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Dentist's memoir recounts journey from dental school to war

Somers, N.Y.—At 88, Dr. Mel Amler can still picture the black of the jungle at night, still feel the fear that coursed through him with every step. Soldiers of war never forget. Not even with 60 years of practicing general dentistry in between.

Dr. Amler, who retired from dentistry in 2004 at age 83, didn't take well to having time on his hands and so, at the urging of his wife and children, decided to put his memories to paper. The result is "Midnight on Mindanao: Wartime Remembrances," a vivid memoir that traces his days as a New York University dental student to U.S. Army officer to the jungles of Mindanao, the Philippines.

A city boy, the Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised Dr. Amler was a 23-year-old, 5-foot-6, 119-pounds "kid" in 1945. He'd never been on a plane, let alone traveled across the world. It was a tale being told in versions all over the country—as the Army commissioned him and thousands of others to be part of Medical Administrative Corp. His coursework was accelerated to supply the armed forces with critically needed dental officers and upon graduation was promptly made a First Lieutenant and stationed deep in the jungles of Mindanao.

Despite the more than 60 years that have passed, he didn't have to rely on a journal to recall his experiences. "Fear made it easy to remember," he said.

The book took about a year-and-a-half to write.

"I got it out of my system," he said. Army dentistry, or "wartime dentistry" as he called it, would prove to be very different from the private practice he would eventually build once back home.

"We treated on the fly," he said. "It was blood and guts stuff; I didn't do too much regular dentistry. Once I got back home, there was nothing that seemed very difficult after that.

"I always did the very best I knew how and it was a good feeling," he said.

In addition to covering the war from his own experiences in the Philippines to entering Hiroshima shortly after Japan's surrender, the book is filled with humor and anecdotes, including a memorable night aboard a naval ship during a typhoon in the South China Sea when he allowed a fellow dentist to extract his impacted and throbbing wisdom teeth.

"That was the one time I didn't get seasick," he said with a laugh.

For more information about the book or to order a copy, go to or