About Major General Norman T. Kirk, 27th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army
NORMAN THOMAS KIRK was born on 3 January 1888, in Rising Sun, Maryland. He graduated from Tome School, Port Deposit, Maryland, in 1906, and received his Medical Doctor degree from the University of Maryland in 1910. He served as resident physician at the University Hospital, Baltimore, and as clinical assistant at the United States Soldiers' Home Hospital, Washington, DC, before being commissioned as first lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps on 29 May 1912. After a short period of active service, Kirk was appointed to the Regular Army as first lieutenant, Medical Corps, on 22 May 1913.
His first service was at the Soldiers' Home, Washington, DC, in June 1912. In September he enrolled in the Army Medical School, Washington, DC, and following graduation, was stationed at Field Hospital No. 3, Texas City, Texas, from June 1913 to July 1915. For seven months of the period, Field Hospital No. 3 was stationed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, as part of the Punitive Expedition. Kirk was then assigned to the Cantonment Hospital, 2d Division, Galveston, Texas, as operating surgeon.
That same month, July, he went to Fort Grant, Panama Canal Zone, for a brief tour of duty, after which he was transferred to Fort Sherman, Panama Canal Zone, in October 1915. He stayed there until transferred to the United States for duty at the Base Hospital, Brownsville, Texas, in July 1916.
In September 1917, he was assigned to the Medical Officers' Training Camp at Camp Greenleaf (Fort Oglethorpe), Georgia, serving there until January 1919, when he was ordered to Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, DC, for surgical service. At Walter Reed in 1919, he transferred his practice from general surgery to bone and joint surgery. He was credited with treating at least one third of the major amputations incurred in World War I. He was acknowledged as one of the leading experts in the United States on amputation, and his major publications confirmed his reputation in both the military and civilian medical communities.
After brief periods of study at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1925, he was assigned to the Station Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas (now Brooke Army Medical Center), in October 1925, as Chief of the Orthopedic Section and Assistant Chief and Ward Officer, Surgical Service. He became Chief of Surgical Service in July 1927. In February 1928, he was transferred to the Sternberg General Hospital, Manila, Philippine Islands, as Chief of Surgical Service.
Kirk returned to the United States in July 1930 and assigned to Walter Reed General Hospital, Army Medical Center, Washington, DC, as Chief of the Orthopedic Section. He entered the Medical Field Service School Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, in October 1931, and following his graduation from the Advanced Course, returned to his duties at the Walter Reed General Hospital.
In July 1934, General Kirk became Chief of Surgical Service at the Station Hospital, Fort Mills, Philippine Islands, and in February 1935, became Chief of Surgical Service, Sternberg General Hospital, Philippine Islands.
In July 1936, Kirk was appointed Chief of Surgical Service, Letterman General hospital, San Francisco, California, serving in that capacity until January 1941. At that time, Kirk returned to Walter Reed General Hospital, Army Medical Center, Washington, DC, as Chief of Surgical Service.
When World War II appeared imminent, General Kirk assisted the Supply Division, Surgeon General's Office, in the revision of the Medical Department Supply Catalog, thus ensuring that it would include the proper items for the maximum professional care and treatment of the battle wounded.
Kirk was named Commanding Officer, Percy Jones General Hospital, Battle Creek, Michigan, in June 1942. Here, under his supervision, the Battle Creek Sanitarium was converted into a general hospital and its staff (mainly civilians) selected, organized, and trained. During the war, Percy Jones General Hospital served as a specialized center for the treatment of amputations, neurosurgery, deep X-ray therapy, and neurology. This hospital, originally intended to accommodate 1,750 patients, was expanded and together with Camp Custer, Michigan, became a hospital center with a maximum patient load of 12,000.
After a contentious selection process, President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected Kirk to replace Major General James Magee as The Surgeon General. He was appointed Surgeon General, United States Army, on 1 June 1943. Under his guidance as Surgeon General, the U.S. Army in World War II achieved a record of recovery from wounds and freedom from disease never before accomplished in history.
For the first time, surgery was taken to the men at the front: 96 out of every 100 wounded who lived to reach a hospital survived as against 92 in World War I. Mobile hospitals were set up within a few miles of the front lines and medical aid men went into battle with the troops, administering to the wounded where they fell. Prompt surgery, aided by penicillin, the sulfa drugs, whole blood, and blood plasma administered at the front, together with new and improved surgical techniques was responsible for returning 375,000 of World War II's 598,000 wounded to duty in the theater and an additional 55,200 to duty in the United States.
Through the Army's preventive medicine program deaths from disease were reduced to 0.6 man per thousand men per year as against 16.5 in World War I. Malaria was reduced from hundreds of cases per 11,000 men per year to less than 50. The dysenteries, which once put entire regiments and armies out of action, occurred among less than 90 out of every 1,000 men per year and were readily controlled. During World War I, 38 percent of the men who contracted meningitis died compared with 4 percent in this war; and 24 percent of those who contracted pneumonia died, compared with only six-tenths of one percent in this war. Through the development and use of toxoids and vaccines, fear of tetanus, typhoid, and typhus, became a thing of the past. No deaths resulted from these diseases among troops inoculated against them. Not a single case of yellow fever occurred in the Army.
This record was accomplished by a Medical Department that included only 1,200 doctors in the Regular Army Medical Corps at the beginning of the emergency and reached a peak strength of 47,000 Medical Corps, 15,000 Dental Corps, 18,700 Medical Administrative Corps, 2,000 Sanitary Corps, 2,000 Veterinary Corps, 61 Pharmacy Corps, 57,000 Nurse Corps, 1,600 Dieticians, 1,300 Physical Therapists, and some 535,000 enlisted personnel trained for such duties as medical aid men, litter bearers, ambulance drivers, and technicians. These were the personnel who, under General Kirk's direction, planned and organized the work of the Army Medical Department and cared for the largest American Army in history fighting a global war, administering to the 15,000,000 patients admitted to the 692 hospitals overseas and the 65 general and 13 convalescent hospitals in this country.