Major General David N.W. Grant:
An Early Leader in Air Force Medicine
COL (Ret) John Pierce, MD
The U.S. Air Force Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, California, is named in honor of Major General David
Norvell Walker Grant, considered by many to
be the father of the U.S. Air Force Medical Service. The first legacy organization of the U.S. Air
Force was created within the U.S. Army in 1907
(Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps). Through
a succession of evolutionary, organizational, and
mission changes over 40 years, it became an
independent service when the National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of the
Air Force. Grant spent most of his career in the
predecessor organizations, the U.S. Army Air
Corps (1926-1941) and U.S. Army Air Forces
A native Virginian, Grant graduated from
the University of Virginia School of Medicine
in 1915 and joined the Army Medical Corps
in 1916. His service in World War I included
assignments in Panama and within the continental U.S. From 1919 to 1922, he served in
Germany in the Army of Occupation. Grant’s
aviation medicine career began in 1931 when
he attended the School of Aviation Medicine.
After he completed the 6-month course, he was
stationed at Randolph Field, Texas, for 5 years.
In 1937, after more than a decade as a major, he
was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He completed the Air Force Tactical School that same
In 1939, Grant became chief of the Medical
Division, Office of the Chief of the Air Corps
in Washington, DC. On creation of the U.S.
Army Air Forces in 1941, he was appointed air
surgeon and served in this capacity throughout
World War II. He was promoted to colonel in
1941, brigadier general in 1942, and major general in 1943.
Early in preparations for war, Grant rec-
ognized that the medical needs of an air force
differed significantly from those of large land
armies. He and others were successful in their
fight to establish a separate medical service for
the air forces. During World War II, the U.S.
Army Air Forces consisted of 2. 4 million per-
sonnel and more than 80,000 aircraft. Today
the U.S. Air Force has about 320,000 personnel
who support and operate about 5,500 aircraft.
Grant was one of the first to understand the
need for aeromedical evacuation and was responsible for its organization and operation in
World War II. He also was instrumental in the
establishment of the Convalescent Rehabilitation Program to help restore the wounded, ill,
and injured to full capacity for further service
or for their return to the civilian world.
The development and training of flight
nurses were inherent in the aeromedical
evacuation program. In 1943, the first class of
flight nurses graduated from the U.S. Army Air