by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
To the lads on the boat he was known simply as 'Doc'. Every boat had a Doc… Submarines were so small, they didn't rate full-blown physicians on par with licensed doctors in civilian life. We had independent duty corpsmen. They were good… And our little Doc was numbered with the best.
Walter R. Rohre took a lot of ribbing. He was 'quack'… 'Voo doo man'… 'Pill pusher'… 'Which doctor'. We laminated him with every name we could dream up. But when all was said and done, no one on Requin would have swapped Doc for a bag of gold.
Doc was 'old navy'… One of those guys who could honestly say he had wrung more saltwater out of his socks than most of us had sailed over… Passed more lighthouses than we had passed phone poles… Old navy… Old time submariner… Combat pin boat sailor.
We used to say that Doc rode boats when they whittled the pressure hulls out of oak trees and trimmed them by moving wheelbarrow loads of bricks fore and aft… The old flathat and hammock navy.
To Doc, the after battery rats were just another bunch of disrespectful, hormone-active idiots in a long line of kids he'd stitched up, taped up, fixed up, and watched grow up.
His office was the corner of a table in the crew's mess. He would bring in his paperwork… Pack his pipe… Light it and ignore the wise-ass comments. The obligatory smart remarks of crew members passing, heading forward or aft. Inside, Doc knew that we all respected him and the career the gentleman represented… For indeed, he was a gentle man.
His practice was a three hundred eleven-foot iron tube with eighty-odd potential patients. We brought him our injuries… Maladies… Hangovers and hangnails, and he pulled the proper remedy from his bag of magic tricks and cured us.
His timely diagnosis of my bad appendix saved my life… When they rolled me down the passageway following my surgery, a four-striper asked me who made the initial diagnosis. I said,
"Doc Rohre, sir."
"Navy doctor on Orion?"
"No sir… Boat corpsman."
"Well son… You may not know it but if it wasn't for your corpsman, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"I guess I owe him a beer, sir."
"Son, you owe him your future."
That's heavy-duty obligation.
Whenever we had a World War II movie, we used to ding on Doc.
"Hey Doc… Was that the way it was when you, Bull Halsey and Mac whipped the Japs?"
"Why don't you idiots pipe down and enjoy your cinematic fairy tale."
He never bragged… Didn't have to. Anyone who ever had the honor of standing next to little Doc in dress canvas could inventory the hardware over the left pocket of his Chief's coat and erase all doubts of his wartime service. Walter R. Rohre was a sailor who hadn't missed a helluva lot of what naval service was all about. If he hadn't done it… It probably didn't need to be done. Doc was, and is, the genuine article… No one who ever knew Doc didn't get the feeling that he was in the presence of naval history. He was the no bullshit, no gedunk, hardcore boatsailor.
Doc looked on our nonsense and endless pranks with that old timer's disdain. To him, we were a bunch of 'rubber socks' boots. He had seen the likes of us come and go and knew that no matter how stupid and silly we were… The navy and the submarine service he loved, would survive. WE were fleas on the fanny of time and there would be another crop of idiots to contend with when we were long gone. It had always been that way. Sailors are transient parts of the history of ships, and the ships a transient part of the continuous history of the force.
As we grow older, we come to realize that.
I have no idea how many lads owe their future to the professional competence of Walter R. Rohre… He probably never kept count. But, I do know that I did.
So Doc… I still owe you that beer and in case I forgot to tell you… It was great riding Requin with you… And an old rubber sock is honored to call you shipmate.