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Choosing who's saved, who isn't

He could not have practiced battlefield medicine under more rudimentary conditions than what World War II in the Philippines had to offer.

Fresh from his medical internship at Millard Fillmore Hospital, Dr. Thomas A. Lombardo worked in a trench caring for troops wounded while fighting the tenacious Japanese. At times, incoming shells were so close, he nearly ended up a casualty himself.

Fortunately, Lombardo said, the enemy's marksmanship was off by just enough.

And so the doctor labored, sometimes bare-chested in the stifling heat of the Pacific, seeing one wounded man after another.

The Battle of San Manuel, about 50 miles south of Manila, the capital, was particularly brutal.

"My station was a trench. There were no buildings or tents. We were the closest medical team to combat. Casualties would number anywhere from 10 to 30 men at a time. I was the only medical officer," the 95-year-old Lombardo recalled, though quick to give credit to his staff of "20 well-trained corpsmen."

The pace was in sharp contrast to when he had first arrived in Luzon and stood on the beach with other servicemen to salute Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who at that moment fulfilled his famous promise of "I shall return" to the Philippines.

On the journey over, Lombardo was part of a force of 10,000 that was to join the 25th Infantry Division, which had already lost 10,000 men in battles throughout the Pacific, including the grueling fight at Guadalcanal.

The trip to war for the oldest child of Sicilian immigrants was a long way from the peace of Buffalo's West Side, where Lombardo and his brother Phil had earned money as boys delivering The Buffalo Evening News and the Courier-Express, starting at ages 9 and 6, respectively.

The incomes from the routes, Lombardo said, helped supplement his father's earnings as a shoemaker and later contributed toward his tuition at Canisius College and Loyola University Medical School.

"While in my senior year of medical school, our class was visited by an Army recruiter. We could enlist now and be allowed to finish our last year and our internships or risk being taken out of school," he said. "We all enlisted."

On his way to the Philippines, Lombardo recalled, he learned that a sniper had killed the medical officer he was to replace.

But it was not his own skin he was interested in saving, as he again recalled the difficult battlefield medicine he was forced to practice. In other words, he had to choose who got saved and who didn't.

"During the Battle of San Manuel, we engaged in a tank battle. I was taking care of about 30 wounded men," he recalled. "I found myself in a terrible situation of triaging. It was my job. I had to decide quickly who could not be saved, who had to be evacuated to the closest field hospital, and who I could treat and return to battle."

After six months of this highly stressful work, Lombardo started losing weight, coming down with a severe case of gastroenteritis.

"I lost over 15 pounds and became dehydrated. I was evacuated to New Guinea," he said, then it was back to the States.

He later left the military and spent the rest of his professional career as a pediatrician, with his first office at 305 Porter Ave., back on the West Side.

But Lombardo said he has always remained proud of his military service.

"I considered it a privilege and an honor to serve my country, and I am proud to have been a member of the Greatest Generation," he said.

He also said that his success as a doctor would not have been possible without the help of his brother Phil.

"Without his help," he said, "I would not have been able to afford college or medical school."

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Dr. Thomas A. Lombardo, 95

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Amherst

Branch: Army

Rank: Captain

War zone: Pacific

Years of service: 1942-45

Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Combat Medical Badge

Specialty: Medical officer