Meeting Col. Bill Goldsmith the first time when he joined the 40th ID (M) Support Brigade‘s medical section reminded me of encountering an elf or gnome. Short in stature, his eyes had a perpetual twinkle that would squint when he laughed or smiled, wrinkling his nose; his laugh descending to a soft cough or snort. He loved jokes, and had a drove of them .
Colonel Bill Goldsmith was – in fact – a brilliant physician and psychiatrist with over thirty-one years of combined federal and state military service including wartime service in Vietnam and numerous overseas deployments in Central and South America, and the Middle East.
Bill Goldsmith graduated from USC Medical School in 1965, doing his medical internship at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in 1966. He served there as the battalion surgeon for the 87th Engineers at Cam Ran Bay until 1967. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his service in Vietnam. He returned stateside to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he recalled getting “nothing” for his service there, suggesting Vietnam was a more satisfying experience.
After his separation from active service, Bill Goldsmith did his residency in psychiatry at Cedars Sinai Hospital. From there he went on to Kaiser Permanente and private practice, but he was not satisfied. In 1970, he married his wife, Barbara, who had served as a teacher with the Peace Corp in Turkey. They had two sons, and, later, two grandchildren.
The draft had introduced him to military service, and he missed it. Despite his full life as a husband, father and a doctor to many, he wanted to give more of himself.
He accepted a commission in the California Air National Guard where he served with the 146th Airlift Command. As a flight surgeon, he was deployed to Honduras, Belize, Chile, Oman, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan for which he was awarded the Air Medal; the Air Force Achievement Medal; and two Air Force Meritorious Medals.
After retiring from the California Air National Guard, Bill Goldsmith joined the State Military Reserve as a general medical officer. Many Guardsmen and State reservists met Dr. Goldsmith for their medical evaluations for promotion packets. But many would also encounter him in brief conversations. Col. Goldsmith had already distinguished himself with his knowledge of holistic medicine, often quickly detecting, by simple visual observation, health issues that required medical attention.
In my own experience, I was having a conversation one morning with Dr. Goldsmith, when he commented on my eyes. He was concerned about the color and suggested I should have a general check up. A few weeks later, I suffered a mild heart attack which led to an emergency triple by pass surgery at Cedars. I had three ninety percent blocked coronary arteries. He was right on target.
Along with his medical duties, Col. Goldsmith also wrote a medical column for WARRIOR WORDS. “Rumblings” dealt with common health issues that were as informative as well as entertaining and always written with Col. Goldsmith’s unique sense of humor. One misleading heading had soldiers reading with anticipation about the “largest organ in the body” to be not what they were expecting, but rather the skin that provided the body with a barrier and protection.
In 2009, Bill Goldsmith published his first novel, “I’m you or The Clone and I”. A science fiction thriller twenty years into the future about an army flight surgeon who has himself cloned.
The U.S. president at that time is a woman named Pelosi – a granddaughter of the former Speaker of the House – only from the mind of Bill Goldsmith. Col. Goldsmith would set up a table with books in front of the PX to sell signed copies. His more direct marketing was to confront people – minus the twinkle in his eye, but a firm direct stare – and ask, “Will you buy my book?”
Three years ago, Col. Goldsmith starting having nosebleeds. It was determined he had a very rare form of nasal, paranasal sinus cancer. His wife Barbara explained that four different pathologists could not agree to identify the type. He began chemotherapy with the weakening side affects. “Yet, he still insisted on seeing patients”, recalled Col. Marty Krell, MD, a USC classmate of Goldsmith. “He just wouldn’t quit, and was determined to get well enough to be deployed.”
Last year, Col Goldsmith was confined to a wheelchair, then a walker. Col. Bill Greene, Medical officer for the Regional Area Support Command (South) organized what would be the first visit and dinner take out to Col. Goldsmith’s home in Studio City. There would be three more such events with Col. Don Thornley, Col. Krell and myself. Col. Goldsmith would progressively improve with the last visit having him walk with us in November. It appeared he might beat it and did in fact come to one drill. Hell, maybe he would get back in shape enough to deploy!
Preparations were made to present Col. Goldsmith with the California Commendation Medal. Plans for presentation were made for a January or February drill, but the veteran doctor of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and numerous other conflicts was wearing down.
An authority greater than the Adjutant General had already cut the orders. They were to be implemented.
On Sunday, January 4, 2015, Bill Goldsmith asked his wife to take him to the hospital. He had developed an infection. Later that evening, Colonel William Goldsmith, at 78 years, was issued his permanent liberty pass.
His wife , Barbara, recalled, ”That, at least he didn’t suffer pain. The kind of cancer he had just made him weak, and weaker.” He would fall down, but kept getting up, until he couldn’t any longer.
In keeping with Jewish tradition, Colonel William Goldsmith, MD was buried at Mount Sinai three days later on Wednesday, January 7th in a simple pinewood casket.
Draping his unfinished casket was the bright red, white and blue flag of the nation he loved and served. It was lifted, folded, and presented by an Air Force honor guard to his wife, Barbara, having full military honors, beneath a bright, blue California sky.
by Lt. Col. (CA) James Caccavo