- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, Obituaries
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Sam was born in September 1937, in Harbin, the ice city of North Eastern China, but grew up in Tintsin (Tianjin), the coastal metropolis adjacent to Beijing. His parents were both dentists working in China. The family arrived in Australia in 1952 when Sam was 15 years old.
His early education was at Crows Nest Boys High School, then at North Sydney Technical High School in 1954-1955. From here he gained a Commonwealth Government scholarship for the University of Sydney to study Medicine. In 1956 he undertook National Service Training with the RAN at HMAS Penguin, then in HMAS Sydney – so four years after arriving in Australia Sam was wearing the national uniform of a RAN seaman. After National Service he proceeded to study Medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1963. He completed his Junior Residency at Sydney Hospital that year.
As Sam had obtained a naval scholarship he was obliged after his residency to fulfil four years return of service in the RAN as a SURG LEUT, and 1964 found him at HMAS Nirimba. From 1965-1967 he was predominantly at sea on board Sydney. He joined HMAS Melbourne in its 1967 trans Pacific West Coast visit. At the end of 1967 he transferred to the RAN Reserve where he was to serve for another 25 years in the Sydney Port Division. One Admiral who served with Sam in Sydney described him as ‘a highly respected doctor and shipmate’.
In the Reserve, as a SURG LCDR he was a valuable asset to the RAN being able to assist colleagues in surgical matters, be a source of considerable help to the RAN hospital at Penguin, and assist Navy Office with surgical matters.
However, it was in late 1966 whilst serving in Sydney that Sam displayed his heroic qualities. He was awarded the MBE in the Order of the British Empire, Military Division, Overseas List for his gallantry in saving the life of a USN submarine Petty Officer on a stranded submarine in harrowing and hazardous circumstances at sea. The submarine was USS Tiru, making passage from Brisbane to Subic Bay after exercises with the RAN, RNZN and RN when it became stranded on Frederick Reef in the Coral Sea, 330 miles east of Mackay.
Three warships, Sydney, HMAS Vendetta, USS Taussig and an ocean going tug Carlock, with a RAAF Neptune circling overhead, were involved in attempts to help the stranded Tiru, a Guppy class submarine with 7 officers and 81 men on board.
Sam had previously transferred from Sydney, which had been operating in the Coral Sea area, to Vendetta which had ‘crash sailed’ from Sydney to help Tiru. His subsequent passage to Tiru was carried out in hazardous sea conditions with Sam in a wetsuit and fins in a life raft assisted by the cutter from Vendetta. He and the accompanying safety equipment sailor worked their way hand over hand on a taut line between the cutter and Tiru.
On Tiru they found the injured PO unable to walk and in severe pain due to his abdominal injuries, which had occurred when he was forcibly thrown against the bulkhead by large waves hitting the submarine. Carefully assessing the situation, Sam opted for conservative management of the injured man. The PO was given intravenous fluids and gastric aspiration done through a tube. Thankfully the submarine’s hull was not breached and at high tide Carlock was able to haul her off the reef and then slowly tow her back to Brisbane for essential repairs. During this journey Sam remained on board treating the PO as required.
In Brisbane the challenge was to retrieve this big PO, 196 cm and 97 kilos from the sub via her maze of passages and watertight doors. He was finally winched out of the submarine via a torpedo hatch. Taken to Greenslopes hospital, the PO was quickly operated on and 22 cm of necrotic small bowel resected. He made a speedy recovery and was home in two weeks.
The following year when Sydney was in refit Sam was transferred to HMAS Melbourne, then on a dual mission of a goodwill visit to the west coast of the United States and Canada and the embarkation of Skyhawks, Trackers and materiel for the Vietnam War. Calling at Pearl Harbour they were greeted by a larger banner proclaiming ‘Aloha Dr Sam’ held aloft by crew members from Tiru. This led to great hospitality extended to him throughout the visit.
After leaving the navy Sam returned to Sydney Hospital as a surgical registrar. He travelled to Britain in 1969 to pursue his surgical training. In September 1970 he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and two months later a Fellow of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. He obtained his Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons on returning to Australia in 1973.
Thereafter he pursued a busy career as a surgeon in the North Sydney area, specialising in the field of colorectal surgery, with surgical appointments at six hospitals in this area. Medical students from the University of Sydney ensured they were present to hear and participate in his surgical tutorials.
In his leisure time Sam played touch football with the ‘Lindfield Lillywhites’, became a very keen jogger, antique collector, painter and sculptor. He was also a valued member of the Chatswood Temple of Emanuel Choir. Much loved by his wife, Karen, his five sons, one daughter and 10 grandchildren, Sam displayed a lifelong commitment to his family, to his faith, to surgery and the RAN
It is said that ‘…a good surgeon knows when to operate, and a very good surgeon knows when not to operate’.
Sam continually displayed these very attributes to the nth degree ably demonstrated when assisting the injured man on Tiru.
Sam was nursed and cared for in his agonising terminal complicated illness by his beloved and devoted wife Karen. We are all the richer to have benefited from the life and long committed friendship of Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Sam Sakker, MBE, MBBS (Syd), FRACS, FRCS (Eng.), FRCS (Edin), RANR (Rtd).
Sam – Alav ha shalom
Prepared by his friend and colleague SURG CAPT Kevin A. Rickard, AM, RFD, RANR (Rtd).