The historic link between the ACS leadership and the military

Colonel William Mayo (left) and Colonel Charles Mayo (right) in World War I (photo courtesy of Dr. Oliver H. Beahrs and the Mayo Clinic)

Colonel William Mayo (left) and Colonel Charles Mayo (right) in World War I (photo courtesy of Dr. Oliver H. Beahrs and the Mayo Clinic)

On August 8, 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled by train to Rochester, MN, to pay tribute to William J. Mayo, MD, FACS, and his brother Charles H. Mayo, MD, FACS, both for their many contributions to the science of medicine and for their service to their country in the military. This visit—which brought a world leader to the comparatively small city of Rochester—highlighted the importance of the Mayo brothers’ work and gave global attention to the Mayo Clinic and its founders. President Roosevelt spent the day visiting the clinic, followed by lunch at Charles Mayo’s Mayowood estate and a broadcast speech at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial. He then had a short ride down the Mississippi River on William Mayo’s yacht, the North Star, before his return train trip to Washington, DC.

Military heritage at the Mayo Clinic

Both Charles and William Mayo joined the U.S. Army Reserve 10 years before the start of World War I.* During the war, they both served at the rank of colonel. Each Mayo brother had military leadership roles in developing a military hospital with the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; neither physician served overseas. They worked closely with American College of Surgeons (ACS) founder Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS, in establishing the College and in the war effort by serving on the Advisory Commission to the Council for National Defense. Both Charles and William Mayo were promoted to rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve following World War I. At the time of their subsequent retirement from military duty, they both received the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Medal for their wartime service to the country.

The U.S. flag at half-mast at USUHS at the time of the death of Dr. Beahrs (photo courtesy of USUHS and Dr. Rich)

The U.S. flag at half-mast at USUHS at the time of the death of Dr. Beahrs (photo courtesy of USUHS and Dr. Rich)

Dr. Beahrs and the Mayo Clinic military heritage

Oliver H. Beahrs, MD, FACS, served as President of the ACS from 1988 to 1989. Dr. Beahrs also served in World War II and remained in the U.S. Naval Reserve until his retirement from military duty. In one of his lectures at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), Bethesda, MD, he said “I will always consider myself a military surgeon.” For many years, he contributed to academic activities at USUHS and was always proud to promote the long history of support for military surgery from Charles and William Mayo, as well as the work of the Mayo Clinic in general in the 20th century. When Dr. Beahrs passed away in 2006, the American flag was flown at half-mast at USUHS. The flag was later presented to his widow at the memorial services in Rochester.

President Roosevelt (left) with Dr. Charles H. Mayo (center) and Dr. William J. Mayo (right) in Rochester on August 8, 1934 (photo courtesy of Dr. Oliver H. Beahrs and the Mayo Clinic)

President Roosevelt (left) with Dr. Charles H. Mayo (center) and Dr. William J. Mayo (right) in Rochester on August 8, 1934 (photo courtesy of Dr. Oliver H. Beahrs and the Mayo Clinic)

Like Dr. Beahrs, both Dr. William Mayo (1917–1920) and Dr. Charles Mayo (1924–1925) served as President of the ACS. Each of them had 30 years of military service including the Reserve.


*Clapesattle H. The Doctors Mayo. University of Minnesota Press, MN; 1975.

Kernahan PJ. Drs. William J. Mayo and Franklin H. Martin: Leaders in establishing the College’s unique identity. Bull Am Coll Surg. 2016;101(7):53-54.

Beahrs OH. Contribution of the Mayo Clinic in World Wars I and II. Ann Surg. 1995;221(2):196-201.

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