Interview of Milton Domler
Transcript Number 084
SEPTEMBER 24, 2001
My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member at UNCW Library. We're interviewing Mr. Milton Domler on the 24th of September in the year 2001. We're at Mr. Domler's home at Boiling Spring Lakes.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Domler, tell me a little bit about Wilmington pre-World War II years.
DOMLER: Well I was born and raised in Wilmington. No, I think I'll change that a little, I was born in Wilmington, but raised in the Navy because after having been through Cornelious Hornet's School over in what they call Brooklyn, the northern end of Wilmington and then going out to New Hanover High, I, in the meantime, had joined a National Guard of North Carolina, the 252nd Coast Artillery Unit, that was at the WLI in Wilmington, North Carolina on Market Street. WLI stood for the Wilmington Light Infantry.
Well at this time I need to put my kitty cat out, just hang in there. Okay, I'm back with you, I had to put my little cat out. She doesn't like to be inside and it had just started raining, so she's reluctant to go outside.
At any rate, let's go back to where we were. At New Hanover High, I got there and I don't remember now the date, but I started in the New Hanover High on the same year that they started the fife, drum and bugle corps and (laughter) I was a drummer, not much of a drummer, but I was. We were not issued a uniform. We just wore an overseas cap, a brown overseas cap that represented infantry and we wore white shirts, white trousers, a black belt and a black tie.
INTERVIEWER: About what year was that?
DOMLER: I would say this was '37 or '38. I've sort of lost that for some reason or another. At any rate, it was the first year that they started the fife, drum and bugle corps. Well at the same time, I had already joined and this is a little bit of failure on my scruples, I had joined the National Guard in Battery A and the captain of the battery, he asked me my age and I told him I was 18. He said "Well what year were you born?" I told him and he said, "Well, you must have looked at your birth certificate wrong." He said, "You would have had to be born in '21 to be 18". "Maybe I did look at it wrong, Captain". The point being I lied to get in the National Guard.
But I did enjoy wearing a uniform and I enjoyed, all of my family, all the men in my family except for my grandfather on my mother's side, had been in the service, one type or another and so I was in the National Guard. At that particular moment when the captain signed me up, they didn't have enough summer uniforms for me to have my summer trousers which was sort of a gabardine khaki, so he said he would loan me a pair of his trousers because just per chance, we wore the same identical size. He found that out when he started measuring me.
So he said all he requested was that when I got issued my trousers that I have his dry cleaned before I returned them which I did do. All right now, time moves on along and in 1940, I joined the United States Navy. Well I feel like I was born and raised in that Cape Fear River. I learned to swim there. One time, I was almost about to get drowned because I had, in swimming, I had gone underneath the water and the current gets swift at times in that Cape Fear River. The current had carried me under the pier and when I came up, I came up on one of those cross pieces underneath there. I bumped my head and got a good mouthful of water. It didn't help my feelings any, I'll tell you that. It scared me.
At any rate, I loved the water and so I joined the Navy rather than join the Army. I figured I would do more traveling. And I do love nature, I love the ocean and what God has given us, the scenery. At any rate, when I went into boot camp in Norfolk, Virginia, and in order to do that, I signed up at the post office in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Mr. LaRoche that signed me up, I wasn't to see him for another five years. At any rate, he signed me up and we went to Raleigh, North Carolina to be signed in actually and then up to Norfolk, Virginia for boot training.
They, of course, ask you if you had any previous experiences. Well my previous experience was the fact that I had been trained with a squad and platoons in marching and training and drilling and the manual of arms and things of that nature so they made me the right guide of our platoon and that brings on more talk too because at the time, as I was growing up, I had no father because I was born...my brother had seen our father, but mom and dad separated just before I was born.
And so consequently, mother also lived in a house with the grandparents and so my granddad, in essence, he was the man that raised me. And with him raising me, my granddad would say he was a gardener, not a farmer, he was a gardener. He had a plot of land that was within the confines of the Atlantic Refining Company which is right on the river there in Wilmington and he was raising the vegetables to furnish the grocery stores in Wilmington.
So one day, he said, "Well let's take a little blow", he meant let's stop and rest because he was a hard worker and we sat down and where I was sitting, I was looking right down a row of turnips or mustard or something. It was low bush stuff and it was real long and perfectly straight. Well I admired that because being as little as I was, it was a long way down to the end of that row. And I asked my granddad how he made those rows so perfectly straight. He said, "Well", he said "Sit down at the end of that row like you are there and look intently and right on down at the other end, do you see anything at the other end of that row?" I said, "Well the trees". He said "Do you see one tree or two trees?" I said "Well there's one right down at the end". He said, "All right, now come over to this other row and take a look at it again from there." He said "Do you see anymore trees in front of that other row?"
