Biography of MERRITTE WEBER IRELAND
MERRITTE WEBER IRELAND (May 31, 1867 - July 5, 1952), served as The Surgeon General of the Army from Oct. 4, 1918 - May 31, 1931. He was born May 31, 1867, in Columbia City, Indiana--a town at the upper end of the Wabash Valley in Whitley County. His father, Dr. Martin Ireland, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio and graduated after studying medicine in Cincinnati in 1849. He settled in Columbia City in 1855 but the Ireland family originated in the west of Scotland, coming to Ohio by way of Maryland. His mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Fellers, came from Waynesboro, Virginia.
After finishing high school, Merritte Ireland entered the Detroit College of Medicine where he received an M.D. degree after only three years (1887-1890). The following year he spent at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia where again he earned an M.D. degree. Ireland immediately took the examination for the medical service corps in the U.S. Army and was commissioned an assistant surgeon from Indiana May 4, 1891.
As it turns out, Ireland was intrinsically linked to the history of our nation’s development and, later, to modern medicine. And his experience along the way will make him a great leader who readies the Army’s medical corps so it is fully capable to aid Soldiers and military personnel for the many wars and conflicts yet to come.
His first assignment was to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri where he served from May to September of 1891. At the end of that time he was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas, to serve under Maj. John Van R. Hoff. Ireland commanded the first Company of Instruction of the Hospital Corps, organized by Hoff, and accepted temporary duty assignments that included the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. 1
It was Col. John Van R. Hoff who convinced the 1902 Uniform Board of the U.S. Army to use the caduceus as the new medical insignia for both officers and enlisted personnel.1.1 When Hoff was developing the hospital corps while at Fort Riley, his staff included several up-and-coming medical officers, including Ireland. Many years later, Army Surgeon General Merritte Ireland's top staff included Brig. Gens. James. Glennan, Henry Fisher, and Francis Winter--all medical officers who served at Fort Riley together, under the command of Hoff.2 The friendship between Ireland and Hoff remained a close one until Hoff's death.
1893 was a noteworthy year for Irleand. He was tranferred from Fort Riley to Fort Apache, Arizona in April, and he went home to Indiana Nov. 8 to marry Elizabeth Liggett. By November 1894 the couple was preparing for transfer to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, where Ireland served until January 1896. His service at Fort Apache and Fort Stanton was spent alongside troops monitoring Indian attacks, and in service to exploring expeditions.
From Fort Stanton he was then assigned to Benicia Barracks, California, in January 1896. While stationed at that post he spent the summers of 1896 -1897 in the Yosemite National Park with troops. Their job during this time was to aid the parks first superintendent by fighting fires and preventing trespassing within the park boundaries by sheep and cattle. They also repaired trails and bridges along the line of their marches--in one report troops cleared and repaired more than sixty miles in one season--and eventually established a system of permanent patrolling stations.3
In January 1898 he was ordered to the Presidio of San Francisco, where the outbreak of the Spanish-American War found him. He accompanied units of the 3rd Field Artillery to Chickamauga Park, Georgia, in April of 1898 and from there to Port Tampa, Florida in preparation for deployment to Cuba. They departed Tampa in June on the transport "Saratoga" landing at Siboney, where he served with the Fifth Army Corps. He was assigned to the Reserve Divisional Hospital under command of Major Louis A. La Garde.
Ireland returned to the U.S., in August with Gen. Shafter's army, landing at Montauk Point, L. I., where he was assigned as executive officer of the general hospital at Camp Wikoff. The camp was created because Soldiers coming back from Cuba and Puerto Rico carried communicable disease such as yellow fever, malaria, etc., and they stayed in an isolated camp where they could be cleared of disease before being released. Among the Soldiers who spent time at CampWikoff upon return from Cuba were Col. Theodore Roosevelt and members of “his Rough Riders.”4
Three months later, in November, Ireland was sent to Fort Wayne, Michigan, as post surgeon but his stay there was short. By the following summer the Philippine-American War (1899–1902) well underway5 and he was assigned, as a major and surgeon, with the 45th Volunteer Infantry, in the Philippines. From December 1899 to April 1900 he saw constant field service with his regiment, participating in a dozen engagements in the provinces of Cavite, Camarines, and Albay in southern Luzon.
