Copyright © 2020 Robert Samuel Cromartie, III. All rights reserved

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Author, Robert Samuel Cromartie III, M.D., FACS


I came of age in the South at a time when definitions of good and bad and right and wrong were melting in the heat of an unpopular war that claimed the lives of countless young men and drove others to defy the mores of their parents. I entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1962 and graduated three years later with a degree in chemistry. I ran track and cross-country for the university team and stayed busy with a heavy premed course load and with frequent trips to Raleigh to visit my future wife Elaine, who was in school at Meredith College.

Medical school at UNC followed graduation after which I completed a straight surgery internship at the University of Miami School of Medicine. This entailed working at the hospital thirty-six out of every forty-eight hours, and there was no time for writing or even thinking of writing. The draft was a way of life, and I signed up for the Berry plan, which brought me into the US Army as a captain at the conclusion of my internship.

Uncle Sam sent me to the Medical Field Service School in San Antonio for training in the treatment of combat casualties and tropical infectious diseases and then to Letterman General Hospital of the Presidio of San Francisco for On Job Training in Anesthesiology.

In January 1971, I left my wife and two sons in Fayetteville, NC and deployed to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, Vietnam. I recall looking out the window of the jet as it approached our landing strip and seeing small fires dotting the landscape. I wondered if fighting could be taking place in that many places at once. I later discovered that the Vietnamese collect their sewage in metal barrels and burn them there.

My first night in country, I learned why weapons weren’t issued to most of us unless we left the base. Just after I went to bed, some joker slipped a fire extinguisher through my doorway and let it blast through the room. I would have emptied a magazine of M16 rounds through the door if I had possessed a proper assault rifle.

I spent long hours in the operating room administering anesthesia to young men who lost organs and limbs for a nation that did not appreciate the sacrifices that they made. Some of them related fighting in Cambodia, although our leaders claimed no American troops were there.

I spent some time running a medical clinic on the base. One day the VC lobbed mortar rounds onto the field beside my bunker. The explosions seriously injured a number of soldiers who were in formation.

I made several trips by jeep into the bustling city of Saigon. The people were friendly, but I couldn’t help wondering how many of them were VC sympathizers. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable in a barber chair getting a shave by one of them. Several times I traveled to Vung Tau where the Australians had a base with a hospital. The beach there was beautiful, and those Aussies knew how to party.

After a couple of months, I volunteered to transfer to the 18th Surgery Hospital in Quang Tri. The base was near the DMZ with North Vietnam and much fighting was occurring west of there toward Laos where the ARVN army was attempting to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My primary responsibility involved keeping patients alive in the operating room, but I also ran a drug ward, took care of patients with tropical diseases, and rotated through the emergency room, and on occasions, I would fly by helicopter to Vietnamese villages to give medical care to the people there. Once when I was running the ER, 112 wounded soldiers arrived within minutes of each other by helicopter from Khe Sanh.

The 18th Surgery Hospital closed that summer, and my new orders took me to the 91st Evacuation hospital in Chu Lai, near the site of the My Lai massacre. The buildings stood on a cliff overlooking the South China Sea. A tornado destroyed the base a few days before my tour ended. I was lying on my cot waiting for the winds to stop when two of the walls of my hutch disintegrated. I ran out into the storm just before the roof collapsed.

Returning to the United States, I finished my service obligation as a physician anesthetist at Womack Army Hospital in Fort Bragg, North Carolina near my hometown of Fayetteville. I left the army with a bronze star and a new appreciation for the gift of life. It was a time to refuel and to become reacquainted with my wife and sons.

Leaving the military in the summer of 1972, I resumed my medical training with two years of general surgery residency at the University of Miami and two more years at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, followed by two years of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery training at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

I received an offer to join the faculty at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. My wife thought the concept was preposterous. “It’s above the Mason Dixon line,” she said.

We decided to take the position anyway and grew to love the state of Indiana. I enjoyed teaching medical students and residents, but after two years we returned to Florida where I served as chief of surgery at Columbia Medical Center and at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach and as chief of the Division of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery from 1984 until 2006 at Halifax Medical Center.

Over the years, I published ten scientific articles in major medical journals and a medical textbook on biological, nuclear, and chemical terrorism with my colleague Richard Duma M.D., but I developed a love for writing fiction. My first novel was the story of a Russian man who tried to escape from the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. In the book, I referred back to his parents who had endured the oppression of Stalin and had fought in WWII. Their story seemed more compelling than my protagonist, and I abandoned that project in favor of years of research, writing, and revising that culminated in my three historical novels—Romanov Curse, Romanov Quest, and Himmler’s Mistress that depict the life of a young Russian woman who escaped from the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and fled to Germany to face the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists.

Subsequently, I have published three thrillers, and The Weather Girl’s Assassin will be ready for publication soon.



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