A 96-year-old error and a feature in the winter 2013 issue of DMU Magazine perpetuated an apparent case of mistaken identity. Alert reader Russell Faria, D.O.’81, helped crack it.
DMU Magazine reported that John A. McCrae, author of the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” held both D.O. and M.D. degrees. Dr. McCrae was a Canadian Army surgeon during World War I who penned the poem to express his sorrow over the horrors of the battlefield. First published in an English newspaper on Dec. 8, 1915, the poem made the red poppy a moving symbol of military service and sacrifice.
The source of Dr. McCrae’s supposed osteopathic status was Volume XXIV of The Journal of Osteopathy (JO), dated October 1917. On page 624 was an article titled “Osteopath Writes War Poem,” which attributes the poem to a 1906 graduate of the American School of Osteopathy (ASO) in Kirksville, MO, now the A.T. Still University of Health Sciences.
Hold the phone, Faria says. Poking around the Internet, he learned that McCrae served as an associate in medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1904, traveled to England that year to study and become a member of the Royal College of Physicians, set up his own practice in 1905 and then was appointed physician to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Infectious Diseases in 1908.
“And you’re saying, in the middle of all this, he up and went to Kirksville for a D.O. degree?” Faria queried DMU Magazine.
Good question: Follow-up by Faria with Bev Dietrich, curator of the McCrae House in Guelph, Canada, the poet-physician’s hometown, and a DMU Magazine query to Jason Haxton, director of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, revealed that the 1917 JO article apparently confused McCrae with 1906 ASO graduate John N. MacRae. He also was Canadian, from Galt, Ontario, which might have underlined the error.
“There was no correction in the JO after the article from October 1917 was printed,” Haxton says. “Maybe the JO editor never caught it or did not want to admit the error.”
Faria, a family physician in Kent, WA, started his sleuthing because of a personal experience with the famous poem.
“As a little kid in school in 1964, I read ‘Flanders Fields’ at a school event. Memorized it,” he recalls. “Everyone seemed pleased. It was probably Veterans Day, I guess it was the 49th anniversary of the poem, and there were likely some World War I vets among the family members.”