Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brother dwell in unity~Psalm 133:1
This is the tale of two brothers who cared for each other. It begins in 1943, when Harvey Rittenhouse, CME class of 1943, waited for news about his involvement in World War II. Word came from the Federal Government: “Give them their medical licenses early; we need them.”
Harvey was soon on his way to England to serve in the medical corps. His younger brother, Robert “Bob” Rittenhouse, CME class of 1949, an undergraduate student, waited anxiously for word of his brother. He saw the newspaper headlines of troops landing on Normandy Beach.
Meanwhile, Harvey narrowly missed injury when a German buzz bomb exploded a short distance away. He was sent with the troops to France, arriving in a landing craft on Normandy Beach not long after D-Day. Joining General Patton’s 3rd army traveling across France, he was put in charge of a 200-bed tent hospital, triaging and treating the desperately injured and dying men. He oversaw the care of soldiers suffering from battle fatigue by placing them in a phenobartital coma for two weeks to escape their terrible memories. Harvey was at the Battle of the Bulge, the battle that had more casualties than any other battle in United States history.
When Harvey returned from Europe, he was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in France and soon began a residency in internal medicine. He later married musician Virginia-Gene Shankel, and they served as missionaries to Jamaica, where Harvey healed the sick with his medical knowledge and Virginia healed their souls with her music.
Bob, inspired by his brother, was accepted to the College of Medical Evangelist at the age of 18, the youngest of a wartime class, so young they were nicknamed “The Preemies”. Bob followed his brother’s example by serving in the Korean War as a physician on board the USS Tarawa, an aircraft carrier. With his military service completed, he and his wife, Peggy, moved to Massachusetts, where Bob worked as a family practitioner and Peggy taught nursing. Harvey and Virginia-Gene later moved to Massachusetts as well.
In 1977, Harvey was in a motor home accident and suffered head and spinal cord injuries. Not being able to practice medicine, he devoted his life to supporting his wife’s music career. When Harvey’s wife died; he was in his nineties and not well. Bob and Peggy moved to Harvey’s lovely historic home to help with his care and rehab.
Gradually, Harvey, the old soldier, began to fade away. Bob, always the doctor, became a nurse. He patiently helped Harvey with his meals, and learned caring procedures from his nursing instructor wife. So now Bob, used to patient hospital rooms, sat by the bedside and watched Harvey breathe. When Bob and Peggy’s children begged their parents to get help in caring for Harvey, they refused. Bob said, “He’s my big brother. I want to take care of him.” For nearly a year, Bob helped Harvey, and was with his brother when he took his last breath on February 11, 2012. To many, Harvey was a war hero. In eyes of his family, Bob was no less.
–Connie Rittenhouse Drexler, LLUSM class of 1983, is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The author submitted this in honor of her father, Robert Rittenhouse, CME class of 1949.