Harold Perlmutter was born August 9, 1916, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the second child of Lily Budowski and Isadore Perlmutter, both immigrants from Hungary. Over the following decade, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and later settled in Chicago, Illinois, where Harold graduated from Hyde Park High School, an avid wrestler, boxer, fencer, and swimmer.1
After completing high school, he chose to remain close to home, beginning attendance at the University of Illinois in Chicago in pursuit of a medical degree. In 1936, after his second year enrolled, his parents separated,2 and Lily remarried Louis Newman, a widowed father, adding Louis’s five children to the family.3 After graduating and receiving his degree, Harold worked at the Woodlawn Hospital in Chicago, further perfecting his craft. However, no amount of early exposure to bodily trauma in hospitals could have possibly prepared him for what was to come in the following years.
With the threat of war looming, Harold enlisted into the U.S. Army as a medic on July 1, 1941.4 Five months and six days later, that threat became realized as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, causing the U.S. to join the efforts of the Allied Nations. Little is known of the details of Harold’s actions during his service, however it is likely that, after a brief training period, his medical skillset was utilized by the 2nd Armored Division in the European and Mediterranean Theaters5. Even with years spent in school and hospitals, the stress, responsibilities, and true horrors that accompany the position of combat medic undoubtedly hit Harold like no other prior experience. Responding to calls for aid during battle entailed venturing into active combat zones, often unarmed, risking one’s life for a fallen soldier who may be already lost, and treating extreme trauma from explosions or bullets seldom seen in civilian life. The expectation for soldiers such as these was absolute selflessness, a requirement that Harold expertly fulfilled both during and after the war.6
The one combat mission that Harold is known to have played a crucial role in was the storming of Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy, perhaps the most widely recognized battle of WWII.7 Alongside the soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division, made up of a variety of tanks and heavy artillery, Harold sprinted, head low, from wounded soldier to wounded soldier, first dragging them out of the line of fire, and then applying tourniquets or administering painkillers, doing whatever was necessary to give each fallen American the greatest chance of survival. The beaches of Normandy were bought with the high price of 29,000 American lives, however, that sum would have certainly been far greater had physicians such as Major Perlmutter not been among them. A day after the war’s end, on September 3, 1945, Harold was the first American doctor to set foot in Berlin, Germany, since the war began.8 For this and the countless lives he undoubtedly saved, Harold was awarded the Silver Star for combat duty, and the Bronze Star. He also received a Purple Heart.
Harold’s heroics did not end upon his return to the states. After his discharge from the Army, he began residency at the Michel Reese Hospital in Chicago where he met Evelyn Shirley Cohn who was part of the nursing program. They dated for two years until Harold left for surgical training at the Nation Hospital in Denver. Evelyn came to visit six months later and that Tuesday, October 26, 1948, they were married.9
Two years later, the pair moved to the Quad Cities where Harold spearheaded the establishment of Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois. In 1963, he was granted Black Hawk’s first honorary degree for his help in forming its foundations. Evelyn, backed by her husband, worked tirelessly to drive the creation of the Illini Hospital in 1968 and allowed Harold to perform the first surgery in its walls. He also organized the Academic Achievement Recognition program which rewarded the academic merit of local high school students.
In 1975, Harold was named East Moline’s “Man of the Year” for his continued selflessness for fellow Americans. Almost 20 years later, in 1991, he was named “Doctor of the Year” by the Illinois State Medical Society followed by the East Moline “Rotarian of the Year” Award.10 In the sequential two years Harold and Evelyn were named the 1993 “Community First Quad-Citizens,” deemed an “Illinois Treasure” by the Illinois Alliance of Aging, and given the keys to the city of East Moline. After his retirement as a surgeon Harold served for many years as a city physician without pay.11 These awards and achievements clearly communicate the character of those to which they are given.
On August 12, 2004, Dr. Harold Perlmutter passed away a hero at the age of 88, leaving his legacy with his wife, daughter, and a son who followed in his father’s footsteps, also earning a medical degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago.