WHITLEY'S OWN: Columbia City’s Maj. Gen. Merritte Ireland was longest serving U.S. Surgeon General

Maj. Gen. Merritte Ireland, 1918.
Staff Writer

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of America’s involvement in World War I and, of course, Whitley County saw many of its citizens involved.

The Whitley County Historical Museum has been hard at work creating an official record of all those veterans who served in the First World War, and creators soon hope to have a book ready for the public and for readers to be introduced to Whitley County’s Veterans.

Each Veteran has his own story to tell and experiences recalled.

One such Veteran from Whitley County featured in the book is Merritte Ireland, who became the longest serving Surgeon General of the United States Army.
Ireland was born to Martin and Sarah Ireland on May 30, 1867.
He graduated from Columbia City in 1888 before attending Detroit Medical College and interning at St. Mary’s Hospital in Detroit.
He continued his education at Jefferson College in Philadelphia.
Ireland began his military career in May 1891 as a First Lieutenant in the medical corps.
He was first stationed at Jefferson barracks in Missouri before moving to Fort Apache, Ariz.
It was while he was stationed there that he met and married Elizabeth Liggett in 1893.
Soon after he was transferred to Fort Riley, Kan. and then to Fort Stanton in New Mexico, where he was stationed until 1897.
He was transferred to Presidio, where he met General John “BlackJack” Pershing, who would later become a faithful friend and supporter.
From 1899-1901 Ireland was stationed in Manila as a supply officer during the Spanish-American War.
After serving for a time there, he was ordered to Washington to serve until 1913 and returned to Manila.
He served with the reserve division hospital 5th Army Corps and later as part of the 45th Infantry stationed in the Philippines until circa 1915.
Around this time though, General Pershing was ordered to France and, at his request, Ireland joined him there.
In 1918, Ireland was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed as the Chief Surgeon of the American Expeditionary Forces.
It was Gen. Pershing who recommended Ireland for the position of surgeon-general after Major General William Gorgas was preparing to retire, and by October of 1918, Major General Ireland was appointed.
He would serve the army for 40 years before retiring in May of 1931. Four U.S. presidents would re-appoint him including Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, – and Ireland remains the longest to hold the position.
One of his most notable projects during his term was the Walter Reed Hospital, otherwise known as the Army Medical Center.
The idea for the hospital originated with Col. W.C. Borden, but it was Maj. Gen Ireland who took the idea to fruition and almost completing it before his retirement.
His other acknowledgements are numerous including the many awards he received from around the world including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Honor from France, Order of the Bath from Great Britain and the William Freeman Show Award for Distinguished Service to Humanity, to name a few.
After his retirement, he and his wife continued to travel the world, particularly throughout Europe.
In 1952, Maj. Gen Ireland passed away at the age of 85. A special ceremony was conducted for him in Washington D.C.
He and his wife had one son, Paul, who also studied medicine.

For more information about the upcoming book, or to find other museum publications, contact the Whitley County Historical Museum at 260- 244-6372.