Louisville Medicine Volume 67, Issue 6 - Page 6

HONORING MY FATHER Author’s Note: This November edition of Louisville Medicine Mag- azine wishes to pay tribute to our physician members that have served in the Armed Forces. November sees us celebrating Veterans Day and given this I felt compelled to take an opportunity to pay tribute to my father, Francis R. Burns, MD, a World War II veteran. M y father was a member of the Greatest Generation, land- ing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 as part of Operation Overlord. He was in the 116th Infantry Medical Detachment that landed 45 minutes after the first wave of the D-Day Invasion, and assisted the wounded and dying in what is now recognized as one of the deadliest assaults in military history, with over 3,000 casualties on Omaha Beach alone. My father, along with all of the medical personnel that landed on the beaches of Normandy that day and ensuing days, did not carry a weapon. Members of the Medical Corp wore helmets marked with the Red Cross symbol, which, as I learned, became a target of German snipers. My father spent nearly three months in France and developed undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the time, PTSD was known as “battle fatigue,” which replaced the terminology “shell shock” used during World War I. The treatment of PTSD during World War II was inadequate at best. My father’s treatment included evacuation to an exhaustion center and morphine injections. Many soldiers who received such treatment ended up with morphine addiction following the war. After returning to battle, he and his men endured heavy artillery fire. He again developed classic symptoms of PTSD. He reported to the regimental surgeon stating, honestly, that he felt incapable of leading a Battalion Medical Section into combat, however was very willing to continue a role as a non-combat physician. Because the Army did not see value for him in that role, he was discharged with an Other-Than-Honorable status. He attempted to change this for years following the war, hiring an attorney and writing letters to his congressman; alas to no avail. He continued his medical training, completing a residency in OB-GYN at Washington University in St. Louis. He moved to Hannibal, Mo., where he had a private practice 4 LOUISVILLE MEDICINE for over 30 years caring for women and delivering more than 6000 babies. He and my mother raised my three sisters and me in Hanni- bal. He often, I learned later in life, commiserated with a physician friend and colleague who had survived the Bataan Death March. He dealt with anxiety and depression most of his remaining years, however, he had a very successful life and medical practice despite these psychological issues stemming from the war. My father died in 1991 at the age of 75. I am writing about my father as I feel an obligation to him and all of the soldiers that helped free this world of tyranny. I did not truly understand what that Generation did for us until I saw Saving Private Ryan. My father had not confided or shared those memories with me. I was young and unaware. As I watched that movie, I thought of my dad and what he experienced; the carnage, the tragedy. I became very emotional as I still do to this day. I felt regret that I never talked to him about his experience during the war, although I understand that he may have not discussed, had I asked. Since his death, I have tried to honor him and his memory. My family and I have visited Normandy twice. The most recent visit was 2017. Our tour guide walked with me alone onto the sands of Omaha Beach showing me where my father’s unit would have landed. I returned home with a vial of sand and shells from that exact spot. Each of my sisters has some. Our family has purchased a brick in his honor at the entrance to the World War II Museum in New Orleans. (I strongly encourage all of you to visit as it is one of the most remarkable museums in the world.) In November of 2018, the Burns Family traveled to New Orleans where the museum staff orchestrated a remarkable and moving ceremony at the brick to honor his memory. After a museum bugler played “Taps,” I pointed out that there were nine of his descendants there with us at the ceremony. None of us would be here if he had not courageously told the truth to the regimental surgeon and returned from the war. Finally, I have applied to the Army Board of Military Records in order to correct the injustice of his discharge status. The Hagel Memorandum, issued in September 2014, provided guidance to military boards considering Discharge Upgrades by veterans (or