Physician, officer, ladies man: a snapshot of the short life of Howard Myers Scull

On July 4, 1944, a routine flight over the Irish Sea ended in the tragic early deaths of six Army Air Corps officers.  Major Howard Myers Scull, a 30 year old flight surgeon with rising career aspirations and close family ties, was unfortunately aboard the fated flight, accounting for one of many non-combat related fatalities during World War II.

Although his life was cut short in its prime, we get a glimpse of his daily life throughout medical school, military training, and active duty while stationed in England through diaries and letters written to family and friends. (Ms. Coll. 1208, Howard Myers Scull papers, 1896-2015 [bulk: 1936-1944]) It doesn’t take long to discover that he was a popular, handsome, and successful physician with close friendships and various girlfriends.

Howard Myers Scull

Howard Myers Scull, 1944

Scull attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania between 1935-1939, giving readers a colorful view of his world as a student with lively diary entries: “November 17, Tue [1936]: Best news in a long time. X-ray negative. Fears unfounded. Gene better. Life is good! Work in library in P.M. Autopsy in A.M. Tuberculous meningitis with interesting spinal fistula. I posted the lungs. Saw the tail end of a terrible sarcomatous, gangrenous, ulcerative dialectic foot. A most awful stink! And a hideous sight!”

Howard Myers Scull diary

Howard Myers Scull medical school diary, 1936

After completing his internship at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, Scull immediately entered the Army and was stationed at various bases around the United States before receiving notice of his call to foreign duty in 1942: “Dear Fred & Ella … This is the letter I guess I have hoped I’d never have to write. We got news this A.M. of a permanent change of station in less than two weeks. First we go to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. to take the place of the 6th Cavalry moving to foreign duty. Then we shall follow them shortly. I can’t tell you where. I think I shall now ask for transfer to the Air Corps but it is rather unlikely now that I will be released from this Regiment.” [letter written to his brother and sister-in-law, dated Feb. 2, 1942, Monday noon]  His request was eventually granted, and after completing officer training at Maxwell Field, Alabama, he was sent to Mac Dill Field, Florida, as an Army Air Force physician.

Letter to Fred and Ella, 1942

Letter to Fred and Ella, 1942

By January of 1943 his honest musings about a love affair with a woman in Tampa, Florida, led him to make a strikingly accurate prediction in a letter to his family:

“About Jane Price – no, it really hasn’t happened to me. I don’t love the girl & doubt if I ever shall. I think a great deal of her, she is very worth while, sweet, has many virtues – would make an excellent doctor’s wife – unhappily she has told me that she is in love with me – unhappily, I couldn’t truthfully return that statement – and didn’t.
Do you remember the time I told you I had a premonition that love – a real love – might never be mine – again. I’m afraid that is going to be true…” [letter dated 1/24/1943, Sunday night]

Scull's last letter written to his family, July 3, 1944

Scull’s last letter written to his family, July 3, 1944

Scull’s last letter was written on July 3, 1944, with the opening line: “Dear Family … You are indeed a grand family to write me so often – even tho the conditions which you suppose for me do not exist, I appreciate it none the less, believe me.” His obvious affection and admiration for his father, brother and sister-in-law, sister, and nieces make this collection an enjoyable read and gives an intimate firsthand perspective of the hopes and fears of this medical student-turned-Army Air Corps physician during the 1930s and 1940s.

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