Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dr Mary Walker comic book released

Groundbreaking Civil War Doctor Showcased

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Some of Walker's possessions are in the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Monday, August 17, 2020

Responding to the Washington Post's mistaken criticism of Hammond

In this article,"The stench of colonialism mars these bird names. They must be changed" by Gabriel Foley, Jordan Rutter, published online August 4, 2020, the authors write,

"When we name an animal species after the person who first made it known to science, we are effectively honoring that person's contribution. ... Yet these honorific names — known as eponyms — also cast long, dark shadows over our beloved birds and represent colonialism, racism and inequality. It is long overdue that we acknowledge the problem of such names, and it is long overdue that we should change them." They follow that up by claiming, "William Alexander Hammond, once a surgeon general of the United States, asked U.S. soldiers to send him the bodies of indigenous people for comparative anatomy studies"

I sent a letter to the Post that they chose not to publish, so I'm posting it here:

Notwithstanding any validity of Foley and Rutter's argument about bird names, they are factually wrong in stating Army Surgeon General Hammond asked U.S. soldiers to send him bodies of indigenous peoples. Hammond founded the Army Medical Museum as the first federal medical research facility, holding human specimens (including skulls), photographs, and case histories from ill and injured Union soldiers, usually white males. Medicine at the time was unrecognizable to us - there were no ambulances, x-rays, antibiotics, or germ theory. Hammond proposed to produce a Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and the 6,000-page, fifty-six pound History took twenty-three years to finish. By the 1870s, ethnography and anthropology were growing scientific fields, and the Museum had a pre-existing core of bored Army officers to draw on for donations. As early as 1869, the Smithsonian had proposed "an exchange of specimens which are now in possession of the Army Medical Museum, relative to Indian Archaeology and Anthropology, for specimens relative to human and comparative Anatomy in the Smithsonian Institution." Museum curator JS Billings renewed this exchange in 1884, 20 years after Hammond left Washington. In fact without Hammond and his colleagues, Foley and Rutter's field may have been much slower to develop. An entire book, Ornithologists of the United States Army Medical Corps, was written by EE Hume in 1942. Medicine, anthropology, and ornithology have all evolved since the 1860s, and while 'science never exists in a vacuum' as the authors note, it has to start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Red Cross photo collection at Library of Congress

Behind the Scenes: an Archivist Draws on Myriad Experiences

Below is an interview with Kristen Sosinski, Archivist in the Prints & Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

From Anderson’s Holler – A World War II medical photographer’s story- available now

From Anderson’s Holler – A World War II medical photographer’s story- available now

A memoir of growing up in the hills of West Virginia and suddenly becoming a World War II medical photographer, with a clearance to go where others could not.

By Melvin C. Shaffer
Dallas: DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
Price $30
ISBN 978-1-878516-16-9 (paper)
          978-1-878516-17-6 (cloth)

June 25, 2020 – Green Valley, Arizona

In his first memoir, pioneering medical educator and Army Sergeant (ret.) Melvin C. Shaffer recalls his upbringing in rural West Virginia, his efforts to escape the narrow life of his peers, and his service in World War II. Foreshadowing his global wanderings, Shaffer’s first memory is of his father receiving a telephone call on his family’s wall-mounted crank telephone, announcing Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight arriving in Paris. As a boy, he developed a dual love of travel and photography. When World War II called, these passions fueled his success as a photographer in the Army’s 3rd Medical Museum and Arts Detachment (MAMAS). Trained and equipped as a medic, he also carried a full photography kit on assignments given him by the Army Medical Museum in Washington to document medicine and surgery – both advances and problems. First sent to North Africa, his own resourcefulness got him to wide-flung duty stations: Sicily, Salerno, Naples, Anzio, Rome, Florence, Poltava, Southern France, Dachau, and Berlin. Shaffer finds himself pulling soldiers off the battlefield while under fire, as well as documenting the new wonder drug, penicillin. His post-war civilian duties took him to Nuremberg and Tokyo on assignments related to Hitler’s bunker suicide and the atomic bombing of Japan.

Shaffer, retired after long careers at the Medical College of Virginia (now Virginia Commonwealth University) and the World Health Organization, has a folksy way of telling his story. Readers of Shaffer’s book will feel as though they are sitting across from him at the dinner table, but his tales are true and not tall ones. He says, “I tried to write the book in such a way that readers could experience the war as I did, that they could see and feel the power of things as they came to me and, occasionally, find the humor of it all.”

Now in his 90s, Melvin Shaffer still travels as much as he can and has never satisfied his wanderlust. He is writing a sequel to From Anderson’s Holler, covering his post-war experiences in medical education.

He is available for interviews and can be reached via email at
The book may be purchased from Southern Methodist University (SMU) at
Shaffer’s personal photos taken during the war have been donated to SMU and can be found at

Thursday, June 18, 2020

1st piece on COVID-19 by Navy's medical historian online

The Nay's medical department historian has been conducting oral histories for weeks to document the coronavirus response. This is the first piece to come out of that effort.

Presence and Partnerships: NEPMU-5's Fight Against COVID-19



Story by AndrĂ© Sobocinski 

U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

it's also at

Preventive Medicine Unit Partners With Commanders, Sailors to Fight COVID-19

Story Number: NNS200618-15Release Date: 6/18/2020 1:44:00 PM      
From Andre B. Sobocinski, Historian, BUMED Public Affairs

Friday, March 13, 2020

Digitization proposed for former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology collection

Pentagon plans to digitize the largest repository of disease-related medical data in the world

The Department of Defense wants a digital repository of its 55 million tissue samples going back over 100 years

That's the former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology collection with many pre-World War II Army Medical Museum specimens.

