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Meet the new Tippecanoe Co. health officer leading the next part of the COVID pandemic
Plus, a new monument lands on Memorial Day on Columbian Park’s Memorial Island, honoring Medal of Honor recipients with Tippecanoe County ties
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Dr. Greg Loomis will start as Tippecanoe County’s health officer Wednesday, following Dr. Jeremy Adler, who is stepping down after nine years that included the creation of a controversial syringe exchange program and, of course, navigating a COVID-19 pandemic that put every move by the health department in the spotlight.
Loomis, a retired neurosurgeon from Evansville, more recently spent time as a visiting assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery for the Indiana University School of Medicine at West Lafayette, located on the Purdue campus.
“I’m not sure it can get more exciting than it did in the past few years for the health department,” Loomis said. “But we’re going to find out.”
Here’s part of a conversation we had shortly after the Tippecanoe County commissioners approved his hire two weeks ago.
How he landed the position
Loomis and his wife, Ann, a clinical assistant professor at Purdue’s School of Nursing, had been volunteering on a regular basis at the health department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Maple Point Drive, so he said he was a familiar face. He said he knew he’d planned to leave his IU School of Medicine position. Still, when he was approached with the idea about being health officer, he said he wasn’t sure.
“I was very honored that they asked,” Loomis said. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought these are awfully good people, these are hardworking people. When they ask you to do something like that, you kind of have to follow through.”
What was his assessment of how the health department handled the pandemic?
“I think, as a neurosurgeon, you always have to anticipate the unexpected. People ask what it's like being a brain surgeon, and I've said, ‘It's 99% boredom and 1% sheer panic.’ And that 1% of sheer panic is when we approach the unknown or the unexpected. Dr. Adler did something anathema, which was to follow the dictates of science. I wasn't in the fray at the time, but as a regular Joe Public reading and watching the news, there were agendas. Because of the unknown, we'd never been through a pandemic like this before. And everybody was struggling to do the best they could, whether it was to preserve jobs in the community, to keep restaurants open, to keep people's livelihood alive and to do the best possible that you could do. That's going to create difficulties, no matter what. So it was a difficult road to follow. And we all learned an awful lot. …
“Personally, I don't think that I would have done much differently than what Dr. Adler did. I would have certainly tried to discuss with both sides the science and listen as carefully as I could to both sides. But you know, it's tough when you are in the unknown, as we all were. Vision in retrospect is 20/20. … Looking back, sure, there could have been other things that maybe were done differently, but I would never second guess.”
What he sees as the next challenge for the pandemic.
“We're still not done with this virus, yet,” Loomis said. “I think the long term is going to be that COVID is going to become more like influenza A. We'll be getting a booster every year, and we will be moving forward anticipating that's the way it's going to be. … As we move from the pandemic into the endemic phase – which means it's in the society, we know it's in society, but it's not wreaking a disaster and going everywhere – we will be able to control it with vaccinations.”
If vaccinations are key, what’s the strategy to up the rate in a county that sits at 59% of its population fully vaccinated, according to state data?
“I think we’ve actually done pretty well, to be honest with you,” Loomis said.
“The first thing I say is, be kind,” Loomis said. “Especially to those we don't agree with. … We always talk about if you lead a horse to water, you can't make them drink. But you can make them thirsty. And being thirsty, to me, to transfer that so to speak into the community, is through education programs. To say, Look, guys, here's what we have for you, and we are willing to sit down and talk to anybody.”
Loomis said he was hoping to tap into a situation he came across during a vaccination shift at the county’s clinic. As he made small talk with a man who’d come in for a shot – and who chided Loomis that he’d heard “doctors are the worst ones to get a shot from, because they don’t have to do it much” – Loomis found out the man was an evangelical pastor who also had a science degree from Purdue. Loomis said the pastor told him that he’d persuaded roughly 80% of his congregation to get COVID vaccines. Loomis said he asked about the pastor’s approach.
“He told me, ‘I explained to them that God gives us all things. He gives us trials and tribulations, and he gave us this vaccine. So, we should use it,’” Loomis said. “And I thought, What a great approach. His words kind of got me thinking about how to develop an education program for the public. I mean, if he was able to do it, we should be able to do it. … If he does read this, I wish he would get in contact with me. I'd love to buy him lunch and talk through more about how he did it.”
