Drafted D.O.s pave their profession’s way
In 1967, Uncle Sam opened a door for osteopathic physicians by finally accepting them as commissioned medical officers. These young men saved lives, stood up for their profession and served their country during what became a costly and controversial war.
It’s a lot to ask anyone to serve one’s country during war time, but that much and more was asked, in 1967, of 113 brand-new doctors of osteopathic medicine, nearly one-quarter of whom were DMU graduates: Serve your country during what would become a drawn-out and unpopular war while also showing the world that D.O.s are as competent and well trained as M.D.s.
Members of the DMU classes of 1965, 1966 and 1967 were among the first wave of osteopathic physicians to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces, nearly 50 years ago, as commissioned medical officers on the same level as allopathic doctors. It was an important, exciting and at times terrifying opportunity to prove the mettle of a profession once called “cultists” by the American Medical Association.
“The M.D.s were always critical of us. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were being scrutinized,” says Alan Rose, D.O.’66, who was drafted by the U.S. Navy and served during the war as the only D.O. in a 30-doctor outpatient dispensary in Washington, DC. “They wanted some ammunition to show we weren’t equally capable as the M.D.s. Well, they never got that ammunition. We performed perfectly well.”
In fact, the rotating internship most D.O.s completed at the time meant many had more skills than their allopathic peers.
“I taught M.D.s many things they didn’t know about medicine,” Rose says. “I’d had three months in pediatrics. The M.D.s only had straight medical; they never saw a baby. They’d never examined a female patient. They never put on a cast or did any suturing.”
Rose was among members of the DMU Class of 1966 who reminisced about their military experiences during their 50-year milestone reunion in May. While all went on to build distinguished careers after serving their two years of duty, they acknowledge the experience had an impact on them. As D.O. pioneers, however, they had an even greater impact on their profession.
Moral dilemma, professional push-back
As an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, where his classmates included Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Senator Barbara Boxer, Laurence Baker, D.O.’66, protested against America’s military involvement in Vietnam. When he was drafted during the second year of his internal medicine residency at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital, he felt “angry.”
“I was active in the movement to ban the bomb and move toward peace. I always knew Vietnam was a civil war; we were invaders,” he says. “It was a moral dilemma – do I go to Canada, as some of my peers did? But the Army said I was a noncombatant, and being a physician was all I knew how to do.”
While the military had finally accepted D.O.s, several states still restricted their scope of practice. During Baker’s training and practice at Fort Jackson, SC, before he deployed to Vietnam, he testified for the American Osteopathic Association before the South Carolina Medical Society and committees of the state’s House and Senate. He did so in his uniform.
“It got to the point the military told me not to testify in my uniform, but I testified anyway,” he says. The following year, South Carolina granted full licensure to D.O.s. “I felt proud to have been part of that.”
In Vietnam, Baker faced no disapproval as a D.O. “All there was to do was work,” he says. He was sent to the 12th Army Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam’s Cu Chi district, under which the Viet Cong had dug an extensive network of tunnels to move troops and equipment, lay booby traps, mount surprise attacks and then disappear. Now a popular tourist attraction, the area saw some of the war’s most intensive action. Baker, who had trained in radiology, worked in the emergency room and also opened a pediatric clinic.
“A friend and mentor sent me some books. My wife, Maxine, sent my pediatrics textbook, which wasn’t very helpful, because I didn’t see anything in Vietnam like what was in the book,” he says. “I went to Saigon to a French hospital and stole some drugs. I treated two kids with leukemia.”
Baker also acquired a Kodak xray processor – “the surgeons thought I was a hero,” he recalls – and guided Bob Hope and Neil Armstrong around the intensive care unit. “They touched every soldier and tried to engage them in conversation,” he says. “I was impressed by their strength of character.”
He also witnessed the horrors of war. “The ICU saw triple amputees. For the first time, in Vietnam they survived. That was the real war you don’t hear very much about,” he says. “In the news, it was always 10 North Vietnamese deaths to one American. We probably killed North Vietnam three times over. In reality, 50,000 Americans lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands were injured. If you were an infantryman, you had a 90 percent chance of being injured, and a one in four chance you would die.”
