Colonel Jack Arthur Comstock, MD

Archival display of Dr. Comstock photo and items from during and after WWII.
Written by
Yumin Jiang
March 13, 2023

On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, beginning the US involvement in World War II, which had been raging in Europe and Asia since the late 1930s. The Japanese also invaded the Philippines in December, 1941. Although US forces continued to fight until May of 1942, 72,000 American and Filipino soldiers were captured on April 9th. One of the American soldiers captured was Dr. Jack Comstock, a 1938 graduate of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Dr. Comstock was born in Fort Collins, Colorado December on 19th, 1914. His family moved around the west and southwest, including Oklahoma and Texas, before settling in Boulder. According to his family, Jack always wanted to be a doctor. He attended CU Boulder and received a degree  in Chemistry, with honors. He went on to attend the University of Colorado School of Medicine, graduating in 1938. He completed his internship at the New York City Hospital in 1940-41. After finishing his internship, he joined the U.S. Army.

Dr. Comstock served as a ward surgeon at the Fitzsimons Army Hospital before he was assigned as an attending surgeon to the Sternberg Hospital in the Philippines, in May 1941. Duty in the Philippines was seen as a desirable posting at the time.

After his capture, Dr. Comstock served as an attending surgeon during his entire time as a Prisoner of War. He was part of the 65 mile march north to the prison camps, the infamous Battaan Death March. There are no accurate figures, but an estimated 600 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos died, from starvation and cruelty on the march. Throughout their captivity during the war another 1,000 Americans and 16,000 Filipinos died.

Dr. Comstock kept a diary during his entire time as a POW. He wrote daily on whatever scraps of paper he could find, such as labels from medicine bottles and cardboard boxes. The diary was an account of the day’s events- weather, the food, how he and his fellow doctors were dealing with the lack of drug and supplies, news from the camps, the arrival of First Aid packages, and of course tracking the patients they lost. Keeping the diary put Dr. Comstock in extreme danger, and he had to hide the individual entries as best he could. Throughout the diary it’s easy to understand how Dr. Comstock’s positive attitude and humor allowed him to endure such an ordeal.

 In 2020, Dr. Comstock’s nieces, Nancy Wittemyer and Jacquie Kilburn donated several items to the Strauss Health Sciences Library, including an original transcript of the diary, letters, items from Dr. Comstock’s imprisonment, and several items from his long Army Air Force and Air Force career. An exhibit of many of the items they donated are being exhibited on the second floor of the library. The three exhibits highlight different parts of Dr. Comstock’s career and life. Additionally, several of the archival items on exhibit are available to view in the Strauss Health Sciences Library’s Digital Collections.