Special Bond: Leading FAU Geriatrician and World War II Hero

Veteran, World War II, WWII, Hero, Seniors, Veteran's Day, Geriatrician, Geriatrics, Human Health, Advocate

Joseph G. Ouslander, M.D. (left) and Jack Appel.

By gisele galoustian | 11/9/2021

An internationally renowned geriatrician and advocate for seniors and a 98-year-old World War II veteran hero are a dynamic duo whose paths recently crossed. They have a common bond: to improve care and quality of life for Americans and people throughout the world.

Florida Atlantic University’s Joseph G. Ouslander, M.D., chair, Integrated Medical Science Department and senior associate dean of geriatric programs in the Schmidt College of Medicine, has dedicated his career to developing programs to improve the well-being and health of seniors at home and in nursing homes. He developed Interventions to Reduce Acute Care Transfers (INTERACT) to assist long‐term care facilities and programs in improving care, and reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and their related complications and costs.

Ouslander’s inspiration as a geriatrician stems from his work with the United States Veterans Administration (VA). He spearheads the FAU geriatrics fellowship at the West Palm Beach VA and serves on the VA’s Federal Advisory Committee for geriatrics and gerontology. He also is a past-president and board chair of the American Geriatrics Society and serves as the executive editor of the society's Journal.

“Although I’m not a veteran myself, I’m very devoted to veterans like Jack Appel who deserve the best care for their valiant service to our country. Without the VA, I would not have been able to get trained and certified in geriatric medicine,” said Ouslander, who trained at the Sepulveda VA outside Los Angeles and later worked at the Atlanta VA. “The field of medicine needs support to improve care and quality of life for our veterans and others.”

With so few World War II veterans remaining, Appel is “one-of-kind.” Despite his age, he remains active and looks forward to the future. His latest endeavor is to start a medical research foundation and was the impetus of his meeting with Ouslander, who conducted a geriatric consultation to verify that he is capable of making his own financial decisions. Appel passed with flying colors.

“I performed a complete comprehensive geriatric assessment and found that he is probably the healthiest 98-year-old I have ever examined,” said Ouslander. “He is totally independent, lives alone with minimal housekeeping assistance, manages his own finances, and drives with no history of car crashes. He scored 29 on the Saint Louis University mental status exam, which I am sure I would score lower.”    

Ouslander published his inspiring encounter with Appel in a journal article earlier this year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society , titled “Last Rites of a Jewish Hero.” During this meeting, Appel proceeded to tell Ouslander his life story in an abridged format.

Born in 1923, Appel grew up in New York City, graduated from New York University, and had entered NYU Law School when he was drafted. Before going into the army, he was advised not to list Jewish as his religion because if he was captured by the Nazis he would be shot. So, he claimed to be Catholic since his girlfriend was Italian and occasionally took him to church.

“Having red hair and a small nose and an Irish face, I could pass for a Catholic. One month after being in the Army at Camp Crowder Missouri I came down with spinal meningitis,” said Appel. “The Red Cross sent for my parents because they thought I was dying. I remember one night I opened my eyes and I saw a priest giving me the last rites. I survived the disease after 56 days in the hospital, but I lost the hearing in my left ear. I thought I would be discharged. However, I was not and went through the entire war. I was in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. If you believe in faith, then those last rites have given me a charmed life.” 

Appel served in the U.S. Army; was part the U.S. First Army and landing in Normandy, France in June 1944; and participated in the Battle of the Bulge, driving a lieutenant to Buchenwald and witnessing events at the camp right after its liberation. For his efforts during the two years, 11 months, and 10 days he served, he received five battle stars and was honored as a Knight of the French Legion of Honor in 2008, the highest honor of the French military.

Appel earned a degree in business administration and became a successful financial advisor and “made small fortunes for people who already had big ones.” He’s a well-known ace poker player and was a national champion senior bowler who has been bowling for more than 80 years. Appel’s father owned a bowling alley in Queens, New York, and his bowling experience goes back to days of having to clear out the pins after the ball came rolling down the lane.

A current Boca Raton resident, Appel moved to Florida in 1972 and has lived in various Palm Beach County locations since. He retired after working for 50 years on Wall Street. Today, he is sharing his stories of American history and recently published his biography, “Every Soldier Has a Story … This Is Mine.”