By Mary Kay Gominger
Sixty-six years ago, as AFRH resident Albert Stegall handed his shipmate a scalpel, he didn't think about everything that could go wrong. Forget the fact that he was a radioman on a submarine far out at sea and 150 feet below the surface, assisting a pharmacist's mate (that had never performed an operation before) in an emergency appendectomy on a crew member that was laid out on the dining room table in the officer's wardroom. Forget also the fact that an enemy Japanese destroyer was hovering over them and enemy aircraft was circling above. It was Christmas Eve, 1942, and Albert only had one thing on his mind and that was to help save his shipmate's life.
“The guy on the table was a friend of mine,” Albert said in an interview earlier this month. “I was glad I was able to help,” he said. “The surgery lasted four hours. It was a long time ago but that was a day I'll never forget.” The operation, onboard the USS Silversides (SS-236) turned out to be the war's most publicized surgical operation. The Pharmacist's Mate, Thomas Moore, armed with makeshift instruments and a volunteer surgical team, successfully removed a gangrenous appendix from crew member George Platter. It was later reenacted in the movie Destination Tokyo. This particular operation was but one of three appendectomies performed at sea on board U.S. submarines during World War II. The one on Silversides was the only one to be photographed.
During his 20 years with the Navy, Albert served four years onboard the USS Silversides and went on 10 war patrols. He joined the Navy in 1935. His world, like many others, changed forever on December 7, 1941. “Everything changed that day,” Albert recalled. “I was in San Francisco at the time. We were on our way to Pearl Harbor in a matter of days after the bombing. Nothing was the same after that.”
Upon retirement, Albert returned to his home state of Tennessee and, with his electronic background, easily got a job with a company that made atomic bombs. He was a quality inspector and said the job was very interesting. Albert joined his fellow veterans at the AFRH four years ago. The 91-year old has four daughters, a son and 20 grandchildren.