In the book’s Introduction, Dr. Cleaveland explains his personal need for real and fictional heroes. Seeing himself often as a victim of cruel childhood peers, he sought protectors and savored particularly the exploits of World War II heroes. His heroes, he notes, delivered him safely through childhood and adolescence.

Cleaveland describes seeing a documentary movie about Dr. Croydon Wassel in 1944; Dr. Wassel became his first personal hero. A book about Dr. Wassel was read by Cleaveland many times; later, as an adult, Cleaveland looked for the book again and set out to ascertain its authenticity. From extensive research he found Dr. Wassel to be far more courageous than he had anticipated--"studied, found not wanting."

The author was introduced to the story of Dr. Billie Dyer in 1992 through a collection of short stories. Dyer was a black physician who kept a diary during his eighteen months in service in the U.S. Medical Corp during the First World War. Cleaveland found a copy of the diary in the public library in Lincoln, Illinois and learned more about a new hero.

Other heroes he writes about were Dr. Woodrow Dodson, who served sixty years as a "domestic medical missionary"; and Dr. Lonnie Boaz, a black physician, the son of a victim of a hate crime, who became a well known ophthalmologist, husband, father, civic leader, and reformer after starting out as a painter, janitor, and army medic.

Cleaveland considers some of his patients to be heroes: Vera Gustafson, a World War II nurse whom he interviewed extensively, later adding historical information to her story; Paulette McGill, a childhood diabetic cared for by Dr. Cleaveland for twenty years; and an obese diabetic who became a "universal friend," teaching others about devotion and courage. Other patients were also deemed heroic, each for some special reason.

The longest story, saved till the last, is about Dr. Janusz Korczak, described by Dr. Cleaveland as the most heroic figure he knows of. Korczak was a Polish, Jewish pediatrician who devoted his life to improving the welfare of children in the Warsaw ghetto; he was deported to the Treblinka concentration camp with the children. (A movie that came out in 1990 dramatically tells this story.)


Clif Cleaveland is a past president of the American College of Physicians, which is publishing this work. Cleaveland’s goal, I believe, is to convince his readers that healers and heroes come in all forms, colors, sexes, etc. I believe he accomplishes this. I was asked to write a note about the book for the back cover; it is as follows: "In telling of his personal need for heroes during his early life, Dr. Cleaveland prepares readers very effectively for this collection of stories of mostly unknown and unsung heroes. Physicians will certainly be inspired to look for their own heroes."


American College of Physicians

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