During the battle for Okinawa in 1945, thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians died. The fighting was desperate, horrific. In the midst of this carnage, courage and sacrifice prevailed but no more than by PFC Desmond Doss. He was a medic. Remarkably, he was a Conscientious Objector yet wanted to serve his country. He refused to carry a weapon. His faith was such that he could not take a life under any circumstance. He was beloved, though, by the men in his unit as his courage was undeniable. On one nightmarish night, following hours of ferocious combat leaving one hundred American soldiers wounded on top of a 400- foot cliff, PFC Doss’ courage went “above and beyond the call of duty” earning him the Medal Of Honor.
While under continuous enemy fire, protected only by darkness and the returned gunfire of the wounded he was attempting to save, he lowered by rope, one soldier after another to safety. Despite being wounded as well, he kept going back saying to himself, “Just get one more, just one more”. He singlehandedly saved 75 men that night. Years later, Doss would say during an interview, “I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I was thinking about it from this standpoint – in a house fire, and a mother has a child in that house, what prompts her to go in and get that child?” “Love”, he said. “I loved my men and they loved me… I just couldn’t give them up, just like a mother couldn’t give up the child.”
Doss’ words powerfully speak to a special bond forged by shared hardships and sacrifices. Despite the horrors of war, those who survive speak of how much they miss the bond they had with their fellow soldiers. I know this bond and I believe each of you do, too. For me, it occurred with my classmates at West Point, my fellow residents in training, my physician tent mates during Operation Desert Storm, and those with whom I have served on medical missions. This unique and intimate connection makes the unbearable, bearable, the impossible, possible.
I suspect you experienced this during your medical training as well. Those years of grueling work and sacrifice were possibly the toughest of your life but the friendships formed may very well be some of the closest you have ever had. You were there for each other. You depended on each other. There was an unmistakable, unspoken bond between you. I believe the bond continues today. Every day, you serve alongside colleagues and a myriad of others – nurses, APP’s, ancillary staff – who share a common passion, providing exceptional healthcare. The passion therein is the fuel that stokes the fire from which this bond is forged and then strengthened by the demands and expectations you face.
Why write about this? Am I naive to think it important? There is no metric for it. It is not on the “scorecard”. I write because what you are doing together, whether in the inpatient or outpatient realm, is important. You are making a difference in the lives of others every day and it is still a privilege to do so. My hope is that you will “see and feel” the bond that connects each of you. It is this bond, and the one you have with your patients, that will sustain you in the years ahead. When nurtured, this bond will not break. Cherish these times, these friendships, this bond for they are reminders that you are part of something much bigger than you are. As a result, you can do even greater things!
Andy Lamb, MD