War Story

The Lakeside Unit planted the seed for Cleveland Clinic.

polaroid of a forest

The handwritten caption reads: “The Forest of Rouen — where Ed and I, then Bunts and I used to walk and dream dreams.” | Photo: Cleveland Clinic Archives

Far from Cleveland, near the blood-drenched battlefields of World War I, Cleveland Clinic was dreamed up in late-night talks by three weary surgeons who thought they could transfer the lessons of teamwork, organization and trauma treatment that they learned in military hospitals to their hometown.

George Crile Sr., MD, went to Paris in 1915 with his cousin William Lower, MD, and a group of colleagues to work at the American Ambulance Hospital. Upon returning to Cleveland later that year, Dr. Crile approached the Red Cross with the idea of taking a team of civilian medical personnel overseas.

The result was the Lakeside Unit. It left Cleveland on May 6, 1917, with 26 physicians — including Dr. Crile, Dr. Lower and their associate Frank Bunts, MD — and 64 nurses joined by enlisted soldiers and even a few civilians. Just under three weeks later, they arrived in Rouen, France, where they would staff U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 4. It saw nearly 83,000 injured soldiers during the war.

Dr. Bunts, Dr. Crile and Dr. Lower took turns as base commander. Each of them had previous military medical experience — Dr. Bunts and Dr. Crile in the Spanish-American War; Dr. Lower with the 9th U.S. Cavalry in the Philippines.

The three physicians had started working together 25 years earlier, when Dr. Lower joined a practice that Dr. Bunts and Dr. Crile bought from the estate of Frank Weed, MD. Dr. Bunts, Dr. Crile and Dr. Lower also were active in Cleveland’s medical teaching community.

After the war, the trio returned to Cleveland. Realizing they needed an internist in their ranks, they recruited prominent local physician John Phillips, MD, for the ambitious new clinic that they had first conceived in France. Within two years, it would become a reality.