I said "Well yes sir, there's one". He said, "Well that's the way I laid them out". He said, "I got those two trees right in line and took my push plow cause the soil was tilled and smooth. It was in good shape". And he went with the push plow and dug a real narrow trough all the way down looking right straight at those two trees, never moving, never looking at the ground and there was a perfectly straight line. And then he laid that off with whatever particular vegetable it was going to be, whether it be corn or turnips or rutabagas or garden peas, etc. and so then with his hoe handle, he would put a piece of tape around the handle and measure the distance between one row and the other.
They didn't all require the same width. He was a good gardener. He loved the soil. He knew what he was doing. And so he would put a stake down at this end and lined up on those two down there and so in all essence, he was teaching me, now he didn't know it, but he was teaching me how to lead the platoon in drilling in Norfolk, Virginia. And we use that same method in the Navy of getting on these markers coming into a channel and at one time on the destroyer, I was on the range finder up there taking bearings on coming into Mermast. What my granddad was teaching me was how to bring a destroyer into the harbor.
At any rate, you look back on these things and you appreciate them. You love them.
INTERVIEWER: Was Wilmington a kind of a small town that everybody knew everybody?
DOMLER: Well we didn't know everybody because Brooklyn and Dry Ponders, nobody ??. The Sailors and the Marines ??? and so that brings on more talk. We got acquainted with people. Sometimes we considered them friends and sometimes not, but it was a small town and you loved where you lived and we'd go down to Front and Princess Street and catch what they call the beach car to go all the way over to Wrightsville Beach. It was an all day excursion. It took a long time to get down there and you'd go swimming and then you'd take a shower and get all straightened out. Then you'd come back, so it took a whole day for the excursion. It was a small town. If I'm not mistaken, somewheres about 30,000 people at that time.
INTERVIEWER: With a big old movie theaters downtown?
DOMLER: There was a Bijou Theater and there was another one. I cannot remember the name of it now, but they were both on Front Street in Wilmington.
INTERVIEWER: Were they closed on Sunday?
DOMLER: I believe they were. I don't believe there was much doing in those days on Sundays except for going to church (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: And you and I talked about that. When you went to church, how were you dressed?
DOMLER: You were dressed spic and span. I will remember, I don't know whether to tell this one or not, but I had a beautiful tie with a big parrot on it and going to church this particular morning, I was bothered when I was a young kid with sinus trouble. I felt a sneeze coming on and I fumbled for my handkerchief to catch it and I didn't know, I hope you'll excuse this or whomever is looking, but (laughter) I brought up my neckerchief inside of my handkerchief. I was sort of conscious of that after going to church, I sort of cleaned myself up. But anyhow, but you were dressed neatly. I was taught to go to church with clean clothes, a clean body and a clean mind.
INTERVIEWER: Now air conditioning...
DOMLER: There was no such thing as air conditioning. As a matter of fact, there was many times when I felt sorry for our pastor cause I was raised in the Episcopal church and so we'd always have a pulpit there and so he would stand up there with his black and white garb (laughter). I know that he was uncomfortable. And speaking of the church, I'm glad you did, I was in the junior choir when I was a kid and my brother, he was two years my senior, he was an acolyte. As a matter of fact, he carried the cross in and there came the two candles, one for our Lord God and one for our Savior. Then the choir.
And so there came a particular Sunday when after services, the choir was in the robe room and we were taking our garb off and one of the other little fellas, I was going to say nut, but I won't say it, he was looking over my shoulder behind me. And I turned around to look and there was Father Hadley. So the Father looked down at me. I won't try to imitate him. I mean please excuse that, but he wouldn't say beans if he had a mouthful and he said, "Milton, don't you think you should turn loose the choir for a while until your voice settles down?" I said, "yes sir" (with voice cracking) and I was so ashamed of myself. I didn't know it was doing like that. So I turned loose of the choir. I never did go back into choir.
I enjoyed participating in it and I remember the first time that I went to church, I mean the first time that I remember that I went to church, I'll put it that way, and this was, we were in St. John's Parish which was close to the railroad crossing heading over towards off of North Fourth Street over into Genoway Park where we have the world's largest living community Christmas tree. It is still standing there today, not all of it. They have a tripod that's up in the middle just like you're setting the camera on here to hold the top of the wires that go to the lights around the tree. That's besides the point.
