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The Dental Corps

AMEDD Corps History > U.S. Army Dental Corps > Walter D. Vail and the History of the U.S. Army Dental Corps


VOLUME 7, NO. 3 (JULY 1936)



(Continued from page 79 April 1936 issue)

After approval of the Act of March 3, 1911, the following were appointed Dental Surgeons with the rank of First Lieutenant:     

Marshall, John S.

Bernheim, Julien R.

Oliver, Robert T.

Rhodes, Rex H.

Boak, Seibert D.

Stallman, George E.

Lauderdale, Clarence E.

Gunckel, George I.

Wing, Franklin F.

Stone, Frank P.

Mason, George L.

Ingalls, Raymond E.

Wolven, Frank H.

Scott, Harold O.

Hess, John H.

Ames, John R.

Voorhies, Hugh G.

Ryan, Edward P. R.

Chambers, William H.

Mills, Robert H.

Carpenter, Alden

Laflamme, Frank L. K.

Long, Charles J.

Scott, Minot E.

Tignor, Edwin P.

Graham, George D.

McAlister, John A.

Patterson, Robert F.

Casaday, George H.

Leslie, Samuel H.


On January 20, 1915, the Surgeon General forwarded to the Adjutant General of the Army a copy of a bill left in his office by a committee of the Association of Military Dental Surgeons. The bill contained provisions for the organization of the Dental Reserve Corps and certain changes in the Dental Corps. The latter were substantially as follows:

That there should be a chief of the Dental Corps with rank of colonel, acting under the directions of the Surgeon General, majors, captains and lieutenants, the number of majors not to exceed twenty-five per cent of the authorized strength of the Corps (1 to 1,000); original appointments to be made in the

*(NOTE:—This is the fourteenth and last installment of the current series of articles pertaining to the organization of the Dental Corps and the development of the Army dental service.—W. D. V.).


grade of first lieutenant between the ages of twenty and thirty years and after candidates had served at least three years as Contract Dental Surgeon, Acting Dental Surgeon, or First Lieutenant, Dental Reserve Corps, on active duty. The Chief of the Dental Corps was to be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate from dental officers in the grade of major.

The proposed bill was not received favorably by the Secretary of War. (S.G.O. 106047-59).

In the latter part of July 1915 the Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the National Dental Association wrote the Surgeon General in reference to a bill for reorganizing the Dental Corps. The Surgeon General replied that the War Department had disapproved a similar bill but “ * * * Now that the subject of the reorganization of the Army is up, a comprehensive plan for the reorganization of the Medical Department, including the Dental Corps, has been prepared. * * * It is believed that the plan outlined will be satisfactory to all concerned”. A few days later he wrote “Just as soon as it is possible to do so all information will be forwarded to you”. (S.G.O. 106047-61).

On January 14,1916, the Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the National Dental Association wrote the Secretary of War as follows:

“Early in November members of the Legislative Committee of the National Dental Association called upon you in behalf of legislation to increase the efficiency and status of the Army Dental Corps.

“While we have not been officially advised relative to any contemplated changes in this corps, yet we know, by Press Reports, that corrective legislation is being considered for the other various departments of the Army, and our committee feels that the Army Dental Corps must necessarily receive some favorable consideration under any plan of reorganization of the Army. To that end we trust that in presenting matters from time to time to the Senate and House, Military Committees, that we may be favored with such endorsement of our recommendations as in your judgment would seem to improve the service and give to our pro-


fession recognition in accordance with the importance of the service rendered.

“Trusting that we may be favored with your valuable co-operation, I remain”.

A letter with the same contents was written to the Surgeon General on the same date. (S.G.O. 106047-63).

On November 9, 1915, the Surgeon General furnished the Chief of Staff with the following memorandum:

“The Dental Corps as at present organized, does not attract the best men graduated from the various dental colleges of the United States, as the law limits promotion to the grade of first lieutenant.

“Upon a recent visit to this office of the members of the legislative committee of the National Dental Association, the views of the Surgeon General upon the subject of the reorganization of the Dental Corps, should reorganization be deemed advisable, were explained to them.

“The attached memorandum embodies the views of the Surgeon General upon the subject of reorganization of the Dental Corps.

“The committee objected to the plan outlined in the memorandum upon two points: (1) that the officers of the Dental Corps did not receive actual rank; (2) the designation ‘contract dental surgeon’ was objectionable.

“I have no objection to a change in the designation of the various grades.

“In regard to the organization of the Dental Reserve Corps, I think that such a reorganization would be a step in advance.

“The raising of the age limit from 21-27 to 23-30 will be, I think, for the best interests of the service. The maximum age limit should be established by law as is now the case.

“The creating of the grade of colonel and chief of the Dental Corps is entirely unnecessary. The duties of such an officer would be limited to recommending the assignment of dental surgeons to stations. When such assignments are made the duties of the office would be nominal”.


