:: Interview with Ferdinand Barnum
Colonel USAF (Ret.)
Interviewed on 4 July 2006 in Mr. Barnum’s home
This is an interview with Colonel Ferdinand Barnum. My name is Bob Fitch and today is July 4th, 2006. This interview is taking place at Air Force Village West as part of the Riverside Veterans' History Project, in partnership with the Library of Congress.
Fitch: First of all, Colonel, what is your full name?
Barnum: Ferdinand Barnum.
Fitch: Where were you born and raised?
Barnum: I was born and raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania. My name back then was Ferdinand Dalton. When my parents got divorced and my mother later married Edwin C.
Barnum, he adopted me. I was eighteen at the time.
Fitch: What was your father's business back there in Altoona?
Barnum: He was a railroad employee with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Fitch: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Barnum: I had two sisters who were both older than I was.
Fitch: And you were raised in Altoona to the point of going to high school there?
Barnum: Yes, until entering the fourth grade. At that time I went to West View,
Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh with my step-father and mother. My two sisters stayed in Altoona to continue with their schooling in high school and so on. Later we moved to Wilmington, Delaware where I attended Junior and Senior High School
Fitch: After high school did you enroll in college?
Barnum: Yes, I went to the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.
Fitch: What was your major there?
Barnum: That was pre-medicine.
Barnum: And then, with the war going on and the need for medical officers, Temple University accepted me to go to their Medical School after three years of college. So I didn't get a college degree because of that, but I was at Temple University Medical School.
Fitch: And that is located in Philadelphia?
Fitch: While you were there did you enlist in any of the Armed Services?
Barnum: Well, yes. To be accepted to Medical School you had to be physically qualified to enlist in either the Army or the Navy. I didn't have a birth certificate to join the Navy, so I joined the Army.
Fitch: After graduation from Medical School you had an internship program?
Barnum: Yes. The Army had a specialized training program so I was initially placed on inactive duty. After three months in the Medical School I went on active duty in the Army Specialized Training Program. I stayed in that until I graduated from Medical School. Then, I was put on inactive duty and went off to do my internship at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fitch: What year did you graduate from Medical School?
Barnum: That was March of 1946. I was in Allegheny General from April 1946 until July of 1947.
Fitch: What was your first assignment as a medical doctor?
Barnum: Well, I had to go back on active duty and I went down to Brook Army Base for orientation as a First Lieutenant. My father-in-law was the Commander of the military government team in Niigata, Japan, so I volunteered for duty in Niigata. When I was called back to active duty, I went down to Brook and I stayed at Brook. From there they accepted me to go over to Japan. I got there by ship, and my father-in-law and mother-in-law met me in Tokyo, Japan.
Fitch: Was that Yamagata?
Barnum: No. I went up to Sendai (area headquarters for northern Honshu, Japan) and waited for an assignment to a military government team. After a couple of weeks, they came and told me that it was against the 8th Army policy for members of the same family to be on the same military government team. They said, "You have to go someplace else. How about the Yamagata military government team?" I said, "Well, where is that?" They said, "Well, that's the adjacent prefecture to Niigata." I said, "Oh, that's closer than I ever expected to get." (Laughing)
Fitch: What was your primary duty at Yamagata?
Barnum: I was the medical officer for the military government team (Chief of the Public Health Section of the Yamagata Military Government Team) and it was not only over Yamagata City ... it wasn't too far to the U.S. Base which had a military dispensary, so if I was leaving Yamagata, to go and visit medical outfits of the Japanese elsewhere in Yamagata Prefecture, the people in the city of Yamagata (the military and their dependents) could go over to the U.S. Army dispensary and be taken care of. So I was out, moving around in Yamagata Prefecture, going to hospitals and to clinics and talk to those in the clinics about what they were doing and did they have supply problems. They would let me know and then we, in the Yamagata Military Government Team could try to take care of that for them. It worked out very well.
Fitch: In your association with the Japanese people, how were you as an Army medical officer accepted while we, the United States, occupied their country?
