Capt Douglas L. Hickok
Hometown: Jackson/Brick, New Jersey.
Died: March 28, 2020.
Unit: NJ Army National Guard
He made a career of healing patients — and became the military’s first virus casualty
By Alex Horton
Douglas Hickok’s hands had three decades of experience before the physician assistant needed them in a different way.
New Jersey Army National Guard Capt. Douglas Hickok (Shandrea Hickok)
Hickok, a baseball fanatic and outdoors-man who served in the Army New Jersey National Guard as a captain, focused on a range of fields, from trauma medicine to orthopedic surgery, in both his civilian and military career.
But at a Guard training event last year, a pivotal moment of Hickok’s career took place outside of a hospital.
He raced down a steep hill after a vehicle accident and plucked two injured soldiers from the wreckage, his daughter Shandrea Hickok told Stars and Stripes.
It was a defining event for a man who cherished the history of military service in his family, with three generations in uniform. And when the deadly coronavirus swept through New Jersey, Hickok was ready again, preparing to activate with his unit.
Then the symptoms arose, and Hickok entered a Pennsylvania hospital March 21.
He died March 28 of complications from covid-19 infection at age 57, his family said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. Shandrea Hickok said the family did not know where or when her father contracted the virus.
“Doug fought very hard not only to help protect his fellow soldiers but his family and life until the very end,” the family said.
Hickok is the first uniformed service member to die of the coronavirus, in what Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper called a “stinging loss,” as the virus has infected a growing number of troops, from sailors on an aircraft carrier to soldiers assigned to garrisons in South Korea.
His death came as a testament to his life, his family said. He served in numerous positions, including as a civilian physician assistant at Joint Base Andrews before he settled in Pennsylvania to work at a civilian orthopedic clinic in 2017.
But coronavirus cases exploded in both parts of his life, launching Hickok into action.
They rose in New Jersey — where he raised his children and drilled as a guardsman — and in the military, as the Pentagon has sought more medical specialists in uniform.
“My brother didn’t run away from this virus,” Mary Hickok-Scott, his younger sister, told Stars and Stripes. “He could have. He could have said, ‘I’m out.’ But he didn’t. He ran toward it.”
Hickok won praise for his “compassionate and professional care,” inspiring respect from his soldiers and superiors alike, said Col. Edwin Wymer, commander of the New Jersey Army National Guard Medical Command.
The family’s military legacy will continue. Hickok’s son Noah will finish his final semester at Rutgers University with plans to enter the Navy through officer candidate school, Stars and Stripes reported.
That is a small solace for a family that, like many others, had no opportunity to say goodbye in the hospital room, Shandrea Hickok told a Pennsylvania PBS station.
“It almost, in a sense, feels like it didn’t happen,” she said.