At any rate, mother was sitting between brother and me which was a good thing, self-preservation I guess. And right in front of us, above the chancellor, the chancellor is one step above the congregation, apparently there was a platform built one step higher than that for the choir and for the music operator. So she could look down at the choir you see. And so she had an old pump organ and her feet got to going and apparently there was a back that wasn't very strong and so she got up the momentum and the organ was going and she was agoing all in the same sequence there and so what stood out mostly in my mind is that organ music is most delightful for a church as opposed to let's say a piano. At any rate, that's one of my first memories and her feet, I remember her shoes were buttoned up, reminded me of Katherine Hepburn in the African Queen (laughter).
At any rate, I'm glad that my mother started bringing me out in the church. My faith has been with me. I've been through a lot in the war. Nothing fantastic. In the war, a lot of times, well let's say 85% of the 4-1/2 years of the war, I'd say I'd work seven days a week and so it was overbearing. It was something that had to be done. It's something you had no choice and some of it was rancid. I met some wonderful people in the service and I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact of having been in the service.
INTERVIEWER: When you were a young boy growing up in Wilmington, there was no radar and there was no television. There was radio. Do you have any memories of early hurricanes that hit Wilmington?
DOMLER: No, I don't believe I do come to think of it. I never have given it any thought.
INTERVIEWER: Was it such a natural part of life that...
DOMLER: Well you had your four seasons of the year which was very obvious as opposed to the fact of while I was in the service, I had a little over two years on the north Atlantic where you were colder than a clam in the Klondike. I had my face mask frozen over to where I couldn't breathe with the exception of getting air through and when you'd inhale or try to, it would flutter your eyelashes and you'd say "What in the thunder are we doing here?"
Well we knew what we were doing there because we're talking about when we were on the north Atlantic with the free Poles, the free French, the Norweigians and the British because the Norweigians and the free French and the free Poles had gone to sea to get away from their country, gathered what ships, destroyers and frigates, sloops, whatever they had to get away from there to help protect the sea lane so food and provisions could come to their country, but at that time, the villages were bombed and burned out and I was proud to be with those people.
It was a lot to do just having to live because in Norway and Poland, anyone caught with a radio was killed. There was no communications and so a lot of those people, they didn't even know if they had any family, remaining of their members of their family at all. It was a very poor time of life for those people. It brings back very vivid memories.
I was on a destroyer tender at this time. A tender is a repair ship, a mother ship. And so we would supply those people with provisions. We'd supply them with fuel. We had a good sick bay on board ship in case one of them was injured or ill and so those memories come back.
Now after the north Atlantic, we were out for another two years in the Pacific in the Marshalls, the Gilberts, the Carolina Islands and out there, you have no season. It's all just pleasant or hot or hot or pleasant, whichever. At any rate, but we were working consistently. I'd say seven days a week for the majority of our time.
While we were on the north Atlantic, I'm talking about the U.S.S. Prairie now. In a few minutes, maybe you can stand up here and I can show you some pictures of the ship and some artifacts and what have you. But at any rate, there was no place to go. We were in a bay there in Newfoundland and they had a pier there that was built strictly for our Navy and it was right adjacent to an airfield, an amphibious airfield so that the flying boats could come in there and then they'd climb up on the ramp or they could land on the land if it was good weather.
It was rancid weather, they wouldn't want to land. The north Atlantic gets ferocious. It is really a tempest and I have seen 18 and 20 foot waves where we would dive right through them because I'm talking about an old what they call four pipe, it had four stacks. Her bow was narrow and almost level and when she would dive, she'd go right into those waves and if you were on the deck, you'd be washed right off so we stood clear in those high seas.
So it was a rancid way to have to live, but it was a necessity. It was a matter of saving lives of people. On the cargo ships, they had no protection and in good weather, the submarines could sink them at their own discretion and we were out there to fight the submarines, to have the seaway open.
INTERVIEWER: You had a terrible, terrible accident causing pulmonary difficulties brought about by gas from a, was it a submarine?
DOMLER: It was sort of a submarine incident. Now I had thought about this, Paul. The way the camera is, we need the table and I can define an incident at sea where our cargo ship, a German U-boat, U.S. Coast Guard gutter Spencer that used to be in Wilmington, and the Bursa, a free Norweigian, a free Polish destroyer all had an incident there on the north Atlantic.
