Where does an erudite doctor, well-read in the classics, go after serving with the 12th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge and some of World War II's other brutal and protracted battles? The answer for Brendan Phibbs, a Northwestern University-trained cardiologist, was the University of Arizona and Kino Community Hospital. Phibbs spent intervening years in Casper, Wyo., and arrived in Tucson in 1971 to join the UA College of Medicine faculty. Strikingly young-looking and fit at 88, Phibbs has aided the working poor and destitute at Kino, now University Physicians Hospital at Kino, since it opened in 1977. His startlingly vivid and fast-paced account of his war service is included in his Pen West-award-winning book, Our War for the World.
You weren't drafted, were you?
No. I signed up. I was at St. Luke's Hospital for my internship, and a friend and I volunteered. We thought we might be assigned to some stateside hospitals or, at worse, some MASH unit far from the front lines.
Not the case though, right?
After training at Camp Campbell, Tenn., we were on the boat for Europe. I spent my entire time with the 12th Armored Division.
What was your best day?
In combat, soldiers live in another world--another dimension. The best day was 30 seconds. We were getting shelled by the Germans. We were in a farmhouse and the shells, huge, were coming in like machine-gun fire. We were on a stone floor, and the men had their helmets covering their private parts. It stopped, and I went outside to treat and move the wounded. I was making all kinds of Army arm signals I shouldn't have. A GI came out and said, "Good thing the Krauts can't hit anything."
Tell me about that oversized card from Marlene Dietrich.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby would perform far from the front; Marlene Dietrich was right there with us. (She had become an American citizen in 1937.) She had a jeep and a driver and a speaker hooked up to the jeep battery. She wore an Eisenhower jacket and slacks, but even in the olive-drab, she was beautiful. A GI said that with her, the "war was not so fucking lonely." I conveyed the message, and she reminded me of that when she autographed this photograph. One day, sometime in the 1980s, the phone rang at my house. My wife answered and said it was for me. It was Marlene Dietrich. She was in Paris, where she died in 1992. We talked, and then she called back. She said wasn't it ironic that after all, the strongest currency in Europe was the deutschmark.
You saw many horrible things, too.
The Germans came pretty close (to killing) me on three occasions. Close--I mean millimeters. And I treated some hideously injured kids.
I say that my generation can't shine the shoes of yours.
I don't know about that. I think they'd rise to the occasion. I think anyone would. The great sustaining power for most of the soldiers was their belief: "My kids won't have to go through this."
In your 60 years in medicine, what is the greatest achievement?
Antibiotics, without question.
What is the greatest achievement in medicine locally?
The Arizona Cancer Center and (UA cardiologist) Dr. Jack Copeland.
What is the greatest failure in medicine?
Our inability to provide medical care to everyone. We're the only advanced country to not provide care to everyone. The poor can get care. Someone who is broke who comes in with a problem: I can see them and refer them to the best cardiologists at the UA. It is the workingman, the working poor. You make less than $15,500 a year; you can get into a program for care. You make $50 more than that, and you can't. We're blowing money on space stations and wars, and we can't take care of working people.
I just got done supporting the heck out of John Kerry. And I still like Clinton.
Least favorite politician?
Karl Rove. He and the Republicans lied Kerry right out of it.
Favorite local politician?
Raul Grijalva. I was the first one to tell him to run for Congress.
Least favorite local politician?
Jon Kyl and Jim Kolbe.
What are you reading?
I just finished Alexander Werth's Russia at War. I am always re-reading Plutarch's Lives.
Advice for staying young?
Keep working. And pick good grandparents.