Biography Of The Late
Captain James Franklin Fitzgerald, M.D.
U.S. Army Medical Corp
Written by his Son in Law, Attorney Wilson A. Copeland, II
Dr. James Franklin Fitzgerald was born in February,1919 to James and Lillian Fitzgerald and lived in Wilmington, Delaware from his birth through high school graduation.
His undergraduate life was spent at Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, where he became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, followed by what proved to be his inadvertent path to a most memorable military experience, matriculation at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received his M.D. degree.
Like all other American medical schools, Meharry was taken over by the United States Army during the Second World War due to the pressing need for physicians, dentists, and nurses in the Armed Forces. This situation resulted in the students essentially being conscripted, with their tuition being paid by the government, going to class in uniform, attending school year round, with graduations being conducted three times a year and culminating in reporting for duty following a one year internship.
March of 1944 proved to be a busy month for James Franklin Fitzgerald; graduating from Meharry on the 19th, marrying Fisk University graduate, Alberta Price on the 26th, and establishing a new home for his bride and himself in Washington, D.C., where he would spend his next year as an intern at Howard University’s Freedom Hospital.
While at Freedman’s, a pyrrhic victory of sorts occurred when a letter from the Army arrived advising him that the ebbing World War had resulted in a reduction of the need for health care professionals and he needn’t report for duty.
Thus, upon completion of his internship, he headed for Detroit, Michigan to begin his practice and, where believing himself to be in the Army Reserve, he gave short shift to the letters from the U.S. Navy that arrived in the late 1940’s, believing them to be recruitment efforts and knowing the Navy was the least receptive of all the Armed Services about President Truman’s 1948 desegregation orders.
The onset of hostilities in Korea were the precursor to a visit to his office from the two FBI agents who arrested him for failing to report for induction; it seems those ‘recruiting letters’ were in fact notices advising him that he had been transferred to the Naval Reserve.
He was released from a federal detention cell that evening with the understanding he was to report for duty the next day.
He did, entering the office of the Naval Recruiting Center that morning, the officer on duty took one look at him, asked with some degree of chagrin and incredulity, “You’re James Franklin Fitzgerald?” and receiving the affirmative reply, immediately blurted out, “There must be some mistake, just go home and we’ll contact you sometime in the future.”
It seems the name James Franklin Fitzgerald fit someone ‘From the Old Sod’ – his skin color, however, did not – and the Navy realized there had indeed been a mistake.
Over the next few months, an administrative transfer back to the Army took place and Captain James Franklin Fitzgerald, M.D. found himself in a MASH unit in Korea, where he served with distinction from 1952 to 1954.
During the course of his service in Korea, Captain Fitzgerald was awarded three Purple Hearts. One coming as a result of assisting in a surgical procedure on a wounded GI and together with the rest of the surgical team, continuing the operation, despite incoming artillery shells, for this act the Purple Heart he was given for the injuries caused by those shells was accompanied by the Bronze Star.
Returning to Detroit after completing his service to his country, Dr. Fitzgerald practiced medicine until his untimely death from an untreatable abdominal infection on Thanksgiving Day 1960 at the age of 41.
He was survived by his wife, Alberta and their daughter, Deborah Fitzgerald Copeland.