In April he was detached from his regiment and placed in charge of the medical supply depot in Manila. For nearly two years he performed the duty of medical purveyor of the Division of the Philippines with additional duties as disbursing officer of the Public Civil Fund. It is for this service that the Ireland Army Health Clinic crest has the Philippine sun incorporated within its design--see the bottom of this page for more on the unit insignia. It is also from this experience that Ireland formed the ideas that would later shape how he reinvented Army Medicine.
He returned to the United States on the transport "Grant" in March 1902, and was assigned as attending surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri. But in October of that year he was brought to the office of The Surgeon General in Washington by Gen.O'Reilly who had recently taken over that office. He was given charge of the Hospital Corps division of the office--the name later changed to personnel division.
For nearly ten years, through the administrations of Generals O'Reilly and Torney, Ireland--now a major-- served the central office in various capacities. At different times he was executive officer and in charge of the supply division, and the head of the personnel division. This service, from 1902 to 1912, gave him a remarkable knowledge of the personnel of the corps, a knowledge which was of the greatest value to him in his later career. As personnel officer he had put in to effect a foreign service roster, the operation of which had brought him to the top of the list in 1912, when he went again to the Philippine Islands, serving from September 1912 to June 1915 as surgeon of the brigade post of Fort McKinley, near Manila.
When he finally returned stateside, in August 1915, he was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, as sanitary inspector of the Southern Department and surgeon of the Cavalry Division. Later he was assigned as surgeon of the post. It was during this time that large bodies of National Guard troops assembled along the Rio Grande with the Punitive Expedition led by Gen. John Perishing, who was tasked with capturing Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.6
Fort Sam Houston was the hospital center for these operations, and while the situation was beset with difficulties Ireland, a lieutenant colonel since May 1, 1911, performed well and only added to his reputation for able administration. He was holding this position when a state of war was declared with Germany on April 6, 1917. In assembling Pershing's staff for the high command in France, he chose Ireland for the post of chief surgeon, but The Surgeon General selected Col. Alfred E. Bradley for that assignment.
Ireland sailed with Pershing for France as first assistant to Bradley and served in that capacity until Bradley fell ill and Ireland became chief surgeon in April 1918. As assistant and head of the service in the American Expeditionary Force his administrative and professional abilities won the highest commendation of Pershing.
With the approaching retirement of Gen. William Gorgas, The Surgeon General, in October 1918 there was much interest and concern about who would be his successor. The conduct of Gorgas' office by Col. Robert E. Noble -at this time a temporary major general- had made him a formidable candidate and there was serious consideration of men from the civilian profession for the job. In the American Expeditionary Force, summer of 1918, a group of high ranking men of the corps, several senior to Ireland, put in a request to Pershing that he should recommend Ireland for appointment as Surgeon General. This coincided with Pershing's own view and he made the recommendation as requested. Whether or not this was the deciding factor, Ireland was appointed Surgeon General with the grade of major general on October 4, 1918. The choice of Ireland by this group of men of the A. E. F., any one of whom might with good reason have been himself a candidate, was a tribute of the highest order, and the corps as a whole has reason to be proud of this group in its unselfish act of personal sacrifice.
The new surgeon general arrived in New York October 28 and took the oath of office October 30. After the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918, he found the office confronted with problems associated with demobilization and reorganization. To the medical service fell not only the duty of the physical examination of all personnel prior to discharge and the evaluation of their disabilities, but there were still thousands of sick and wounded to be healed and reconstructed.
