Reasons & Remarks – The Invalid Corps

The Corps of Invalids was a regiment of physically disabled Continental Army veterans

By now, you may have heard that former Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) National President and PVA Publications Editor Richard Hoover passed away June 22.  

Richard had a storied life, so a proper tribute to such a person can’t be done in my allotted column. Nevertheless, I do want to comment on something that appeared in Richard’s obituary prepared by his family.

Like many PVA member obituaries, our stint in the military is a highlight. For Richard, it was his time in the U.S. Air Force as a seasoned combat pilot and his subsequent assignments as a test pilot and flight instructor.  

After surviving 148 combat missions in Vietnam, Richard was paralyzed when he and his student ejected from their plane while flying out of Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Fla., in 1973. Richard was medically retired from the military, which is precisely what I want to talk about.

Ever since June 14, 1775, the U.S. military has been training ordinary civilians to become professional soldiers. In Richard’s case, the Air Force spent years and millions of dollars to transform a civil engineer from Montana into a highly skilled flight instructor and test pilot.  

Yet, at a time when anti-war protests were omnipresent and the military couldn’t meet its recruitment goals, the Air Force summarily disposed of this great military asset by forcing Richard to retire. After all, those were the rules.

There’s no doubt it would have benefited the Air Force and its pilots to allow Richard to continue serving as an instructor or in some other training capacity. After all, the military depends on those with combat experience to train the next generation of service members. However, their policy is to dispose of those who can’t pass the Physical Readiness Test, aka PRT.   

But this hasn’t always been the case. In 1777, the Continental Congress resolved to establish a “Corps of Invalids,” which was a regiment of approximately 1,000 physically disabled Continental Army veterans. They were intended to serve as guards at ammunition magazines, hospitals and similar establishments. 

The regiment moved around quite a bit between Philadelphia and Boston and provided much-needed support behind the front lines. The regiment was dissolved in 1783, but it was considered a success because its work as an auxiliary force allowed able-bodied soldiers to serve on the front lines and defeat the British. 

But wait, there’s more! The Invalid Corps made a comeback during the Civil War. Created within the Union Army in 1863, it made suitable use of soldiers who had been rendered unfit for active duty on account of injuries and permanent disabilities, but who were still fit for garrison or other light duty, and were, in the opinion of their commanding officers, meritorious and deserving.  

The idea was so popular that a song was created to promote the new corps. However, as the war went longer than expected and casualties mounted, some of those serving in the Invalid Corps who could still fight were put to use on the front lines. And, as expected, many of them were injured again while others were killed.  

During the war, more than 60,000 men served in the Union Army’s Invalid Corps, but after the war ended, the need for disabled soldiers dwindled and it ceased to exist by 1869. 

Unfortunately, that’s the end for the Invalid Corps. But its mission was noble. The story of these heroic soldiers who continued to serve their country despite their injuries and disabilities only exists in a handful of obscure history books. Although, throughout the last two decades, some disabled service members, including a few PVA members, have been allowed to remain on active duty post-injury.  

But history tends to repeat itself. Once again, the military is reporting that its annual recruiting numbers for 2023 are falling short. The numbers haven’t been this low since they ended the draft and Richard was told by the Air Force that his services were no longer needed.

Experts are saying huge reenlistment bonuses and a proposed exemption for marijuana use won’t be enough to turn these numbers around. However, I think it would be interesting
if the military would consider reinstating the Invalid Corps. Obviously,
they would have to change its name, but I wonder how many PVA members would give it a try. What would
Richard do?  

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