Alexander Newton Stark
Colonel,United States Army
Chief Surgeon, First Army, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
COLONEL ALEXANDER N. STARK
The article by Colonel J. M. Phalen about Col. Stark in the Military Surgeon for October, 1941 is a splendid one and I approve of all that Phalen said.
I can add very little to that except to bring out some little pecularities as well as to the sterling qualities which were so characteristic of Stark.
He and I became great friends and during all of our associations never had any trouble of any kind. For some reason or other, my early experiences as an assistant in surgery, where I had had considerable practical training, appealed to him.
Stark was liked by nearly everyone. He was friendly, full of humor, always willing to help others, thoroughly loyal and true to all of his friends, and a hard worker.
He was very brilliant as a student, had a fine memory and therefore was exceptionally well up on the theoretical part of medicine and surgery. His early education did not include a college course and his medical course was probably only two or three years at the University of Virginia. Clinics and practical work there could not have been extensive in such a small city. He took a short Post Graduate course in Medicine in New York; and no internship that I know of, so his practical experience in surgery was very limited when he entered the Corps in the spring of 1893. His service in Texas, likewise, did not give him much opportunity to do surgical work, which was what he wanted most. It was not until he came to Columbia Barracks late in 1899 that he found himself in a position to actually do surgical work on a rapidly increasing scale. During all these years, he had kept up his reading of anatomy and surgery and was well prepared from a theoretical standpoint.
When he came to Columbia Barracks late in 1899, he and I promptly formed a harmonious team with a sincere desire to cooperate in perfecting ourselves in surgery. Emergency surgery we had to do as there was no one else present better qualified. Stark in his work was at times apt to be too radical, while I was too conservative as the result of training under a very careful and great surgeon. We both realized our short comings and therefore Stark would frequently say, "What would you do, Truby?" or some similar statement. He also welcomed any of my suggestions and in that way we became a good team. Before any unusual operation, Stark would always read up the details in our surgical books and tell me to do the same.
The surgical service grew rapidly becamse of Stark's enthusiasm. He hunted for cases in all fields including gynecology and found them. Everybody liked Stark and his ability as a surgeon soon was known by everybody in the Post. His results were good and he was undoubtedly the best operating surgeon then in Cuba.
I left him in November, 1900 and did not see him again until I joined him at West Point. He was doing much important surgery there and promptly asked for me as his assistant. We had a great service there and the people of the Post were most enthusiastic about Stark and his work. His results were fine. In about a year I was promoted to Captain and was ordered to Alcatraz Island, California, as Surgeon. The Surgeon General's Office did not approve of having two Captains at West Point. Stark and Col. Havard both requested that I be left there but it was disapproved.
I did not see Stark again until 1908 at American Lake, Washington, where manoeuvres were being held. Stark was then a Major and on duty there as Camp Sanitary Inspector. I was a Captain and in command of the Field Hospital. When I and my outfit arrived, Stark was waiting on our camp site to welcome me, and with him was an officer with instructions as to the location of the Field Hospital camp.
I then indicated to the First Sergeant the point where our flagpole would be located. Then Stark and I sat on boxes and watched these specially trained men pitch the tents. The flagpole was the guiding point which determined all other points needed in the systematic arrangement of our camp hospital. The speed and precision of the work greatly impressed Stark and so he told me. (I am sending you under separate cover a report of that camp with remarks by Stark on my work.) Please return.
After 1908, I never saw Stark again. When he had his final illness at Hollywood, Calif., he telegraphed me at the Letterman Hospital where I was then in command stating that he wanted to be admitted for treatment. I sent an immediate reply urging him to come but he passed away before he could be moved.
I have written this frank story to help you get my view of some of the things Stark did - like the Ames letter. I hope that it will help you to understand things you want to know about him. I do want you to consider the unpleasant details as confidential. The good things, like the negro story, you can use if you desire.
Stark was one of the best and most loyal friends I have ever had. He had a much higher regard for me than I deserved. Probably because the two of us were such opposites.
He became a very excellent surgeon, one of the best the Army has produced.
Albert E. Truby
The Colonel was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetry. Buried with him are his wife, Mary Stark (4 February 1871-11 April 1957), and his two sons, Alexander Newton Stark, Jr., Brigadier General, United States Army (4 January 1896-15 July 1968) and Thomas Newton Stark, Brigadier General, United States Army (29 November 1896-12 October 1983).
STARK, ALEXANDER N
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 24 April 2004