Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.~Psalm 28:6-7, NIV

Even though the Korean War was going on, I was deferred from military service during college and medical school. But with the conscription still in force, I knew that eventually I would be drafted; so I elected a military internship and surgical residency. Upon completion of my surgery residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, I was assigned to the naval hospital on the island of Guam.

On one ordinary tropical morning, just two weeks after we arrived on the island, the telephone rang. It was the commanding officer ordering me to come immediately to the hospital. A Lockheed Super Constellation with 90 passengers abroad had crashed into Mt. Barrigada. Soon our hospital halls were filled with screaming, crying, and badly burned people. Where to begin? I lined up the nurses and corpsmen to give injections of morphine for pain relief.

Since many were burned over 80 percent to 90 percent of their bodies, a condition beyond our capability to help, I knew I could only relieve pain and do tracheotomies for airways. Even though Guam’s temperature was at 99 degrees, with 98 percent humidity, there was only one air-conditioned room on my floor. With so much heat, it was important to get fluids into the burn patients quickly.

I looked around for help from my fellow doctors. None was available. Only nurses and corpsmen were with me. We had to open the emergency supplies maintained on site in the event of war, as we had run out of fluids and pain medications very quickly with these patients. I began to take each man-one by one-and calculate the fluids required and do “cut downs” for intravenous access and perform tracheotomies as needed.

I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the tragedy; but the words “men as true to duty as the needle to the pole” (Ellen G. White, Education, p.57) kept ringing in my ears. I continued cutting off the charred clothing and doing “cut downs” and tracheotomies.

Many did not survive the first 24 to 36 hours. I stayed on my floor 24 hours a day for the first week and slept when I could. I silently prayed over and over that the Lord would give me strength, courage, and wisdom.

The Lord answered my prayers. “We” were able to save all those who had body surface burns of 65 percent or less with no other significant injuries. A letter of commendation from the commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guam recognized our efforts; however, my real reward will come when I hear, “Well done,” spoken by the Master Physician.

Allen Botimer, CME class of 1955, is a general surgeon who practiced in Seattle, Washington. Now retired, he resides in Nampa, Idaho.