Baker was promoted to major and awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and, for establishing his pediatric clinic, the Bronze Star Medal. He says he’s proud of his work in Vietnam but adds the experience affirmed his opposition to the war.
“You have to remember the times. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. Four students were shot during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State. Much of that was driven by the Vietnam War. The soldiers had nothing to do with it; it was all policy,” he says. “When the veterans came home, nobody welcomed them. No one wanted to talk about it. Today, many Vietnam veterans are homeless. Since then, attitudes have changed, but then it was a dirty little secret.”
Moments humorous and heavy
Like Baker, Fred Katz, D.O.’66, trained in radiology to meet a critical shortage in the military at the time. In Vietnam, he served as chief of radiology at the 17th Field Hospital in An Khe and volunteered at a local clinic operated by the First Air Calvary and at Holy Family Hospital in Qui Nhon. Like Baker, he saw the war’s horrific effects and ended his service with some negative experiences. At the completion of his tenure in Vietnam and after a 20-hour flight to Fort Lewis, WA, no one was there to greet his group. During his “re-enlistment talk,” when he told an Army major he wasn’t interested in re-enlisting, the major told him that his haircut was “not regulation.”
“He said, ‘We aren’t going to pay you guys unless you get Army haircuts,’” recalls Katz, who retired as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. “So the last thing I did in the Army was get a regulation haircut. That left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Almost 30 years later, the hospital where Katz practiced had hired a Vietnamese woman to reach out to the area’s Asian community: “She came up to me one day and said, ‘Dr. Katz, I heard you served in Vietnam.’ And I said I did. She took my hands and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ And I cried. I said, ‘You’re the first person, including my own government and country, who ever thanked me for my service.’”
Katz doesn’t dwell on bitterness, however. Recipient of the Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal for exemplary service, he describes having to practice shooting an M-16 rifle at a firing range at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, where he completed a six-month on-the-job training program in radiology. “I had never shot a gun before,” he says. He emptied three clips without hitting the targets, only to be told by his teammate, a private, that he should have shot just one bullet per target. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He said, ‘You’re the captain, sir! What should I put down for your score?’” Katz recounts. “I told him to put down what he wanted. Later, I found in my papers a certificate for sharp shooting.”
Katz initially worried how he’d be treated as a D.O., but the chief of radiology at Fort Benning was “very welcoming,” and the other radiologists didn’t ask where he’d gone to school. That changed when one of his colleagues fetched the mail.
“My mail had caught up with me, and I had all these copies of The DO magazine and the AOA Journal. He came up to me and said, ‘Fred, these magazines – why are you getting these?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m a D.O.,’” he chuckles. “He thought that was impossible. They couldn’t understand at the time how D.O.s could be as educated as they were.”
“You think you’re invincible”
Class of 1966 members Terry Schwartz, Paul Gold, Joel Leib and Michael Stein deployed to Long Bình, Vietnam, during their first year of residency. Leib was assigned to a medical dispensary and concurrently served as the physician at Long Bình Jail, called “LBJ,” a stockade for American troops who had committed crimes while in Vietnam. He eventually was reassigned to be the physician and radiologist at a small hospital base in Phu Loi, 25 miles north of Saigon.
“We were sandbagged in and were occasionally mortared,” he says. “Any bad cases we would evacuate to the big hospital in Saigon. I mainly treated troops and some of the locals.”
Schwartz, meanwhile, was sent out as battalion surgeon with the 4th Army Battalion, 23rd Mechanized Infantry. “Our vehicle had a big red cross that we painted dark green,” he recalls. “After we took a couple of hits with that, we covered it up with mud because it was too much of a target.”
Schwartz praises the troops he served with. “As the doctor, the photo you take posing with a rifle is the one you send home to your girlfriend. The guys really took care of us,” he says. “We were running around in tennis shoes and cut-off scrubs, so they knew we must be the doctors. They treated us just like M.D.s – they were just happy we were there.”
