- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ELKTON, Md. (AP) — Old soldiers never die, the adage goes. But at least one gets deployed to Afghanistan.

Having returned from Iraq in December, Cecil County resident Col. William Bernhard is packing his bags again and heading for the war-torn country.

“My deployment papers just came in the mail,” the 75-year-old Army surgeon said last week.

Col. Bernhard will be the oldest American still serving overseas. This time, he will go with an Oregon National Guard brigade and work mostly in a trauma station giving wounded soldiers emergency care.

Col. Bernhard knows that each mission could be his last, but he serves so younger men and women won’t have to. He volunteered to come out of retirement for his last mission because he heard there was a shortage of physicians.

“I know what I’m doing because I’ve done it so many times before, and I figure while I’m in good enough physical shape to go and support these young soldiers, I might as well,” he said. “You can’t just send them over there without proper medical care. And me going over there allows some other younger soldier to stay home.”

Though Col. Bernhard’s wife, M.P., misses her husband while he is on lengthy jaunts across the world, she understands his calling.

“I honestly believe he was meant to be a soldier first, a doctor second,” she said.

Col. Bernhard, former director of anesthesiology at New York University Hospital and at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, grew up in Connecticut and joined the Marine Corps in 1950, but he was given a medical discharge for a knee injury.

“It was my greatest disappointment in life,” he said.

While attending medical school through the early 1960s, he trained in military hospitals and clinics, serving in the Navy during the Vietnam era and honing his medical skills. He later joined the National Guard.

During his recent tour of duty in Iraq, Col. Bernhard provided medical care for Iraqi prisoners of war.

“You’re carrying 45 pounds of body armor over there, and one day, it got up to 144 [degrees],” he said. “I didn’t see a cloud for five months. But man, when it finally rained, that mud was awful.”

Worse, 22 of his battalion buddies died. Still, he is not nervous about going back. This will be his second time serving in Afghanistan.

“Do I get scared? No. I get mad when my guys die,” he said. “When I’m talking to a guy in the morning and by the evening he’s been killed, it makes me mad.”

Col. Bernhard must report for duty Saturday. In the meantime, he plans to squeeze in a lot of rock-fishing.

“I’ll miss my wife, I’ll miss my dogs, but I’ll be back in time to go hunting this fall,” he said.

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