June 5, 1942 – Meet a member of a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René today.

A good time to get to know one of his colleagues in the 59th Evac. Unit…

Roy Cohn, MD

Roy Cohn was born in 1910 in Portland, Oregon and was raised in Southern California. He came to Stanford as an undergraduate in the mid-1920s, and received his bachelor’s degree in 1929. He graduated from Stanford Medical School (which was then located in San Francisco) in 1933.

After serving as chief resident in general surgery at Massachusetts General in Boston, Dr. Cohn returned to Stanford to join the medical faculty in 1938. He went to India as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in 1939-41, helping to establish a major hospital in Bombay.

Back at San Francisco in 1942, he joined the 59th Evacuation Hospital along with his colleagues at Stanford. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his valor during the war.

After World War II, he again returned to Stanford, where he published extensively and was highly regarded as a surgical innovator, teacher and mentor. In 1960, Dr. Cohn performed one of the first kidney transplants in the United States, and the first kidney transplant West of the Mississippi. He also developed the kidney transplant program at Stanford and in 1964 co-authored a landmark paper in the field of transplantation surgery. In addition to Dr. Cohn’s pioneering work with kidneys, he also developed an innovative method for closing holes in the heart.

As the science of transplantation advanced, Dr. Cohn and heart-transplant surgeon Dr. Norman Shumway recognized the need for the government and medical community to rethink the criteria for harvesting healthy organs. They urged that the definition of death be based on the cessation of brain activity rather than on the absence of a heartbeat — a change that helped make heart transplant and other organ transplant surgeries available to save the lives of thousands of people around the world each year.

In 1974, he was honored with an endowed professorship, the Walter Clifford Chidester and Elsa Rooney Chidester Professorship in Surgery. The Roy B. Cohn Bioskills Laboratory in Human Anatomy at Stanford University is named in his honor. He retired in 1989 but remained active for several years.

Dr. Cohn passed away in 1999.

June 23, 1942 – Meet a member of a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

Next letter from René coming on June 28.

A good time to get to know one of his colleagues in the 59th Evac. Unit, who became a world-famous cardiovascular surgeon…

Frank Gerbode, MD

Born in Placerville, CA in 1907, Frank Gerbode grew up in Sacramento. In 1932, he graduated from Stanford University and received his MD from Stanford Medical School in 1938. By 1942, he was a practicing general and thoracic surgeon on the Stanford Service at San Francisco General Hospital. As a result of his experience, when he joined the 59th Evacuation Hospital Unit he received a commission as a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

During the war, Dr. Gerbode distinguished himself for his surgical service as well as his logistic leadership in the functioning of the 59th Evacuation Hospital. Before the war ended he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

After World War II, Dr. Gerbode returned to San Francisco, where he practiced surgery and was became avid researcher. In 1954, using a heart-lung machine he designed with Dr. John Osborn, Dr. Gerbode performed the first open heart surgical correction of an atrial septal defect West of the Mississippi. Another open heart surgical procedure he performed was televised live in 1958 from Stanford Hospital, which was in San Francisco at the time.

Committed to research, Dr. Gerbode was founder and became the first president of the Institutes of Medical Sciences (now the California Pacific Medical Research Institute) an independent group of specialized research institutes. He also became chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center, in San Francisco, a position he held until 1979.

In addition to surgery and research, Dr. Gerbode was committed to teaching the next generation of surgeons from around the world. Between the mid 1950s and the mid 1970s, nearly 200 fellows trained at Dr. Gerbode’s Cardiovascular Fellowship Program at Pacific Presbyterian, now California Pacific Medical Center.

Dr. Gerbode passed away on December 6, 1984.

Frank Gerbode, MD

Dr. Gerbode

July 21, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

At Ft. Ord in Monterey, René was close to home, so he wrote fewer letters than he will starting in August.

Instead of a letter today, enjoy some photos of him from 1915-1918…

Alma with René, born July 12, 1915

Four Generations: Grandmother Lillian, Great-Grandmother Bertha, René and Alma (left to right)

René and sister, Marie-Louise laughing it up at Lake Tahoe.


Watch for my next letter
August 5

December 15, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René since December 9. Would his parents have known that he was on a ship heading across the Atlantic? They certainly would have been thinking of him, so here are some photos of him from 1919-1941.

René with his mother, Alma, and sister, Marie-Louise

René in Golden Gate Park

René with his father at Lake Tahoe.

René with his sisters and mother in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in 1923

René at summer camp near Feather River

René with his father and sisters in Auburn

René as an intern in 1941


Watch for my next letter
December 21