We’ve been looking back at stories that mark important events during those years, moments when America came together.
In the early fifties, polio was a national scourge. The epidemic peaked in 1952; there were nearly 58,000 cases, with more than 3,000 deaths and some 21,000 people leftparalyzed, most of them children.
The next year, Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine. The first volunteer to test it had been Bill Kirkpatrick, a teenage polio patient. (Someone who’d already contracted polio wouldn’t get the disease again if something went wrong.) In 1954, his father wrote an open letter to his son in gratitude for his role in creating the lifesaving vaccine.
Bill not only recovered from polio but thrived. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall College, went to seminary and became a minister in the Episcopal Church. He served in several dioceses, scaling back his work in the 1980s, when he developed post-polio syndrome. He died in 2003.
Here are his father’s poignant words, as published in the October 1954 issue of Guideposts.
Dear Son: Every father has a special feeling about his son that’s hard to put into words. From the day you were born, back in 1935, and all during your next 19 years of achievement, I saw a little of myself in you—just as I did in Joe, your older brother, during his school days—my hopes, my dreams, my own ambitions unfulfilled.
I was proud of your boyish ability to cast for trout, your skill in other sports. I’ll not
forget the football game at Shady Side when you, a 130-pound tackle, kept breaking through the opposing team’s line to down their 175-pound fullback.
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