Claude A. Tait
WWII Civilian

Dr. Tait, who has one half-sister, Maria, Virginia Wang, was born in Mukden, China, now called Shenyang. His father was Chinese, but his mother, Ida Barbara Dittli, was a Swiss native and a schoolteacher in Germany. The couple married when he was a student in Zurich at the Polytechnical University where he earned a degree in chemistry. She moved to China with him "around 1927." His father's name was Cushing, the Europeanized version of a two-part name of Cu Shing, his first two names. His last name was Tai, which was changed to Tait over the years. The couple separated; son young Claude met his new stepfather, Hsiauhua Wang, an engineer with a master's degree from Darmstadt Polytech in Germany. Tuberculosis was rampant in China when Dr. Tait was a child. Meanwhile his father was working for Siemens, a German engineering firm at their branch in Shanghai. The family lived in the international quarter of Shanghai with German, French, Americans and British citizens. They spoke German at home. His mother spoke several languages. Dr. Tait learned to speak Chinese, "but it was a street Chinese," he remarks. He never learned to write the language. Dr. Tait attended a French school. The family moved to Berlin, Germany where his father had joined the Chinese Diplomatic Corps as a colonel in the military purchasing department in 1941. Soon he was noticing the effect of the Nazi Party. "I remember those were also the times where I was told that somehow some of our neighbors would disappear and soon after a truck would come along and pick up their effects and we never saw them again. Many were Jews, he remarks, but others were people opposed to the Nazis. "So they did the time-honored thing; they'd just kill everybody who disagreed with them," he remarks of the Nazis. The Taits sheltered a woman who was a Gentile Austrian married to a Jew whose name he recalls as Senzer. They divorced to protect their son. Dr. Tait recalls watching Nazi parades and once seeing Hitler from a distance. He witnessed Kristallnacht, the event when Nazis smashed Jewish stores and beat and killed many Jews. "I was out there watching all this when somebody started to chase me, I guess because I had black hair," Dr. Tait recalls. He made it safely home but "got chewed out royally and sent to take a bath. Germans heard about concentration camps "through word of mouth," he states, and rejects the notion that the German people didn't know of the brutality. "That's nonsense. Everybody knew. After all, what were they scared of if they didn't know?" he says. The Taits managed to get out of Germany in 1939, first to Copenhagen and then to Washington, D.C., sailing aboard the SS America. Dr. Tait started school in the fall of 1941 at Central High School in Washington. He was listening on the radio to the opera Lucia when the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor interrupted the broadcast. Meanwhile he was learning to speak English. He and his mother were Catholic but his stepfather was Buddhist. When the stepfather died in 1951 his mother and half-sister returned to Zurich. Dr. Tait graduated from high school in 1945. He hoped for a career as a music critic but his mother urged him to attend medical school. He complied and completed both undergraduate studies (as summa cum laude) and medical school at Georgetown University. On September 3, 1948 he married Joan Delores Stanlet whom he met in high school. . (They would have two children. He would later marry Caroline Mason Kelly, an operating room nurse, who had one daughter, Jennifer.) The day after Dr. Tait earned his medical degree in 1952 he became an American citizen. He began practicing anesthesia at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 1952 Dr. Tait moved to Shreveport where he joined two anesthesiologists to form the practice Ledbetter, Pou and Tait. He retired in 1987. "That was when insurance came in and also the malpractice situation became ever more threatening. So I decided that before I ever got sued I'd get out," he remarks.