In response to a telegram from the Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the National Dental Association, protesting the provisions of a recently published bill, the Surgeon General wired as follows:

“My desire is to increase the efficiency of the Dental Corps and provide for a proper flow of promotion. The question of title given to various grades is, I believe, a matter of secondary importance. There is no objection upon my part to the same provision regarding rank as is now authorized for the Medical Corps”.

On May 27, 1916, the Surgeon General wrote the Adjutant General concerning Section 10 of the Army Reorganization Law, referring specifically to the provisions relating to the Dental Corps. Attention was invited to certain features which presented administrative difficulties. The last paragraph of his letter read as follows:

“The new law provides that the dental surgeons (of the new Corps) shall have the rank, etc., of first lieutenant until they have completed 8 years’ service; the rank, etc., of captain if of more than 8 years’ and less than 24 years’ service; and the rank, etc., of major, if of more than 24 years’ service; (not however exceeding 15 majors). The law does not specifically prescribe that the service for increased rank shall have been rendered after commission in the new Corps. I recommend that, if the canons of construction permit, service as contract dental surgeon under Section 18 of the Act February 2, 1901 (31 Stats. 752-3), and service in the Dental Corps established by the Act March 3, 1911, whether in the civilian grade of acting dental surgeons or in the commissioned grade of dental surgeon, be counted toward the advanced rank provided in the new law.” (S.G.O. 106047-70).

However, the bill (known as the National Defense Act) passed and was approved on June 3, 1916. The part of Section 10 that related to the Dental Corps read as follows:


“The President is hereby authorized to appoint and commission, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, dental surgeons, who are citizens of the United States between the ages of 21 and 27 years, at the rate of one for each 1,000 enlisted men of the line of the Army. Dental surgeons shall have the rank, pay, and allowances of first lieutenants until they have completed 8 years’ service. Dental surgeons of more than 8 but less than 24 years’ service shall, subject to such examination as the President may prescribe, have the rank, pay and allowances of captains. Dental surgeons of more than 24 years’ service shall, subject to such examination as the President may prescribe, have the rank, pay and allowances of major: Provided, That the total number of dental surgeons with rank, pay, and allowances of major shall not at any time exceed 15: And provided further, That all laws relating to the examination of officers of the Medical Corps for promotion shall be applicable to dental surgeons.”

The Surgeon General’s letter (May 27, 1916) was referred to the Judge Advocate General’s Office for an opinion on the several points at issue. The Judge Advocate General's opinions seemed to be satisfactory to all concerned except that on the matter of crediting service as acting or contract dental surgeons for purposes of promotion. The opinion was that such ser- Vice could not be counted for promotion. (S.G.O. 106047-70).

The failure of the law to credit dental surgeons with contract and acting dental surgeon service for the purpose of promotion was considered an injustice and attempts were begun to have such service counted. On June 9, 1916, a bill (H.R. 16355) was introduced which apparently was intended to correct the injustice. However, that bill was defective in several aspects one of which was that it credited such service to those who were commissioned under the Act of March 3, 1911, but not 3 those who were to be commissioned later. When the bill was referred to the Surgeon General, he returned it by indorsement the Adjutant General, calling attention to several defects in the proposed bill. (S.G.O. 106047-79).


On June 27, 1916, Senator Pomerene wrote the War Department on the matter. When the letter was indorsed to the Surgeon General, he favored crediting contract and acting dental service to dental officers for purposes of promotion. The correspondence was then indorsed to the Judge Advocate General, who, after discussing several phases relating to the question, suggested “ * * * that, as this is a question involving the payment of money, it is a proper one for the consideration and decision of the Comptroller of the Treasury. If his decision should coincide with the views of Senator Pomerene, no additional legislation would, of course, be required. It is, therefore, recommended that the Comptroller's decision be requested * * *.”

The Comptroller revived the case and his-decision (July 22, 1916) was:

“I am of the opinion that the term ‘years’ service’ as used in the above-quoted law of June 3, 1916, includes service under contract as well as service under commission and is limited to service as a dental surgeon under contract or commission; therefore, in computing under said law the length of service of dental-surgeons for promotion and other purposes, all such dental surgeons as are otherwise eligible and had service as contract or acting dental surgeons prior to June 3, 1916, shall be given credit for the length of their service as such contract or acting dental surgeon, in addition to credit for service as first lieutenant under Act of March 3, 1911”. (S.G.O. 106047-78).

The Dental Corps was given equal status with that of the Medical Corps when the act commonly referred to as the Act of October 6, 1917 (H.R. 4897) was approved. The provisions of the Act relating to the Dental Corps read as follows: (40 Stat. 397).

