Danish Living History Association

US Army Medical Corps


The United States Army Medical Department and the Medical Corps trace their origins to 27 July 1775, when the Continental Congress established the first Army Hospital. Congress also provided a medical organization of the Army only in time of war or emergency until 1818, which marked the inception of a permanent and continuous Medical Department.


There were THREE different aspects of the Army medical problem:


FIRST - Selection of those upon whom the security of the nation depends, to be sure they are physically fit to endure the rigors of warfare.

SECOND - Preservation of the health of the able bodied in the military service.

THIRD - Restoration of the health of those who become sick or injured.


The principal service functions of the Medical Department were:





Procurement, Storage and Issue of medical supplies.


The Medical Department was charged with care of sick and wounded men and animals (still used during WW2) and transportation necessary for their evacuation and hospitalization; prevention of disease, including direction and supervision of measures of public health among inhabitants of occupied territory; sanitation, including inspection of meats, foods, and dairy products; and preparation and proper disposition of medical records.


The Corps of the Medical Department:


The Medical Department was organized into the Medical Corps, the Dental Corps, established in 1911, the Veterinary Corps, established in 1916, the Medical Administrative Corps, established in 1917, the Sanitary Corps, also established in 1917, and the Army Nurse Corps, established in 1901. Additional Departments were introduced in 1942, such as the Hospital Dietitian Corps, the Physical Therapist Corps, and the Pharmacy Corps, which followed in 1943. Civilian doctors joined the Department as ‘Contract Surgeons’, while the Army equally started accepting female doctors. A Medical Reserve Corps was already established in 1908.


In WW2, efficient medical care reduced overall losses to only 4 in each 100 wounded (WW1 8 out of 100). Better surgery, penicillin, plasma and whole blood were responsible in varying degrees, however the credit must be shared by the entire personnel of the Medical Department, whose painstaking care, surgical skill and devotion to duty under difficult and dangerous conditions saved thousands of lives! The soldier with an infection of his wounded leg, or with an open chest wound, or a mutilated face, or an injured brain, was certain to receive, after a short interval, the care of an orthopedic, plastic or neuro-surgeon – until he could reach his specialist. In general, the G.I. received the type of care which would get him to that specialist in the best possible condition. Army Nurses also gave widely varying types of skilled and sympathetic (often called Angels) service, some in field hospitals and others in general hospitals farther back. WW2 was also the first war in which Nurses automatically held officer rank! (in May 1945 there were 17,314 active Nurses in the ETO).


Prior to D-Day, June 1944 ETO medical personnel totaled 132,705, of whom 62,000 were with combat forces and the rest with the Services of Supply (S.O.S.) – by March 1945 the number had increased to 245,387 men. During WW2 the Medical Department’s field forces totaled 13,174 casualties, of which 2,274 were killed. Overall battle casualties in the ETO were as follows: 554,031 men & women (up to V-E Day). This can be subdivided into KIA = 98,812, WIA = 373,018, MIA = 42,278, POW = 24,783, died of wounds = 15,140. The percentage among arms and services was split into Infantry = 75.02%, Air Forces = 9.36%, Artillery = 5.40%, Corps of Engineers = 3.03%, Medical Department = 2.47%, Armored Forces = 1.01%, and others = 3.71%. Also, deaths from disease in WW1 were more than 31 times greater than those suffered in WW2, while lost service due to venereal disease (V.D.) was 30 times higher in WW1 than during WW2 … (although WW2 still numbered 606 men who came down with VD each day).

Copyright (C) Hans Martin Nielsen - 2015