The Esplanade Association is now raising funds to build a permanent memorial and landscaped tribute in the park to a Navy surgeon known as the “Super Doc” who died in a rescue mission during the Vietnam War.
Dr. Melvin “Mel” Lederman was killed in action at age 41 on Nov. 20, 1969 – just two days before his scheduled discharge – when the helicopter he was riding in was shot down by enemy fire in the Quång Nam Province of Vietnam.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who went on to earn a medical degree from Harvard University (where he would also later become a research fellow in surgery), Dr. Lederman served as a military policeman in Alaska during the World War II era, fulfilling his service requirement. After reportedly turning down an offer to join a surgical practice in California with an annual salary of $500,000, he returned to military service in August of 1968, when he was commissioned as a Navy lieutenant commander and volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was promoted to full commander mere months later.
Dr. Lederman served aboard the hospital ship USS Repose, attending to wounded Marines, including those brought to the ship by Medivac helicopters. After working all day on the hospital ship, he voluntarily accompanied helicopter crews into combat. This earned him the “Super Doc” moniker, which was emblazoned on a badge he wore on his flight jacket with his Medevac badge while traveling to the frontlines.
Dr. Lederman was awarded three Purple Hearts for the injuries he sustained in action, as well as a posthumous fourth Purple Heart in 2016 after his cause was death was determined to be the result of enemy fire, as opposed to the original listed cause of engine failure.
In 1974, the Metropolitan District Commission (now the Department of Conservation and Recreation) approved the installation of a memorial boulder on the Esplanade. Inscribed “Lederman Field,” it sits in what is now Lederman Park, just across Storrow Drive from Mass General Hospital, where Dr. Lederman served as a cardiothoracic surgeon before beginning his military service in Vietnam.
Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association, said it’s fitting that the fundraising drive to build the memorial to Dr. Lederman kicked off around Memorial Day, and that a “contemplated memorial would formalize and improve the site of the existing Lederman Park.”
The proposed Lederman Memorial would be located inside a small paved area adjacent to the existing pathway along the Charles River on the Esplanade. Its centerpiece would be a silhouetted profile cut from a sheet of solid, brushed stainless steel and depicting a kneeling medical officer in field dress who has been lost in war sitting atop a granite base with inscriptions along its sides and horizontal surface; one of the inscriptions comes from an excerpt from a personal letter he wrote to a friend explaining his decision to return to military service in Vietnam that reads: “Someone had to do the job of taking care of these kids and it is obvious that I am it. So by conscience I have been doing the best that I know how.”
A cut-out figure would lie across the horizontal surface of the monument’s base to symbolize the shadow of the fallen, alongside etched images associated with Dr. Lederman and his service, as well as a field surgeon’s medical kit from the Vietnam era reproduced as a stainless steel casting. A new seating area would be oriented towards the monument, backed by low berming and plantings to distinguish it from the surrounding lawn areas, according to DCR, which is partnering on the Esplanade Association on this project, as well as on ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the park.
Lynne Young, Chairperson of the Cmdr. Mel Lederman, M.D. Memorial Committee, which is spearheading the effort, believes it’s imperative that the finished monument adhere as closely as possible to the concept designed by local sculptor David Phillips.
“We really want to build it the way he designed it and don’t want to modify it,” said Young, who leads the Memorial Committee, which also includes State Rep. Jay Livingstone, former District 8 City Councilor Josh Zakim and Nancy Schön, the sculptor who created the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Public Garden.
DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery is pleased that the “Super Doc” will be rightfully honored on the Esplanade with this new monument.
“The Department of Conservation and Recreation is proud to partner with the Esplanade Association and the Lederman family to construct a memorial that will not only keep Dr. Melvin Lederman’s spirit alive, but will also enable visitors to take a moment and reflect on the many sacrifices that have been made, and continue to be made, by veterans and servicemen and women on behalf of our great nation,” Montgomery said in a statement.
All donations for the memorial are tax-deductible to the extent of applicable law, and documentation will be provided to donors by the Esplanade Association. Visit https://esplanade.org/lederman/ to donate or for more information.