Preservation and the Greatest Generation
My daddy was a member of the Greatest Generation. When war was declared, he raised his right hand, picked up a machine gun and fought his way across Europe. When it was over, he took off his sergeant stripes and his bronze star, laced up his steel-toed shoes and went about raising his family as a hard-working electrician.
On Sunday’s we’d walk to church because Daddy had the car and was out picking up people who live too far away to walk, or couldn’t. At Wednesday night prayer meeting, when others got up to testify, he never did. His life and his children were his testimony.
He taught us to stand up straight, look people in the eye and tell the truth. Today’s generation, their children and their children need to know about people like my daddy who fought for freedom, bled for liberty and died for democracy.
He was one of the lucky ones, though, he came back from the war with only a loss of hearing in his left ear from the sound of the gun. A lot of the men he served with, weren’t nearly as fortunate. They lost arms, lost legs, and suffered every imaginable horrible, grievous injury.
What almost nobody in Charleston remembers is that during WWII when those most seriously wounded in the European and African campaigns came home, they came to Charleston. Twenty-three Army-operated hospital ships were homeported here, and together they brought back 75,000 injured, wounded and maimed soldiers, sailors and marines. Here, back then, at the Charleston Naval Hospital, a grateful Nation sought to repay those men for their service and sacrifice with tender, loving care.
Here, right now, the very buildings where that happened are being demolished by the state of South Carolina.
When the Navy base closed, three National Historic Districts were created. One for officer housing, one for the shipyard and one became the Charleston Naval Hospital Historic District. Our state was given that land, those buildings and the districts in trust, in memory and in tribute and promised to preserve and maintain them for future generations.
Instead, Palmetto Railway has decided to tear down 17 of those historic buildings, so they can lay a train track. Now, as I was taught, I’m here to tell you the truth. Your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren won’t learn a thing about the Greatest Generation, about history, service, sacrifice, or people like my Daddy, from a train track.
By their actions, Palmetto Railway has failed to comply with both the preservation covenants that are a part of the original transfer of the property to the State and, as well, at least ten State statutes. While it is true that no one is above the law, obedience is doubly incumbent upon a government agency. They, after all, are acting in our name.
I would encourage anyone who finds such bureaucratic behavior objectionable and their actions unacceptable, to contact their state legislator. Ask your senator and representative to examine both the spirit and letter of the law and then weigh the value of the lessons of history against the destruction of a National Historic District. Do it for the Greatest Generation. Do it for the next generation. And yes, do it for my daddy.
North Charleston, S.C.
Artur Pacult retires from neurosurgery
Charleston’s neurological surgeon and former competitive cyclist Dr. Artur Pacult will now trade his scalpels for bicycle wrenches, as he retires from brain and spine surgery to reengage other passions. For three decades, this Polish Charlestonian has tended to thousands of patients in our city and performed nearly 7,000 operations.
Dr. Pacult retires as both the father and son of physicians. His son, Mark, will start neurosurgical training in July at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. His father, Teofil Pacult, blazed the family’s Hippocratic trail from a small village in Poland renowned for its master carpentry school. Leaving behind this fate, Teofil worked his way into medical school in Krakow in the wake of World War II, ultimately making his career as an infectious disease specialist serving Poland abroad as its representative to Ethiopia, Libya, and later Australia.
While living abroad in North Africa with his father, the young Pacult confided his goal of becoming a physician in Poland with some itinerant foreign pilots who encouraged him to pursue his medical studies abroad. Of the dozens of American medical schools to whom he then wrote, it was the Medical University of South Carolina that replied with the most courteous denial, leaving the door open for a future exchange. When he arrived years later on exchange, his classmate and new wife Alina made him commit to a promise—that their emigration to the United States rested contingent upon both, not one, receiving residency spots. Dr. Phanor Perot, the godfather of neurosurgery in Charleston, invited Artur to become a resident in neurological surgery, while his wife Alina accepted Dr. Richard Dobson’s invitation to train in Dermatology.
At the time, Perot accepted one trainee per year to enter into the five-year program. Working long hours under strenuous conditions, the residents developed lasting bonds of fraternity. Dr. Pacult’s mentors and peers from that time gathered recently to celebrate his career and recall their shared training. “Artur was my soldier, he was always at the hospital, I could trust him,” his former chief resident, Dr. Robert Allen, recalled. His co-residents fondly remembered their first encounters — many humorous — with someone who had emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to learn English and neurosurgery. Over time, these residents would realize that, despite being different in many respects, they were each chosen by their Chairman for their depth of character and for their ability to handle the physical and mental stresses of the work, while still always comforting patients at the bedside.
Among Dr. Pacult’s many neurosurgical achievements during his long career, he reported a notable “first” for our state when he successfully clipped complex basilar and internal carotid aneurysms using a technique then pioneered at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. The patients were placed under intentional hypothermic cardiac arrest with total cardiopulmonary bypass to better approach the aneurysms, a significant achievement in a Southern community hospital at the time.
Of neurosurgery, Dr. Pacult reminds the next generation, “Do the right thing at the right time. There are no shortcuts.” Dr. Pacult’s retirement from neurosurgery makes it even rarer to now find one surgeon so broadly trained to care for the full spectrum of neurological conditions, whether aneurysm or degenerated disc, brain tumor or spine fracture.
Before and during medical school in Poland, the young Dr. Pacult found a community within the local cycling club. He remembers well the cycling coach who ultimately encouraged him to side with medicine when it became clear that his two interests would become mutually exclusive. Today, as a part owner of the Charleston Bicycle Company, Dr. Pacult continues working towards the second dream of buttressing South Carolina’s cycling infrastructure and fostering a biking community.
The keen-eyed of Charleston may identify this iconic and dedicated neurosurgeon by his trademark Australian outback boots and ought to congratulate him on a career of distinguished service to the Holy City.
Fraser Henderson, Jr., M.D.