INTERVIEWER: I think we captured that on the other tape. That's a wonderful story.
DOMLER: Would you like me to explain that?
INTERVIEWER: No, what I'd like you to do is to get me into the Navy hospital.
DOMLER: Okay, all right, well now the cause of this incident at sea. This Spencer saw this submarine that was on the surface. She had to come up because you needed air. She needed to come up and get fresh air. She had to put air in her tank so, they can only come up so many times and then they have to recharge the air tank and of course, recharge their batteries cause when they're under water, they're propelled by batteries.
Anyhow, with this submarine, it was going to dive. Coast Guard Spencer was off about a quarter a mile from there and the submarine didn't worry about her because she had three inch guns and no depth charges where she could turn her bow and put a fish right in the Spencer. But anyhow, so the Bursa came up behind them and so the submarine was going to dive.
Okay so the Spencer went right in front of her to cut her off and she took the nose of the submarine in her engine room. Having done that, she flooded all that engine room and the Spencer settled down in the water, not to sink, because of the water tight integrity, she would stay afloat. But the submarine did fill full of water and slowly her weight pulled her out of the hull of the Spencer and went on down.
Now after they picked up the survivors because a few of the sailors had jumped over the side because they manned the deck.
INTERVIEWER: These are German submariners.
DOMLER: Yes, they referred to as U-boat. Well now then the Bursa took the Spencer in tow and towed her into Newfoundland and worked her long side of us and our ship fitters trimmed the side of hull on the Spencer, put a plate over that, sealed it off, welded it water tight and then pumped all the water out of the Spencer. Well all of the batteries that were immersed that were hers that were in there, it was my job as being a battery technician, you'd call it nowadays, just a plain old electrician's mate, it was my job to boil them out.
Well this was a new thing with the United States Navy. The battery lock was built with overhead vents and what have you that would take off the fumes of the sulfur dioxide gases and then go out to the uptake and go out into the air, but now it seems as though the chemical solution that you have then when you put salt into the sulfuric acid, you get a gas that's more like chlorine. It's a heavier gas so with my being in the battery locker, when I'd squat down, it's a regular routine of checking every cell every 30 minutes. So with every 3-cell battery, you've got to stand there and check the temperature of it, you'd take a specific gravity, you'd take the current that you're charging. You'd have to go through these cycles.
At any rate, it's a regular job, but I noticed when I was squatting down to get to the edge of these smaller ones, it's a real narrow passageway because the battery locker was full. At any rate, there are times when you, it's been a long time you've been at sea. You've been working for a long time. There's no place to go so you get back in the States and you have a highball. And it taste good so man that's all right. So you have another one and you find out, hey that thing is beginning to talk to me. Well if you do have another one then, you're smarter than anybody in the bar. You're so highly intelligent.
Well I got to thinking, I was here before these batteries and I'll be here when they're gone. Well little did I know, finally I got rubber knee'd and I had my clipboard and my thermometer and the meter and I flopped over backwards and I had no way of helping myself, so there I was, laying. The foam was coming down from the batteries and coming across my face and it was sticking to my face and I was trying to blow the foam off of my face because I was lying down facing the inboard door in the battery locker and so after while, my face wasn't burning me anymore. So I guess I was losing my sense of feeling you see, but I could still see. I don't remember having been scared. I just was conscious of the fact that there was not much I could do about this. I just had a dull feeling.
One of the fellas came into the battery locker and I had a cold water line and a steam line for cleaning the batteries at whatever and the men from the motor shop which was adjacent to me, they would come in there and get a percolator to take it in the motor shop and make a pot of coffee. All right, so as we would call it, a gopher, he was the low man on the totem pole, he came in with the coffee pot and right where he opened the door, there's batteries right in front of him cause the place was crammed full. So I remember he called my name a couple of times. Well I was looking, I guess, right through my eyelashes. He was down there at my feet, I could see him, and he called my name a couple of times. I couldn't move.
It scared the kid and the connections that you use to hook up those batteries here and there are like something similar to the jumper cable clamps that we use nowadays, but all of the....the way service batteries connected, like for instance if it was a 3-cell which would be 6 volts, to the inner cell connector from this positive to this negative and from this negative to this positive and you put them on in series with the outside on top of the battery, it's a long strip of lead. That way, you can burn this one off and this one off and lift that cell out. You can repair it, replace it, whatever it needed.
