A lifetime of service: Marquette County veteran to turn 100 on Memorial Day weekend

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr., MC, Tom Mudge, who served as chief of surgery at St MaryÕs Hospital and Chief of Staff of St Luke's Hospital in Marquette in the 1960s and 70s will celebrate his 100th birthday on Sunday. Mudge, a Negaunee native, served in the medical corps in both World War II and the Korean War. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Mudge)

NEGAUNEE — Adapting to a new normal during the age of COVID-19 means most Memorial Day ceremonies are canceled or postponed to maintain social distancing.

However, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr., MC Tom Mudge said Memorial Day “brings together the sacrifices made by the military in the various engagements over the years.”

And he should know.

Mudge, a Negaunee native who will celebrate his 100th birthday on Sunday, has seen a lot since he was born at home above Lowenstein’s Store along Iron Street.

The “MC” in Mudge’s military title stands for Medical Corps, which is what he served with in World War II and then later in the Korean War as part of the U.S. Naval Reserves.

His father, Dr. William Mudge, worked for the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Co., visiting the dispensary three times a day to attend to the miners’ health in addition to tending to patients in his own private practice.

“My dad was a general practitioner and I guess medicine was kind of predestined with him,” Tom Mudge told Northern Michigan University Historian Russell M. Magnaghi during an interview in 2009. “As a person I kind of admired (him) and wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

While growing up in Marquette County, Tom Mudge was an avid participant in the Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, his daughter Kathleen Mudge said.

He graduated in 1937, president of his senior class at Negaunee High School and attended Northwestern University for three years, achieving academic honors before enrolling in medical school at the same institution in 1940 as the U.S. was on the cusp of entering World War II.

Facing a military draft, due to the war, Tom Mudge elected to go into the Navy, and continued medical school while participating in military drills each weekend, he said.

A diagnosis of tuberculosis in the third term of his freshman year of medical school sidelined Tom Mudge’s military and professional aspirations for a time. He contracted the disease while working at Cook County Hospital where he screened walk-in patients and performed general physicals and obtained history without personal protective equipment.

“After contracting TB … he returned home for a year,” his daughter Kathleen Mudge said, “as there was no treatment other than rest.”

He was able to return to Northwestern later and joined the Naval Medical Reserve in 1942, he said. At that time, he went on to intern at Evanston Hospital and then Great Lakes Naval Hospital for nine months.

He was then assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Badoeng Strait before being transferred to the Marshall Islands, which lie in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between the continent of Australia and the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Tom Mudge served at Military Hospital 301 in a Quonset hut — a lightweight prefabricated structure of corrugated galvanized steel having a semicircular cross-section — on a major atoll, which is a large circular or oval in shaped corral structure, with an open lagoon in the center or a series of islets.

The U.S. Navy, Tom Mudge said, had assumed medical responsibility for the native population in the area.

He served there for roughly nine months and was named chief of staff/commander in chief of the U.S. Government Hospital.

Following the war, Tom Mudge remained in the Naval Reserves and took a residency in surgical pathology at Cook County Hospital in Illinois, then Augustana Hospital in Chicago.

He was ordered back into the Navy in the 1950s for the Korean War. He served as assistant medical officer of the USS Boxer, where he achieved the rank of Lt. Commander MC USN.

Then, he completed three runs over six months in the Mediterranean with the Merchant Marines on the “Four Aces,” sailing to ports of call such as the Black Sea, Morocco and Egypt.

He sailed on the LaGuardia from New York to Haifa, Israel. Both ships stopped in Naples, Marci and Barcelona, Mudge said.

When Tom Mudge returned to the states, he landed on the West Coast.

“I was in the service, this time, for a couple of years and on my return I moved to the Bay area of California,” Tom Mudge told Magnaghi in 2009. “I was the director of the surgical program at the Highland (Alameda) Hospital. It’s a county hospital … I was managing the surgical training program at the same time I was on the staff at the University of California.”

He later served as chief of the medical reserve unit in San Francisco and was named to the medical unit for the 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley before he left California in 1962.

At that point, he decided he would bring his already vast experience back to his home “stomping grounds” in Marquette County.

“Yeah, I wasn’t sure I was going to stay, but I was totally delighted,” Tom Mudge told Magnaghi “(I) gave up, I didn’t renew my California license. I was prepared to spend my practice life here with no regrets.”

The allure, Mudge said, about all the natural activities the Upper Peninsula provides. He is an avid hunter fisherman and outdoorsman with “amazing trophies” he intends to donate to NMU.

A few years after he returned to the area, he would be named chief of surgery at St Mary’s Hospital, then a few years later Chief of Staff of St. Luke’s Hospital.

The two facilities later merged and became Marquette General Hospital. In the mid-1970s, Mudge was elected chief of staff, or president, of the Marquette Medical Center.

Even retirement didn’t stop Mudge from circumnavigating the globe or helping others, Kathleen Mudge said.

“He volunteered with the International Medical Corps., traveling internationally to train locals in surgery and basic medical techniques,” she said. “He traveled twice to Pakistan for a month at a time (in the late 1980s) training Afghans during the Afghan War.”

But whenever he was done with his post-retirement world tours, which included bungee jumping in Europe, he always returned to the U.P., Kathleen Mudge said.

“He has lived on both coasts, as well as traveling around the world, but he loves all that the U.P has to offer as a lover of the outdoors and an avid winter sports enthusiast, hunter, fisherman, canoer … all outdoor activities,” she said “He still enjoys the U.P. as he always has, although less actively. As the world has changed over his lifetime, he feels grounded and most at peace in the U.P.”

And, as Mudge practices social distancing from his house at the lake, he asks us all to take a moment this Memorial Day to honor the fallen and respect the sacrifices made by soldiers in all branches of the military, in every conflict across history.

“Too often after the battle or after the war it’s put in the past or forgotten,” Mudge said. “For those fellows who made a contribution, it’s really heartwarming to be remembered.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at lbowers@miningjournal.net.


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