At least twice the base camp where Schwartz was working came under enemy attack. “It’s mass confusion. You don’t know who’s shooting at who,” he says. That didn’t distract him from his mission of saving soldiers, however. On May 9, 1968, he suffered a shrapnel wound to his hip from an incoming mortar round but continued to treat wounded soldiers brought to his “aid track.” When the number of men would no longer fit inside the vehicle, he went to them on the battlefield, refusing medical attention until all had been treated or evacuated. On May 26, 1968, he again treated wounded soldiers amid intense sniper and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
For his bravery and devotion to duty, Schwartz received the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal with “V” for valor.
“Things get so confusing during combat, and I was so busy and paying attention to only what I had to do, that I really never knew I was exposing myself to enemy fire until I saw the award,” he says with some wonderment. “That’s when I
really got scared…After a while, you think you’re invincible.”
Schwartz, who, like Leib and Katz, retired as an Army captain, downplays his heroism – “it’s two years; you do your job” – but he acknowledges the significance of his and other D.O.s’ service during the war. “At the time, we didn’t realize how important our being drafted was,” he says.
A portal to distinguished careers
While osteopathic physicians who served during the Vietnam War blazed a historically significant trail, the military tenure of the alumni on these pages was a relatively brief period in the impressive careers they established. Alan Rose became part of a successful practice on Long Island; Michael Stein practiced as a neurologist for many years in central Iowa.
Laurence Baker joined the oncology department faculty at Wayne State University, went on to become director of the Meyer L. Prentis Comprehensive Cancer Center of Metropolitan Detroit and was then recruited to the University of Michigan, where he now is professor of internal medicine in hematology and oncology, professor of pharmacology, director of the university’s Adult Sarcoma Survivorship Program and the author of more than 200 published research articles and almost 50 books and chapters.
Fred Katz is past chair of the board of the American Osteopathic College of Radiology and an AOCR Fellow; he helped forge bonds between the organization and the American College of Radiology. Though retired, he continues to teach part-time at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Suwanee, GA.
Soon after their discharge from the Army, Joel Leib and Paul Gold – who have known each other since the eighth grade – opened a still-thriving practice in Waterford, MI. Gold received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star while serving as squadron surgeon with the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Vietnam War. Terry Schwartz also remains active in family practice nearly 48 years after opening an office in Stone Mountain, GA, which is now part of North Atlanta Medical Associates and the Piedmont Healthcare Group.
Still, the service to country by these and many other osteopathic physicians helped give the profession the recognition it deserved, and it empowered its practitioners.
“A hospital in our area refused to accept D.O.s,” Rose recalls of the time after his discharge. “I sent them a letter saying that if I was good enough to serve in the military, I was good enough for the hospital. We became members of the staff, and now all the interns, externs and residents at that hospital are D.O.s.” ϑ
Opening the military door to D.O.s
Many M.D.s historically opposed allowing D.O.s to have equal professional footing, including in the military, but eventually their resistance had the opposite effect. Osteopaths were restricted from serving as physicians in the Armed Forces during World War II, which meant they stayed home to take care of all the patients left behind. That included the tens of thousands of American workers who were making guns, tanks, vehicles and other military equipment, including in Ford factories in Michigan and Ohio.
President Harry Truman bowed to opposition by the American Medical Association to commissioning D.O.s during the Korean War, but that changed when Robert McNamara, a former Ford president, served as secretary of defense under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Personally familiar with the competencies of osteopathic physicians, he authorized their acceptance into all military medical services on May 3, 1966, to begin the following year.
Earning that acceptance was a mixed victory in some ways. According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), unlike most allopathic physicians, D.O.s were not eligible for draft deferments to complete civilian residencies. As a result, many were drafted shortly after they completed their osteopathic internships.
The AOA honored the first 113 D.O.s to serve as commissioned medical officers at its House of Delegates meeting in July 2007, the 40th anniversary of their induction.
“Commissioning D.O.s in the military happens all the time today but back then it was a first,” stated the AOA in a commemorative book produced for the event. “These D.O.s were under a microscope, and they held in their hands the future of osteopathic medicine in the military…They performed with distinction and, for that, we are most grateful. Today we stand on the shoulders of these giants.”