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Norman T. Kirk

Photo Norman Kirk

Surgeons General | Norman Thomas Kirk

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.  

Personal Data

Date and Place of Birth: 3 January 1888, Rising Sun, Maryland

Date and Place of Death: 13 August 1960, Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C.

Parents: Thomas and Anna (Brown) Kirk

Marriage: 21 September 1917

Children: Ann Kirk Willard and Jane Kirk Kimbrell
 

Career Summary

1912

1st Lieutenant, Medical Reserve Corps, 29 May 1912  

1912

Soldiers' Home, Washington, DC  

1912-1913

Army Medical School, Washington, DC
1st Lieutenant, Regular Army, Medical Corps  

1913-1915

Field Hospital No. 3, Texas City, Texas (For seven months of this period, Field Hospital No. 3 was stationed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, as part of the Punitive Expedition).  

1915

Operating Surgeon, Cantonment Hospital, 2d Division, Galveston, Texas  

1915

Fort Grant, Panama Canal Zone  

1915-1916

Fort Sherman, Panama Canal Zone  

1916-1917

Base Hospital, Brownsville, Texas
Captain, 7 June 1916  

1917-1919

Commanding Officer, Regimental Detachments
Medical Officers' Training Camp
Camp Greenleaf, Georgia
Major, 15 May 1917
Lt Colonel, National Army, 6 November 1918

1919-1925

Bone and Joint Surgery, Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, DC. (With brief tours of duty at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts in 1925)  

1925-1927

Chief of the Orthopedic Section and Assistant Chief and Ward Officer, Surgical Service, Station Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas  

1927-1928

Chief of the Surgical Service, Station Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas  

1928-1930

Chief of the Surgical Service, Sternberg General Hospital, Manila, Philippine Islands

1930-1931

Chief of the Orthopedic Section, Walter Reed General Hospital, Army Medical Center, Washington, DC  

1931-1932

Advanced Course, Medical Field Service School, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania  

1932-1934

Chief of the Orthopedic Section, Walter Reed General Hospital, Army Medical Center, Washington, DC
Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army, 22 May 1933  

1934-1935

Chief of the Surgical Service, Station Hospital, Fort Mills, Philippine Islands  

1935-1936

Chief of the Surgical Service, Sternberg General Hospital, Manila, Philippine Islands  

1936-1941

Chief of the Surgical Service, Letterman General Hospital, San Francisco, California Colonel, Regular Army, 22 May 1939
 

1941-1942

Chief of the Surgical Service, Walter Reed General Hospital, Army Medical Center, Washington, DC  

1942-1943

Commanding Officer, Percy Jones General Hospital, Battle Creek, Michigan
Brigadier General, Army of the United States, 12 March 1943  

1943-1947

Surgeon General, United States Army
Major General, 1 June 1943  

1947

Retired, 1 June 1947

Memberships

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Association for the Surgery of Trauma
American Board of Orthopedic Surgery
American College of Surgeons
American Hospital Association
American Medical Association
American Orthopaedic Association
American Surgical Association
Association of Military Surgeons
Board of Commissioners, United States Soldier's Home
Board of Directors, American foundation for Tropical Medicine
Central Committee, American red Cross
Diplomate of American Board of Surgery
Executive Committee, Research Board for National Security, National Academy of Sciences
Federal Board of Hospitalization
Fellow of American College of Physicians
Fellow and Governor of American College of Surgeons
Honorary Fellow of Southern Psychiatric Association
Honorary Member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society
Honorary Member of District of Columbia Medical Society
Honorary Life Member of Washington Orthopaedic Society
Member of American Medical Association
National Board of Medical Examiners
National Research Council
Pan American Medical Association
Southern Surgical Association
The Academy of Medicine of Washington, DC
United States of American Typhus Commission

Fraternities

Nu Sigma Nu
Masons

Honorary Degrees and Awards

Sc. D., Davidson College, 1944
Sc. D., University of Maryland, 1944
Distinguished Service Medal, May 1945
Commander, Order of the British Empire (Honorary) 1945
Commander, Order of the Crown of Italy, 1946

Writings (Book)

Kirk, Norman T. Amputations, Operative Techniques. Washington, DC: Medical Interpreter, 1924. Republished as monograph by Prior Co., Hagerstown, Maryland, 1942 and 1943.  

(Chapters in Encyclopedias)

Amputations, Lewis, Practice of Surgery, vol. 3, Chap. 10, 273 pp.: Published by Prior Co., Hagerstown, Maryland, 1928-30.

Cinoplastic Amputations and Prosthesis; Cyclopedia of Medicine, Surgery, and Specialties, vol. 1:438-475, Published by F.A. Davis, Philadelphia, 1939.

Prothesis, Christopher-Saunders, 1939.

Tetanus, Nelson-Loose leaf Living Surgery, vol. 1, Chap. VA, pp. 475D-476H, 1941.  

(Articles)

Kirk, Norman T. "End Results of 158 Consecutive Autogenous bone Grafts for non-union in long bones: (A) in Simple Fractures; (B) in Atrophic Bone Following War Wounds and Chronic Suppurative Osteitis (osteomyelitis)."

________. "Emergency Splinting of Fractures for Transport." Military Surgeon 60 (May, 1927): 532-540.

________. "Neurotrophic Changes in Leprosy." Military Surgeon 69 (July 1931): 18-25.

________. "Care and Evacuation of Fracture Cases: Battle Casualties." Military Surgeon 70 (May 1932): 462-471.

________. "Amputation Stumps of Lower Extremity." Journal Bone and Joint Surgery 15 (January 1933): 101-111.

________. "Fracture of the Clavicle." American Journal of Surgery 38 (December 1937): 485-488.

________. "Non-Union and Bone Grafts." Journal and Joint Surgery 20 (July 1938): 621-626.

________. "Prophylaxis and Treatment of Gas Gangrene (C1. Welchii) by Sulfanilamide."

Army Medical Bulletin 51 (January 1940): 26-27.

________. "Organization for Evacuation and Treatment of War Casualties." Ann. Surg. 113 (June 1941): 1020-1033.

________. "Military Orthopedics." Surg. Clin. No. Am. 21 (December 1941): 1685-1702.

________. "Amputations in War." J.A.M.A. 120 (5 September 1942): 13-16.

________. "Army Splints." Army Medical Bulletin 64 (October 1942): 76-86.

________. "The Development of Amputation." Bulletin of Medical Library Association 32, No. 2 (April 1944)