American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Legacy of Heroes
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Letter from the AAOS

Were this World War II and on board a ship steaming to the invasion of a Pacific island the evening before the troops hit the beach, the intercom would squawk on and a voice would say, "This is your Captain speaking. Tomorrow we will…" After reading the vivid accounts of those of you who were on a ship; charging through the surf of Sicily, Italy, or France; among the dozens of D-days in the Pacific; serving in hospitals overseas or the United States, we can only say how privileged we would have been to be able to have heard those words and to have had the honor to serve with you.

Your exploits are the stuff of legend. What you call, so many years later, "just doing your duty," is to us today the "Legacy of Heroes." This book of wartime recollections is a tribute to all Fellows of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons who have served our country in times of crisis.

In rummaging through the Academy records of the wartime years, we were gratified, but not surprised, at what we found. Dr. Oscar Miller, Academy President, addressed the annual meeting in January, 1941 with: "If, before we convene again, the crisis should materialize that now threatens the safety and integrity of this land which has cradled us these many years, may we be willing not only to give, but to die if necessary, in its defense as our forebears have done, that this freedom not perish from this earth."

His words were prophetic. A year later at the next annual meeting, five weeks after Pearl Harbor, Dr. Frank Ober read a resolution to President Roosevelt pledging, "It is the desire of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to offer its wholehearted support to our Country in this serious emergency."

Two years before the war began, the Committee on Military Affairs promised the National Research Council that it would "Make every effort to recruit into the Army a large group of surgeons trained in general orthopaedic and industry surgery, particularly the surgeons of draft age who have had experience with fractures and traumatic work….." By 1941 they said, "We have been able to place at the disposal of the Surgeon General about 90 young, well-trained orthopaedic surgeons who are competent to take charge of a fracture ward….We are informed by the Army that the orthopaedic service is filling all of its requirements at the present time." Also a year before the war began, "It was moved and seconded that the Treasurer be authorized to invest $5,000.00 of the Academy's funds in defense bonds…." We suspended dues for members in the military.

Deep in the war, the situation had become much different. From the Military Affairs Committee, "General Rankin (of the Surgeon General's office) has indicated he needs a large number of young, qualified orthopaedic surgeons who have completed the equivalent work of the Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, or who are in the process of receiving their postgraduate training, to serve in evacuation units and in general hospitals as assistants or ward officers. A rather large number of these men is urgently needed." It was soon reported that, "There are between 575 and 700 orthopaedic surgeons who have been placed through the Committee." By 1945, about a third of the fellows were on active duty in some branch of service. Hundreds of our members and future members were overseas with combat units.

Your wartime experiences changed the course of orthopaedics. The sheer numbers of the wounded; the opportunities to attempt bold new surgical techniques; the creation of hand, burn and amputation centers and the tremendous need for rehabilitation challenged every medical professional, but particularly orthopaedists. Orthopaedic surgery, quite literally in your hands, came of age in the Second World War.

Speaking for every member of the Academy, we salute you.

Vernon T. Tolo, MD
American Academy of
Orthopaedic Surgeons

William W. Tipton, Jr., MD
Executive Vice President
American Academy of
Orthopaedic Surgeons


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