Lieutenant Christopher M. DiMaio is a native of Providence, Rhode Island and a 1958 graduate of Classical High School. Chris entered the University of Rhode Island with the Class of 1962. He was first introduced to the military through mandatory ROTC classes taken during his first two years at URI. Chris earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology in 1962.
When he was drafted, Chris was in medical school at Georgetown University. Under a program called the Berry Plan, he was allowed to complete medical school and internship before entering active duty as a medical officer. He chose to serve in the Navy and was called to active duty as a Lieutenant, U.S. Navy Reserve, Medical Corps in 1967. Lieutenant DiMaio served as a medical office in the United States Navy from 1965-1969.
Dr. DiMaio was sent to St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York for training but was quickly transferred to the Field Medical School at Camp Pendleton, California. He was assigned to the United States Marine Corps; and when the Vietnam Tet Offensive began in 1968, his training was again cut short, and he was sent to Vietnam as a Medical Officer in early March, 1968. His first assignment was in a field hospital in Phu Bai near the city of Hue where there was street-to-street fighting. Dr. DiMaio recalls heavy casualties and working long hours in triage and in surgery.
Lieutenant DiMaio was then transferred to Dang Ha where he served as the battalion surgeon for the Marine 1st Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, the famous “Walking Dead Battalion,” a unit that is reported to have suffered a 90% casualty rate. On his first day in the unit, the Aid Station was attacked. The senior corpsman who was assigned with him was killed, along with many of the wounded he was treating. The corpsmen in 1/9 were on the edge of exhaustion because of constant combat and heavy casualties.
Lieutenant DiMaio volunteered to leave the aid station and go into the field to replace the corpsmen assigned to the USMC Infantry Battalion to allow them some needed rest. He took part in several combat operations exposing himself to enemy fire along the DMZ. He volunteered to participate in one helicopter combat assault. As a result of Lieutenant DiMaio being so close to the combat action and providing immediate lifesaving medical care, many wounded Marines were saved.
Lieutenant DiMaio developed a very bad case of cerebral malaria and was transferred to the hospital ship USS Sanctuary where he almost died. Following his recovery, he returned to duty. For his actions in combat, Lieutenant DiMaio was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for valor.
After leaving the military, Dr. DiMaio completed a psychiatric residency in San Francisco and San Diego. He practiced psychiatry from 1970 to 2007. Much of his work focused on veterans’ issues. In 1985 he joined the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital to work on the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Later he was named the Clinical Director of the San Jose VA Outpatient Clinic.
During his time working with veterans, it became increasingly clear to Dr. DiMaio that many Vietnam veterans were displaying abnormal behavior that was new to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Vietnam veterans were experiencing a high divorce rate and a high rate of substance abuse. Suicide and attempted suicide rates were very high. Veterans were barricading themselves inside their homes, and others were falling out of society, becoming homeless. It was the early days of a growing understanding of PTSD on a massive scale. Chris DiMaio dedicated his life to treating these Veterans and easing their pain and suffering.
Now retired, Dr. DiMaio continues to volunteer his time with Veterans. He has also given his support to a grass-roots movement building across the San Francisco area to designate Fort Ord, California as a National Monument. He continues to be a strong contributor to the URI Foundation and made a substantial gift to the URI ROTC Fund in memory of his classmate CPT Henry (Hank) Phillips.
Lieutenant DiMaio has spent his entire life serving his community and nation during peace and war. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.