Looking Back, 1952: York doctors join war effort

Jim Rada
Looking Back

In September 1952, the residents of York were worried. The word on the street was that many of the doctors in the city were about to be drafted into the armed forces. York would be left short handed when it came to medical care.

York County Korean War Veterans Memorial

President Harry Truman had enacted a second peacetime draft with the Selective Service Act of 1948. Young men from 18 to 26 years of age signed up for,  and in many cases were drafted into, the armed forces as the United States entered the Korean War.

However a doctor’s draft also was instituted to ensure that there would be enough skilled professionals to care for all of the young servicemen being drafted. This law made all doctors 51 years old and younger eligible for the draft. It was instituted because of a poor response of medical professionals in the military. The first doctor’s draft in 1950 inducted 2,000 doctors and dentists.

York already had seen some of its doctors and dentists shipped off to Korea. Many of them were close to seeing their time in the service come to an end, though. They had served their maximum 24 months.

Then just as it seemed that York’s medical staff might get back to normal, more than 50 doctors and dentists were called up by one of the three county draft boards and sent to Harrisburg to take physical exams.

Afterward, residents apparently heard doctors talking about whether they would enter the Army or Navy. These medical professionals were part of Priority Group Three, and if the government called them up, they would be required to fill out Form 390 with their training and experience. Based on this form, a commission would be offered.

The doctor then had to make a choice. If he accepted the commission, he could choose his branch of service and also would receive $100 extra a month. Those who accepted were inducted by age with the youngest being inducted first.

If the doctor turned down the commission, he would be inducted just like civilian registrants.

The problem was that the rumors weren’t true. Yes, the doctors had been examined, but none had been inducted, and it looked like it would be at least six months before that became a possibility.

“The statements by these doctors that they will enter the Army or the Navy were accepted, it appears, by some patients to mean that the physicians will be called into service immediately,” The York Dispatch reported.

However, the newspaper started investigating to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Doctors and dentists throughout the city and county were contacted.

Only one doctor, an obstetrician, knew he was being inducted. He was expected to report to the Navy by Nov. 1.

“Two other doctors, one from this city and another from the county, who also hold commissions in the U.S. Naval Reserves, as does the doctor who is expected to be recalled, said they have not yet been notified when to report,” the newspaper reported. These doctors also had joined the Navy.

Finally, two other doctors with Priority Group One hadn’t been inducted yet, although other doctors from that group had been. One was a doctor and the other a dentist. They had had their medical education funded by the government, and they expected to be sent overseas with the U.S. Air Force.

The local draft boards had more than 50 doctors and dentists in Priority Group Three go to Harrisburg for their physical exams. The physicians in this group were between 40 and 51 years old, had received no government aid for their education and had never had deferred service because of their studies.

TheYork Dispatch reported that Maj. Gen. Lewis Hershey, director of Selective Service, told state Selective Service directors that there was a possibility that Group Three dentists might be called up in October, but even that was uncertain.

Residents began to breathe easier, although they worried about their sons, brothers and fathers who were fighting in Korea.

By the end of the conflict, 34 York County residents had died.

York has a memorial to its Korean War veterans that was erected in downtown York.

— James Rada Jr. is an award-winning freelance writer and author from Gettysburg who enjoys writing about historical topics. Learn more about his books at jamesrada.com or contact him at jimrada@yahoo.com.