Barnum: With the professional people, like the medics -- as well as other civilians -- for the most part it was a very friendly relationship. They appreciated having support in their medical stuff and they were very, very grateful. I was sent to Akita, and after that I received a letter from a Japanese commander of one of the clinics (Chief of the Health Department Yamagata Prefecture) who was very grateful for how I had helped him and so was expressing his thanks which was very nice. (Letter quoted on page 13.)
Fitch: For how long were you in Yamagata?
Barnum: I was there from November of '47 to 20 April of '49.
Fitch: What was your next assignment?
Barnum: I had gone up to Akita City in Akita Prefecture and that was from 21 April '49 to 31 October '49. After that I went to the 1100th Hospital Medical Group Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., which was from 1950 to '51. I was a Captain then ... I had been promoted from 1st Lieutenant and I was there for that period of time and working in the hospital in several positions: first, one was in the clinic as an assistant in the Outpatient service, and then I was assigned as Chief, Pediatric Service and then later as Ward Officer in the Medical Group. So I moved around a bit.
Fitch: Did you have a particular medical specialty?
Barnum: At that point I did not. I was in a general practical-type of thing. And then later I did get into ... well, I was sent to the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies in Tennessee in '51 for three months ... 1 May to 31 August '51. That was a four month residency in medical treatment with radioactive isotopes. Then following that, as a major, I was sent to the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas as a student and taking a basic course in aviation medicine. That was roughly a year. And then, after my training, I was off on TDY for 45 days to the USAF Hospital. Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas for cardiovascular service experience. That was from 2 July to 16 August, 1952. Then I went to Johns Hopkins for a Master of Public Health for one year. Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. I got that degree on 9 June 1953. Then during July and August, 1957 I did studies in pathology at the Baltimore City Medical Examiner's Office and elective work in military administration. Then I ended up in the TAC Surgeon's office at Langley Air Force Base on 1 October 1953.
Fitch: That's in Virginia?
Barnum: Yes. That's in Virginia. I was there for residency training in aviation medicine and I completed 12 months training and ended up successfully completing the residency. It was approved by Brig. Gen. M.S. White who was the TAC Surgeon. Then I went to the 2nd Air Force Surgeon's Office at Barksdale Air Force Base (SAC). I was there from 1955 to 1957. I did a lot of office work and also going out in preventive medicine areas to keep things in shape, so to speak. At that time I got a letter on February 27, 1956 from Ernest L. Stebbins, M.D. (Treasurer of the American Board of Preventive Medicine) that I was eligible to take the boards in Aviation Medicine in April (which I did). On June 18, 1956 I had another letter informing me that I had successfully passed the examination and would receive the certificate as soon as possible. Anyway, I was then a qualified member of the Board of Preventive Medicine in Aviation Medicine. Next assignment: Commander of 4737th USAF Hospital, Pepperell AFB, Newfoundland.
Fitch: In your pursuit for this aviation medicine specialty, did you get much time in the air so that you could get some practical experience in military aircraft?
Barnum: That was accomplished in this period of time. I would get some flight training and also in their aeronautical order, they would maintain a record of my participation by my going on flights where we were carrying patients and supporting those in the Aero Space Medical Evacuation things. I was awarded a B suffix to the Air Force Specialty 9356B as a Senior Flight Surgeon. So, they had aeronautical orders in certain things. On the 20th of April 1960 in Aeronautical Order Number 238, Paragraph 2, Lt. Col. Ferdinand Barnum, Serial Number 22544A of the 4737th USAF Hospital is granted the aeronautical rating of Senior Flight Surgeon. So I had moved up from that of Flight Surgeon.
Fitch: How many hours in aircraft was it required to get the Senior status? Quite a few I'm sure.
Barnum: Yes, it was. I just can't recall it right at the moment. Then I was assigned in 1960 as Commander of the 78th USAF Hospital at Hamilton Air Force Base, California -- ' 60 to '62. Then I went from '62 to '65 as Chief of Education and Training Division at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. By then I was a full Colonel but, there, it was quite an experience of being in charge of the training of Air Force flight surgeons, but we also had medical personnel from other countries coming in for training at the school. That, also, was quite an experience of a different kind. Then, while I was there, the departing Vice Commander of the School was reassigned to Vietnam and he was often writing back about what the flight surgeons should be getting at the school before they go over to Vietnam. I questioned the need for some of that, so I volunteered to go to Vietnam so I could check on that. And so I went. (Laughing) I was assigned as the Commander of the 12th USAF Hospital, Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. But for the first two months in Vietnam I was in Saigon because the Base Commander at Cam Ranh Bay did not think that there were quarters good enough for me as a full Colonel to go down there until it was accomplished. I, therefore, was in Saigon at a very nice place with the higher Headquarters personnel where there was a dining room and other things for two months. That wasn't bad. Then I went off to Cam Ranh Bay and I got things going -- specifically at the hospital. The enlisted troops assigned to the hospital really built this hospital in two months and it had a capacity of 200 beds. It really met the surgical/medical needs of the troops that were up further north in Vietnam. There was a hospital up there, but, at times there would be so many casualties that a good portion would be sent down to Cam Ranh Bay and my hospital took care of them. Some went back to duty and others would be sent to the U.S. for further treatment.
Fitch: That was an incredible accomplishment in that short period of time.
Barnum: Well, it was. It really was. It grabbed attention. I mean, really. But then, some of the patients (if they were capable) and staff could go down on the beach that was near the U.S. Navy -- so it was quite an experience. I was there from '65 to '66. Then, I left in September of '66 and went off to Scott Air Force Base.
Fitch: That's in Oklahoma as I recall.
Barnum: Scott is .... Illinois.
Fitch: I'm sorry. Yes, Illinois. What was your assignment?
Barnum: I was assigned to the Military Airlift Command (MAC) as Deputy Command Surgeon there for almost three years. Again, that was quite an experience. Then I left there in 1970 and went to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California to the Inspector General's Headquarters. I was Chief of Aerospace Medicine ...Flight Surgeon's Branch for the IG Inspections.
Fitch: This would be a good time to interrupt to talk about your family. Where did you meet your wife, Barbara?
Barnum: Well, I'll tell you ... I met my future wife ... we both at Warner Junior High School, Wilmington, Delaware, at the same time but I didn't know her there. I was a year ahead of her. Then when I went to Pierre S. duPont High School ... I was there a year and she came there and I finally met her. Then I went down to the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware. My father and mother were there ... and Barbara's parents were there also, so we became acquainted. I was in The Sigma Nu Fraternity and some of my fellow fraternity brothers students were second year sophomores as was I .... They said, "Well, the University is having a freshman get-together dance over at the building across from the Fraternity so why don't you come along and we'll go over." I said, "Well, we're sophomores," and they said, "Well, this is okay for sophomores.... the guys go over to meet the (laughing) freshman girls" and so I did that. The girls threw their shoes in the center of the dance floor and we went and picked up a shoe to match up with somebody and I saw this girl and I saw her shoe and I told myself, "I'm gonna pick those up" and I did. Well, it was Barbara that I met. (Laughing) So after that, for most of all my assignments she was there, except when I went to Vietnam. She couldn't go there.
Fitch: All right. And you have children?
Barnum: First of all, we have two children, a boy and a girl. We had to wait until Sam was six months old before Barbara could come over to join me in Yamagata. She came by ship and sailed from New York, down through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and then straight to Tokyo. When we were stationed in Tachikawa in the 1970's, our daughter and her husband were stationed in Korea. At the time they had two sons and adopted a little girl there. One of the Korean women who was there in the office with our son-in-law had a niece that she felt needed adoption. The family simply couldn't take care of her, and so my son-in-law thought it would be very nice if we adopted this girl. By the time they went back to the states, they had two sons and a daughter. They have since added another son to their family so they presently have three sons and a daughter.
Fitch: So Barbara and your family were able to be with you at all your stations except Vietnam.
Fitch: All right. Now, let's go back to Norton Air Force Base in California.
Barnum: I was in the Flight Surgeon's Section of Aerospace for IG inspections and checking mostly on aerospace medicine around the United States and some overseas as the Inspector Generals do. It was very productive checking on the quality of care and their records, and so on. The Brigadier General in charge of the section that included aerospace medicine was a very supportive person and I enjoyed him. As a boss man, he was excellent.
Fitch: On your tour of inspections how did the March Air Force Base Hospital stack up with the rest of them?
Barnum: It did very well. They were having some problems and so on, and so forth, but the successive Commanders were very responsive.
Fitch: Okay. Where did you live while you were stationed at Norton?
Barnum: We lived in Riverside. In 1970 we bought a house. Then when we went to Tachikawa Air Force Base in '73, we rented the house while we were gone. And then when I came back in '77 ... that was four years later ... we came and we just settled back in the house in Riverside.
Fitch: What was your duty at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan?
Barnum: I was the Hospital Commander there. All other active organizations, and the base were phasing down and moving to Yokota Air Force Base, and the hospital was the last military organization on the Base. Government quarters were still being used for military housing for those stationed at Yokota, so we were lucky. We had what had been the Commanding General's quarters. The hospital remained quite functional with the phase-down. Then, too, the Japanese were building a hospital for the Air Force at Yokota, and so, finally (when that was completed) all the functions of Tachikawa were finally able to move to Yokota and Tachikawa closed completely down. I went over to Yokota as the Commander of the new hospital there because I had one more year left of military duty. Then I came home from Japan to California and retired. I was relieved from active duty on 30 September 1977.
Fitch: That concludes a remarkable career in the Air Force. What are some of the highlights?
Barnum: Of my career?
Barnum: Well, I think some of it is letters I got from the Japanese when I was in military government and public health in Yamagata and Akita. Prefectures saying how happy they were with what I did. I have some of those. There were some that came from (looking through papers) ... well, this was from Migiwa Atobe, Chief of the Health Department, Yamagata Prefecture. He wrote on the 11th of August 1949:
Dear Captain Barnum:
How are you getting along these days? It is so terribly hot here that one is tempted to stop a breath for a moment to make oneself feel cool. If one can stop one's breath for a day, one will be cool forever. Joking apart, I'm very sorry I could not see you the other day here in Yamagata. Many thanks for the photo of you and Mrs. Barnum. You were kind enough to send me them. I will put it in my study in memory of your family.
Sanitation in Yamagata City to which you devoted yourself during your term of office here is in good condition, but there is much to be desired and we will do our best until nothing is left for it to be desired. Last Thursday I went to Sendai and saw the station hospital. I was struck with admiration to see its preparedness of equipments and its organization of high efficiency. I was happy to see Dr. Boyd the following day.
Give my best regards to Mrs. Barnum. I am always hoping to see you in Yamagata at the earliest opportunity.
Until then, I am, sir, sincerely yours
Signed: Migiwa Atobe
Chief of Health Department Yamagata Prefecture
Fitch: So that was indeed a very worthy commendation to you. Were there any particular contributions that you made to the public health environment there in Yamagata?
Barnum: Oh, yes. With moving around from Yamagata all over the Prefecture, to going and observing what they were doing at the hospital or at clinics and finding out through interpreters how we could best help them. I just really appreciated it.
Fitch: Good. What would you consider a major public health problem in that particular city while you were there?
Barnum: Well, water is for drinking and so must be properly prepared or you know, may cause illness so it must be treated properly. Parents must make sure that their children -- or others when they're sick -- that they're well attended to in home by medical personnel or in the hospital if they can get in the hospital. So those things may seem easily handled in Japan today, but were not in the post World War II period in Japan.
Fitch: Yes. ... very important. When my wife and I toured Sendai about six years ago I remember that one of the things that our tour guide mentioned was the purity of the water in the river there in Sendai. As you know Sendai is one of Riverside's sister cities.
Fitch: Do you have another letter there? It looks like you do.
Barnum: This was one dated 29 April 1968 -- a Letter of Appreciation. This was from Headquarters Military Airlift Command -- from the Deputy Command Surgeon, J. M. Gilliland, Colonel, USAF, MC.
It's indeed gratifying to receive and pass on to you Col. Anderson's appreciative comments regarding your briefing the students in the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course. Expressions of this nature fully substantiate your outstanding ability. Congratulations for a job well done.
And the Letter of Appreciation from the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas to the Military Airlift Command (MAC) Surgeon, on the 10th of April '68:
Recently it was our pleasure to hear a splendid briefing on the mission and capabilities of the Military Airlift Command given by Col. Ferdinand Barnum to the students in the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course. Col. Barnum's presentation was indeed a substantial addition to our course of training. It was received with much enthusiasm by our students. All material was outstandingly arranged and delivered in a most impressive manner. Briefings like his greatly strengthen our teaching program, and your whole-hearted cooperation in this effort is gratefully acknowledged. On behalf of the students and the staff of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine please extend our appreciation to Col. Barnum for his eminent presentation.
From the Commander George R. Anderson, Col. USAFMC, Chief Education Division.
Fitch: Excellent! In the biographical data that you submitted prior to this interview you mentioned the following medals and special service awards.
The Air Force Longevity Service Award
The World War II Occupation Ribbon
The Vietnam Service Medal
The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
The Good Conduct Medal
Legion of Merit
One of Meritorious Service
Air Force Commendation Medal
World War II Victory
And then two that really impressed me was a Bronze Star. What were the circumstances of you being awarded the Bronze Star?
Barnum: (Laughing) The Bronze Star Medal Headquarters 7th Air Force ... September '66 ... I just draw blanks.
Fitch: O.K. How about the Air Medal? That's normally awarded to persons while participating in aerial flight.
Barnum: That was also 7th Air Force also. The Air Medal.
Fitch: Were you on any flights as a flight surgeon during Vietnam?
Barnum: I think so. Yes. But my primary duty was Commander of the 12th USAF Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.
Fitch: Very good. Well, you're now retired and you've come back to Riverside where you've been active in a number of community organizations. I noted that you've been active in your Episcopal Church.
Fitch: On the Board of the Diocese or is that .....?
Barnum: Well, on the Diocese Council of the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in the past. Since I've been back I've been on the Diocese Council there doing some things, but then with the St. George's Episcopal Church here in Riverside I've been working with the Deanery Council in the area, but then I'm also very involved in taking communions to people in the Church that need it. Currently, every Sunday I have two people that -- one woman I've known for a number of years (who is in her nineties) and she can't go to church anymore, but I take communion to her every Sunday. And then there's another woman that has been more active .... her house ... There was a big fire near her house and some damage to her house ... so she went into ... her insurance company covered her renting a house in town, and I've been taking communion every Sunday since the fire. And now she's returned home since the damage has been fixed. She called me and said that she's back in the house so, henceforth, I'll go there to give her communion until she can finally get back to church. Those are the important things ... I still go to church too, you know, before I go off and do that.
Fitch: I understand that they are currently trying to raise funds here at the Air Force Village West for a Chapel.
Fitch: Are you involved in that effort?
Barnum: Yes. My wife and I are both on the Chapel working group that's studying and working on this ... and having a Chapel that will be available for all forms of religion ... and so, yes, we are actively engaged in that.
Fitch: Do you ever get together with some of the medical officers with whom you've served through any organized effort, or just on an individual basis?
Barnum: Well, more recently since being involved in other things here, other than Church and all that, I still have some association with some of the officers and enlisted personnel I had some dealings with.
Fitch: Very good. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview before we conclude?
Barnum: Well, I think I've said enough, Bob.
Fitch: What you have said is very interesting and you are to be credited with an outstanding career.
Barnum: Well, thank you so much. I mean, Barbara and I and our family have enjoyed all of the military life... and the dedication of people.
Fitch: Well, thank you Colonel for participating in this important project and for sharing your military experiences. Your interview will be reviewed and you will receive your own personal copy and copies of today's interview will be placed in the Riverside Public Library down in the Local History Section, and, in some cases, the interviews go back to the National Veterans' History Project at the Library of Congress. This concludes the interview. Thank you.
Barnum: Thank you very much.