“Hereafter the Dental Corps of the Army shall consist of commissioned officers of the same grade and proportionally distributed among such grades as are now or may be hereafter provided by law for the Medical Corps, who shall have the rank, pay, promotion and allowances of officers of


corresponding grades in the Medical Corps, including the right to retirement as in the case of other officers, and there shall be one dental officer for every thousand . of the total strength of the Regular Army authorized from time to time by law: Provided further, That dental examining and review boards shall consist of one officer of the Medical Corps and two officers of the Dental Corps; Provided further, That immediately following the approval of this Act all dental surgeons then in active service shall be recommissioned in the Dental Corps in the grades herein authorized in the order of their seniority and without loss of pay or allowances or of relative rank in the Army; Provided further, That no dental surgeon shall be recommissioned who has not been confirmed by the Senate”.

When the United States entered the World War there were 86 dental officers in the Regular Army, 18 of whom were captains and the remainder first lieutenants. Of the 86 then on duty only 55 were stationed in the United States and these were widely scattered. On June 30, 1918, there were 212 officers in the Corps (Ann. Rpt. S. G. 1918).

The Regular Army Dental Corps; Dental Corps, National Army; Dental Corps, National Guard, and the Dental Reserve Corps were consolidated into the Dental Corps, United States Army, by General Order No. 73, August 7, 1918. The largest number of dental officers on duty at any time during the World War was 4,620 (November 30, 1918). On June 30, 1919, there were 9 colonels, 26 lieutenant colonels, 163 majors, 611 captains and 1168 first lieutenants on active duty. Of these 218 were Regular Army dental officers (Ann. Rpt. S. G. 1919).

The following is taken from the Annual Report of the Surgeon General for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1920:

Temporary officers.— There were approximately 2,000 temporary officers of the Dental Corps on duty July 1, 1919. These officers were discharged as rapidly as the interest of the service would permit. In compliance with special instructions from the Secretary of War, the largest reduction was made during the month of October, 1919. The total number remaining in the service November 1, 1919, was 176; since that date 41


others have been discharged, 8 have vacated their temporary commissions to accept permanent commission in the Regular Dental Corps, and 1, Captain James E. Cox, died from injuries received in an explosion of a gasoline gas generator, in line of duty, at Columbus Barracks, Ohio, April 11, 1920. There remain on duty at the close of this report 126 temporary officers.

Assignments.—Careful consideration has been given to the equitable assignment of dental officers to meet actual requirements throughout the service. However, the demands for dental service in general hospitals has required the assignment of officers in addition to the authorized quota. During the year dental officers have been on duty in the following localities outside the territorial limits of the United States: England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Philippine Islands, Panama, Hawaii, China, Siberia, Alaska and Port Rico. At the present date there are 18 on duty in Germany, 1 in Poland, 2 in Porto Rico, 3 in Panama, 19 in the Philippine Islands, 1 in China, 8 in Hawaii, and 272 serving in the United States, as follows:

Northeastern Department                                          


Eastern Department                                                   


Southeastern Department                                          


Central Department                                                   


Southern Department                                     


Western Department                                                  


General hospitals                                                        


Independent stations                                                


Air service                                                                  


Attending Surgeon’s Office, Washington, D. C.      


Purchasing and Storage Division                               


Surgeon General’s Office                                          


Transport Service                                                       


Sick in hospital                                                           













“In conjunction with all other activities of the Medical Department, the Dental Corps has adequately met the requiremeni4 of the general reduction of its service incident to demobilization of the Army, discharge of temporary officers, abandonment of


camps and cantonments, the closure of hospitals, and the concentration of various Army units.

“A reorganization of the Dental Corps, based upon the requirements of our Army in time of peace, gradually has been accomplished in accordance with prevailing policies and the best interests of the service. Senior dental officers have been assigned to duty at headquarters of each territorial department as department dental surgeons, assistants to department surgeons. Division dental surgeons have been retained at each of the division camps, and at the large camps where several junior officers were present the senior officer, designated camp dental surgeon, has been placed in charge. Senior officers of recognized professional ability have been assigned to duty as chief of the dental service at the various general hospitals, attending surgeon's offices, and recruit depots. This designation has also been maintained for the officer in charge of dental service with the American forces in Germany, American forces in Siberia, and at ports of embarkation.

“The dental section of the Personnel Division, Surgeon General’s Office, was also reorganized to meet the reduction and lessening requirements of the service. This occurred early -in November, 1919, at which time it was raised to the dignity of a separate division in The Surgeon General’s Office, with the senior dental officer of the Army announced as chief of division.

“Dental attention for the Air Service has been continued through the assignment of a sufficient number of dental officers to that organization, where they function under general direction of the chief surgeon, Air Service.