As of 2011, they were scanning patient records and creating metadata, but then the AFIP was BRAC'd and recreated as the JPC. How does one digitize wax tissue blocks? Or wet tissue?

Monday, January 27, 2020

RIP Ron Wallace, a mainstay of the Borden Institute

The history of military medicine lost a member of the community this past week. Ron Wallace will not be known to most of you, but he was a mainstay of the US Army's Borden Institute's publishing, including many history of military medicine titles.

The friends and coworkers of Ronald Eugene Wallace mourn his passing last week. Ron, a former US Air Force master sergeant (and then long-time first sergeant), died in a fire in his home in Maryland. During the same week, the US Government Printing Office was praising the Borden's books in two blog posts - here and here.

I personally knew Ron when I worked at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and they published one of our exhibit catalogs, a history of the Walter Reed Medical Center, and a book on the last days of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. At the same time, they were doing the Textbooks of Military Medicine, books with current information on how to treat the injuries the military was suffering from in our ongoing wars. Ron always stood ramrod straight, was generous to a fault, and was garrulous. It was always a pleasure to walk down the hill and into the old building and run into him. In my head, although it hasn't been true for 9 years, he's still standing in the former nursing school, waiting to hand out the latest book.

Senior Layout Editor Douglas Wise remembers Ron:

Before his retirement last July, Ron spent 27 years working at Borden Institute, joining in 1992 as the administrator and office manager. His name rarely made it into the books, but almost 70 books on military medicine stand as tribute to his efforts making sure those whose names do appear could do their jobs with as little difficulty or obstacle as he could prevent. He helped build a library of books that resides in the Pentagon, the White House, and in the pocket of every soldier who goes through training today.

If you met Ron even once, then you know you met him and you've heard his stories. If you met Ron a second or third time then you heard those stories again, as well as some new ones. You could work with him for eighteen years and still get new stories out of him in addition to those stories you heard retold... weekly.

Ron's friendly and outgoing nature made him the face of Borden Institute. He was the first person you saw when you came to the office, he was out making friends with everyone who came to our exhibits, personally coaxing paperwork through the military bureaucracy faster than anyone else, and making sure that the brass, all the way up to the Surgeon General of the Army, knew who we were. One could (and did) find themselves on jury duty, on the subway, in a gathering of complete strangers, and find someone there who knew Ron Wallace.

And he took each person he met as their own person. There was no prejudging someone based on their accent, how much melanin they have in their skin, their views on the afterlife, or office gossip. If Ron took a disliking to you then you can be sure it was because of something you actually said or did.

It was a loss to Borden and the US military as a whole when Ron retired and a greater loss to our hearts and lives to learn of his passing.

Dr. Dave Lounsbury, COL, USA (ret.) recalls:

He and Lorraine Davis were the glue that held the Borden Institute together. Lorraine as Managing Editor kept track of books developing in the pipeline. Ron as Administrative Chief (I swear I don't think I ever learned what his title actually was) was absolutely superb at managing our budget. He seemed to know just about everyone at the budget offices of OTSG (US Army Office of the Surgeon General) and WRAMC (Walter Reed Army Medical Center). He protected the budget like it was his child. Borden was always something of a bastard child in the AMEDD (US Army Medical Department). The budget was forever at or near the chopping block. But time & time again, with his enormously reassuring (to me) "Don't worry. Let me handle this," Ron would salvage our financial survival. Not a few times, instead of a cut we got an increase! He was instrumental at increasing our staff. He finessed this entirely on his own. Lorraine and I might kibitz but he did it alone -- kept our books straight, excelled at every budget review, justified our purpose ... I marveled at his style.

He listened to most of the relentless gossip of the BI but I can't say I ever knew him to join it. Not his thing. Ron didn't speak ill of his colleagues. Now & then he'd grumble -- appropriately -- about one or another, but he never slammed them. Not a few times, I can confess, I was not so temperate or charitable -- furious at one or another staff member. Ron would listen, but he didn't join in. That reserve of his often gave me a bit of pause in my judgements once I calmed down. I valued him. Goodness knows he could talk your ear off, for hours at a time. But it was never vindictive stuff, always harmless, just tales of yore ... himself usually the hero. He was very slow to anger. But when he did boil over -- a truly rare occurrence -- the occasion invariably warranted it. I can only recall two of these.

He was thoroughly honest. He was thoroughly respectful. He came to work convinced that the what the Borden Inst produced was sui generis and absolutely worth preserving. No visitor could come by and then get away without being showered with books & info regarding what we published.

He had a finely tuned and curious ability to transfer allegiance such as I had never encountered before or since. One day my predecessor was the Director and Ron directed his attention solely toward that individual --even though he was totally aware that the fellow had been sacked. The next day I was in charge and, snap-of-a-finger, Ron was fully on board. I couldn't help notice this. Normally it might take a week or a month to make these transitions. Ron did so instantaneously. Impossible not to notice. I pointed it out to him one day long after I had settled in. It was a compliment to him. He simply shrugged.Of course, four or so years later it was my turn to transition out. Sure enough: though I stayed on to complete a couple of works in progress, there was no mistaking his redirection of attention and duties. I wasn't the boss anymore.My ego survived and we stayed close friends.

Ron, and Lorraine, did most of the work. I got all the credit.

He was a good man -- to Nancy, to his daughter, to his job, to his country.

The Homegoing Service for Ron will be held at Vaughn Green Funeral Services, 8728 Liberty Road,  Randallstown MD 21133. You may visit their website for details. On Monday, February 3rd from 4pm to 8pm there will be a Public Viewing and Tuesday February 4th, the wake begins at 10am, the funeral begins at 10:30 am. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Measles genotyped from Berlin medical museum specimen

The Virus Buried in a 100-Year-Old Lung