But in an automobile, you don't see those things. You just see those two posts sticking out. All right, so the kid got excited when I didn't answer him and I can understand that. I guess I was a frightening looking mess. Anyhow he dropped the coffeepot. Well when it fell on the closest battery there, it shorted them out with a spark. Of course, it didn't spontaneously...it blew the batteries apart. Well one had a spark and blew some of the others. I don't mean it blew the caps off. We had already taken the caps off to let the gas out of there. But it accumulates around that filler hole.
Well then he went running in the shop, motor shop, and I remember having heard him say "Domler's dead, Domler's dead". Well the next thing I knew, somebody came and had to walk all over me in order...I blocked the passageway. There was very little space in there at that time. So they drug me, they opened the outboard door. Well we're talking about the North Atlantic and it has rancid weather up there. We had three inches of snow out there.
Well inside I was good and warm. I was comfortable and I was wearing dungarees, short sleeves and so they drug me out and I remember, my arm felt comfortable so I still had a certain degree of feeling apparently. But anyhow, so in those days, they gave what they call artificial respiration. Nowadays they call it resuscitation. So anyhow, they got on me and started to pump me with out with the old and in with the new, pushing the thorax, back and two, back and two and then I started coming to a little bit. Then my face started burning again because acid was still on there. I mentioned to one of the guys and pointed towards the...the bucket...I had a double line lead line sink there. It had soda water in there to neutralize acid for cleaning the batteries. So I told him to go get that. I said put some on my face, so he put some on my face.
Well, like I say, the soda water neutralizes acid and so when it do that, it foams. Well he thought he was doing wrong so he started brushing that off there and I told him, no, put some more water on it. Anyhow so I got nauseated about that time and then they took me on up to sick bay and I was up there for a couple of days. Well the damage had been done, but this was a new thing to the Navy. They didn't realize what had really happened.
All right, so eventually...now we're talking about we went back into the tropics and out there, it was hot, it was sweaty. We were working day in and day out until finally by the time I did get back to the States, I was wearing this uniform here. And right now I can't even get my sleeves in the jacket much less get it on my arm. Anyhow, I was down, I finally got down to 110 pounds weight at 6'1" and some of my shipmates, (laughter) and I had some good men there, they had a motion picture in Charleston. They said, "Chief, how about drinking a soda pop, a cherry soda pop, and see what the temperature is". I was so skinny, I looked like a thermometer I guess.
Anyhow, the fact is they threw me in St. Alban Naval Hospital and up there, as a matter of fact, the doctor there, now maybe I shouldn't tell this, but the doctor came into my room there in the hospital there in Charleston where I turned myself in. I decided I needed some help. He told me, "You're going to die. There's no doubt in my mind about that. You're going to die. However we're going to send you to another facility that is a little more versed in your problem and maybe they can help you and they've got good facilities for recreation."
Anyhow the nurse came in after the doctor went out there and I said, "Miss". She said, "Yes chief". I said, "Was something wrong with that doctor?" She said "What do you mean?" I told her what happened and she said, "I shouldn't tell you this, I'm an officer too, but he despises chief petty officers". So he logged me in as a typical pulmonary tuberculosis and sent me to St. Alban's. Well they took me right into the tuberculosis ward.
INTERVIEWER: St. Alban's being where?
DOMLER: New York. And I think it's over the edge of Brooklyn I think, I'm not sure. Anyhow, I'm not that familiar with New York. Okay, so anyhow they got me in there and I found out I was in the tubercular ward so when the doctor came in to start checking on me what have you, I said "This is the tubercular ward". Well the doctor in Charleston hadn't said where he was sending me except to another facility. He said, "That's right Chief, you won't get tuberculosis in there."
They had to give me buckets of penicillin and at that time, penicillin was a wonder drug. I mean they gave it to you for everything. So they got a lot of that poison out of my lungs where they could see through my lungs. Well they kept checking my sputum and what have you to see if I had TB and so they, why I couldn't keep my food in my stomach. By 9:00 in the morning, I got rid of my breakfast. By 1:00 or 1:30, I had gotten rid of my lunch. And so finally they had to go extensively into my stomach, my lower tract, and they found out, as they refer to it, my bronchi, the tubes of my lungs had been traumatized some in the expanded position and some in the contracted position. Then my esophagus was burned. My stomach was burned.
