Immigrant, Air Force physician finds peace in the South Bay

Honorable mention, photography by Joel Gitelson “Landscape.”

Nostalgia for a Greek island becomes nostalgia for the South Bay

Honorable mention
Easy Reader 2021 Anniversary Writing Contest
by Spiros Mikelatos

I was not born in the South Bay. I was born and raised in another beautiful place, the Greek Island of Kefalonia. 

 “I was born in a humble home on the seashore of the poet Homer,” as the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis put it.

When I reached my teenage years, destiny meant for me to leave my island home and come to Manhattan Beach. I was the son of an American citizen.

I left my island with tears in my eyes. They were tears of nostalgia and homesickness. Years later when I heard Julio Iglesias singing the Spanish song “La Paloma,” I understood that nostalgia is pure love. Perhaps, destiny meant for the South Bay to replace my island home. I arrived in Manhattan Beach in August, 1952, when I was 15. I joined my family in becoming an expert flower grower, and seller of fresh flowers. There was still land to grow flowers in the South Bay at that time. 

I attended Mira Costa High School and was on the cross-country team. I ran the Mount San Antonio cross country course barefoot. I was also enrolled in night courses at El Camino College. And my schooling did not stop there. I attended UCLA for four years, then the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Why so much schooling for a kid from a small village of the Island of Kefalonia? Perhaps, this kid realized that the English language and the Science of Medicine were endless. The Medical Board was very fair to me. They only asked for one more year of internship and a 3-day medical test. To this day, I do not know how I could sleep at night during those three days of testing. 

My medical license was granted to me to help patients, just like the village doctor helped me when I was dying of tuberculosis in my childhood.

After my medical license was granted, I still owed two years of military service due to the universal draft and my school deferments. I wrote a letter to the military, thanking them for the deferments and for allowing me to finish my medical studies. I let them know I had my medical license. I received a letter thanking me for my letter and asking  me what branch of the services I preferred. 

I wrote a follow up letter expressing my choice of the Air Force, which was granted. I was not a pilot but I liked the Air Force uniform. (I thought I might look handsome with the flight cap.) My assignment was Hof Saale, Germany. The Vietnam War was going on, so Hof, Germany was a heavenly blessing.

As fate would have it. I stayed in the military as a career doctor. 

In my first military medical assignment in Hof, there were two of us doctors and two dentists. We took care of soldiers and their family members. We also supported the soldiers guarding the Communist Czechoslovakia border. We practiced medicine every day, and every other night we were on call. 

I became fluent in German in one year, which was especially helpful when I had to call the German hospital, letting them know I was bringing in patients. One time when we arrived at 3 a.m. there were five German doctors waiting for us.

The U.S. Air Force and the German State of Bavaria connected me with a blond Bavarian beauty who became my wife. She stayed by my side for 35 years, giving me three daughters, who gave me three granddaughters. She was taken too early to heaven above.

After I returned to the South Bay 20 years ago, I did some part time work at the VA Hospital and Harbor UCLA. I also practiced for four years in Lomita. 

Presently, my emphasis is opiate addiction, including heroin and fentanyl addictions. I never considered myself brilliant because I am not. I participate in the practice of medicine and do my best. The Corona virus has limited my work (like others) and some work is now done online.

What is special about the South Bay? The words of the “godly singer” poet Homer come to mind: “A place where no snow falls and very little rain, in the afternoon the gentle breeze blows from the ocean to refresh the people.” ER



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