Charles "Chuck" Elia '43 September 28, 2023 3:27 PM updated: September 28, 2023 3:49 PM
Charles Van L. Elia, BG USA (Ret)
July 27, 1921 - September 13, 2023
Brigadier General (Retired) Charles (Chuck) V. L. Elia left this earth peacefully on September 13, 2023 at the age of 102. His loving wife, Barbara and his longtime friend and caregiver, Mary (Coco) Johnson were at his bedside.
Chuck was born in Marshall, Texas, July 27, 1921 to Carrie Alma Andrews Martin and James Martin Elia. He attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School, Marshall Junior High School, and Marshall Senior High School, graduating in May 1939. He participated in several team sports to include football, track and baseball. After school, weekends, and during summer vacations, he worked for the Marshall News Messenger, Fred Lewis Grocery Store, and various drug stores. He delivered “prescription medicine” (whiskey--the medical prescription made it legal during this dry period) in brown paper bags for a nickel each. He was told not to open the bags of medicine he delivered, but he did. He had a great love of his family and continued to travel to Marshall for their annual family reunion at Uncertain, Texas until COVID changed the world as we once knew it.
Chuck left Marshall, TX in June 1939 to attend summer school at North Texas Agriculture College, Arlington, Texas, where he pursued a course in pre-veterinary medicine. In high school, he had bird dogs that developed a deadly disease, distemper. He decided he would attend college to develop a treatment for distemper. In 1940, he enrolled at Texas A&M College in the School of Veterinary Medicine, graduating in 1943 with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. His initial class was 120 but when WWII started, many classmates had reserve commissions and some enlisted. Out of the initial 120, there were only 57 to graduate.
General Elia was the first graduate under the Army Specialized Training Program to be commissioned from Texas A&M during World War II and went into the infantry. He received a commission which committed him to go into the medical service after graduation. He also is a graduate of the US Army Command Management School, Army Veterinary School, Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and Army Chemical School. In 1959, he received a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, graduating with honors. Education was very high on General Elia’s list of priorities and he used this knowledge and background in several facets of his future career.
General Elia’s active commissioned military career began in September 1943 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in the Veterinary Corps of the Army Medical Department, and spanned a period of over thirty-three years. His first duty assignment was as an inspector for a turkey plant. Most turkeys were shipped to overseas troops. They had 2 ½ ton trucks backed up for blocks every morning to get the rations for the troops. After that he was assigned to San Antonio, Texas where Swift, Cudahy and Armour had plants and he was an inspector for all of them. This was a big cattle and hog area. There were no clear specifications in those days. The Inspector examined each animal individually to make sure there was no disease, then passed them to go.
During his military career, General Elia held Veterinary Medical staff officer assignments at Fort McArthur, California; Fort Ord, California; Fort Rosecrans, California; Presidio of San Francisco, California; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; and Headquarters, Fourth and Fifth U.S. Army, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His overseas assignments included Greece, Okinawa and Alaska. He served an initial tour in the Office of The Army Surgeon General, Washington, DC from 1954 to 1958, and from 1962-1965, he was Commandant of the US Army Medical Department Veterinary School, Chicago, Illinois.
In 1972, he received a Presidential appointment and Congressional approval of his promotion to Brigadier General, US Army, and appointment to Assistant, US Army Surgeon General for Veterinary Services and the 15th Chief of the Army Veterinary Corps, serving from May 1, 1972 until April 30, 1976. He served with distinction in this position, recognized as the highest honor afforded a Veterinary Corps officer. As the Chief of the US Army Veterinary Corps, he held world-wide responsibility for veterinary personnel and services.
Throughout General Elia’s military career, he promoted and encouraged continuing education, both in-service and graduate civilian education for officers and enlisted personnel. This abiding interest in education and the highest quality of professionalism resulted in an increase in the number of Veterinary Corps officers holding specialty board certification from 14 to 90 during his tenure as Chief of the Corps.
General Elia was a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. His professional affiliations included The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Conference of Public Health Veterinarians, Bexar County Veterinary Medical Association, District of Columbia Veterinary Medical Association, International Health Society, Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Texas Public Health Association, Teachers of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine and American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians. He held elected and appointed offices in many of these organizations. He served as a member of the Delegates of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, and as President of the Alaska Veterinary Medical Association during 1968.
In 1967, General Elia was awarded the Army Surgeon General “A” Designator, the highest military and professional recognition for expertise in the field of Veterinary Public Health. He is the recipient of numerous military awards to include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Order of Military Medical Merit. Most notable among General’s Elia’s professional awards are Texas A&M’s Distinguished Alumnus Award (1972), Honor Society of Agriculture, Texas A&M University Special Award (1976), Public Service Award (1978) from the American Veterinary Medical Association for outstanding contributions in Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine, and the James A. McCallam Award and Honorarium (1985) from the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States for outstanding accomplishments in Medicine and Health. The US Department of Agriculture recognized him for the leadership given in the establishment of a joint US Department of Agriculture and Department of Defense Commission to study and control exotic animal diseases.
General Elia had a great love for hunting, fishing and his bird dogs. He and his buddies continued to fish annually in Alaska for fifty years, as well as annual hunting trips to South Dakota for pheasant hunting. His other activities in retirement included serving as one of the founding members of the US Army Medical Department Museum Foundation and a driving force behind the fundraising, planning, and execution leading to building the AMEDD Museum. He continued to serve as Treasurer, Vice President for Building and Grounds, and board member for over 30 years. It has paved the way for all Army medical trainees to experience a hands-on appreciation of the history of Army medicine. Chuck also served as the Public Health Officer for the City of Garden Ridge, Texas, Area Coordinator for Republican Party of Texas; Secretary-Treasurer of American Veterinary Medical Association Political Action Committee and Board Member and Vice President of the Men’s Garden Club of San Antonio as well as the Garden Ridge Lions Club, Uniformed Veterinary Medical Association, Bexar County Kennel Club and many more patriotic and non-profit organizations.
Chuck was also an avid reader and stayed abreast of all world, state and city news. When his eyesight started to fail him and magnifiers failed to work, his wife, Barbara spent hours each day reading articles from several daily newspapers. He supplemented his worldly information by listening to all the national and local TV broadcast and vocalizing his disgust at trouble events, as well as laughing and yelling “Yes” when they “got it right”!
General Elia is survived by Barbara (Seat) Elia and leaves behind Cayenne, his special cat. He will be mourned by his nephews, Charles Howard (Buddy) Newton and wife Alice; David Elia (Scooter) Newton and wife Linda; James Ross Ayers; John Charles (Chuck) Ayers and wife Nita; nieces, Johnnie Marie Benson, Nancy Kay Ayers Turner and husband Roger, Dr. Angela (Angie) Taylor and two further generations of nieces and nephews. A very special appreciation and thank you to Antonio (Tony) Grimaldo, who worked for Chuck for 28 years.
Preceding him in death are his parents, Carrie Alma Andrews Martin and James Martin Elia; brother, John (Buddy) Elia, sisters Carrie Alma Newton, Lottie Elia Moore and Helen Elia Ayers, as well as spouses, Ruth Engels Gidney Elia and Virginia Porter Elia.
Please consider donations in lieu of flowers: AMEDD Museum Foundation, P.O. Box 8294, San Antonio, Texas 78297; Uniformed Veterinary Medicine Association, Caisson Horse Project, PO Box 341123, Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234, Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas 77840. Please designate the Brigadier General (Ret) Charles V. L. Elia ’43 Endowed Scholarship in Veterinary Medicine in the memo line of the check. You can also give directly online: http://give.am/EliaEndowedVetMedScholarship, or charity of your choice.
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