WWI Veterans: Captain Comegys & Doctor Desmond

In honor of Veterans Day this year we are featuring 2 medical officers photographed by J.B. Hostetler in 1918.

Joseph Parsons Comegys was born November 21, 1866, in Covington, Kentucky to Cornelius Parsons and Sarah Jane (Good) Comegys. His maternal grandfather, Captain John Good, was one of the founders of the Moline Plow Company. He attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago, Illinois in 1885; and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1891.

He moved with his parents to Rock Island in 1892 when his father transferred for his job with the Army Corps of Engineers. Joseph married Miss Elise Thompson of St. Louis, Missouri on May 29, 1894. The couple had 4 daughters.

Dr. Comegys served as Rock Island Health Commissioner from 1897-1899. During this time he made radical changes to improve garbage collection in the City. He was appointed assistant surgeon for the Tri-City Railway Company in 1899 and was the surgeon for the Burlington Railroad in 1905. He was elected president of the medical staff at St. Anthony’s Hospital in 1910. From 1909-1918 he had offices with Dr. Ralph Dart in Rock Island.

Dr. Comegys served as post surgeon at Rock Island Arsenal from 1913-1918, when he enlisted in the Medical Corps of the United States Army. During his time at the Arsenal, he was in charge of administering the Typhoid Fever vaccine to all U.S. engineers. He attained the rank of Captain in the medical corps in June 1918. Captain Comegys was assigned to the base hospital at Hoboken, New Jersey on August 17, 1918. He served as transport surgeon aboard the steamship Aquitania and at the debarkation hospitals in New York City.

Captain Comegys moved to New York City after his discharge in 1919. He served as stevedore surgeon for the Cunard steamship line in New York and as head of all medical work of the White Star steamship line, retiring from medical practice in 1929. Dr. Comegys died January 20, 1935, at his home 325 57th Street in New York City. His obituary was published in the Rock Island Argus on January 21, 1935.

Leonard M. Desmond was born November 30, 1890, in Moscow, Muscatine County, Iowa to Christopher and Anna (Miller) Desmond. Leonard was a newspaper carrier for The Daily Times in 1905. He served as an assistant forecaster in the Weather Bureau Davenport Office in 1907; transferred to Evansville in 1909; and to Washington D.C. in 1911. He studied dentistry at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and graduated in 1914. He came back to Davenport and opened a dental practice in the Davenport Savings Bank Building in July 1915.

Dr. Desmond was appointed dentist of Davenport Draft Board no. 1, providing dental care to the men selected for service. He entered the Dental Corps and was commissioned 1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army Reserves on August 23, 1917. He served with A.E.F. in France, stationed at Base Hospital No. 119. Lt. Desmond was honorably discharged from the Army Reserves on September 6, 1919. He then joined the American Red Cross and was a member of Paris Post No. 1 American Legion from November 1919 to July 1920.

Following his service in the American Red Cross, Dr. Desmond was commissioned Lieutenant in U.S. Navy in September 1921. He served aboard submarines and on hospital ships U.S.S. Relief and U.S. Destroyer Base in San Diego, retiring on December 27, 1927.

Dr. Desmond returned to the Navy for WWII, reenlisting on December 23, 1941. He served on the U.S. Naval Hospitals in San Diego and Long Beach, and at the U.S. Base Terminal Island. He retired with the rank of Commander on February 6, 1947.

Commander Leonard M. Desmond died March 19, 1971, in Los Angeles, California. His obituary was published in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram on March 20, 1971.

(posted by Cristina)


  • “Health affairs in the hands of Dr. J.P. Comegys.” The Rock Island Argus, July 31, 1897
  • “U.S. field force being vaccinated.” The Moline Dispatch, March 1, 1915
  • “Dr. Comegys is made a captain.” The Rock Island Arsenal, June 14, 1918
  • “Physician may go to New York City.” The Rock Island Argus, October 6, 1919
  • “Dr. Comegys, 69, succumbs to pneumonia.” The Rock Island Argus, January 21, 1935
  • “Appointed to Washington office.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 7, 1911
  • “Personals.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, June 23, 1914
  • “Desmond opens dental office.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 11, 1915
  • “Dr. L.M. Desmond to enter Navy Dental Corps.” Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 9, 1917
  • “Soldiers help local boards.” The Daily Times, September 20, 1918
  • “Desmond now in U.S. Navy.” The Daily Times, March 9, 1921
  • “Desmond – Leonard M.” Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, March 20, 1971

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