Hello Society Members,
I want to honor all veterans today, especially those who are our Society members. As something different, I thought today we might honor in particular my 89-ear old father who is a veteran of World War II, Rev. Clyde Lee Finley. I think he has an interesting history that unites the history of the US Navy with the history of medicine. Read on!
Joining the Navy changed everything for my father, who grew up a poor boy in a southern cotton mill town in northern Alabama. On March 17, 1944, he convinced his mother to walk him down to the local recruitment office to join the US Navy. Because he was only 17, he had to have his parent’s permission. In fact, it was his 17th birthday.
Soon my father was on a train for San Diego and eventually assigned to the USS Savo Island (CVE-78). His first engagement with war was the Peleliu Island landings followed soon thereafter by the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf. Other engagements included Mindanao, Lingayen Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa. On the day the Japanese surrendered, my father was one of 50 men selected from his ship to take over the Ominapo Naval Base in Honshu. From there the Savo Island joined the Magic Carpet Fleet to ferry men home from the war. Arriving in Boston on March 16, 1946…almost two years to the day from his enlistment, my father was discharged and returned home.
So Clyde Finley was part of that great generation that defeated fascism. He entered a time and economy that made his short naval career a part of his success story. My father quit high school at 14. But he was given high school credit for serving it the war and was awarded his GED after 6 months of night school. From there he went to college and graduate school, thanks to the GI Bill, and spent his career as a Protestant minister serving churches for over fifty years in Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, and for most of his career, Virginia.
My father was a fantastic storyteller, and he still recounts stories of the war. There’s one about a kamikaze plane that grazed his ship, and another about a critical experience on a 40 millimeter gun. But the most famous one is the story of his appendix. This is where the history of Navy medicine becomes relevant! The story goes…during battle my father passed out and was found unconscious. Taken to sick bay he was operated on for a ruptured appendix. During the operation a new drug was used, penicillin!!! The doctor who operated on him told him that the drug had saved his life. Penicillin became available to the armed forces in 1943 during the war but wasn’t available on the market until 1947.
I hope this Veterans Day finds all of our Veterans enjoying the day. I hope they find time to reflect on what service did for them and how it shaped their character. And I especially salute those Navy doctors who operated in extreme circumstances, and in this case, I honor the one who saved my father’s life.
Annette Finley-Croswhite, Ph.D., Executive Director, Society for the History of Navy Medicine
Clyde Finley at 17