Dr. Errol Alden: Another Look at Veterans Day

Veterans Day | Field of poppies
Veterans Day | Field of poppies (Photo credit: *Arielle*)


Are you…”

“Yes,” he smiled.  “And I believe you are…”

“Yes,”  I said.  “I thought you looked like you might be…”

“Yes.  You too, looked like you might be…”

We both laughed.  And so we met at Flatlanders’, a local sandwich shop.  He a retired Veteran; a pediatrician; a researcher; a father; a husband; and a man who goes toe to toe with Kathleen Sebalius on budget issues.  Me, a retired quality professional in the FDA regulated industry; a mother; a wife; a new journalist; a newish writer; a woman awed by Kathleen Sebalius’s strong conviction at BlogHer 13.

We, Dr. Errol Alden and I sat over hot beverages as if we were old friends.  Neighbors meandered in and back out, stopped to say hello and remind Dr. Alden about choir practice at the Methodist Church later that afternoon.  On November 11, Dr. Alden will talk to the local High School students about Veterans’ Day.

Dr. Errol Alden, MD, FAAP, retired from a military career in 1987.   He explains the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day to me:  “Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died defending our country; Veterans’ Day is a time to consider what veterans contributed to their country.”

In 1938 Congress dedicated November 11 “to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”  This new legal holiday honored the World War I veterans and the end of “The War to End All Wars.”  In 1954, after both World War II and the Korean War, Congress changed  “Armistice” to “Veterans,” and November 11 became a day to honor all American veterans of all wars.

Alden grew up one of seven children in a farming community;  I the second of nine, in a similar farming community.  We were both nerdy/geeky high-school students, he played the French horn, I the flute, in the marching band.  We both participated in student government.  We both loved our dairy cows.  Dad helped me name my 4-H heifer, Lady Bird.  Dr. Alden laughed at the obvious political joke my father interjected into my young life.

Alden went on to play in the Ohio State Marching Band where he graduated with an Agricultural Science degree.  So how did he become a military pediatrician?  Approaching graduation, Alden pondered aloud to his parents that he might be interested in medical school.  They told fellow parishioners, who told friends, who told his classmates.  By the time he got back to school, the news was out.  He was going to medical school.  Alden confesses, “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”

Alden became a military pediatrician.  Besides treating children of service men and women, and children of Embassy officers, he taught at Madigan Army Medical Center, in Fort Willis, Washington, he served as chairman of Uniformed Services Health Sciences at Walter Reed and he helped establish pediatric standards of care.

Throughout his 25-year military career, Alden experienced many sociological changes.  Before the Vietnam war, PTSS (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) was rarely recognized.  “People cannot be in war without emotional strain.”  It only took me seeing “The Deer Hunter” to appreciate the trauma of war.  Even before I had a son, I hoped never to send one of mine to war.


Alden also saw the military go from draft-status to all-volunteer.  This ushered in a shift in strategy.  During the Vietnam War, soldier did one tour of combat duty; now, soldiers are re-deployed to war zones many times.   Alden explains the difference between an all-volunteer and a draft military, “Citizens who have been to war are anxious to avoid it.”  He an I are on the same page, once again. 

Alden also saw many changes for women throughout his career.  Twelve women went through medical school with him; eight were at the top of his class. Women had unequal hurdles to success when he began his career.  He told me his wife is much smarter than he, yet when his National Merit Scholarship expired, without question, she stopped school to support his career.  In today’s world, her career and education would be just as important as his.

Now, 50% of medical students are women.  Before 1967, the military capped the number of women at 2%.  Women were kept from active duty if they had a child under the age of 18.  Today no cap exists for women, and both mother and father get deployed at the same time.

Many people are unaware of the contributions military medicine makes to our country and society.  The military developed methods to fight infectious diseases, X-rays for diagnostic purposes, and plaster casts to set bones.  With a little imagination, the link between the military and these medical breakthroughs are clear.

The military also started the “Back to Sleep,” which reduced the incidence of Sudden Infant Death. The military developed the “push and turn” safety caps, was instrumental in standards for pediatric car seats and conducted many health related studies.

“Did you know that Medicaid started because so many young men drafted into the military or who volunteered failed to meet the military health standards?”  He and I talked about John Kennedy’s President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and Lyndon Johnson’s push for Medicaid.  I had no idea, the status our young military hopefuls’ physicals helped assess the health of our nation.

Alden firmly believes that the military is a great way to give back to the community and the country.  Besides that, it is a great way to stay physically fit and mentally sharp.   The best part of his career?   “Working with the best and brightest in pediatrics to establish standards of care.  It’s always fun to work with people smarter than you are.”  That’s been the best part of my career, too!

Alden now practices pediatric medicine.  He serves as CEO of American Academy of Pediatrics, which is affiliated with the American Heart Association.   At the same time, he is on the national faculty of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Neonatal Resuscitation Program.  The American Academy of Pediatrics also sets the standards for immunization, recommend books, and campaign to be cautious about prescribing antibiotics.  He helped establish childhood asthma protocols.

He and his wife have 5 children, 13 foster children and 17 grandchildren, and a few dairy cows.

In just one hour I feel like I reconnected with an old friend, in spite of our just meeting.  My favorite story:

A woman brought her daughter into the emergency room for the third time.  The little girl suffered from a life-threatening asthma attack.

“You must get your two dogs out of your house.  They are harmful to you child’s health.”

“But Doctor, we had our dogs before we had our daughter.”

“Well, then, I can find a new home for your daughter.”

Sometimes the best way to nurture is to apply directness firmly and often.  I love you Dr. Alden.

Drat!  Just like with Kathleen Sebalius, I failed to get a picture with Dr. Alden.  Maybe I’ll run into him at Flatlander’s again.  I sure hope so.








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