Several years ago, I had the rare privilege of interviewing about half a dozen veterans of World War II.
The men were gathered at the request of one of their own, John Delmerico, an engineer and retired steel mill superintendent. All were members of a local group of veterans of the Battle of the Bulge that John headed up. My father-in-law had introduced us years before. So when the 55th anniversary of that battle loomed, John gathered his dwindling company together so I could hear their stories.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, John hopped the train from his home in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and rode down to enlist in the Marine Corps at a recruiting station near Wall Street, probably not far from where the World Trade Center towers fell.
John was 16. When he got home and proudly told his parents what he had done, his mother was horrified. She rushed back to Manhattan and gave that Marine recruiter the very dickens, then pleaded with him to allow her son to finish high school before being carried off to war.
She won the argument. After his graduation, John joined the Army, served in Europe, and wound up in Belgium at Christmas 1944 for the start of that last great battle of the war.
Whether we are or are not at war today, or whether the infamy last month was or was not another Pearl Harbor, I'll leave for people a few pay grades above mine to parse and debate. What's clear, however, is that the same spirit that moved John and many others in this nation more than half a century ago is still alive today.
Modernphysician.com reported the week of the tragedies--and we repeat here in the magazine--that the community of physicians did its duty, proudly and in overwhelming numbers.
At 11:51 a.m. on that Tuesday, Sept. 11, just hours after the attack, the Pennsylvania Medical Society sent an e-mail to its media contacts, asking for help. Pennsylvania health officials were asking that a list be compiled of medical volunteers who would be willing to go to New York and Washington. More than 1,000 people, most of them physicians, but with several hundred nurses and EMTs among them, rushed to volunteer by that evening, according to PMS spokesperson Chuck Moran.
The Pennsylvania volunteers swelled to more than 2,000 Wednesday. That day, medical societies in the mid-Atlantic states were overwhelmed by similar responses of physicians offering to help. In addition, the AMA, which had a call for volunteers posted on its own Web site, had received responses from nearly 2,000 physicians by the day after the disaster.
The day after the attack, the Medical Society of the State of New York was reporting that they had more volunteers than survivors to care for.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania e-mailed, saying they had signed up nearly 4,000 volunteers and adding it was unlikely they'd need any more.
The sense of frustration and inadequacy was clear in the comments of the doctors who made it to the scenes of the disasters in New York and Washington. They spoke for physicians across the nation in saying they wished they could have done more.
Yet all of you who volunteered made a powerful statement of compassion and concern.