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Robert (Bob) Bernstein

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Robert (Bob) Bernstein, M.D. Major General, United States Army, Medical Corps, Retired Commissioner of Health, Texas Department of Health, Retired Robert Bernstein, an army doctor who rose to become commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then Texas' Commissioner of Health, died on July 23, 2007. He was 87 years old. Bernstein was born in New York City on February 20, 1920. His parents, Morris and Rose Bernstein, lived in nearby Yonkers, and Robert grew up there, graduating from Yonkers High School in 1937. He graduated Vanderbilt University with a B.A. degree in 1942. He then entered the University of Louisville School of Medicine, under the Army Specialized Training Program. The students in the program were in the Army as PFC's, wore their uniforms and marched to classes throughout their 3 1/2 years of training. Upon graduation in 1946, Robert was commissioned First Lieutenant, Medical Corps, in the Army. He was called to active duty July 4, 1947 and was soon ordered to Japan for "occupation duty." He flew across the Pacific on a C-54 MAC aircraft full of other doctors like himself, but, unlike him they were mostly all complaining about having been drafted long after WWII had ended. Their attitude irritated him so much that he volunteered for the Airborne upon arrival in Japan. He went through the 11th Airborne Division's "Jump School," and then had assignments as Medical Officer and as Regimental Surgeon of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. During his tour of duty in Japan, he was promoted to Captain in July 1948. He returned to the U.S. as a Medical Officer, 11th Airborne Division, Camp Campbell, Kentucky in June 1949. By September 1950, Captain Robert Bernstein was in Korea as Battalion Surgeon of the 2nd Battalion, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (Rakkasans). There were only two combat parachute jumps during the Korean War, and he made both of them with the 187th RCT. He was also wounded when he was in the Rakkasans. Dr. Bernstein tells it this way, "We were moving up a narrow valley, with rice paddies in the valley floor between the mountains on either side. Our little group was going along, singing Christmas carols, when suddenly the North Koreans opened up on us from the hillside with small arms and automatic weapons fire. We quickly scrambled over the nearest rice paddy beam and took cover as best we could, but not before I had taken a bullet, right in the butt. I was the only one hit and the company of paratroopers soon came up and drove off our attackers. The medics put me on a litter, however, I got off and walked out, or rather limped out, to keep from stiffening up. The surgeons tried unsuccessfully to take the bullet out and I still carry it today, lodged in the right buttock." Twice promoted to become Lt. Col., Bernstein returned to the U.S. and by September 1954 had successfully completed his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. He would later be certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and elected to the American College of Physicians. He graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1960 and was assigned to United States Army Europe. He returned to the U.S. to attend the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, in 1963. He then served successive assignments at Fort Monroe, Virginia, in the Panama Canal Zone, and in the Pentagon. In 1970, he was promoted to Brigadier General and named Command Surgeon, U. S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam where he served on the staff of General Creighton Abrams. He was promoted to Major General and named Commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center on July 1, 1973. While in command there he made the personal acquaintance of a very long list of prominent Americans, among who was former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who had come to Walter Reed for medical treatment. After a long and distinguished career, General Bernstein retired from the Army as the Commander of Walter Reed, February 18, 1978. In March 1978, Major General Robert Bernstein, USA, retired, moved to Austin and entered service of the State of Texas as Chief, Bureau of Long Term Care, Texas Department of Health. In December 1978, he became Deputy Commissioner for Special Health Services, and after one year in that position, moved up to acting Commissioner of Health. On January 5, 1980, Dr. Bernstein was appointed Commissioner of Health, Texas Department of Health, which position he held for the next eleven years, retiring June 30, 1991. Doctor Robert Bernstein continued a full schedule of active participation in 28 (at last count) educational, medical, public health, and veterans organizations, in many of which he is a past or present Chairman, Co-Chairman, President, Fellow, or on the Board of Directors, Executive Committee, or Council of Trustees. In recent years he has personally organized local Austin area groups of the National Association of the Uniformed Services (NAUS) and the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, and through his initiative revitalized the local chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in Austin. Meanwhile, he never neglected his duties as Surgeon, Texas Capital Chapter 1919, the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Funeral services are pending at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the People's Community Clinic, 2909 N IH 35 Austin, Texas 78722 and/or the Austin Humane Society, 124 W. Anderson Lane, Austin, Texas 78752.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on July 25, 2007
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