Otis Otto Benson, Jr., was born in Sandstone, Minn., in 1902, graduated from Antioch Academy in 1920, from the University of Montana with a bachelor of arts (biology) in 1924, and from the University of Iowa with a master of science (biochemistry) in 1925. He received his doctor of medicine degree from Rush Medical College, University of Chicago in 1930. He holds an honorary degree of doctor of science from Montana State University conferred in 1955.
After serving his internship at Presbyterian Hospital, Chicago, on June 6, 1930, General Benson was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps and assigned to active duty. Receiving his regular commission as first lieutenant in the Medical Corps July 21, 1931, he graduated from the School of Aviation Medicine in 1932, from the Army School of Tropical and Preventive Medicine in 1933 and the Medical Field Service School 1933. Between 1930 and 1932 he served as a fellow in medicine at Fitzsimons General Hospital.
Assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii in September 1937, General Benson was appointed officer-in-charge of the Medical Section at the station hospital. A year later he became officer-in-charge of the Urology and Septic Surgical Section there.
In October 1939 the general went to the Mayo Foundation to study aviation physiology and medicine, subjects which were to absorb his interest for the following twenty years. After completing his work at Mayo, he attended Harvard University to continue his study of aviation physiology in that institution's Fatigue Laboratory.
He was appointed commander of the Aeromedical Research Unit, Wright Field, Ohio in September 1940. Under General Benson's direction, the Aeromedical Research Unit was withdrawn from the Equipment Laboratory and made a separate laboratory with three units of its own (Physiological, Biophysics, and Clinical Research). The Aeromedical Laboratory also was moved from its overcrowded quarters into a new building of its own on Wright Field. General Benson organized a research program for the laboratory which persisted throughout World War II. He staffed the laboratory with nationally know scientists. In collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and others, he established the human centrifuge unit that developed the Anti-G suit. Prior to World War II, he recognized the need for a radically different method of supplying oxygen to aircrews in high altitude bombing. Under his leadership, the diluter-demand oxygen system was designed and perfected.
In 1943 General Benson went overseas to become first surgeon of the Fifteenth Air Force in North Africa and Italy, and later surgeon of the Air Force in the Mediterranean. For his wartime service, he received, among other decorations, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster and the Bronze Star.
Returning to the United States in August 1945, General Benson served briefly as surgeon of the Army Air Forces Center at Orlando, Fla., and in November 1945 was appointed chief of the Medical Research Division in the Office of the Air Surgeon at Washington, D.C. His responsibilities included the technical supervision of activities at the Aeromedical Laboratory, Wright Field; School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph and the Aeromedical Center, Heidelberg, Germany.
In 1948 he was selected to attend the National War College. After his graduation in June 1949, he was named commandant of the School of Aviation Medicine. Here he could again participate directly in aeromedical research. In association with Major General Malcolm C. Grow, he compiled and published all the German research work from the year 1939 to 1945. He initiated a broad aeromedical research program, including studies in acclimatization to altitude, explosive decompression, air evacuation, human factors in aircraft accidents, analysis of alveolar gases, atheroscerosis, visual acuity in flyers, color vision, noise-induced hearing loss, high altitude escape, motion sickness and radiation hazards.
General Benson was awarded the John Jeffries Award in 1951 by the Institute of Aeronautical Science for "outstanding contributions to the advancement of aeronautics through medical research."
Well in advance of other medical investigators he encouraged studies of the possible effects of space travel on the human body. Such things as vaporization of body fluids above 63,000 feet, use of algae as a biological gas exchanger, artificial day-night cycles, planetary atmospheres, weightlessness, and the design and procurement of a space cabin simulator were begun at the School of Aviation Medicine during General Benson's tour as commandant.
To aid in these space medicine studies, the general initiated plans for and sponsored the first international symposium on space medicine. This meeting was held in November 1951, and the information presented was published in book form, entitled, "Physics and Medicine of the Upper Atmosphere," by C.S. White and O.O. Benson, Jr. This book became a standard reference text for work in this field.
After a four-year tour as commandant of the school, General Benson was appointed director of Medical Staffing and Education Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., in May 1953. He returned to the school in September 1956 to begin his second tour as commandant.
General Benson organized a second international symposium on the physics and medicine of the upper atmosphere and space, which was held in November 1958. The material presented at this meeting is in the process of being published. Under General Benson's guidance, the Department of Space Medicine at the school was expanded into a division, devoted to the exploration of all medical aspects of manned space travel.
This officer was one of the early leaders in the campaign for an American board in aviation medicine. In August 1949 he was chosen as chairman of the Interim Board in Aviation Medicine to take such action as necessary to gain specialty recognition from the American Medical Association. Under General Benson's direction, a comprehensive specialty training program in aviation medicine was developed at the school, which was accepted by the Council on Medical Education and Hospitals of the AMA as meeting its special requirements. In February 1953 the AMA authorized the American Board of Preventive Medicine to establish aviation medicine as a specialty in the field of preventive medicine and to grant specialty certification to qualified physicians. General Benson was chosen as the first vice chairman for aviation medicine of the American Board of Preventive Medicine.
He was awarded the Lyster Award for 1955 by the Aero Medical Association for his efforts in leading the Interim Board of Aviation Medicine in the attainment of its mission.
General Benson has made outstanding contributions to the development and implementation of an Aeromedical Center. For years he has endeavored to obtain adequate facilities for the School of Aviation Medicine so that complete medical support of the United States can be provided. A great step forward was realized when in July 1959 the school moved into its new $9 million facilities on Brooks Air Force Base. General Benson is presently directing plans for an additional $12 million construction project for the school at Brooks Air Force Base, and has requested that the school be designated an Aeromedical Center with Lackland Air Force Base hospital as the clinical facility.
This dedicated aeromedical scientist, educator and flight surgeon has made many valuable contributions leading to a better understanding of the demands imposed on the human body in the operation of modern military aircraft, and, ultimately, spacecraft.
MAJOR GENERAL OTIS O. BENSON JR. ASSIGNMENT: Headquarters Aerospace Medical Center, ATC, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas for duty as commander, Aerospace Medical Center; relieved: additional duty as commander, School of Aviation Medicine, effective Aug. 29, 1960.