Dr. B. Martin Middleton, a retired general surgeon and former chief of surgery at St. Agnes Hospital, died of cancer Saturday at his Ellicott City home. He was 90.
Born in Waldorf and raised on a Charles County tobacco farm in Southern Maryland, he was the son of Henry Middleton, a tobacco farmer, and Bertha Cook. He attended a one-room parochial school in Bryantown.
"My father grew up in poverty in the Depression. The farm did not have electricity or running water," said a son, Dr. Jeffrey Middleton of Ellicott City. "He could recall seeing President Franklin D. Roosevelt come to Southern Maryland for the groundbreaking of the Potomac River bridge. His father took him to the event."
He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1945 and left for training the day after he graduated from high school.
After training in Biloxi, Miss., he crossed the Pacific on a troop transport. It was a rough trip, and he suffered from seasickness, family members said.
"My father was 18 years old and received a promotion to be line chief and head mechanic for the 36th Fighter Squadron." his son said. "They were preparing to invade Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped."
He served on an air base that serviced P-51 Mustang fighters.
Dr. Middleton was then assigned to Japan, where he witnessed the the destruction left after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. "He described it as 'absolute devastation,' 'hell on earth' and a 'place that was utterly desolate and lifeless,'" his son said.
While stationed in Japan he participated in a program that had U.S. servicemen meet Japanese families and share meals with them.
"He wanted to represent good values and the best of the American servicemen," his son said.
Dr. Middletown, who left military service as a sergeant, used benefits under the GI Bill of Rights to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, College Park. He later graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
As a medical student, he made extra money in the blood lab at St. Agnes Hospital. A hematologist, Dr. Milton Sachs, was studying the case of Ann Theresa O'Neill, a 4-year-old patient diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and given only weeks to live.
"Dr. Sachs showed him the slides and explained her leukemia had no cure," his son said. "He personally witnessed the blood smears and the seriousness of the diagnosis."
The Daughters of Charity organized nine days of prayer — a novena — and the child had a full recovery.
In the 1970s Ann O'Neill's full case was hailed as a miracle by Roman Catholic officials who investigated it, and the case led to the canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton.
After serving a residency at St. Agnes, Dr, Middleton joined its staff and also had a private surgical practice at the old Medical Arts Building in downtown Baltimore. He later moved the practice to Wilkens Avenue near the hospital. He went on become the hospital's chief of surgery and trained many younger surgeons.
Dr. Middleton was active in civil defense in the 1960s and was named coordinator for medical care in Howard County during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
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"I recall him coming home ashen that night. I had never seen my father scared before," said his son. "Having witnessed the devastation at Hiroshima, he was haunted by the prospect of having to prepare for an imminent attack on the U.S."
He became a well-known surgeon and counted as friends Senators Charles "Mac" Mathias Jr. and J. Glenn Beall, as well as state Sen. James Clark Jr. He worked with elected officials when Howard County's population was increasing in the 1960s, and brokered an agreement that made Howard County General Hospital the comprehensive medical center for the area, his son said.
He retired from his surgical practice when he turned 65, and for the next five years ran the outpatient clinic at St. Agnes.
Dr, Middleton took yearly hunting trips to spots in Maryland, Wyoming and South Dakota with his friends and family members. He also enjoyed yardwork and spending time with his grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, Melvin Avenue in Catonsville. He attended St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church.
In addition to his son, a dermatologist, Dr. Middleton is survived by his wife of 64 years, Audrey Walter; two other sons, Daniel Middleton of Atlanta and Neil Middleton of Ellicott City; a daughter, Carol Del Ricci of Montgomery County in Pennsylvania; a sister, Mary Ruth of Alabama; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A son, Andrew Garth Middleton, died in 1988.