Retired Dec. 1, 1963. Died Sep. 6, 1998.
Oliver Kunze Niess was born in Belleville, Ill., in 1903. He graduated from Belleville Township High School in 1921 and then attended Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. He received his bachelor of science degree from the university in 1925 and his doctor of medicine degree in 1927.
He completed four years ROTC training at the university and was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Medical Corps, U.S. Army, upon completion. Following two short tours of active duty at Fort Snelling, Minn., as a Reserve Medical Officer, he was called to active duty Aug. 1, 1927 to serve as an intern at Fitzsimmons General Hospital, Denver, Colo. He has been on continuous active duty since that time. He received his commission as a first lieutenant in the Regular Army in 1928.
Following his tour at Fitzsimmons General Hospital, Lieutenant Niess attended specialized courses at the Army Medical School, Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., and the Medical Field Service School, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. He then served at Letterman General Hospital, San Francisco, Calif., for one year, leaving in 1930 for foreign service in the Philippines as post surgeon at Camp John Ray, and at Sternberg General Hospital, Manila.
At the end of this tour he made a trip around the world at his own expense and returned to the U.S. in 1932 as post surgeon, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Then in 1936 Captain Niess was assigned to Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., for four years of surgical residency training. At the conclusion of this tour in 1939 he was elected a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
His next assignment was to the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., where he was medical adviser to the Athletic Association. After this four year duty tour, Major Niess attended the Command and General Staff School, Division Cadre Course, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1942, and then was assigned as surgeon of the 76th Infantry Division.
In September 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Niess was assigned to the Air Corps as post surgeon, Maxwell Field, Ala. He attended the School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Field, Texas, and was next assigned to Mitchel Field, N.Y., where he was base surgeon and commanding officer of the Station Hospital. He later became assistant to the surgeon, Headquarters First Air Force, also at Mitchel.
In August 1944, Colonel Niess reported to the Office of the Air Surgeon as deputy air surgeon for administration. Later he became director of administration. He held this position for one year and then was assigned as surgeon, India-China Division, Air Transport Command, Calcutta, India.
Four months later he assumed similar duties with the Pacific Division, Air Transport Command, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where he served for two and a half years.
In 1948 Colonel Niess returned to the United States and was assigned as wing surgeon and hospital commander at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo. Then in April 1950, he returned to Washington D.C., for duty with the Office of the Secretary of Defense where he served on the Armed Forces Medical Policy Council.
The following year, in July 1951, the surgeon general, U.S. Air Force, selected Colonel Niess to inaugurate and implement a system of inspection for Air Force Medical Services. He was assigned as chief of Medical Services Inspection Division with the 1003d Inspector General Group, Norton Air Force Base, Calif. In this position General Niess traveled almost constantly, inspecting Air Force medical facilities all over the world.
He served in this position until 1954 when he was assigned as command surgeon, Headquarters Far East Air Forces, in Tokyo, Japan. As command surgeon, General Niess established a very active school health program and instituted the most active dental health program in the Air Force for dependent school children. He also pushed the water fluoridization program in the Far East. At the same time he worked to improve the outpatient service at Air Force hospitals in order to reduce the need for hospitalization. The result was that despite detrimental health conditions in the Far East, health figures for airmen serving in this area show a better average than any other overseas area.
During his tour as command surgeon, Far East Air Forces, General Niess inaugurated a series of annual medical conferences in the Far East. The primary purpose was to bring together Air Force professional people and exchange knowledge, get new viewpoints and learn late developments in the medical field. At the first of these conferences, Air Force physicians from Korea, Japan, Nationalist China, the Philippines, Thailand and the British Commonwealth were invited as observers. In successive conferences these foreign doctors took an active part, raising them to international status. They thus afford U.S. Air Force doctors an opportunity to learn from native doctors who are familiar with conditions in their areas. At the same time they are helping to raise medical standards in Southeast Asian countries friendly to the U.S. In some of these countries, General Niess has worked with the heads of their Air Force medical services to raise the prestige and increase the importance of their medical units. Thus, both from a practical medical standpoint and the humanitarian viewpoint, these conferences inaugurated by General Niess have had far reaching results.
When Far East Air Forces was disestablished on June 30, 1957, General Niess became command surgeon of the newly-established Pacific Air Forces, with headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. On Nov. 1, 1958 the general returned to the United States to assume new duties as the surgeon general, U.S. Air Force.
General Niess is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons; a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine; is certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine in Aviation Medicine; is a rated chief flight surgeon and aircraft observer; a member of the American Medical Association; member, Aero Medical Association; member, Space Medicine Association; and a member of the Association of Military Surgeons.
He has been honored for his assistance in medical matters by the governments of Thailand, Philippine Island, Republic of China and the Republic of Korea.