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Charlottesville, Anzio beachhead, eponyms, and Roger Maris

DII small banner By Warren R. Heymann, MD
Aug. 18, 2017

I never anticipated the need to write this commentary on our vacation to celebrate our 35th anniversary. We had long planned visiting Anzio, where my late father-in-law, Louis Schnur, fought valiantly on the beachhead in the army artillery unit. He suffered from shrapnel wounds, earning him a Purple Heart (one of several medals received from his tour of duty from North Africa to the Battle of the Bulge). The Battle of Anzio was the major thrust of the Italian campaign.

We had the opportunity to meet with the assistant supervisor of the World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial who guided us in this beautifully manicured, Roman Umbrella pine-embraced, tranquil resting place of 7861 soldiers who sacrificed their lives for freedom (see images). I was moved when he noted the paucity of visitors compared to Normandy (where Ronnie and I were privileged to visit last summer). Rome was liberated on June 5th, 1944. That was overshadowed by D-Day, June 6th.
In the memorial, homage was also paid to those who battled in the Pacific theater. I was pleased to show my daughters where their other late grandfather, Horace Heymann, worked in the Navy construction battalion, building the tarmac on Tinian island (see image).

Both my father and father in-law were convinced they had defeated Naziism and fascism. According to Timothy Egan, each day we lose an average of 362 World War II veterans. As he stated so eloquently, “Before they die, before they disappear into the opaque mist of history, the last Americans to fight Nazi Germany have to face one more blast of something they thought they’d eliminated in the bloodiest war of all time.” (1).

Both fathers would be aghast at what transpired at Charlottesville. Our country is now engulfed in the debate of how best to handle the strife and symbols of the Civil War — and hate.
History should not be whitewashed, but confronted head on to take away any possible lessons for a better future. Even several descendants of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis agree with removing statues of their ancestors, suggesting that they be moved to museums or other venues, where their historical significance can be presented in the context of the 1860s. (2)

August 20th, 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Code, establishing a 10 point set of rules for conducting human experiments, following the verdict of 23 doctors and bureaucrats accused of war crimes against humanity involving lethal concentration camp experiments. (3)

Changes in medical education are occurring at breakneck speed, notably having lectures replaced by problem and team-based learning. (4) I am in favor of whatever makes young physicians become thoughtful, inquiring doctors. As technological advances outpace the capacity of any human mind to assimilate exponentially increasing data, a solid foundation is essential for clinicians to appreciate what they are doing and why. This should include historical perspectives.

While I laud the decisions to remove the eponyms from Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (formerly Wegener’s granulomatosis) and Reactive Arthritis (previously Reiter’s syndrome), I am concerned that the Nazi party involvement of Friedrich Wegener and the atrocities of medical experimentation at Buchenwald, performed by Hans Reiter, will be forgotten by future medical students — unless they are reminded. How should that be done?

I believe that the best approach is the asterisk. When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, surpassing Babe Ruth’s prior record of 60, the commissioner Ford Frick insisted on placing an asterisk after Maris’ name, noting that he accomplished his feat in 162 games, compared to 154 for Ruth. (It should also be remembered that Frick and Ruth were friends. On another note, the current record is 73 home runs by Barry Bonds in 2001 — he probably deserves two asterisks for performance enhancing drugs).

In conclusion, we cannot escape our past, but we must learn from it. As we as a country strive for the ideals set by our founding fathers, we as physicians must also maintain the highest ethical principles espoused by Hippocrates and Maimonides. One small step in this process would be to see the following: Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis* and Reactive Arthritis*.

1. Egan, T. The Real American Heritage. New York Times August 18th, 2017.
2. Astor M, Fandos N. Confederate Leaders’ Descendants Say Statues Can Come Down. New York Times August 17th, 2017.
3. Moreno JD, et al. The Nuremberg code 70 years later. JAMA published online August 17th, 2017.
4. Schwartzstein RM, Roberts DH. Saying goodbye to lectures in medical school – paradigm shift or passing fad? N Engl J Med 2017; 377: 605-7.

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