Beyond the pandemic, what’s on his radar as he starts his term as health officer?
Loomis said he’d concentrate on the county’s fetal infant mortality rate.
“That is right now the focus of my bull’s eye,” Loomis said. “We need a full community approach not just from the health department but for everybody, to lower this rate. It is unacceptable to have a rate as high as we have right now.”
Loomis also said he needs to consider how to handle a health department “that’s probably a little fatigued right now.”
“If you had to use one word to describe the team at the health department, it would be resilience,” Loomis said. “But they are tired, they are exhausted and worked a lot of hours. But they’re going to continue to do their great job. I know that.”
What else should people know?
If you see him at the health department or around town, chances are he’ll be in a Hawaiian shirt.
“I was wearing them when they fell out of vogue, so I’ve probably got 50 or 60 of them,” Loomis said. “They’re just so comfortable.”
A TRIBUTE TO MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS ON MEMORIAL ISLAND
On a Memorial Day when organizers dispensed with a parade up Main Street in favor of a succinct ceremony at the renovated Memorial Island amphitheater, veterans groups unveiled a new addition to the Columbian Park monuments honoring Greater Lafayette men and women who died while serving.
A plaque marking four Medal of Honor recipients – three from World War II and one from the Civil War – connected to Tippecanoe County was unveiled Monday afternoon.
It joins a collection at the park that includes tributes to the fallen from each war, along with markers for Gold Star families, those who served in Vietnam, plaques dedicated to those who served during the Spanish-American War, a Purple Heart memorial and an Iraq War-era “Most Precious Offering” sculpture that once was at Riehle Plaza in downtown Lafayette.
“I wanted to make sure, as we did this design at Memorial Island, we recognized all our veterans that were important in our community,” Tim Hilton, former president of the Tippecanoe County Veterans Council, said Monday afternoon. “And there were none more important than those four names because they received the highest award our country offers.”
The marker honors William P. Thompson, Thomas E. McCall, Harry J. Michael and David M. Shoup. Here are some of their stories and how they earned the Medal of Honor.
William P. Thompson, Civil War: Thompson was a sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 20th Indiana Infantry when he captured the flag of the 55th Virginia Infantry during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, according to his citation. Thompson, who was killed in action Oct. 7, 1864, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on Dec. 1, 1864. Thompson is buried in Lafayette at Greenbush Cemetery.
Thomas E. McCall, World War II: McCall, a native of Veedersburg in neighboring Fountain County who lived in Lafayette, received the Medal of Honor for action in January 1944 in the Battle of Monte Cassino near San Angelo, Italy. A staff sergeant with the Army’s 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, McCall was recognized for bravery leading a machine gun unit against the Germans before he was captured as a prisoner of war, according to accounts from the late J&C columnist Bob Kriebel. According to J&C archives, McCall also served in the Korean War and died in 1965 trying to save his son from drowning when a fishing boat capsized on the Susquehanna River near Washington, D.C. McCall is buried at Spring Vale Cemetery in Lafayette.