With the gradual reduction of the case load it was necessary to reduce medical department facilities, but the years following the close of the war were still busy ones for the army general hospitals. Much of the energy of Ireland's early years in office was employed in replacing the temporary hospital structures erected during the war with permanent facilities. The Walter Reed and Letterman General Hospitals were thus rebuilt and completed. The William Beaumont General Hospital at El Paso, Texas, was built and put into operation July 1, 1921. The development of the Army Medical Center was another notable achievement of this period.
In addition to the construction of new pavilions for the hospital and the improvement of the grounds there were added buildings which housed the Army Medical, Dental, and Veterinary Schools, and a new Red Cross building. The medical department schools housed in the new building were greatly developed with largely full-time instructors. The Army School of Nursing was continued in connection with the Walter Reed General Hospital. A further development was the creation of the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., on May 15 1920. It included a school for officers and enlisted men where they were instructed in medical-military matters, administration, tactics, field sanitation, work with field units, map-making, equitation, motor mechanism, and related topics. The third tropical disease board was established in Manila in the spring of 1922.
The disposal of the large stocks of surplus medical supplies at the close of the war was one of the major problems of the supply division of the office. Altogether Ireland's term of office was marked by notable progress along the whole line of medical department activity. He had the confidence of the general staff and of the military committees of the Senate and House and was given by them a degree of consideration accorded to but few of the occupants of The Surgeon General's office. He was reappointed on October 30, 1922, and again on October 30, 1926, and October 30, 1930, and was retired on May 31, 1931, by reason of reaching the statutory age.
One can do no better in listing the qualities of Ireland than to quote the words of the commanding general of the A.E.F. who saw in him the outstanding figure in the medical corps of that time: "He is abounding in vitality, mental and physical, quick and accurate in decision, and prompt in action once the decision is made. He understands men and knows how to work with them for the common end. He has a thorough knowledge of the organization of the army and the medical department's place in it. He is far-sighted in making plans, and unusually able in administration. He is loyal always, but courageous in promoting sound views and avoiding error. He has an attractive personality and a diplomatic turn of mind, through which he has been able, among other things, to promote, in the War Department and in Congress, the goal of his ambition, which is to make his department more useful not only to the army but to the profession in general." To the writer, an outstanding trait of Ireland is his instant grasp of any proposition brought to his attention, his recognition of its merits and its defects and the promptness with which he can weigh these, one against the other, and arrive at a decision convincing to the author of the scheme. He has the gift of a highly retentive memory of personnel, not only of names and faces but of incidents connected with previous meetings. This happy faculty has been not only an aid in the success of his administration but has had much to do with his great personal popularity.
Ireland has been the recipient of a flood of honors, from his own and from foreign governments, from learned societies, and from institutions of learning. He was given the American Distinguished Service Medal, and was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor of France, a Companion of the Order of the Bath of Great Britain, and a Grand Officer of the Order of Polonia Restituta. He is a fellow and one time president of the American College of Surgeons, fellow of the American College of Physicians, and of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He has been president of the National Board of Medical Examiners and a member of the Council of Medical Education and Hospitals of the American Medical Association. He has been a director of Garfield Hospital, of Columbia Hospital, and of the United States Soldiers' Home, all in Washington. A long-time member of the Association of Military Surgeons, he was its president in 1925-27.
Ireland's contributions to periodic literature have been largely in the form of addresses which it fell to his duty to make upon all sorts of occasions. The great literary event of his administration was the production of the History of the Medical Department of the U. S. Army in the World War, begun with Colonel Charles Lynch as editor and finished under the editorship of Colonel Frank W. Weed.
After retirement Ireland lived in Washington, continuing active participation in the civic affairs of the community. He kept up much of his former activities in the administration of local hospitals and in the affairs of various medical societies. He received offers of places of honor and profit but preferred to remain in position to come and go and do as he wishes. Much of the time of Ireland and his wife was taken up by more or less prolonged trips away from Washington, to Florida in the winter and to Colorado in the summer, where at Pueblo lives their only son, Dr. Paul Mills Ireland, born in 1895, and a graduate of the University of Michigan in the class of 1920. [Dr. Ireland was later Chief Surgeon of the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Denver, Colorado.]
