1957 Flu Pandemic
Storyteller: Gordon P. Fields, United States Navy, Retired
Location: Mediterranean Sea
In the fall of 1957, while serving aboard USS Barton DD 722 in the Mediterranean Sea (U.S .Sixth Fleet), I experienced and survived a severe case of influenza. The ship was at Port Said, Egypt preparing to transit the Suez Canal, North to South. I was scheduled to have the first “watch.” As the departure time of midnight approached, I began to experience the onset of flu symptoms; headache, sweating, aches and pain, blurred vision, and general discomfort. It became necessary that I be relieved from my duties so I went “below” to my bunk. I wrapped myself in my wool blanket because of chills and slept. My bunk was on the top tier, mere inches below a steel deck that was extremely hot because the sun beat down on it! Some hours later I awakened and my bedding was soaked from perspiration. I got up and passing an opened door, I recall looking out and seeing the sand bank of the canal to starboard (right side of the ship) and a man was there sitting on a camel ― seemingly just a few feet away from me. I may have been hallucinating, but I believe it was real and not a dream. Within a few days I felt well enough to go topside and was able to eat lightly.
The illness swept throughout the crew. With so many simultaneously sick, manning the watch station was at an absolute minimum for safe operation. After we had all recovered, the U.S. Navy then required mandatory inoculation of all personnel! Guess what ― I became ill, again, as did others (not as severe, of course, but nevertheless, sick). For years following, all Navy personnel received mandatory annual influenza vaccination (the doctor was always setup at the head of the pay line!). I typically had a mild case of flu shortly following vaccination. After retirement from active service (1976), I chose not to have an annual flu vaccination and did not become ill with the flu. However, in about 2003, when I became convinced that influenza vaccines were prepared using dead culture, I resumed annual vaccination as I did this year (2009).