The Doctor’s Letter


Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian, a bombardier with the US Army Air Corps during WWII. Yossarian becomes convinced that the military will never let him go home as they keep raising the required number of missions – so he seeks another way out. In 2011, we finally found my grandfather’s war diary; this was the diary my father always said I should compare to Catch-22. What followed was years of research and a realization that Papa Julie’s World War II story was known by millions, but somehow eluded those of us closest to him. 


Doc Daneeka: There’s a catch, Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.

Yossarian: That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

Doc Daneeka: It’s the best there is.

Catch-22 movie (1970)

In Catch-22, Yossarian pleads with Doc Daneeka to diagnose him as “insane” in order to be relived from duty.

“I’m nuts. Cuckoo. Don’t you understand? I’m off my rocker…They’ve got a licensed psychiatrist up at the hospital who examined me, and that was his verdict. I’m really insane…Now you can take me off combat duty and send me home. They’re not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?”

Yossarian; Catch-22, Chapter 27

As discussed in my last post, “Finito!” was how Lt. Fish emphatically stated the end of his tour of duty in his diary after completing his 60th mission. The missions limit was set at 60 at that time and Lt. Fish was ready to go home. Shortly thereafter, the mission limit was raised to 65 and Lt. Fish found a way to avoid carrying out each of his missions 61 through 65, citing bad weather or faulty equipment on the airplanes. Realizing these tactics would not work indefinitely, he devised other strategies to be relieved.

Like Yossarian, Lt. Fish sought and obtained a medical diagnosis of mental instability in order to ground himself. On November 20th, 1944, four days after Lt. Fish’s 65th mission, Dr. Marino, the flight surgeon for Lt. Fish and Lt. Heller’s squadrons, wrote a letter diagnosing Lt. Fish with “aero-anxiety”. Refer to this post discussing how Joseph Heller identified Dr. Marino as the inspiration for Catch-22’s Doc Daneeka.

Dr. Marino’s letter contained the subject line “Operational Fatigue of Flying Personnel and Recommendation”, and details Lt. Fish’s service record, including how he had to crash land a plane due to damage from flak, that one of his tent mates was killed in action and another lost eyesight in one eye from flak wounds, how he witnessed 3 planes shot down with three of his friends in them, and how on his 60th mission the nose of his plane was badly hit by flak and missed him by narrow margins.

Dr. Marino states that he found Fish “to be suffering from an aero-anxiety state as the result of internal conflicts between self-preservation and combat strain, as manifested by signs and symptoms such as irritability”.

While the letter goes on to say that Lt. Fish is an “unsuitable candidate for further flights over enemy territory” and his 65th mission did end up being his last, the letter did not get him a ticket home.

(see transcription below)

OFFICE OF THE SURGEON
488TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON
340TH BOMBARDMENT GROUP
 
A.P.O. #650
20 November 1944
SUBJECT:  Operational Fatigue of Flying Personnel and Recommendation
 
TO:  Commanding Officer, 488th Bombardment Squadron, A.P.O. #650
 
Fish, Julius NMI, 1st Lt., ASN 0-760160, Bombardier of our Squadron has been under observation for the past several weeks, even with a period of rest, relaxation and change of environment has been found to be suffering from a aero-anxiety state as the result of internal conflicts between self-preservation and combat strain, as manifested by signs and symptoms such as irritability.

Fish, Julius NMI, 1st Lt., has completed 65 Combat Missions and 195:45 Combat Operational hours.  He has been overseas since 26 April 1944, and has participated in hazardous combat missions over Italy and France.  Made one crash landing because of failure of wheels to come down because of damage by flak.  One tent mate was lost in action, and another lost the sight of one eye from flak wounds.  Witnessed three planes shot down over the target with three of his friends in them.  On his 60th mission the nose of the ship was badly hit by flak missing him by narrow margins.

Fish’s period of rest and relaxation has been insufficient to compensate the accumulative incidents of internal conflicts, making him an unsuitable candidate for further flights over enemy territory without extended rest in the Zone of Interior. 

BENJAMIN W. MARINO
Capt., M.C.
Flight Surgeon

7 thoughts on “The Doctor’s Letter

  1. Interesting, thank you. I came here via Wikipedia, and having read Catch-22 some eight or ten times over the years. Could you provide a transcript of The Doctor’s Letter please? It’s good to see the image of the actual letter but it’s not easy to read the jpeg. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Marten – thanks for your comment. I was actually scanning the dr letter yesterday for an article that should come out in May and noticed how fuzzy the text is. I will transcribe the letter and post to the blog (will try to do this weekend). Thanks again and please feel free to let me know if any other comments you may have.

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  2. Hi Jonathan — I found your blog through the Wikipedia link. As a long-time Catch 22 fan I find your posts and research fascinating.

    One question: how did you come to the conclusion that your grandfather was actively trying to avoid missions after he had met the original target of 60. The reasons given, like bad weather or faulty equipment could be real, after all. Likewise with the diagnosis of “aero-anxiety.” The terrible events he experienced could easily have led to what they called “shell shock” in WW I, CSR in WW II, and PTSD today, requiring a legitimate pause from duty.

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    1. Thanks for your comments and question Hank! After my grandfather’s 60th mission he wrote “Finito tour of European Duty!” in his diary thinking he was done (this was October 3, 1944). On Oct. 24th he wrote, “Better get back to Brooklyn soon” indicating he was looking to leave. On Oct. 29th, the squadron was told they would have to fly more than 60 missions. Yes, it could have just been that there was bad weather or faulty equipment on each of his following 5 missions (61 – 65), however in his previous 60 missions he never turned around for such reasons. In terms of his medical diagnosis, yes, he could have experience real trauma, however given the timing of receipt of the letter (in November 1944) after the raising of the mission limit to 65, that it came from Dr. Marino (the flight surgeon Heller tied to Doc Daneeka in Catch-22), and that my grandfather did not seem to exhibit PTSD conditions the rest of his life lead me to think that he sought the medical diagnosis as a way to get home.

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      1. Thanks for your candid response, Jonathan. Good to hear that your grandfather’s “aero-anxiety” does not seem to have persisted after his deployment! Your research and your grandfather’s story would be a great basis for a book or documentary about the “real Yossarian.”

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