* * *



“Under terms of the act of June 4, 1920, the Dental Corps 'has acquired definitely through basic law all the rights, privileges, credits of service for promotion, increased service pay, and retirement heretofore authorized in part by the acts of March 3, 1911, June 3, 1916, comptroller’s decision of July 22, 1916, and the act of October 6, 1917. The equitable provisions of this new


law places the Dental Corps on equal status as one of the integral corps of the Medical Department of the Army. This definite establishment of the status of dental officers will conduce to the betterment of the service, in that it will attract the best class of graduates to a military career, promote contentment and esprit de corps among its personnel, and produce salutary satisfaction to the American dental profession, whose wholehearted, loyal cooperation has been unstinted during the war period.

“It is greatly regretted, however, that the number of dental officers authorized was not increased from the original proportion of 1 to 1,000 of the authorized strength of the Army. The character of reconstructive dental operations has so greatly changed during the past few years, and the demands so increased for higher professional-attention along lines of preventive dentistry and in consultation with medical officers in locating obscure pathological conditions as possible etiologic -factors to systemic disease, that the proportion of 1 to 1,000 is wholly inadequate to the present needs of the Army in securing dental service of modern type. It is hoped this important matter will receive remedial consideration at an early session of Congress.”

The Act of June 4, 1920, referred to above, is commonly known as the Army Reorganization Act—a revision of the National Defense Act approved June 3, 1916. The Act authorized a Dental Corps with a strength of 298 officers. As there were 196 dental officers in the Regular Army on July 1, 1920, 102 vacancies were created by the Act. To fill these vacancies the Act authorized the appointment of officers under the age of 58; years and who had served between April 6, 1917, and June 4 1920, in such numbers as the President directed. Other provisions of the bill were: That dental officers should be promoted to the grades of captain, major, lieutenant-colonel and colonel after 3, 12, 20 and 26 years’ service respectively; that service as contract and acting dental surgeons would be credited towards promotion; that appointments (except as noted above for filling of vacancies created by the Act) should be made in grade of first lieutenant of candidates between the ages of 23 and 32 years who are graduates of recognized dental colleges and who have been engaged in practice for at least two years subsequent to graduation.


As a result of examinations held (July and October 1920) to fill vacancies created by the Act, 75 candidates (2 majors, 19 captains and 54 lieutenants) were tendered appointments. Of this number 2 captains and 5 lieutenants declined appointment. The strength of the Dental Corps was then raised to 246. On account of the shortage of dental officers the War Department authorized the calling of 32 dental reserve officers to duty for a period of six months. All of these were returned to inactive status on or about June 30, 1921.

Although the Act of June 4, 1920 contained provisions for a peace-time strength of 280,000 enlisted men and approximately 18,000 officers, the mean strength of the Army in 1920 was 191,907 enlisted men and 15,992 officers (Ann. Rpt. Surg. Gen., 1920, p. 18).

The Army Appropriation Act approved June 30, 1921, reduced the enlisted strength of the Army to 150,000. The quota of dental officers was reduced to 180. On June 30, 1921, there were 246 officers in the Dental Corps, a surplus of 66 over the ratio of 1 per 1,000 total strength of the Army. No special action was taken to reduce the surplus. However, a policy was announced that no more commissions in the Dental Corps would be given until the number of the Corps was reduced below 180.

The Army Appropriation Act approved June 30, 1922, further reduced the strength of the Army to 125,000 enlisted men and 12,000 officers. The number of dental officers authorized by this act was fixed at 158. Since there were 233 dental officers, Regular Army, at that time, 75 became surplus and action was begun to effect a reduction in the strength of the Corps of that number under terms of the Act, the substance of which was: officers with physical disabilities were retired on 3/4 pay; officers with over 10 years’ service were eligible for retirement on 2½ per cent of base pay multiplied by the number of years’ service; officers with less than 10 years’ service were granted one year’s pay. In general, officers who elected were permitted to take advantage of the above provisions, otherwise officers were selected for separation from the service on the same basis. (It will be understood that these terms were applicable to officers of all branches of the service as well as to


those of the Dental Corps. There was a reduction of 2000 officers in the whole Army).

The authorized strength of the Dental Corps remained 158 until the Army Appropriation Act for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1937, provided for a strength of 183. In the meantime (1923-35) the total strength of the Army was approximately 130,000-137,000. This provided a surplus of approximately 20 dental officers over a ratio of 1 per 1,000. The Army Appropriation Act for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1936, provided for an enlisted strength of 147,000. This number of enlisted men with approximately 12,000 officers and 6,000 Philippine Scouts wiped out the surplus which had existed during the period mentioned. The Act appropriating for the Army for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1937, provided for 165,000 enlisted men, approximately 12,000 officers and 6,000 Scouts, a total of approximately 183,000. With 183 dental officers to provide dental service for an army of 183,000, the Dental Corps was again reduced to a quota of 1 dental officer per 1,000 total strength of the Army.