Air Force Medicine
Air Force Medical Service - History & Heritage

This Month in AFMS History

This Month in AFMS History: 75th Anniversary of the first body armor suits delivered to Eighth Air Force

B-17 Flying Fortress radio operator Sgt. James Bothwell, smiles as he displays the back of the flak jacket that saved his life over Germany. He sustained only minor injuries. (U.S. Air Force photo)

During World War II, small fragments of high-explosive shells traveling at relatively low velocities caused the majority of bomber air and ground crew casualties.

Creation of the Air Force Medical Service

In September 1947 the combat elements of the Army Air Forces separated from the U.S. Army, forming the United States Air Force. But a few Air Force support functions, such as medical care, remained U.S. Army responsibilities for the next two years. Starting in 1948, the Air Force and the Air Surgeon, Maj. Gen. Malcolm C. Grow (1887-1960), began to convince the U.S. Army and the administration of President Truman that the Air Force needed its own medical service. In the summer of 1949, Air Force General Order No. 35 established a medical service with the following officer personnel components: Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Veterinary Corps, Medical Service Corps, Air Force Nurse Corps, and Women's Medical Specialist Corps.

The order stated, "The above listed corps shall consist of those personnel transferred from corresponding corps of the Department of the Army, and personnel subsequently commissioned in the respective corps of the Medical Service, United States Air Force. Personnel appointed in the above corps will be carried on separate promotion lists." Each officer corps also received a contingent of enlisted medics. The effective date of the creation of the Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) was 1 July 1949.

In later years, the Air Force Women's Medical Specialist Corps evolved into the Biomedical Sciences Corps, which was established in 1965 and still forms a part of the AFMS. The Air Force Veterinary Corps was disestablished in April 1980 and its animal care duties transferred to the U.S. Army Medical Department.

The AFMS issued its first officer corps badges in 1955. As a symbol for these badges, designers chose the sign of Aesculapius, the ancient Greek god of healing-a single snake entwined around a staff. The new symbol distinguished the AFMS from the Army Medical Department, which uses two snakes and staff of the Greek god Hermes. When an AFMS emblem was designed in 1968, it also carried the staff of Aesculapius. (The Navy Medical Department uses the standard U.S eagle and shield as its symbol.)

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