MAJ Ira Brown
U.S. Army Medical Corps
Died 9 April 1942
at Camp Grant, Illinois
My father died on April 9, 1942. I was 17 months old, my older sister not yet three, and my younger sister only six weeks old.
I have no memories of him and only a few photographs. My mother was totally devastated and we learned early on not to talk about him
or ask questions because it upset her too much. We had only one parent left and needed to make sure nothing happened to her.
Dad was born in Philadelphia in 1906, an only child. I know hardly anything about his growing up because his parents died when I was
young and my mom didn't know or didn't tell. He went to the University of Oklahoma Medical School and moved to Chicago to do his Residency
in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
He joined the Army Reserves while a Resident at the University of Chicago Billings Lying-In Hospital (on January 15, 1941, I think). He
knew the world was veering toward war, so although he had a pregnant wife and baby daughter, he felt called by both patriotism and the boost
it gave to his income. (Medical Residents were paid very little in those days.) As near as I can figure it, he was called into active duty
in the Medical Corps in June of 1941. He did his training in Louisiana (Arkadelphia?), and then was stationed at Camp Grant in Rockford,
Illinois, awaiting an assignment overseas.
He never did make it overseas. He died at Camp Grant when the old wooden barracks he was in caught fire one night. He and another officer,
Capt. Harry S. Gorelick, were overcome by smoke inhalation before they could escape. He had with him all the photographs of our family, so
I have no pictures of the two of us together, which I really regret. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.
By the time I had the courage to ask, my mother had passed away and there were very few people left who could tell me anything about him.
I know he was an excellent, very caring and conscientious doctor. His photograph was on the cover of Look Magazine for being part of the
team that discovered silver nitrate drops for newborns' eyes to protect them from disease and blindness. He was fun-loving, but strict
with his babies in that medical-model way of the early 1940's. I think he was pretty much in-charge with my mother too. Three things she
told me about him (funny how it's the little things we remember): he learned how to crochet as a way of relaxing and keeping his fingers
nimble; he had curly red hair that he controlled by wearing a silk stocking on his shampooed head until his hair dried flat; he played a
very awkward game of tennis but never gave up. All in all, he was a confident and giving man. What I miss most about him is found in
this poem I wrote recently:
Without a father,
without the way he kneels down beside
his toddler to explain the petals on a flower
Or the way he says let's go for a ride,
just us two and opens the car door
like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
Without the treasures he might bring:
ribbons for my hair, socks with frilly tops,
a Canadian quarter, a blue jay feather
Without his arm around my shoulder
as we unravel a math problem or I model
the dress I'm wearing to the prom
But mostly without the smile that fathers
save for their daughters,
the smile that teaches me to smile.
-- Lois Brown Klein --