A man in a naval uniform poses outside a brick building.

A Pharmacist’s Mate First Class

By John Rees

In celebration of Veteran’s Day, the Archives and Modern Manuscripts program highlights the recent acquisition of the Charles Henry Stevens Papers, 1945–1946, selections of which are currently on display in our reading room at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. The collection was generously donated by his nephew via the American Veterans for Equal Rights.

A man in a naval uniform poses outside a brick building.
Charles Henry Stevens, ca. 1945

Stevens, from Philadelphia, Pa., was a Pharmacist’s Mate First Class. He served on the Navy hospital ship USS Repose during the last days of World War II combat in the Pacific and continued his service during the Korean Conflict. As a gay man he later helped in the battle to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He was active in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues during his civilian life living in Atlanta, GA, and a member of American Veterans for Equal Rights.

 Pharmacist’s mates are petty officers who, under the direction of medical officers, administer medical assistance, treatment, and services to naval personnel. They may serve in the sick bay or dispensary of a ship or shore station, at a naval hospital, or on a hospital ship. When assigned to a marine landing party, they render first aid to the injured on a battle field, or at a dressing station. Many pharmacist’s mates in addition to skill, training and experience acquired in the performance of general hospital duties, take specialized training and through practical experience become competent medical technicians in such fields as X-ray, clinical laboratory, pharmacy, epidemiology and sanitation, fever-therapy, etc. Those pharmacist’s mates who are employed as technicians are required to attend regular classes in general medicine to maintain skills and knowledge previously acquired. —United States Navy Rating Description for the Pharmacist Mate, Second Class, NAVPERS 15386, Navy Department Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1945

His papers are small in size, but rich in content. Included is a nearly complete set of standard professional photographs taken during the ship’s commissioning day. There are also several crowd photos of the ship’s crew, perhaps taken just before a departure. In addition, there are several personal photographs taken by Stevens of the ship and harbor while deployed to Shanghai, China, and soldiers recuperating at a shore hospital. There are also a few of Stevens himself at home and around Philadelphia on shore leave.

The collection also contains a ship’s newsletter from 1946, Stevens’s dog tags, and his Pharmacist’s Mate uniform insignia. Below are a few items from the collection, which provides a portal into the life and service of Pharmacist’s Mate Charles Henry Stevens.

These materials are currently on display in the History of Medicine Reading Room at the National Library of Medicine, visit us M-F 8:30 to 5:00 EST.  For questions about these materials, including how to consult them, please contact the History of Medicine Division Reference staff NLM Customer Support or (301) 402-8878.

Portrait of John Rees outside on the water.John Rees is Archivist and Digital Resources Manager for the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.


  1. My dad was a Ph.m1st class during ww11. Right after Great Lakes training he went to the Naval hospital. I’ve got all his medical records but cant find anything about this. Would a Ph.m 1st class go there for training. Anything would be helpful. Marcus Snow

  2. Great article, my dad Roger Tomassi sr. was a pharmacist mate 1st class back in WW2 on the USS Conemaugh in the south pacific with the US navy and performed many duties from basic meds all the way to an at sea emergency appendicitis operation. These guys did everything they had to supporting emergencies as they happened to basic medical support as I’m sure they are doing today! Roger Tomassi jr.

    1. My father James Hendrix Kyzer was also a pharmacist mate 1st class on a hospital ship in the South Pacific. He had a picture of s sailor with a scar where he and other Pharmacist First Mates removed a sailor’s appendix using an illustrated medical book because the doctors were saving lives from battlefield injuries, I don’t know what ship he served on but they were truly ordinary people doing extraordinary things! What would be the chance that they served together?

      1. Thank you for sharing your father’s extraordinary story.
        We can’t guess what the chance would be that they were shipmates. However, as next of kin you can request your father’s service records from NARA via https://www.archives.gov/veterans. Those records would show tours of duty and perhaps the vessel name.

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