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A Heritage of Military Medicine: the Storied History of the Beebe Family


AJ Simmons

WRNMMC Command Communications

The history of U.S. military medicine is as intricate as it is long. Perhaps no service member knows this more personally than retired Air Force Lt. Col. James McRae Beebe, a speaker at a recent WRNMMC research event and husband to WRNMMC Deputy Director of the Department of Research Projects Col. Ann Nayback-Beebe.
A member of each generation of Beebe’s family—reaching back to the Civil War—has served in the U.S. military. Joining their service, each generation of the Beebe family has interacted with military medicine in some capacity—whether in the heat of combat, in dealing with the effects of service or in the provision of medical care.
Beebe explained that the story begins with his great-great-grandfather, George W.H. Stouch. “He served as Sergeant Major with the 11th U.S. Infantry during the Battle of Gettysburg,” explained Beebe. “He was positioned on the flank of Little Round Top near Devil’s Den on July 2, 1863, and was captured at 5:00 pm by Cobb’s Georgia Legion of Woffard’s Brigade—Lewis’ Division of Longstreets Corps.”
Stouch’s capture, according to Beebe, was short-lived; he was liberated by Crawford’s Division just 30 minutes later.
Following his liberation, however, Stouch was wounded in the wrist by Texas sharpshooters near Devil’s Den, Beebe explained. The wound required military surgeons to resect one and a quarter inches of Stouch’s radius (one of the two bones of the lower arm) the following day, saving Stouch from infection or the potential need for amputation.
Despite impairment to his hand, Stouch remained in the service and eventually retired a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army and later served as an Indian agent in the Montana Territory.
The next of Beebe’s family, his great grandfather James H. McRae, was a West Point graduate alongside Gen. John Pershing in 1886. McRae served for over 40 years, retiring as a Major General in 1926.
“He served in the Indian campaigns, the Spanish American War, the Philippines Insurrection and as Commander of the 78th Division—the “Lightning Division”—in France during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. He experienced the horrors of trench warfare and mustard gas,” said Beebe.
Beebe’s grandfather Lewis C. Beebe served under McRae as a young infantry captain during World War I. Beebe would eventually become McRae’s son-in-law, as he went on to marry McRae’s daughter Dorothy after the war.
Lewis Beebe later served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines on Corregidor during World War II, Beebe said. Staying behind on Corregidor as Gen. Wainwright’s Chief of Staff, he was captured and interned as a prisoner of war.
During his time as a prisoner, Lewis suffered from dysentery, beriberi and malnutrition. Weighing only 98 pounds when he was liberated, he was nursed back to health at the hands of U.S. military medical providers. Lewis retired from the military as a Brigadier General.
The Beebe family’s close interactions with military medicine continued with Beebe’s father, Maj. John McRae Beebe, who served as an infantry platoon leader during the Korean War and as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam.
Beebe explained that his father was exposed to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam. After his retirement, he suffered from cancer believed to be associated with his exposure to Agent Orange, as well as heart disease and Type II diabetes.
According to Beebe, his father received all of his care from the military health care system. “He received excellent care and was one of military health care’s biggest cheerleaders,” Beebe said.
The family tradition of military service did not end with Beebe: he served for 22 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Air Force.
“I served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Southern Water and Operation Restored Hope,” Beebe elaborated. “I have served as a KC-135 Instructor Pilot, Flight Examiner and Test Pilot. I also served as the Chief of KC-135 Flight Test Operations at Tinker Air Force Base. Later, I served as the Chief of T-43 Pilot Programs and 19 Air Force Major Command Flight Examiner and served on the Air Education and Training command IG team [at] Randolph Air Force Base.”
Fortunately, Beebe’s personal experiences with military medicine have been outside of the field of combat: “All of my children were born in military hospitals, and my entire family has received excellent care. I am now retired and have access to civilian health care facilities, but have chosen WRNMMC for my medical needs. I am very pleased with the level of care and the professionalism of the staff.”
Beebe’s interaction with military medicine does not end there, however. Having a distinct interest in military medical research, he has volunteered and worked with researchers at WRNMMC in a number of ways.
“I volunteered as a baseline subject for the amputee heart disease study. Having a history of heart disease, I am also interested in preventative heart health research. I am also enrolled in the Integrative Cardiac Health Project (ICHP), which helps me learn about heart health and steps to take to head off heart disease before it happens.”
Given his family’s extensive history with U.S. military medicine, Beebe explained that his volunteering with military medical research offers him “a sense of giving back to a system that has given so much to me and my family.”
Beebe has spoken at WRNMMC events, such as the Department of Research Programs’ 2017 Aware for All, to share his family’s history and support for the mission of military medicine in the hospital and beyond.
Now in retirement from military service, Beebe has used his experience from the Air Force to serve as a Captain with a commercial airline. In his free time, he serves on the vestry of his church and enjoys spending time with his family. He also makes time to fly his small plane, which he named after his wife: Unbelievable Ann Marie.