USS Midway


Encounter with a Coral Reef

By Bruce Lonardo



I guess every person in the Navy, at one point or another during their hitch, takes an unmitigated risk of some sort and in doing so puts them in harms way. I myself had a rather nasty accident of this sort, happen to me in the Philippines.

One day while my entire squadron, VA-115, was on a two week beach detachment in the P.I., I was working on the flight line in Cubi and it was a beautiful day. In fact, too beautiful because the temperature that day was over 100 degrees. What made the heat of the day even more unbearable was that the temperature on the flight line was probably around 120 due to all the jet exhaust blasting across the sweltering tarmac. The ironic teaser was the beautiful and delicious view of the crystal clear, refreshing waters of Subic Bay that we could see surrounding the flight line.

Being drenched with sweat and feeling char-broiled by the relentless Philippine heat, Chico Quintana, another guy in my squadron and I were working on the flight line and were both mutually ratified to the idea of jumping in that water-clothes and all, the first chance we got! When we went on our hour long chow break at noon, we grabbed some fast grub off the roach coach (the vending truck that came to the flight line), quickly inhaled our food, then headed straight for the beach which was directly across the road from the flight line.

The name of the station beach in Cubi was All Hands Beach and a general rule of the base was that no military personnel were allowed to go to this beach while in uniform. It was the order of the base that all personnel had to be in civilian attire, so for Chico and I, taking a dunk at All Hands Beach was not an option. However, directly adjacent to All Hands Beach was a sort of lesser refined, vacant and undeveloped beach area that didn't look too inviting but the crystal clear water seemed to be, or so I thought.

Chico and I both ripped off our Boon Dockers (work boots) and ran toward that water like two desert refugees running to an oasis. I did not get past my third step into the water when an intensely sharp pain shot through the sole of my foot and the water all around went red! I immediately ran back out of the water to see blood literally gushing from my left foot. A Navy Lieutenant Commander who was on the beach soon saw my predicament and he ran over to help me. The Commander grabbed a towel from his van parked nearby and he placed a tightly wrapped tourniquet around my ankle to stop the flow of blood.

When I dared to look at the bottom of my foot, I saw that from the mid arch to the forward part of the bottom of my foot was ripped open. “Oh no, what the hell did I step on?” was all I could say. The Commander told me he was pretty certain that it was probably a coral reef I had stepped on and he told me that I'd know for sure if my foot went numb. I was more worried by the sight of my bloody foot to even notice that my whole foot was going numb. After the Commander had wrapped up my foot, both he and Chico helped me up to the Commander's van and they rushed me to the base hospital. On the way there, the tourniquet slipped off and blood again began gushing all over his passenger side carpet.

When we arrived at the base hospital, I was immediately admitted when the receiving nurse saw the condition of my foot. I respectfully thanked the Commander for his assistance and some Navy doctors then took me into a treatment room. When Chico told the doctors that I had stepped on a reef, one of the doctors asked me if my foot was numb. When I told him that my whole leg was numb and felt like it was on fire, he confirmed it by saying… "Yes, you stepped on a reef alright! Don't worry, you’re not the first person to do this and you sure won’t be the last, but I hope you’re not afraid of needles!" He then pulled out a huge syringe with a four inch long samurai sword needle and another irrigation syringe. Because my leg was filled with poison from the coral reef, the doctor had to inject the entire four inch needle right into the wound on my foot and with the other syringe, irrigate all of the poison out of my foot. The pain was so incredible, I nearly passed out. After that, they sewed up my foot with about twelve stitches. I left the hospital with a cast on my foot and I was put on light duty for a month. The real bum irony was that I never even got to take my swim that day!