Secrets of the Blue Ridge: H. Lamont Pugh: From the Ragged Mountains to the Deep Blue Sea

Albemarle County native H. Lamont Pugh, Surgeon General of the Navy 1951-1955. (Courtesy United States Navy)

“The first scene of the first act of my life had its setting in the Ragged Mountains,” wrote Albemarle County native Herbert Lamont Pugh in Navy Surgeon, his 1959 autobiography. “A general view of a particular section in these mountains may be had from a promontory on the Crozet-Batesville road less than a quarter of a mile beyond a center known as Midway.

“A farmhouse nestled on the flat of a little valley with formidable Castle Mountain to the south and dome-shaped Burnt Mountain to the north was the first home of my parents [Samuel Eli and Mary Elizabeth Thompson Pugh]. It was there that I was born, February 5, 1895, at 2:00 in the morning. The night was exceedingly cold.

Early Crozet postcard view from downtown looking northwest toward St. George’s Avenue. On the right, the cupola of the 1907 Crozet High School is visible over top of the house where Lamont Pugh’s family lived c.1910-11. At center, the white building is the 1903 Crozet Baptist Church. (Courtesy Phil James Historical Images)

“At the time I was born, Grover Cleveland was serving his second term as President of the United States. Hilary A. Herbert was his secretary of the Navy and Daniel S. Lamont was his Secretary of War. My parents chose those two names for their first-born son. People who like to speculate upon what is in a name may see some significance between the names assigned to me and my subsequent career.

“Papa taught school at one-room country schools in Albemarle County for over a quarter of a century. Throughout his life, he engaged in diversified farming, cattle raising on a modest scale and fruit growing on a larger scale.

“Like my father, Mama had taught school for a time before her marriage. Primary was Mama’s devotion to all eight of her children, applied not only in cooking, sewing and washing clothes for her family but in assisting every one personally with their lessons.

Dr. Lamont Pugh, the first Surgeon General to visit a war zone, is pictured at the Korean front in 1952. (From the book Navy Surgeon by Rear Admiral Lamont Pugh, an autobiography)

“The school to which I went for five years with one or more of my sisters was a one-room country school situated about 3½ miles from our home. The course leading to it was entirely by footpath over several hills, across one orchard and through a considerable stretch of heavily forested woodland. A horse might have had difficulty negotiating this trail; it was better suited for a goat or active children. I attended this one-room school at its original location for six years; then in 1906, because most of the pupils attending the school had come to live on our side of the mountain, the school building was torn down and moved to a site on our farm not more than 300 or 400 yards from our house, and named the Cedar Vale School.

“I had real feelings of regret when we had to leave the old school and its premises. I had come to like the journey over the hills and through the woods. Particularly, I enjoyed the challenge inherent in making the trek in bad weather.

Lamont Pugh wrote, “In the fall of 1910 [we] moved to a new home immediately across from Crozet High School [on St. George’s Avenue]… in order that the growing family might have ready access to a more advanced school.” This was the view from their house. (Courtesy of the Early-Shelton Collection)
“The approach of autumn never fails to remind me of setting rabbit traps and returning to school. The coming of winter always brings back a nostalgic memory of hog killing, a red-letter day of my childhood because I was always granted the privilege of staying home from school that day. Helping one another butcher hogs was a standard practice.

“In the fall of 1910 my father moved with his whole family to a new home he had purchased in Crozet, immediately across the road from the Crozet High School. This move was made in order that the growing family might have ready access to a more advanced school. My mother had always wanted to live in Crozet. At the end of one winter in Crozet, we sold both the old homeplace and the new home across the road from the high school, and bought a farm about two miles south of Crozet.

“The high school at Crozet was only a three-year course during my attendance. I graduated from Crozet High School in 1912, worked on the farm, and went back to Crozet for the session of 1912 and 1913 where I took some special work. In 1913 I entered Charlottesville High School, and, following graduation in 1914, entered the Academic Department at the University of Virginia.”

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. Lamont Pugh left U.Va. and joined the service as a Marine, ending up at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba until the signing of the Armistice in November 1918. He re-entered U.Va. in March 1919, and that fall entered medical school on a scholarship. A student intern at Martha Jefferson Hospital in 1922, he graduated in ’23. A stipulation of his scholarship required his entrance into the Medical Corps of the United States Navy.

“To Mama [Mary Elizabeth Thompson Pugh (1866–1921)] and Mrs. R.A. [Annie Durrett (1871–1960)] Yancey more than to any other two individuals, belongs the credit for having ‘spark-plugged’ the transfer of Tabor Presbyterian Church, from its original site near Brownsville, to its present location in Crozet [in 1915].” – H. Lamont Pugh, in Navy Surgeon. (Photo courtesy Tabor Presbyterian Church)
A skilled surgeon and teacher, Dr. Pugh steadily advanced through the Medical Corps. Following the devastating attacks at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, as Chief of Surgical Service at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, he treated many of those with serious injuries. In 1946 he was commander of the Naval Medical School.

Rear Admiral Pugh (1895–1984) became Surgeon General of the Navy in 1951 during the Korean conflict, and remained in that position until the year prior to his retirement in 1956, when he returned at last to Crozet with his wife and son to live on the family farm.

He wrote, “Mother’s one ambition that transcended all others for her family was that one of her sons study medicine. She held that profession in highest esteem and it was this desire on my mother’s part that constituted the determining factor in my choice of medicine as my profession. My early ambition had been to be a railroad man—a fireman or an engineer. Not only did my mother want a son to be a doctor, but it was her further desire that he enter the Navy. She thought that to be a surgeon in the Navy was the ne plus ultra achievement for a man. I suppose I have measured up to about all she could have asked upon those scores.” 

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the
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Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2019 Phil James


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