Robert T. Gants was born in 1904 in Downs, Kansas, and was the son of Dr. Del Monte Gants, a retired dentist. Robert graduated Downs High School and received his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Kansas in 1926. He was awarded his doctor of medicine degree in 1930 from the same university, and completed his internship at Kansas City, Kansas General Hospital the following year. He returned to the University of Kansas in 1931, where he took a year’s graduate training in pathology. From 1932 to 1934, he held an assistantship and preceptorship with Dr. E. Lee Miller of St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, as part of his University of Kansas residency training.
Entering military service at the Fort Riley (Kansas) Station Hospital in July 1934, Colonel Gants’ later assignments took him to many parts of the world. From 1938 to 1940, he served at Sternberg General Hospital, Manila, Philippine Islands. He graduated in 1942 from the Commander and General Staff school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. During World War II, he commanded the 280th Station Hospital and the 250th General Hospital in France and Germany, and from 1949 to 1953, he was Chief of Surgery at the 98th General Hospital, Munich, Germany.
Included among his stateside assignments were Army-Navy General Hospital, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, Denver, Colorado, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Other postgraduate training included Medical Field Service School, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; a refresher course in anatomy at the University of Colorado in 1945; and a brief course in general surgery at the University of Kansas in 1947.
Gants was named Chief of the Department of Surgery at Walter Reed Army Hospital (thus also being chief surgeon of the U.S. Army) in 1953, a duty tour he held until 1957. Robert led the surgical team who successfully operated on President Dwight Eisenhower on June 9, 1956, saving the president’s life.
Surgery of President Eisenhower, 9 June 1956
Eisenhower developed vague, ill-defined discomfort in the lower abdomen at 12:30 am on June 8, 1956. His physician arrived at the White House 30 minutes later and found moderate distention and tympany, but no particular point of abdominal tenderness. The President slept fitfully for the next few hours. Tap water enemas in the morning gave no relief. The pain became colicky and centered on the umbilicus and right lower quadrant. At 10:30AM he vomited 1500cc of bile-stained fluid. His pulse was 92, and his blood pressure had fallen from 140/100, when first seen, to 100/76. When seen by a consultant, Eisenhower was listless, apathetic, perspiring freely, had somewhat cool and clammy skin and a pulse of 120. After 600cc of D5W [sic] given intravenously, the hemodynamics improved and the President was transferred to Walter Reed General Hospital. Eisenhower’s chronic anticoagulation therapy was suspended.
By 1:00 am on June 9, the four consulting surgeons unanimously felt surgical intervention was indicated. Distention of the small bowel, seen on the initial x-ray, was increasing. At 2:20 am the President was induced and intubated and the operation began. Electrocardiographic observations were made during the 2-hour procedure.
At operation, the terminal 30 to 40 cm of the ileum had the typical appearance of chronic “dry” regional enteritis. The bowel immediately proximal to this was greatly dilated, moderately edematous, but pink. An ileotransverse colostomy was performed, bypassing the obstruction. The procedure was uneventful; 500 cc of blood were given. The post-operative course was smooth as well, save for a fever and minor wound infection on the 11th post-operative day. He began conducting official business on the fifth post-operative day.
From July 1957 until his return to Walter Reed as a patient in December 1957, Colonel Gants was Chief of the Department of Surgery at William Beaumont Army Hospital, El Paso, Texas.
During his duty tour at Walter Reed, he held the appointment of Adjunct Clinical Professor of Surgery at George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.Colonel Gants was a Diplomat of the American Board of Surgery, a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons, and a founding member of Alpha Omega Alpha, honorary medical fraternity. He was also a member of the American Medical Association, Pho Chi medical fraternity, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He was the author of numerous professional articles on general surgery and thoracic surgery.
Among his military decorations were the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and Army Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant.
In December 1957 Robert was diagnosed with cancer. He died February 15, 1958 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was survived by his widow, Mrs. Lorraine C. Gants; his mother, Mrs. Monte Gants of Downs; a daughter, Mrs. Margaret Frances Webb; and a son, Robert M. Gants.
The honorary pallbearers alone at his funeral included 6 generals, 5 colonels, 4 majors, and 9 captains, including Herbert Harrison Glidden: Lieutenant General Ralph J. Canine, Major General Leonard D. Heaton, Major General Herbert M. Jones, Brigadier General Thomas J. Hartford, Brigadier General James H Forsee, Brigadier General L. Holmes Ginn, Colonel Robert L. Callison, Colonel Cecil H. Strong, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Cohen, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Campbell, Lieutenant Colonel John White, Major Bruce A. Raymond, Major John Rafferty, Major Donald H. Glew, Major James K. Pope, Captain Curzon C. Ferris, Captain David G. Bowers, Captain Alexander Pogrebniak, Captain Alfred H. Kent, Captain David C. Green, Captain Milton M. Gottlieb, Captain Latimer H. Booth, Captain James P. Geiger, Captain Alphonse C. Gomez, John H. Elsie, (fellow Osborne Countian) Harrison Glidden, and James Harrison.
The funeral services for Colonel Robert T. Gants were held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 19, 1958 at the Walter Reed Memorial Chapel, followed by interment with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.