Bernhard was born Oct. 30, 1930 in Paramaribo, Surinam, South America. His parents Jan and Hanna were there as missionaries from Holland. They arrived in 1926 and served there for 42 years. However, during WWII, his father went to be a chaplain for the Dutch Army in Indonesia from 1942 to 1945. Bernie, his two brothers and his mom came to the United States in 1944 and lived in Nazareth, PA where Bernie and his two brothers learned English. In early 1946, their father came to the U.S., and he and his wife planned to return to their Moravian mission work in Surinam. The plan was for Bernie and his brothers to go to Holland and live with family members there to insure appropriate further education. However, a church family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania volunteered to “adopt” the three boys so they could remain in the United States, which they very much wanted to do. So Bernie was able to graduate from high school there in 1948. He then went to Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA as a pre-med student and graduated in 1952. Afterwards, he earned his M.D. degree from Temple University School in 1956.
Soon after medical school and internship, he was drafted into the Army and did his basic training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Although the young man was already a medical doctor, he volunteered for the airborne services, because the 101st and 82nd had liberated his home country of the Netherlands at the end of WWII. Of the 23 airborne volunteers, he was one of two to be assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He was sent to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and served first as the Battle Group Surgeon and Clearing Platoon Commander. He was then assigned as Division Surgeon at the request of General William Westmoreland. At the end of his two year tour, Bernie was going to leave the Army. When General Westmoreland asked him why, Mittemeyer pointed out that he “was not a U.S. citizen”. Westmoreland immediately arranged for him to get his citizenship so he could become a part of the regular Army. (Bernie’s older brother who had just completed his sophomore year at Leigh University was drafted out of college and received his citizenship on the battlefield during the Korean War.) As a brand new American citizen, Bernie accepted an Army Urological residency which he completed in1965. He was then assigned as Assistant Chief of Urology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
In April 1968, he was deployed to Vietnam. But as a volunteer who had completed his obligatory military service, he went with a promise from the Army Surgeon General Office that he would be assigned to an Army Field Hospital. However, after arriving at Bien Hua, he was immediately assigned (once again) to the 101st Airborne Division as the Division Surgeon and Medical Battalion Commander which was heavily involved in combat in the northern most part of South Vietnam. Bernie noted that “it was a year of continuous warfare and action where movement was almost always by air ambulance and evacuation of the wounded was often during the heat of the battle.” While in Vietnam, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal with a V (for Valor) with Oak Leaf Cluster as well as other awards for his service.
After his 12-month Vietnam tour, Bernie seriously considered leaving the service. But he elected to stay in the Army and was transferred to Ft. George Meade in Maryland as the Chief of Urology, Chairman of Surgery and Chief Professional Services. “I had three jobs at once!” he recalled. In 1971 he attended the U.S. Army War College for one year, then was again assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center. This time he served as Chief of Urology, later Chief of Department of Surgery and consultant in urology to the Army Surgeon General. In July, 1977 the experienced doctor was assigned to be Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command/Korea Surgeon, eighth U.S. Army and Commander of the 121st hospital in Seoul, Korea. Nine months later (April 1978), he was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned as Chief Medical Corps Affairs to the Army Surgeon General. He was then promoted to Major General and served as Commander of Walter Reed Medical Center. In October of 1981 he was promoted to Lt. General and Army Surgeon General retiring in March 1985 at which time he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
After his military service, the general was part of a group that started Health Services in California which eventually opened up 20 HMOs, and was later sold to Traveler’s Insurance. Not long afterward, Bernie was contacted by Dr. Lauro Cavazos and asked if he would like to “come to Lubbock, Texas and go to work at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center as Executive Vice President." The esteemed doctor began his career at TTUHSC in November 1986. During a 10 year period, he helped establish a division of Urology and later the Department of Urology. He also served as Interim Medical School Dean and Interim President of the Health Sciences Center. In 2009 he returned the Urology Department which is now named in his honor, and continues to work there part-time.
While in medical school Bernie married Patricia Kuhn (1954). They raised four children: Jan, Tom, Robert and Sarah. In 1996, he married Mary Beth Smith who has two sons Brandt and Adam. Together they have eight grandchildren.
Dr. Mittemeyer remains humble and has a servant’s heart, even though he holds numerous military decorations and a long list of professional rewards and honors. He remains passionate about “taking care of our veterans.” He has especially enjoyed his work at the VA Clinic in Lubbock to “help care for the men and women that have served our country.” * After 63 years, Bernie is still serving his adopted country. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he proudly stated, “How fortunate I was to become and American Citizen.”
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight