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Biographical entry Heaton, Leonard Dudley (1902 - 1983)

Hon FRCS 1969; MD 1926.

18 November 1902
Parkersbury, West Virginia, USA
10 September 1983
Military surgeon


Leonard Dudley Heaton was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on 18 November 1902, the son of George and Emma Heaton, and after early education attended Denison University at Granville, Ohio, before entering the University of Louisville, Kentucky, for his Doctor of Medicine degree, awarded in 1926. He entered the military service as a First Lieutenant in the Medical Corps Reserve on 23 July 1926 and was appointed to the regular army on 8 August 1927. He completed his internship at Letterman General Hospital, San Francisco, and then attended the Army Medical School, Washington, DC, and the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

He quickly demonstrated his ability in surgery, serving successively on the surgical services of William Beaumont General Hospital, El Paso, Texas; Tripler General Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii; the Station Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and the Station Hospital, Fort Francis E Warren, Wyomng, before the second world war.

He saw active duty in both the Pacific and European theatres during the war. In December 1941 he was chief of surgical service at North Sector General Hospital, Hawaii, and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his skilful handling of mass casualties after the Pearl Harbour attack. He served as executive officer at Woodrow Wilson General Hospital from 1942 to 1944 when he was posted to England as Commanding Officer of the 160th General Hospital and later the 802nd Hospital Centre.

After the war he attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and graduated with distinction in 1947. The following year he was promoted to Brigadier-General and commanded the Letterman General Hospital. In 1953 he was again promoted to Major-General and assumed command of the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre at Washington.

Throughout all this time he continued to practise surgery and his patients included President Eisenhower, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and generals of the Army, George C Marshall and Douglas MacArthur. He contributed extensively to surgical journals and was a dedicated teacher of junior officers.

In June 1959 he was appointed Surgeon-General of the United States Army by President Dwight D Eisenhower who was a warm personal friend as well as the Commander-in-Chief. He was promoted to Lieutenant-General in September 1959 and was the first Surgeon-General to hold three-star rank. His tenure was extended by President Kennedy, President Johnson and President Nixon until October 1969. During this ten year period the United States Army nearly doubled in size from 862,000 to more than a million and a half and the Army Medical Department constructed more than twenty new hospitals. His inspired leadership during the Vietnam war enabled the Medical Department to meet the many presented and the employment of helicopter evacuation of wounded soldiers resulted in 97.5 per cent of them recovering from their wounds and 80 per cent returning to duty.

His country honoured his services with the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters. The Royal Army Medical College awarded him the Guthrie Medal in March 1968 in recognition of his outstanding services to military surgery and his unfailing co-operation with the medical services of the British Army. He was elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in April 1969 when R V Cooke gave the address and Sir Hedley Atkins conferred the Honorary Diploma, commenting that the late President Eisenhower had congratulated General Heaton on receiving this award, a fact which Sir Hedley felt was a signal honour to the College. The medical professions recognised his talents with the diploma of the American Board of Surgery and Fellowships in numerous medical organisations. He was awarded honorary degrees by Denison University of Louisville, West Virginia University, Brandeis University, Massachusetts and Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania.

He died on 10 September 1983, aged 80 and is survived by his wife Sara, née Richardson, whom he married on 30 June 1926, and their daughter, Sara, wife of Captain P B Mayson.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Ann Roy Coll Surg Eng 1969, 45, 54; William S Mullins, A Decade of Progress. The United States Army Medical Department 1959-60. Washington DC 1971. Office of the Surgeon General; Mil Med 1982, 147, 717].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England