May 24, 1975
"Hey Tony, I hear your up for bird colonel, congratulations!" Army Lieutenant Colonel Roger Healy commended his friend and fellow astronaut, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Nelson.
"Thanks Rog, I know it won't be too long before you're on the list for your chicken." Tony replied good-naturedly referring to the eagle insignia of an O-6 (full) colonel.
Tony knew the reason he was being considered for promotion before Roger had more to do with their branch of service than skill. Tony, being in the Air Force, was considered to be a line officer. Roger, being Army Corps of Engineers, was considered to be Combat Support. All branches of the service were going through demobilization after the war, so promotions were few and far between. Many officers and NCO's with years of experience were being released from active duty due to the reduction in force (RIF).
"Where are you off to anyway?" Roger asked.
Tony answered, "Off to see the new flight surgeon for my physical." A full physical is a requirement before promotion.
"Let me know what he's like." Roger requested.
The previous flight surgeon, Colonel Alfred Bellows, MD had retired the year before. The Air Force medical officer knew he would never make general, part of which he still blamed on reports he filed in the late 60's on then- Major Anthony Nelson. Bellows decided to pack up and become "Ol' Doc Bellows" and spend some quality time with his wife, Amanda.
When Tony entered the clinic, he saw an attractive redhead. He kept is thoughts pure, because he was married. The fact that his wife could literally torture him for eternity also kept him in line.
Tony asked the redhead who sported gold clusters, "Excuse me, Major, would you please tell the doctor Lt. Col. Nelson is here?"
The redhead bristled and turned around. When Tony saw her nameplate he knew he screwed up, big time. It read Lt. Commander Sheila Richardson, MD, MC, USN. She was also wearing miniature Navy flight surgeon wings on her lapel.
Great Tony thought I need a promotion physical, and I end up insulting the person who is going to give it to me's profession and branch of service.
"That's Lieutenant Commander, Colonel, but you may address me as Doctor." The new NASA Flight Surgeon corrected.
Tony immediately apologized, "I'm sorry about that, Doctor."
Dr. Richardson laughed, "Colonel Nelson, I've been in the Navy for close to a decade now, believe me that isn't the first time I was mistaken for a nurse. My last duty station was officer in charge of the dispensary at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Believe me, my presence there turned a lot of heads. Speaking of turning heads…."
Tony turned his head and coughed. It didn't phase him that a female was doing the examination, as an Air Force officer, and earlier as a cadet, he had been poked and prodded by doctors, nurses, and corpsmen of both genders. Physicals became a way of life for astronauts. Tony continued with the conversation, it kept his mind off of the physical and it allowed him to get to know the new flight surgeon.
"So what made you choose a military career?" Tony asked.
The doctor replied, "My father was career military. He was in the OSS during World War II, and later became an Air Force Intelligence Officer. I thought of going Air Force, but I liked the Navy's flight surgeon program better, it actually gives you more flight instruction."
Tony followed up with, "Did you come to Cape Kennedy to escape Yuma?"
Dr. Richardson smiled and answered, "That's part of it. This job is every flight surgeon's dream. Plus, promise not to laugh?"
Tony, still being examined by the good doctor, chuckled good naturedly, "Doctor, believe me I am in no position to laugh at you at this moment."
The Navy Commander answered, "I'd like to be the first American female astronaut. I heard a buzz about a new non-pilot 'mission specialist' category. Not only am I an aerospace physician, I am a rated pilot, and I think I'd fit right in."
Tony replied thoughtfully, "I don't doubt it. I met some female cosmonauts a few years ago, besides making my wife jealous, they showed me a woman is just as capable as being an astronaut as a man."
"Thank you, Colonel, and we're done, everything checks out perfectly." The doctor said with a smile.
After Tony left Dr. Richardson decided to look for Nelson's permanent file. The records technician couldn't find it, so she had started a temporary one for the physical. She was starting to wonder if this is how the Air Force does things. A missing file wouldn't be tolerated on a Navy ship or Marine base. She started going through Dr. Bellow's old files. In no time Richardson found what she was looking for. Nelson's file was about three inches thick. The new flight surgeon wondered why it was so thick, and why it was in Alfred Bellow's personal files. Sheila Richardson started to read what Dr. Bellows had to say about Captain/Major/Lt. Colonel Anthony Nelson, USAF.
After two hours, Dr. Richardson couldn't believe most of what she read. But she knew Bellows was a highly regarded physician, otherwise he never would have made it to NASA. She was also aware of the rumors that Bellows started to lose it in the 60s. Sheila felt for the sake of the space program, this should be looked into a little more closely than the routine background investigation before promoting Nelson to Colonel. Dr. Richardson called up an old friend of her dad's to check into this Nelson character.
"Oscar Goldman, please, tell him its Sheila Richardson" Commander Richardson said into the phone, "Uncle Oscar! Yes, NASA is everything I hoped for, thanks for the recommendation. By the way, there's an astronaut here that you might want to look in to. Lt. Colonel Anthony Nelson. Air Force. He's up for Colonel, but there are some weird things in his file…"