After his retirement, Major General Ireland continued to serve as president of the Army Mutual Aid Association until 1947 when deteriorating health forced him to resign after 18 years as president and 32 years as a director. He was recipient of a number of honorary degrees--from Jefferson Medical College (1919), University of Michigan (1920), Gettysburg College (1922), Syracuse University (1935), Wayne University, and the International Y. M. C. A. College. Among the number honors he received were the William Freeman Snow Award for Distinguished Service to Humanity from the American Social Hygiene Association in 1945 for his reorganization of the Army Medical Department and the citation for distinguished service to humanity from the Medical Society of the District of Columbia in April 1945. On February 23, 1939, he delivered the William Potter Memorial Lecture at Jefferson Medical College, speaking on the subject "Medicine's Debt to the United States Army."
He remained actively involved with the Army Medical Department after his retirement as an advisor to his successors as Surgeon General and to the leadership of the War Department. This was especially so after George C. Marshall became Chief of Staff on September 1, 1939. Both Ireland, as Chief Surgeon of the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916-17 and of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France in World War I, and Marshall were closely associated with General John J. Pershing during and after World War I and knew each other well. Marshall often called on Ireland to advise him on matters pertaining to the Army Medical Department and military medicine. He played a significant role during the searching examination of the AMEDD and of the relations between the Services of Supply and the Office of The Surgeon General in 1942-43 by the Wadhams Committee and in the selection of Brigadier General Norman Kirk to succeed Major General James Magee as The Surgeon General in 1943. Especially during the latter years of MG Magee's tenure as The Surgeon General, Ireland came to play a larger unofficial role because of the steadily worsening personal and official relations between Marshall and Magee.
During his later years, Ireland was beset with serious physical ailments which severely limited his activities. First painful conditions in his knee joints limited him. Then, after several cerebral hemorrhages, he passed his last years as a complete invalid and bed-ridden at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He died at Walter Reed on July 5, 1952 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 9th following funeral services in the Memorial Chapel at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
In his obituary note on Maj. Gen. Ireland in the Annals of Internal Medicine (1952), Maj. Gen. George Armstrong, then The Surgeon General, wrote: "General Ireland was largely responsible for the development of modern concepts of field medicine during World War I and his accomplishments made possible many of the later medical achievements of World War II and Korea. . . . Both in his position as Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces in France and, later, as Surgeon General of the Army for many years, General Ireland proved himself one of the great leaders of the Army Medical Service, and an unequaled administrator in the field of military medicine. His example while on active duty and his wise counsel following retirement were a source of constant inspiration to those who succeeded him as Surgeons General of the Army."
DISTINCTIVE UNIT INSIGNIA
Distinctive Unit Insignia. Description: A gold color metal and enamel insignia 1 3/16 inches (3.02cm) in height consisting of a representation of the Philippine sun, gold with white rays, the disc bearing a maroon cross moline voided gold; surmounting the upper rays an arched band divided horizontally scarlet, white and blue, and surmounting the lower rays a maroon scroll inscribed "BECAUSE WE CARE" in gold letters.
Symbolism: The cross and the sun stand for the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity at Fort Knox. The cross in general symbolizes service and care; the particular type of heraldic cross used in the design simulates four hearts and alludes to the motto. The sun, source of our light and heat, has long been associated with the healing arts. The disc of the sun also represents a gold coin in reference to the gold reserve at Fort Knox where the unit is located. In addition, the use of the Philippine sun stands for the distinguished Philippine service of Gen. Ireland for whom the Ireland Hospital was named. The scarlet, white and blue band simulates the American Expeditionary Force arm band which Ireland wore as a member of Gen. Pershing's staff during World War I. The colors maroon and white are used for organizations of the Army Medical Department.
Background: The distinctive unit insignia was originally approved for the Ireland Army Hospital Dec. 31, 1969. It was re-designated for the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, Fort Knox on Sept.4, 1973.