So months and months, some of the miserable things they put you through. I don't want to go into some of that. It's sickening. Anyhow, but the gastroenterologist came up to the viewpoint that I had traumatized my digestive cells so that if I eat something that disagrees with me, then because I was burned, then two hours later, I'd be burning again because that food had gone down further into that upper tract. But at the same time, well let's say Paul that you like pizza, and I've got a slice of dry toast. Well I'm enjoying that toast. Well dry toast is good, I've got nothing against that. But you're enjoying your pizza, but you've got something hot and spicy on there you see. And so I see the water starting to run down your ear, got you on fire, but you're enjoying it.
Well then I got to thinking what was pizza doing to you and then I've got to run to the boys' room cause it has the same effect. My digestive tract doesn't go by taste, it goes by what I think. And so I had to watch, I have eaten grilled chicken sandwiches until I expect feathers to grow out the back of my neck (laughter). But through the grace of God, if you have the proper faith and can say well this is the best I can do under these conditions, you go along with that. You go with whatever you've got to do in life. Things are going to change and you look forward to that.
But at that particular time, you can't change things. You've got to hang in until status quo and that's what you do. So finally after they decided to...now they kept me with one pillow and no liberties for a solid year. They didn't want me to move my arms. They didn't want me to exercise. We have actually, we, I say I have seen the other fellas in there, I was in a ward eventually with all pulmonary problems, superheated steam cuts, shrapnel had gone through one guy, went through from his right lung, went to his left lung and took his left shoulder blade out and how he lived, I don't know.
At any rate, we were all pulmonary patients, mechanical pulmonary patients and you had to be thankful for what you don't have as well as the fact of what you do have. And it makes me proud to have been with those people. I wasn't enjoying myself while I was there. I'm no fool. I don't mean that. I'm just saying that I'm thankful that I lived in this area of time when I could help my country and be with some of the people that I've known. It's a pleasure of my heart.
INTERVIEWER: That's real comradeship.
DOMLER: Right, that's exactly what it is. Anyhow they kept me in bed for a solid year with one pillow and no liberties. I couldn't even go to the boys' room. But then they finally got me up on my feet, had to learn to walk again. Rather unstable.
INTERVIEWER: I want to make sure I understand. You were restricted totally and completely to bedrest.
DOMLER: To bedrest, absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: No latrine privileges.
DOMLER: I could have one pillow.
INTERVIEWER: They brought your food to you?
DOMLER: Oh yes, and the librarian would come around and bring you books and I'd double my pillow over up to read with, but we didn't have any radios. Where was it? I think it was just before I got out of the hospital, one of the guys in there that he had a family that had some money and they sent him a television set. It had about a 4-inch screen on it (laughter) and he said it cost over $300, I believe. But anyhow, I couldn't believe that.
It was really a quiet type of living. It was a fantastic thing. Now you had a thermometer on the bedpost in a little vial there and you'd take that out. When they come around every morning or afternoon, they'd take your T, P and R, temperature, pulse and respirations. I've seen the time in laying there, my respirations was 8 times per minute. Just as though they hadn't put the cover on your coffin yet (laughter), but you get used to the fact that that is your way of living. And so you live with that. You eat your lunch.
So they got to working on me and they put an iodine based oil in my lungs and then they'd slosh you like a pig on a spit so they could take pictures, a fluoroscope. That iodine will settle in crevices there and what have you, so they can see. Nowadays, through electronic machines, they can look in there and see everything. In those days, it wasn't primitive, but I mean that was the best they could do.
INTERVIEWER: That was early technology.
DOMLER: That's exactly it. And they'd go down in your lungs to look at one lung at a time. Like for instance, today they put a tube straight down in your lung and it wouldn't move. It wasn't flexible. And then they'd run the scope for the bronchus and then they could move the head around to look at it and they'd go "Ooh, aah, hey take a look at this". So the doctors could see what the patients were doing. I mean it was a learning experience for them.
INTERVIEWER: Now these are Navy physicians?
DOMLER: Navy physicians, yes sir. I was still in the Navy.
INTERVIEWER: And you felt they were competent?
DOMLER: Oh I had no doubt about it. Yes sir, I had all the confidence in the world for them. It was a learning experience and I thought many of times since then about the fact that for all that they were doing on me, what they learned on me, they could use that method, that system, that whatever on somebody else with a parallel situation and in all probability, some of the things that they were doing on me, they had learned off of a patient who is probably now gone, but the fact is they had learned how to help everybody else and I'm thankful for that. It taught those doctors, those nurses, those corpsmen a world of knowledge, it really did.
