Veteran Recalls Practicing Medicine Under Fire

 Note: This feature is republished with permission from Pennsylvania Physician Magazine. Read the entire fall edition at For Veterans Day, Nov. 11, we thank and honor all those who served in our armed forces.

President Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”

PAMED honors a man who, as Lincoln wrote, served in the service and the field: in this case, the medical field.

William Lander, MD, “does not know what the word retirement means” but he does know the meaning of the word service. Lander remains a practicing physician into his nineties and has been a PAMED member for 62 years. For decades, he has cared for patients at his medical practice, but his acts of service to our country began before that.

It all started when World War II erupted. Dr. Lander had been advised to sign up for a specific branch of the military instead of being drafted into whichever branch the government determined greatest need. He decided to take that advice and enlisted in the Naval V-12 Program.

“I figured I would be on a ship and that’s what I wanted to do,” he says, “but I was already in a college program designed to train military officers and was sent to Ursinus College”

In 1946, the war had ended and he had graduated from Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pa. Dr. Lander continued his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, Philadelphia.

When the Korean Conflict began, Dr. Lander was working at an unpaid internship and his wife, Nancy, was pregnant with one of their three sons.

“Nancy’s coworker found out she was expecting and the insurance firm, where she was employed, politely asked her to leave. Things are certainly different nowadays,” he says, chuckling.

In order to earn a living for his growing family, Lander re-enlisted in the Navy in 1950 as a Naval Medical Officer. His family was originally sent to a Long Island Naval hospital. A week later, he was sent to California to join up with the 1st Marine Division.

“My first thought was, ‘Wait, I’m not a Marine! I’m in the Navy,” Dr. Lander says.

Dr. Lander served in Korea for 10 months and medically aided the Marines. He remembers the country’s landscape as “a mess”’ having been devastated by war. The weather was also unbearable.

“The temperature was cold; 40 degrees below zero and it snowed a lot,” he remembers. “You couldn’t stay warm, no matter how hard you tried. We unfortunately lost a lot of troops to the extreme cold and frost bite.”

The brutally cold temperature was not the only threat to Dr. Lander’s life; during one particular campaign in North Korea, shortly after an Army division in close proximity to where he and the Marines were positioned had already fallen to the Chinese Military, Lander’s division found themselves surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers. For roughly 12 days, they were entirely cut off from other divisions.

The situation was so perilous that supplies had to be air dropped to them. It was crucial, however, that the Marines remain steadfast and hold the area; it was the objective of the campaign.

The only way to safety was by a road which led to the ocean. The road, which began at Dr. Lander’s locale, was a one-lane road that contained many Chinese roadblocks along its 50-mile stretch to the sea and victory.

“To give you a better mental picture, my medical tent was 25 yards behind the front line, where they were constantly shooting at us,” he says. “It didn’t faze me that much. I still had to continue doing my job! Besides, I felt safe while surrounded by my fellow servicemen.”

The men Dr. Lander spent his time with in North Korea remained a part of his life long after the conflict ended. They kept in touch with one another and remained good friends throughout the years. Although their contact with one another and the remaining number of men have both dwindled, Dr. Lander says that he thinks of them “often and fondly.”

After attending to the medical needs of Marines and North Korean civilians, Dr. Lander flew back to the states and was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Later, he became a Marine recruiter until his discharge in 1952.

Dr. Lander maintains a successful solo practice in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He has been a PAMED member for 62 years and has served as a board member and president. He has also held many chair positions for the Montgomery County Medical Society.