I originally entitled this post PATIENTS I MISS THE MOST. Because of political sensitivities I changed the title to something different, and then back again. While not intending to be political, in this day and age of hypersensitivities anything said by anyone can be misconstrued. In other words, I am not particularly interested in having an ANTIFA rally in my parking lot during patient hours. Nonetheless, this is my writing platform and the topic is not only timely but should be of importance, not just to me, but to all those who hold their personal liberties sacrosanct.
Along one of the hallways in our office is a wall dedicated to people of all ages, race, creed, ethnicity, color, sex and so forth. You get the point. These are my patients. The ones who have had a good experience have generously presented framed pictures of themselves for posterity. I am sad that there is only 2 of them. Just kidding. I am proud to say there is a waiting list to get on that wall! For me personally, this is a true Beau Geste (that’s French for beautiful gesture, and that’s all the French I know). The most special photographs are those of our veterans in particular those who served in the Second World War. I am proud of all of our veterans but sadly there are so few who remain from a time when the world was engulfed in flames. So today’s blog is in remembrance of them.
To put it in perspective, I started my training in 1987. That was 42 years after the last shots of the Second World War were fired. At about that time the members of this Greatest Generation were in their 60s and remained numerous. I had the honor to meet many of them and listen to their fascinating but sad stories. I was privileged to have as patients men who took part in the D-Day invasion. Men who served in the 101st and 82 Airborne divisions who parachuted the night before the invasion to capture bridges, crossroads and to silence German artillery trained on the D-Day invasion beaches. I had the privilege to meet men who served with Easy Company, American GIs who fought at the besieged town of Bastogne, who liberated France, and were there for the fall of Berlin. I met men who flew over the skies of Germany in bombers from the Eighth Air Force and I have been blessed to meet fighter pilot’s who served with the all African-American Tuskegee Airman who provided air cover for them.
These were my patients. I am proud to say that some of my patients were men who landed on Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tarawa, and the Philippines when McArthur returned. Some of my patients were also men who served on supply ships, drove trucks, worked in shipyards and built aircraft. There were women who contributed just as much working as nurses in field hospitals both at home and behind the front lines. Some of my patients were women who built tanks and bombers and other vital weapons that were necessary for a protracted war. They were all in their late teens to early 30s and they came from all walks of life and every one of them was committed in the effort to defeat Fascism. As a result of this commitment 500,000 men and women lost their lives. These forever brave souls died on beaches, fields, trenches, in field hospitals, at sea, over the skies of Europe and the Far East. They died alone and they died together. Many died unknown but to God.
Last month I was working late one evening at the office. I like to work late because it’s quiet and I can collect my thoughts. Gone is the usual days onslaught that accompanies a busy practice. This particular evening was meaningful for those of us who appreciate history. It was June 5, 2019, the eve of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
For many who are historically inclined this date has a particularly special meaning. It represents the beginning of the restoration of the civil liberties to the free world. The European’s particularly were certainly appreciative, although one wonders about the French these days. The same can be said for the majority of American high school students as I am not sure that World War II history and its extreme sacrifice is given much consideration these days. Regardless, the destruction of Fascism, a term now used to describe people who stay late working in the office, cost an estimated 60 million lives. Looking back at these historical events doesn’t cost a dime, just your time and willingness to be contemplative. I have no doubt that anybody who reads this will remember someone in their family who either served or made the ultimate sacrifice in this great conflict.
The few remaining veterans from the Second World War generation remaining in my practice is now in the single digits. They can be counted on one hand. The remainder, to quote Edwin Stanton, belong to the ages. Over 35 years of training and active practice has given me the rare privilege to spend time with a generation that virtually ceases to exist. Never once did I hear them complain about how unfair things were. Never once did I hear regret for the service they rendered unashamedly to a grateful nation that returned the favor by forever remembering them as the Greatest Generation.
We can learn a lot from a generation that is all but gone. If the TV news channels are any indication we have learned nothing. If anything we have digressed, devolved and at the same time managed to dishonor in the name of political theater those with the courage to sacrifice everything. Seventy five years later on the eve that was to be the beginning of the end of real fascism, we should remember the words of Winston Churchill who sagaciously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” God how I miss my old patients.
Jonathan Paley, M. D.