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Learn the fascinating story behind the street's xml_namesake

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 08:58 AM

Every day, thousands of motorists travel Adamo Drive, a busy 7-mile stretch of State Road 60 that carries motorists between the Channelside District of downtown Tampa and South Falkenburg Road on Brandon's western edge.

Few remember for whom the street was named; even fewer pronounce the name ah-DAHM-o, as Dr. Adamo would have. But Frank Adamo was a gentleman and never complained.

A World War II prisoner of war hailed by Life Magazine as "Bataan's medical hero," he earned a huge welcome when he finally came home in 1945. Tampa celebrated Frank Adamo Day with a parade through the streets of the city. His courage and sacrifice as a prison-camp physician, and the many lives he saved with his innovative treatment for gangrene, earned him a Legion of Merit medal.

He went on to become a respected and beloved hometown doctor, one of the greatest of "the greatest generation."

Francesco Scozzari Adamo was born in Tampa in 1893, the son of Sicilian immigrants.

Nothing in his youth suggested future success: He attended school for only a few years, suffered from terrible headaches and went to work rolling cigars as a pre-teen. He spoke little English.

But during the turbulent cigar strike of 1910, Adamo left Tampa. He eventually traveled to Chicago, where he attended night classes to finish grammar school - as an 18-year-old. He quickly worked through the high school curriculum and finished a year of college before enrolling at the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery.

He began his internship in Tampa in September 1919.

"Upon returning (to Tampa), I almost died of the heat," he recalled in a 1980 interview. "You could not open your mouth or you would get a mouthful of mosquitoes."

But Adamo found someone to love: Euphemia, a young nurse from Scotland's Orkney Islands. Their marriage survived more than six decades.

World War II

In 1923, Adamo joined the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1939. On Nov. 5, 1940, he was called up to active duty, and the following spring he was sent to Fort McKinley Hospital in the Philippines as an Army surgeon.

Sounds of Japanese planes and bombs awakened him there the morning of Dec. 8, 1941. Japanese troops attacked the Philippines, and Adamo and other soldiers and civilians fled to the island of Corregidor, called "The Rock," in Manila Bay. There, Adamo worked tirelessly to treat wounded soldiers and civilians.

In a Feb. 16, 1942 issue of Life Magazine, he was called "Bataan's medical hero" and described as "slight, grayish, calm."

Confronted by mounting numbers of patients suffering from gangrene, Adamo experimented with a new procedure. Amputation of the limb was the accepted treatment for gangrene, but Adamo knew that the gangrene bacillus could not survive if exposed to oxygen. He tried opening the wounds and applying sulfa drugs, irrigating every hour with hydrogen peroxide.

The treatment proved effective, and the surgeon was lauded for the many lives - and limbs - he saved.

Taken prisoner

Corregidor fell on April 9. Adamo was taken prisoner and began the infamous Bataan Death March, a harrowing 60-mile trek. Seventy-five thousand captives began the march; as many as 20,000 died or were killed along the way.

At the prison camp, though he too suffered from beriberi and other ailments, he treated men stricken with dysentery, beriberi, malaria, dengue fever, and malnutrition. In the book "P.O.W. in the Pacific," William Donovan credits Adamo with saving his life.

He also treated the enemy. He saved the life of a young Japanese soldier by performing an emergency appendectomy and was rewarded with a precious can of peaches.

Life in a Japanese prison camp was torturous, he remembered.

"Mainly for breakfast there was rice, for lunch was rice and for supper was more rice. We also had a few greens we called whisperweed because you could blow through it, soy beans, and once in a while dried salty fish that we mixed with water.

"About the only thing we had to do was think. And about all we could think about was getting something to eat."

Adamo would daydream about the meals he used to have.

"I could almost taste sometimes the spaghetti and veal and chicken. And then sometimes I'd think about how nice it would be to have one more steak before I died."

His only communication with his wife in Tampa was a three-word Red Cross telegram: "I am well."

Rescue

In January 1945, American planes appeared. On the morning of Feb. 4, 1945, the Japanese guards vanished. Soon, U.S. troops liberated the camp.

Adamo, like many of the prisoners, was so ravenously hungry - he weighed 95 pounds - that he became sick eating cans of pork.

By the time he made it home to Tampa, First Avenue had been renamed Frank Adamo Drive. April 27, 1945 was declared Frank Adamo Day, and a large parade celebrated the colonel's homecoming.

"Persons who had known the famous doctor for years, some since he was a little boy, wouldn't let him go," the Tribune reported. "There were tears in their eyes."

Dick Greco (uncle to the future mayor) proudly pointed to his cheek, gushing, "He kissed me right here."

Eventually, Adamo resumed his private surgical practice. In 1960, he received a trophy for being "Most Popular Doctor" at Centro Asturiano Hospital. He also served as a president of the Hillsborough Medical Association

He retired at age 80 in 1973 and, a decade later, was still playing golf several times a week. Adamo died in 1988.


Gary R. Mormino is director of the Florida Studies Program at USF St. Petersburg. He invites your letters and stories. Reach him by e-mail at gmormino@mail.usf.edu or in care of the Florida Studies Program, Snell House, 140 Seventh Ave. S., St. Petersburg

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