too much, one patient on the X-ray table took the brunt of the hit when the Intrepid met turbulent waters in the Atlantic.

“He never hit the deck, but everything else did,” Jarboe said. “The typewriter went flying off the deck and busted. They had big bins where they stored the exposed film for the patient – all those films came out. [The storm] did millions of dollars’ worth of damage to the ship during the storm because there were broken water lines, two of the hangar doors caved in.

But Jarboe said he never once got seasick aboard the Intrepid.

“I was too scared to get seasick,” he recalled. “Too busy.”