Here’s what the Medal of Honor citation reads for McCall:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. On 22 January 1944, Company F had the mission of crossing the Rapido River in the vicinity of San Angelo, Italy, and attacking the well-prepared German positions to the west. For the defense of these positions the enemy had prepared a network of machine-gun positions covering the terrain to the front with a pattern of withering machine-gun fire, and mortar and artillery positions zeroed in on the defilade areas. S/Sgt. McCall commanded a machine-gun section that was to provide added fire support for the riflemen. Under cover of darkness, Company F advanced to the river-crossing site and under intense enemy mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire crossed an ice-covered bridge which was continually the target for enemy fire. Many casualties occurred on reaching the west side of the river and reorganization was imperative. Exposing himself to the deadly enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire that swept over the flat terrain, S/Sgt. McCall, with unusual calmness, encouraged and welded his men into an effective fighting unit. He then led them forward across the muddy, exposed terrain. Skillfully he guided his men through a barbed-wire entanglement to reach a road where he personally placed the weapons of his two squads into positions of vantage, covering the battalion's front. A shell landed near one of the positions, wounding the gunner, killing the assistant gunner and destroying the weapon. Even though enemy shells were falling dangerously near, S/Sgt. McCall crawled across the treacherous terrain and rendered first aid to the wounded man, dragging him into a position of cover with the help of another man. The gunners of the second machine gun had been wounded from the fragments of an enemy shell, leaving S/Sgt. McCall the only remaining member of his machine-gun section. Displaying outstanding aggressiveness, he ran forward with the weapon on his hip, reaching a point 30 yards from the enemy, where he fired two bursts of fire into the nest, killing or wounding all of the crew and putting the gun out of action. A second machine gun now opened fire upon him and he rushed its position, firing his weapon from the hip, killing four of the guncrew. A third machine gun, 50 yards in the rear of the first two, was delivering a tremendous volume of fire upon our troops. S/Sgt. McCall spotted its position and valiantly went toward it in the face of overwhelming enemy fire. He was last seen courageously moving forward on the enemy position, firing his machine gun from the hip. S/Sgt. McCall's intrepidity and unhesitating willingness to sacrifice his life exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.”
Harry J. Michael, World War II: Next week, the state will name a section of U.S. 231, between Lindberg Road and U.S. 52, for Michael, a Milford native who’d come to Purdue to study agriculture before he joined the Army in 1943. Michael received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions on March 14, 1945, near Neiderzerf, Germany. Here’s how his Medal of Honor citation read:
“He was serving as a rifle platoon leader when his company began an assault on a wooded ridge northeast of the village of Neiderzerf, Germany, early on 13 March 1945. A short distance up the side of the hill, 2d Lt. Michael, at the head of his platoon, heard the click of an enemy machine-gun bolt. Quietly halting the company, he silently moved off into the woods and discovered two enemy machine guns and crews. Executing a sudden charge, he completely surprised the enemy and captured the guns and crews. At daybreak, enemy voices were heard in the thick woods ahead. Leading his platoon in a flanking movement, they charged the enemy with hand grenades and, after a bitter fight, captured 25 members of an SS mountain division, three artillery pieces and 20 horses. While his company was establishing its position, 2d Lt. Michael made two personal reconnaissance missions of the wood on his left flank. On his first mission he killed two, wounded four, and captured six enemy soldiers singlehandedly. On the second mission he captured seven prisoners. During the afternoon he led his platoon on a frontal assault of a line of enemy pillboxes, successfully capturing the objective, killing 10, and capturing 30 prisoners. The following morning the company was subjected to sniper fire and 2d Lt. Michael, in an attempt to find the hidden sniper, was shot and killed. The inspiring leadership and heroic aggressiveness displayed by 2d Lt. Michael upheld the highest traditions of the military service.”
David M. Shoup, World War II: Shoup, a native of Battle Ground, was honored for his actions as a Marine corporal between Nov. 20-22, 1943, in the Gilbert Islands. Shoup received the Medal of Honor on Jan. 22, 1945. He eventually earned the rank of general. Here’s Shoup’s citation for the Medal of Honor:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of all Marine Corps troops in action against enemy Japanese forces on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands from 20-22 November 1943. Although severely shocked by an exploding enemy shell soon after landing at the pier and suffering from a serious, painful leg wound which had become infected, Col. Shoup fearlessly exposed himself to the terrific and relentless artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire from hostile shore emplacements. Rallying his hesitant troops by his own inspiring heroism, he gallantly led them across the fringing reefs to charge the heavily fortified island and reinforce our hard-pressed, thinly held lines. Upon arrival onshore, he assumed command of all landed troops and, working without rest under constant, withering enemy fire during the next two days, conducted smashing attacks against unbelievably strong and fanatically defended Japanese positions despite innumerable obstacles and heavy casualties. By his brilliant leadership, daring tactics, and selfless devotion to duty, Col. Shoup was largely responsible for the final decisive defeat of the enemy, and his indomitable fighting spirit reflects great credit upon the U.S. Naval Service.”
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