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    Remembering Capt. Calkins, the First Leader of the Medical Service Corps

    Remembering Capt. Calkins, the First Leader of the Medical Service Corps

    Photo By André B. Sobocinski, Historian | When Rear Adm. Matthew Case took the helm as the Director of the Navy Medical Service...... read more read more



    Story by André B. Sobocinski, Historian 

    U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

    When Rear Adm. Matthew Case took the helm as the Director of the Navy Medical Service Corps in May 2022, he was following a tradition that extended back to September 29, 1954, when Capt. Willard Charles Calkins became the first leader of the corps. Like Case, it was a position for which Calkins was primed.

    In 1954, Willard Calkins was a 35-year Navy veteran who had served as an enlisted an warrant officer hospital corpsman at sea, shore and various Marine Corps activities before obtaining a commission as a Hospital Corps Officer in 1942. In World War II, Calkins served in the Northern Solomons campaign, earning a commendation ribbon for his efforts as the logistics advisor to the Force Medical Officer of the South Pacific Area.

    When the Medical Service Corps was established in 1947, Calkins was the tenth most senior medical administrator among the 251 plankowners. He later served as the Deputy Comptroller at Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) before taking over command of the Naval School of Hospital Administration, in Bethesda, Md. Calkins was only the fourth MSC Officer to serve as a Commanding Officer and the second to attain the rank of Captain.

    The fact that Capt. Calkins—or for that matter any MSC officer—became head of the Medical Service Corps was anything but preordained. Unlike the U.S. Army, which had appointed pharmacist Col. Othmar Goriup as its first Chief in 1947, the Navy Medical Service Corps was founded without any provision for a Chief or department head. And the act of creating this post was one of the mostly hotly debated issues in the first years of the corps.

    The Medical Service Corps of 1947 was organized into four sections split between two administrative divisions at BUMED. The Optometry, Pharmacy and Allied Sciences sections fell under an optometrist, pharmacist, and allied scientist, respectively, each of whom reported to a physician serving as Chief of the BUMED Professional Division. The Administration and Supply section came under the Head of the Medical Service Branch who in turn reported to another physician acting as the Chief of BUMED’s Personnel Division.

    Not only was the Navy’s most diverse staff corps the most organizationally disjointed, all matters and decisions relating to the Medical Service Corps ultimately fell under officers without the same vested interest in the future of the corps.

    The issue came to a head at the beginning of 1948 when several Medical Service Corps officers began voicing their concern that their corps lacked “espirit de corps” and much needed “director guidance.” Calkins was among the most vocal proponents for a centralized “Corps Chief Office” headed by a Medical Service Corps officer. In a memorandum dated April 27, 1948, Calkins wrote that the “only object I know to the appointment of a medical officer in this capacity is that it would be regarded throughout the service as a tacit expression of Bureau [of Medicine] opinion that there is no Medical Service Corps officer competent enough.” These thoughts were shared by many of the Medical Service Corps plankowners.

    On May 5, 1948, hope for reorganizing the Medical Service Corps was temporarily dashed when the BUMED Policy Board recommended against establishing a MSC Corps Chief. Instead, all MSC personnel matters were to be centralized under a Medical Corps officer serving as Chief of the Personnel Division. The head of the Medical Service Corps Branch would remain, in essence, a “consultant” on MSC matters.

    In the 1950s, as more Medical Service Corps officers were rising in rank and influence, BUMED leadership reversed course and accepted the value of a centralized office headed by senior MSC. On August 23, 1954, Congress established the Chief of the Medical Service Corps position and granted the Secretary of the Navy the right to appoint the first person to hold position.

    Capt. Willard Calkins served exactly four years as the first MSC Corps Chief before retiring in 1958. Along with Capts. Leo Elsasser and Emmett Van Landingham, he was one of only three MSC plankowners to serve at Corps Chief.


    In 1982, the position of Chief of the Medical Service Corps was redesignated a directorship and billet elevated to flag rank. Eight years later, on October 1, 1990, Congress authorized the Reserve Deputy Director of the Medical Service Corps.


    Calkins, Willard. Memorandum to CAPT Gilmore, 27 April 1948 (BUMED-23-WCC). BUMED Correspondence Files, Record Group 52. National Archives II, College Park, MD.

    Calkins, Willard, Official Biography, Naval History and Heritage Command.
    “CDR O’Brien, MSC, Retires After 43 Years’ Service.” National Naval Medical Center News, September 14, 1953.

    Erie, J.R. “The Navy Medical Service Corps: Whence and Whither?” U.S. Navy Medicine, Volume 60, August 1972.

    Gray, David. Many Specialties, One Corps. The Pictorial History of the U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps. Second Edition, 2017.

    Record of Proceedings of BUMED Policy Board Convened at Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington, D.C., 5 May 1948. BUMED Correspondence Files, Record Group 52. National Archives II, College Park, MD.

    Sobocinski, A.B. “What’s in a Name?: ‘Chiefs’ and ‘Directors’ of Navy Medicine.” Defense Visual Information Delivery Services (DVIDS). Retrieved from:



    Date Taken: 08.04.2023
    Date Posted: 08.04.2023 09:37
    Story ID: 450686
    Location: FALLS CHURCH, VA, US

    Web Views: 118
    Downloads: 3