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HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY
Brigadier General Carl Rodgers Darnall
THE ARMY MEDICAL BULLETIN, NUMBER 56 (1941)
Carl Rodgers Darnall
Brigadier General U. S. Army, Retired
(25 December 1867-18 January 1941)
At the time of his retirement from the Army, nearly ten years ago, according to a well regulated custom, General Darnall sent his biography to the Army Medical Library. The record he made of his own life is extremely short, covering only a single page, but it is characteristic of him. He was a man of deeds and not of words.
Carl Rogers Darnall, Texas born on Christmas day 1867, after passing through a country elementary school and Carlton College (Academy) in his native state received his education at Transylvania University, Kentucky, and later at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia where he graduated in medicine in 1890. After a few years of private practice Dr. Darnall entered the military service as an assistant surgeon in 1896, and shortly thereafter he was ordered to the Army Medical School which at that time was conducted in the Army Medical Museum.
Upon his graduation in 1897 he returned to his native state, having been assigned to Fort Clark, Texas. It was not long there- after that he was ordered to duty with the 4th Army Corps and subsequently the course of events took him to Cuba. Following his service in the Spanish-American War he sailed for the Philippines, serving as operating surgeon and pathologist on the hospital ship Relief, and also as commanding officer of the military hospital at Iloilo. Captain Darnall was one of the few of our army medical officers who had the good fortune to accompany the allies forces during the Boxer Rebellion in China.
Upon his return home in 1902, Captain Darnall’s talents were at once recognized, and for more than ten years he remained on duty in Washington at the Army Medical School, serving as secretary of the faculty and as instructor in sanitary chemistry and operative surgery.
It was while on duty as professor of chemistry that he discovered the value of liquid chlorine in the purification of water. This followed several years of experimentation on this subject, the earlier work being directed entirely toward the purification of water for troops in the field. Later on, as is well known, this monumental discovery was applied to municipal water supplies, and it is now in use all over the world. The influence this has had upon public health is so widespread that it is almost impossible to place a proper estimate upon it. In addition General Darnall also devised and patented a water filter which was used by the Army for many years.
In 1914, due to the application of the so-called Manchu law, General Darnall left Washington for a two-year tour of service in the Philippines, and he returned to the United States in 1916.
When the United States entered the World War, General Darnall, who was then lieutenant colonel, was on duty in Washington in charge of the Field Medical Supply Depot, but again his talents for business and organization were recognized and he was soon assigned to duty in the office of The Surgeon General to direct the Finance and Supply Division. He served in this capacity until the close of hostilities. Because of his wide knowledge of supplies and his great ability in the administration of the many important activities pertaining to medical supply during the war, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. The citation reads as follows:
For exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service. He has rendered especially meritorious and distinguished service in organizing, developing, and administering the Supply Division of the Medical Department and it is due to his foresight and ability that new sources of medical supplies were developed in this country so that adequate quantities of material were always available for use with the sick and wounded of the Army.
After the close of the World War General Darnall became executive officer in The Surgeons General’s Office. In 1922 he went to Hawaii where he was department surgeon for three years, returning to the United States in 1925. At this time he was again assigned to duty as executive officer in the; office of The Surgeon General. In November 1929 he was promoted to the grade of brigadier general and was ordered to duty as commanding general of the Army Medical Center. This post he held until his retirement in 1931.
General Darnall was the author of a number of papers on professional subjects in chemistry and surgery. He was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, a member of the American Medical Association, and a member of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. He was a veteran of the Military Order of the Carabao, member of the Army and Navy Club of Washington, and Founder Member of the Army and Navy Country Club.
Such is the record of his achievements and one can imagine the dry smile which would illuminate his features if he were here to read what is said of him, for never was there a man who demanded less adulation.
The friend, his former student, who now writes this tribute, is conscious of a feeling of pride and quiet happiness to be able to place on record, even if imperfectly, something of the character of this unusual figure whose mental attainment, no less than his rugged honesty, impressed all with whom he came in contact.
My first acquaintance with him was as a student at the Army Medical School in the years 1905-06. Captain Darnall was then the secretary of the faculty, professor of chemistry, and also of operative surgery, for he was not only an excellent chemist but a skilled surgeon. It was related of him that when General O’Reilly selected him to give instruction in chemistry, some officer of The Surgeon General’s staff expressed doubt as to Captain Darnall’s experience and training in that subject. The reply of The Surgeon General was to the effect that it would make no difference, he knew his man, and if Darnall didn’t know it at the moment he very soon would. This was true of him all his life, if he didn’t know at once he would before long!
As students, our feeling for him was unlike that which we had for any other instructor. We had to endure their peculiarities and to do things their way. With Darnall, it was different. He was strict but would unbend when you least expected it; everyone admired his knowledge and all of us knew that behind a slightly chilly exterior he was a real fellow who had no pre- tense about him. He was kind to us when we most needed it and I have never forgotten this. When we graduated there was no member of the staff who was more enshrined in our hearts than the professor of chemistry.
It was not my good fortune to see him often after that, except on brief occasions. During the feverish days of the World War Colonel Darnall, as all the older medical officers know, was a tower of strength in The Surgeon General’s Office. Those who came in contact with him there never failed to realize how just, how reasonable, and how possessed of understanding he was.
So the years passed and Carl Darnall, now a brigadier general, was saddened by the invalidism of his dearly beloved wife, to whom he gave much of his time and devotion. But he, himself, was an institution, a pillar of our time, and such men don’t seem to age. Now that he is gone, perhaps a simple shaft reaching toward the stars would express well something of his character and his achievements, but his real monuments are about us in the persons of those whose lives have been saved by his discovery.
In 1892 General Darnall married Miss Annie Estella Major of Erwinna, Pennsylvania, and this devoted wife and mother, who had been an invalid for six years, passed away at the family home in Washington on January 12, 1941. The general followed her only six days later.
General Darnall left three sons, Lieut. Colonel Joseph Rogers Darnall, Medical Corps, now stationed in The Surgeon General’s office; William Major Darnall, who served as a Lieutenant of Infantry, overseas, during the World War and is now an insurance broker in Chicago, Illinois; and Captain Carl Robert Darnall, Medical Corps, on duty in the Finance and Supply Division, Surgeon General’s office. General Darnall also left six grandchildren.
Harold W. Jones,
Colonel, Medical Corps, U. S. Army,
The Librarian, Army Medical Library.