News Search

This Month in AFMS History: 60th anniversary of Lackland Air Force Base hospital dedication

This Month in AFMS History: 60th anniversary of Lackland Air Force Base hospital dedication

Sixty years ago, in November 1957, Lackland Air Force Base dedicated its new, nine-story, 500-bed hospital. At the time, it was the largest hospital in the Air Force. This was the first major phase of construction completed, and would be followed by successive expansions in 1961 and 1963. The hospital was replaced by a new facility in 2017, and the original is scheduled to be demolished over the next several years. (USAF photo).

This Month in AFMS History: 60th anniversary of Lackland Air Force Base hospital dedication

Typical example of the cantonment-style buildings used as hospitals at Lackland Air Force Base prior to the construction of Wilford Hall Medical Center in 1957. Building 3528 was located on the east side of 14th St. (now Ladd St.), north of Ave E (now Kenley Ave), and was also known as Ward A14. (Photo courtesy of 59 MDW)

This Month in AFMS History: 60th anniversary of Lackland Air Force Base hospital dedication

The 3700th USAF Hospital, Lackland AFB, TX, seen from the air, sometime prior to construction of Wilford Hall Medical Center in 1957. S.W. Military Drive runs left to right at the top of the photo. One hundred and thirty-eight buildings comprised the sprawling facility. (Photo courtesy of the 59 MDW)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Sixty years ago, in November 1957, Lackland Air Force Base dedicated its new, nine-story, 500-bed hospital, making it the largest hospital in the Air Force.

The original hospital had been a “war baby,” born during America's massive buildup at the start of World War II. It started as the Station Hospital, San Antonio Aviation Cadet Training Center, first opening its doors on June 8, 1942. The original hospital had miles of ramped single-story wards around the parade ground. At its peak, the station hospital had 1,500 active beds, supporting the active duty population, regional care, and care for patients from overseas.

After World War II, the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center became Lackland Air Force Base, and the hospital underwent a series of changes and redesignations. In early 1950, the hospital received orders to downsize to a dispensary. While patient transfers to Brooke Army Medical Center were underway, North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel. The Korean War reversed the downsizing, and Lackland's hospital became a key medical element, both in the care it provided to cadets at the expanded basic training center and as part of a worldwide evacuation system.  On December 11, 1950, Lackland was designated a major port of debarkation and ordered to increase its capacity to 1,000 beds.

By the mid-1950s, the hastily built World War II buildings were beginning to show the strain of long use.  In addition to caring for all Lackland active duty military and dependents, the facility provided outpatient and inpatient care for Kelly, Brooks, Hondo, and Medina Air Force Bases. In 1955, the hospital averaged 1,188 admissions per month, not counting clinic visits.  Records show that of the 138 buildings in use, 130 were in “poor” condition. Lackland need a new hospital.  After several years of design and construction, the new building opened in 1957.

Nearly 5,000 people attended the dedication of the towering new hospital, including officials from federal agencies, the state of Texas, and the city of San Antonio.  Military leaders from bases all over the country also attended, including Air Force Surgeon General, Maj. Gen. Dan Ogle, who spoke at the ceremony.  Festivities included tours of the new hospital, a luncheon, formal dedication ceremony, and reception.

Staff dubbed the move to the new building, “Operation Bigswitch.”  Three-hundred fifty medical personnel transferred 450 bed patients out of 31 old wards and into the new state of the art facility.  The hospital expanded again in 1960, and was renamed in 1963, after Maj. Gen. Wilford F. Hall, an Air Force physician with a long and distinguished career, before, during, and after World War II.