Anyhow they sent me to a VA Hospital for another 10 months of rehabilitation they'd call it. But a book, I mean to keep my sense for burning and what have you...as a matter of fact, in the VA Hospital, they, it was a given thing, in the hospital, the chief surgeon has to go around in the hospital to see every patient at least once a year. Just like in the Navy, the skipper of the ship has to pay the crew at least one time a year. Excuse me just a second.
Some of these subjects sort of talk to me. I hope you'll forgive me for that. They get to you (crying). At any rate, so this chief surgeon came in with the ward doctor one time in the VA Hospital, of course they had my name there like everybody on the clipboard, "How ya doing, Domler". "Well pretty good, Doctor. My 'ballet', it still sort of burns." I noticed the ward doctor said, "It's all in his mind". "I heard that". I didn't appreciate it. I mean this wasn't imagination. My 'ballet' as I would call it, it was burning.
INTERVIEWER: But they thought you were making it up?
DOMLER: That's what the ward doctor had inferred. Anyhow so he said it was all in my mind and so I said, "Well doctor, let's just say if you put me to a barium enema where you drink the chalk and you fluoroscope me and x-rays during the time this stuff is going through your system and if you showed me the courtesy of seeing those x-rays and it all showed up negative, wouldn't that satisfy my mind?" He said, "Well maybe". So the big chief said "Well, let's do that".
He picked right up on it. So the chief surgeon had them do that and apparently he was interested because he went ahead and about the latter part of the next week, well he came by. Here came the two of them and the chief surgeon said, "Well how do you feel now, Domler?" I said, "Well pretty good doctor. I have no complaints". He said, "There is something bugging you, isn't there?" I said, "Well I'm not sure. Something don't seem right." He said, "But you're not burning?" I said, "No sir". He said, "Do you get up and walk. You go to the bathroom, don't you?" I said, "Yes sir". He said, "Does your belly feel heavy?" "Well yes sir, it's very obvious. I can feel my belly bouncing"
He said, "Well what happened is, we've overdosed you to get you quiet. Now what we're going to do is cut down on that a little bit so that you won't feel your 'ballet'". From there on our, the other doctor didn't want to speak to me. But anyhow, they had found that I had burns in that lower tract that what was in the bottom of the stomach, about two hours later, it was bothering those places in my lower tract so it was a learning experience. So you're thankful that that's in the past and it's behind us. It's a goodly thing.
INTERVIEWER: When you got to the VA Hospital, were you confined to a bed?
DOMLER: Not confined, no. I mean I had my own bed, yeah, but I mean I wasn't confined to it, no sir.
INTERVIEWER: But now you can walk?
DOMLER: Oh yes, I was what they called an "up" patient.
INTERVIEWER: Go the mess hall, get your meals?
DOMLER: Yes, right, go down to the P.X. I think they called it where you could buy socks or stuff. We'd have freedom during the day up to a point, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Could you leave the grounds?
DOMLER: Oh no, no, no. Finally just before I left, I had permission that I could walk out on the grounds. Just be out in the open air. Now wearing regular shoes and my own clothes. You couldn't leave the grounds, no.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of treatment did you get at the VA Hospital?
DOMLER: Well the usual, but in this rehabilitation, nothing like physical exercise. They never gave me any physical exercise to do. It was just catching things as your body gets acclimated because like I said, I was just beginning to walk, see. And so I'd stagger like I was drunk (laughter). But I was proud that I was that far.
Anyhow so they had a place there, a little recreation room that they played pool. So I used to smoke a pipe when I smoked and so I still had my pipe and I didn't have any tobacco in it and I liked to carry it because of the fact it was my pipe and so I didn't know anything about pool. I still don't. Anyhow so we were banging the balls around on the table and this other fella was leaning over too and he said, "Whew", he said, "Domler", he said, "that pipe is gonna choke me to death". So I immediately threw it in the trash can (laughter).
But that's about the only recreation, I mean there was a little lounge room and what have you.
INTERVIEWER: Were you under medication of any kind? Inhalation therapy?
DOMLER: From time to time, they would still give me Amphodel if I would have a flare-up. The dietitian and the gastroenterologist had finally come to where they had to get specific diets for me, something that was bland because see I had started out as a liquid diet and then a Sippy diet and then a bland diet. Well a bland diet, everything is perfectly flat. I mean I've gotten used to flat food for so many years until I don't even use a salt and pepper shaker on the table. I mean I've got it there.
