Major General, United States Army, Medical Corps, Retired
Commissioner of Health, Texas Department of Health, Retired
Surgeon, Chapter 1919
Robert Bernstein was born in New York City, New York in 1920. His parents, Morris and Rose Bernstein, lived in nearby Yonkers, Westchester County, and Robert grew up there, graduating from Yonkers High School in the Class of 1937. He enrolled at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated there with a B.A. degree in 1942. He then entered the University of Louisville School of Medicine, training to be a medical doctor under the Army Specialized Training Program. The students in the program were in the Army as PFCs, wore their uniforms and marched to classes throughout their 3 and ½ years of training. Upon graduation in 1946, Robert was commissioned First Lieutenant, Medical Corps, in the Army Reserve (inactive) and began his medical career as an intern at Grassland Hospital in Valhalla, New York.
He was called to active duty July 4, 1947 and went through the Medical Field Service School at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, following which he was 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 Divisions 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 Medical Officer, 11th Airborne Division, Camp Campbell, Kentucky in June 1949. The Korean War broke out a year later, June 1950, and the Airborne moved quickly.
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 Regimental Combat Team. He was also wounded when he was in the Rakkasans. Dr. Bernstein tells it this way, We were in North Korea, going after guerillas in the mountains, and our battalion had sent a reinforced Company to hunt them down. We probably shouldnt have even been out on that operation. But, the battalion commander had me with him, among a little group of his staff, six of us, and we were out about 20 minutes ahead of the company. We were moving up a narrow valley, with rice paddies in the valley floor between mountains on either side. Our little group was going along, singing Christmas Carols, when suddenly the North Koreans on the hillside opened up on us with small arms and automatic weapons fire. We quickly scrambled over the nearest rice paddy berm and took cover as best we could, but; not before I had taken a bullet, right in the butt. The company of paratroopers 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 getting stiff. I was operated on in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.). The surgeons tried unsuccessfully to take the bullet out and I still carry it today, lodged in my right buttock.
After two months hospitalization, the newly promoted Major Bernstein, returned to the 187th Regimental Combat Team. He remained in Korea nearly two years and during that time he moved up to Command of the 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, and finally was Commander, Hospital Trains. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in September 1951.
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. This was followed by a year as a student in the Military Medicine and Allied Science Course at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He was then transferred to the Army Hospital at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, as Chief of Medicine and later Commander. During that period he was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and elected to the American College of Physicians. He returned to Walter Reed as a Nuclear Medical Officer and later was chief of the radioisotope clinic. In 1960, following graduation from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he became Chief of Medical Service, 10th Field Hospital, Wuerzburg, Germany; followed by two years as Commander of the 62nd Medical Group in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. During that period he was promoted to Colonel. He attended the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania in 1963, and following his graduation then served one year as Deputy Surgeon, U.S. Continental Army Command, (CONARC), at Fort Monroe, Virginia. In August 1965 he became Command Surgeon, U.S. Southern Command, (SOUTHCOM), and Chief Surgeon, U.S. Army Forces, Panama, Canal Zone. His work during that three-year assignment won praiseworthy attention in the book Shadow Warrior, by former CIA agent, Felix I. Rodriguez. Following that, he was then assigned to the Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., as Director of Plans, Supplies and Operations. In 1970, he was promoted to Brigadier General and named Command Surgeon, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, (MACV), where he served on the staff of General Creighton Abrams. In 1972, Doctor Bernstein was appointed Deputy Commanding General of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then after a few months was assigned as Commander, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, and Assistant Surgeon General for Research and Development. 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 whom was former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles; who had come to Walter Reed for medical treatment. After a long and distinguished career, Gen Bernstein retired from the Army as the Commander at Walter Reed, February 28, 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 Doctor Bernstein was appointed Commissioner of Health, Texas Department of Health, which position he held for the next eleven years, retiring on 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 was a past 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 of the Jewish American War Veterans, and through his initiative has recently revitalized the local chapter of the Association of the United States Army, (AUSA), in Austin. He devoted much of his time as Chairman of the Senior Olympics, but; meanwhile was never neglectful of his duties as Surgeon, Texas Capital Chapter 1919, the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Doctor Robert Bernstein passed away July 23, 2007.
General Bernstein provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the September 2004 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN. He passed away in July 2007.