DEFENDING AMERICA
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
04 July 2000

THE GREATEST GENERATION AND INCREDIBLE DOCS

Medics have been my heroes from the first time I saw a "Doc" risk his life to patch up a wounded grunt. They're the bravest of the brave and the noblest of the noble. I've never known a more selfless or dedicated group of humans.

This, from an Army Airborne Ranger doctor, explains why I feel this way:

"As a military doctor I work long hours. One tends to become jaded by the lack of sleep and the endless parade of human suffering passing before you.

"With our large military-retiree population, it's often a nursing-home patient. I've caught myself groaning when the ambulance brought in yet another sick, elderly person. I hadn't stopped to think of what citizens of this age represented.

"I saw 'Saving Private Ryan.' I was touched deeply by the sacrifices of so many. I was touched most by the scene of the elderly survivor (Pvt. Ryan) at the graveside asking his wife if he'd been a good man. I realized that I had seen these same men and women coming through my hospital and hadn't realized what magnificent sacrifices they had made. The things they did for me and everyone else who has lived on this planet since the end of that conflict are priceless.
"Situation permitting, I now try to ask my patients about their experiences.

"They would never bring up the subject without the inquiry. I've been privileged to an amazing array of experiences recounted. These experiences have revealed the incredible individuals I've had the honor of serving in a medical capacity, many on their last admission to the hospital.

"There was a frail, elderly woman who reassured my enlisted medic trying to start an IV line in her arm. She remained calm and poised despite her illness and the multiple needle-sticks into her fragile veins. As the medic made another attempt, I noticed a number tattooed across her forearm. I touched it with one finger and looked into her eyes. She simply said 'Auschwitz.' Many of later generations would have loudly and openly berated the medic in his many attempts. How different was the response from this person who'd seen unspeakable suffering.

"There was a retired colonel who had parachuted from his burning plane over a Pacific island held by the Japanese. Now an octogenarian, his head was cut in a fall at home where he lived alone. His CT scan and suturing had been delayed until after midnight. Still spry for his age, he asked to use the phone to call a taxi to take him home, then realized his ambulance had brought him without his wallet. He asked if he could use the phone to make a long-distance call to his daughter. With great pride we told him that he could not, as he'd done enough for his country and the least we could do was get him a taxi home, even if we paid for it ourselves. My only regret was that my shift wouldn't end for several hours and I couldn't drive him myself.

"And there were the gentleman who served with Merrill's Marauders; the survivors of the Baatan Death March and Omaha Beach; the 101-year-old World War I veteran; the former POW held in North Korea; the former Special Forces medic. I remember these citizens. I may still groan when yet another ambulance comes in, but now I am much more aware of what an honor it is to serve these particular men and women.

"I am angered at the cutbacks -- implemented and proposed -- that will continue to decay their meager retirement benefits. I see a president and Congress who have turned their back on these individuals who've sacrificed so much to protect our liberty. I see later generations who seem to be totally engrossed in abusing these same liberties won with such sacrifice.

"It has become my personal endeavor to make the nurses and enlisted medics aware of these amazing individuals. Their response to these particular citizens has made me think that perhaps all is not lost in the next generation.

"My experiences have solidified my belief that we are losing an incredible generation and that this nation knows not what it is losing.

"We should all remember that we must 'Earn this.'"

Thanks Capt. Stephen Ellison, M.D... Well said.