The Sippy diet, everything that's white is all ground up and sort of stewed, everything that's green, like cabbage or beans, like string beans or something, green beans, they're all ground up and stewed. Everything that's white like let's say sweet potatoes or purple top turnips or something, you can't tell by looking at it what it is until you try tasting it. It don't leave (laughter) anything but the imagination. I mean you just have to go by imagination. Anyhow, the bland diet is really more tasty than the Sippy diet. But the bland diet has the same amount of salt. No seasonings whatsoever. The only seasonings I know is winter and summer (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: Were you gaining any weight, Mr. Domler?
DOMLER: Oh yes sir. As a matter of fact, yeah, you hit a point there, I quit smoking and I think as well as I remember, I put on about a pound a week until I gained almost 30 pounds and so I started, with that... As a matter of fact, one of the guys told me, he was in the chow line walking, this is in the VA Hospital and he said, "Domler, I can see your jaws from behind as easy as I can see them from in front now" because I was getting baby fat. Well then after I got out of the gaining stage, I settled down and I lost like that baby fat and so then I maintained that. So I've maintained my weight now, I'm wearing the same clothes, size that is, that I did in 1960.
INTERVIEWER: I forgot to ask, where was the VA Hospital?
DOMLER: This was in Swannanowah, North Carolina. It was the General Moore Hospital I believe they called it.
INTERVIEWER: Up in the moutains.
DOMLER: In the mountains, yes.
INTERVIEWER: And you were there for how long?
DOMLER: Ten months.
INTERVIEWER: When you look back on it, was that grim duty or was it pleasant?
DOMLER: Well what we're talking about is you're with people that are service people or at that time, ex-service people, and so consequently you share a lot of your feelings, not necessarily out loud. I mean it's one of those things that the next guy don't have to say, "I've worn those shoes". It's a good feeling. You don't have to have something extraordinary for entertainment. I mean you've got yourselves. Some of the guys take up art and different things as part of their rehab. But you don't have to sit there and cry on one another's shoulders, it's not that type of a thing. But it's the fact that you know he wouldn't be there if he hadn't been in the service, if he hadn't had been messed up. So it's sort of a compadre thing.
INTERVIEWER: I always ask the veterans the same question and I'm going to ask you. Give it some thought and then would you look right into the camera and tell your grandchildren and your great-great-grandchildren what you think. The question is this, you were in the Navy what, 10 years?
DOMLER: Ten years, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Saw all sorts of things, fought on both oceans, met thousands of people, good times, bad times, hazardous times, what did you learn from all of that? What would you tell your grandchildren about military battles and life and the war experience that you had?
DOMLER: Well I would say that the basic things in life is the fact that I appreciate very much that my mother started my brother and me in church at a very young age. We believe in and love our Lord God. We have a tremendous respect for our country because we've fought, we've lived, we've died since the 15th century to keep this a free country and it's worth it because there are a lot of countries where you can't go from one country, one county, what have you, without having identification. But as it's been proven here in the United States, the Muslims can come over here and they can get on an airplane just as easy right now and fly in our skies as I can because this is a country that's free and it's well worth fighting for.
But my main thing in life, I would say is you've got to keep your faith and love one another and whatever the job is, try to do the job to the best of your ability because the fact is that every job has got to be done by somebody and when you finish your job, you're proud of what it looked like. I felt like for the first year in the Navy, I was married to a swab. I guess I pushed (laughter) that swab 50 miles, but after you've cleaned the compartment, everything is ship-shape you're proud of the fact that you've done a good job. If you didn't do it, somebody else would have to do it. In the meantime, he's having to do his job.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds for the world like that early lesson with your grandfather stayed with you all of your life.
DOMLER: I loved my grandfather. I thought the world of him. I've never heard him say a nasty word. He chewed apple tobacco. He never did teach me to chew apple tobacco (laughter), but I mean I loved him and thought the world of him. As a matter of fact, I can well remember he would sit on the front porch with his heels on the bannister and grandmother always had plenty of roses out there and he'd chew tobacco and he had a double explosion type spit. He'd go "Patuiee", well "Pa" was the load and "Tuiee" was the spray and he'd blind me with that thing. It would burn my eyes. My grandmother would come out there and she'd grab me and carry me to go into the bathroom or the kitchen and wash my eyes out. She'd say, "You're going to blind the boy". "Oh shaw" he said, "You'd be there to wipe his bushy moustache". I'd get my face and eyes washed and would come right back out there and get in his lap. I loved him and I still love the memory of him. I have a shotgun today, an old Armour Johnson 12 gauge modified that I inherited from my grandfather and no matter of money could buy it from me.