Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap
14th Chief, Army Nurse Corps

© Mary T. Sarnecky

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Lillian Dunlap, the oldest in a family of five girls, was born on 20 January 1922 in Mission, Texas to Ira and Mary Schermerhorn Dunlap. In 1939 when she was seventeen years old, Dunlap entered the Santa Rosa Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas. Her senior year of nurses' training coincided with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That event, with its sweeping tide of patriotism, motivated the young graduate to join the Army Nurse Corps to help "win the war." On 16 November 1942, Dunlap reported to Brooke General Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Her desire to serve overseas was realized quickly in March 1943 when Dunlap and 23 other Army nurses from Brooke began their trek westward to join the 59th Station Hospital. Unbeknownst to them, the nurses' destination was the Southwest Pacific. The settings for Dunlap's World War II service were New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, and finally, the Philippines. While in New Guinea, the young Army nurse met and fell in love with a paratrooper. They had plans to marry but tragedy struck when he died executing a jump over Manila in the battle for the Philippines. Dunlap traveled back to the states in 1945 and for a while was incapacitated with a bout of malaria. After her recovery, Dunlap returned to Brooke General Hospital and served on the women's ward, the officers' ward, and later the surgical research unit which at that time focused its efforts on the treatment of osteomyeleitis. In 1949, she transferred to the hospital at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and served there as assistant chief nurse and later chief nurse. Since Camp Chaffee was being inactivated, Dunlap remained there only six months before being ordered to Fort Hood, Texas. After a very brief stint at Fort Hood, Dunlap began a four month temporary duty assignment at Fourth U.S. Army in San Antonio. There she assumed recruiting responsibilities primarily seeking out nurses for reserve units. She briefly returned to Fort Hood and served there until September 1953 at which time she matriculated at Incarnate Word College in San Antonio to pursue her undergraduate degree. After completing school in 1954, Dunlap went overseas to serve as a head nurse at the 1,000 bed 98th General Hospital in Neubrücke, Germany. Upon her return to the states, a short seven month assignment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina was followed by an assignment as a student in Master of Hospital Administration course jointly sponsored by the Army and Baylor University at the Medical Field Service School (MFSS) in San Antonio, Texas. Dunlap subsequently completed the program's required year residency in administration at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado and returned to MFSS to serve in several key faculty roles. Another overseas tour was on the horizon in 1965 when Dunlap accepted a transfer to Okinawa where she served as Chief of Nursing Service at the Army hospital there. However, like many of Dunlap's tours, her assignment in Okinawa was curtailed. After eleven months, the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps requested that Dunlap be returned to the states to be Chief of the Army Nurse Corps Assignment Branch in the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, D.C. This assignment, which coincided with the intensive Vietnam War buildup years of 1966 to 1968, presented numerous staffing challenges, to wit, the replacement of up to 900 Army nurses a year in Vietnam--an unending process. "Fortunately," Dunlap observed, with few exceptions, Army Nurse Corps officers "volunteered to go to Vietnam." Dunlap's next assignment after a brief interval as Special Assistant to the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps was as chief nurse of the First U.S. Army. Three years later, she became chief nurse of Walter Reed General Hospital and director of nursing activities of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Dunlap had but a few months under her belt at Walter Reed when the Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland, informed her that she had been selected to be the next chief of the Army Nurse Corps with the accompanying promotion to brigadier general.

On 31 August 1975, Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap retired from the Army after 33 years of service and returned to live in San Antonio, Texas. However, she remained active in an vast array of endeavors. Along with retired Major General Spurgeon Neel, Dunlap became a guiding light for the development of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Museum at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. She was instrumental in establishing a master of science curriculum within the nursing program at Incarnate Word College and her involvement resulted in the endowment of the Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap Professional Chair in Nursing at the institution. Dunlap served with the United Way, the Texas Governor's Commission for Women, the board of the National Bank of Fort Sam Houston, the Board of Directors for GPM Life Insurance Company, and with the Texas National Guard Armory Board. She is an advisor to the Army Nurse Corps Foundation and has made so many other generous contributions that it would be impossible to enumerate all of her activities. The Dunlap lecture, an annual keynote address at the 7th MEDCOM Military Medical Surgical Clinical Congress in Garmisch Germany, was established in her honor in 1988. Most recently she has been accorded the signal honor of being elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.1 Dunlap's sustained support of the previous Corps Chiefs' insistence upon the baccalaureate degree as the minimum entry level once again placed the Corps on the cutting edge of national nursing and her implementation of the Contemporary Practice Program ushered the Army Nurse Corps into the modern area.

Photo of General Dunlap

  1. Lillian Dunlap, interview by Cindy Gurney, February 1987; "Official Biography, Lillian Dunlap, September 1971," typewritten document; "Army Nurse Corps Assignment Officer Chosen," 22 August 1966, News Release No. 238-66; Ann Tibbets, "Female General Recalls Army Career," Recorder-Times (2 July 1987): 10, newsclipping; "BG Lillian Dunlap," n.d., typewritten manuscript; "HQ 7th Medical Command Public Affairs Office, Dunlap Lecture," n.d.; Nancy Beasley, "BG Dunlap-Nursing's Lone Star," n.d., newsclipping; "Dedication of the Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap Endowed Professorial Chair in Nursing," printed program; Questionnaire, LTC Mabel Hammarlund to MAJ Lillian Dunlap, about 1961; all in ANC Archives, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.