The following article was written by Mr. J.K. Sunshine, WWII Veteran and published under the title
“War Stories”, in the magazine Providence Sunday Journal in 1994, excerpts of the same article are being reproduced below, with kind permission
of the author (-ed) .
"...not yet forgotten..."
For a long time I thought I would never forget the years 1944 and 1945 when I was a medical soldier in what is still our ‘greatest’ war . Details of people, places, and incidents of that time remained in my mind for decades . Years later I could picture each spot where the 42d Field Hospital (-ed) pitched its tents as it moved across Europe from Normandy to Germany, I could recall by wound if not by name many of the torn and broken bodies that passed our hands to be cut, patched and sewed together, or shipped off by the truckloads to Graves Registration . Now those recollections are not so clear . Images come but are indistinct, and they do not stay long . Although these words may appear to be like a journal written as the events occurred, they were, in fact, written quite recently, and are based upon an old scrapbook assembled in 1945 that has remained in a succession of back cupboards for half a century . There is no battle action here . A Field Hospital (-ed) does not fight, but it does offer an unusual vantage point from which to observe a war . Finally, I do not offer these recollections as anything more than what they are, fragments of experience of a time long gone that in an Anniversary Year may be of interest to those who were not there .
…. Wales, May 20 : we are kept behind barbed wire, and not allowed out of this vast encampent of men and machines waiting for the war . The surroundings are bleak, the weather is foul, and we have nothing to do . It is hard to stay dry . Mud is everywhere, and the air is heavy with the smell of burning coal . The motor pool people are kept busy changing the trucks, jeeps and ambulances into amphibious vehicles by extending exhaust pipes above the presumed depth of the beachhead water and smearing waterproofing gunk all over the vital parts of the engines . We pass the time playing cards, sheltered from the drizzle in pyramidal tents . Someone paints our duffle bags with three parallel yellow bars to identify our beachhead destination : Utah . There is one reason to be grateful . Our orders have been changed . Back in the States our last training was at an air base in North Carolina (Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base, N. Carolina, Combat Glider Training Center –ed), where we learned to pack ourselves and our hospital equipment into small gliders, airplanes without motors designed to be towed behind bigger conventionally-powered planes and then cast loose to glide to earth . It doesn’t seem like a foolproof system . The gliders are made of pipes and cloth and seem like fragile toys . The change in orders, we are told, meant boats, not gliders . It sounds a lot better . We are taken in trucks to the port of Barry on the Bristol Channel . The harbor is jammed with shipping . Long lines of men, trucks and guns waiting on the wharves to board freighters and transports lying bow to stern at the piers . We load, but the boats do not move for reasons not given to us . We wait for days, unable to wash or leave the boats . The waiting is unbearable . Finally, we get under way and steam down the channel in a long line and head for Land’s End .
The Channel, June 3 (my birthday) : we crowd the deck to watch Vera Lynn’s white cliffs recede into the
distance, trying not to think of what was over the horizon, or under the water for that matter, but enormously excited all the same . To the
right and left, ahead and astern, the gray sea is crowded with hundreds of wallowing cargo vessels, troop transports, barrage balloons rising
on tethers from their decks to discourage diving enemy planes . I have never seen so many ships at one time . The long slow-moving columns
extending over the horizon are escorted by patrol craft protecting the convoy’s edges . In the holds below the deck of our Liberty are tanks
and guns and trucks and men packed into narrow pipe berths stacked five deep . Someone tells me that in the bottom hold are 100 trucks loaded
with 105mm artillery ammunition . I try not to think of it .
…. Off Utah Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944 : we are on deck watching the show . Guns are firing constantly, the noise is incessant, and smoke rises from the beach area and from further inland . Around us scores of ships wait to unload . Landing craft plow back and forth to the beach . A battleship, far beyond the perimeter of the anchored armada fired salvos from her 14-inch guns (-ed) over our heads, and the shells sound like boxcars ripping through the air, and we can actually see them go . On the radio we hear the BBC describing the progress of the battle, how the Navy is trying to knock out a steeple with a sniper’s nest in it . We can see the steeple and hear the shells . It takes a long time and a lot of shells . Night . The rocket barges fire toward the battle, turning darkness into the Fourth of July, the long fiery stream of rocket tails arching into the sky . We had never seen anything like it . Eventually, we go to sleep, but down in the holds below the waterline, lying in our pipe berths we feel trapped . What if a sub gets through the perimeter ? What about all that ammunition ? Suddenly, there is an enormous clanging sound reverberating through the ship, as if we are in a steel boiler and someone hit it hard with a sledgehammer . I feel sheer draining terror . But nothing comes of it . There are more clangs . I conclude, it must be depth charges from the patrol boats hunting subs . I go to sleep anyway .
Beachhead Hospital, June 8-17 : we disembark on June 8, climbing down the nets to a landing craft . I worry about falling into the sea, but I don’t ! We are put ashore without getting our feet wet . The beach is now more or less secure, and we march inland past fields marked with signs in German warning of mines and littered with crashed gliders . Our Major (this was Major Huber, commanding First Platoon -ed), a self-important surgeon who imagines he is a paratrooper, ignores his overlay and leads us inland until suddenly we are surrounded by mortar bursts . Diving headlong into the ditches, we become aware of infantry in foxholes shouting at us to get down and questioning our sanity . We retreat, cursing, in haste and embarrassment, wishing that the Major actually was a paratrooper and somewhere else . Two platoons of the hospital (probably First and Second Platoon –ed) are already ashore . Together with a platoon of another Field Hospital (45th Fld Hosp -ed) they have set up near Montebourg (or Ste-Marie-du-Mont –ed) . With our arrival we have the making of four complete tent hospitals in one big field .
June 8, 1944 - trucks loaded with equipment roll ashore from LCTs
Hospital Ward of the 42d Field Hospital
near Utah Beach, early June 1944 - litter bearers and medical personnel (third, fourth, fifth and sixth man from the left, are respectively Sgt Gray, Sgt Randall,
Pfc Hammet, and Pvt Marker) - the second man with helmet marking is clearly a medic from the 261st Med Bn / 1st Engr Spec Bde (which also
landed at Utah Beach) - note some German patients in the foreground
Wounded men, tagged for identification, are lying on litters in rows all over the field . Walking wounded stand around waiting to be helped .
Ambulances arrive with fresh loads . Most are American paratroopers of the the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions,
but some are Germans, and others simply unidentifiable foreigners pressed into service by the Germans (probably members of “Ost” Battalions
–ed), The enemy soldiers have been at war a longer time, and they stink of dirt sweat and blood . They are given the same treatment as Allied
WWII Medical Tags (obverse) - left is an
Emergency Medical Tag or Form No. 52b (5 Nov 42), as used by medics
and containing essential data related to the patient, right is a Clearing Station Tag or Form 8-29 (12 Jul 44), as used by
Clearing Station personnel with indication of admission and disposition dates of patients
Triage of casualties, among which quite a number of Airborne personnel, somewhere
behind Utah Beach, early June 1944
I dig my hole beside a hedgerow and report to a tent surgery . I am a Surgical Technician, 5th Grade (a Corporal)
who works in a surgery and assists surgeons . A surgeon, a Major, notices me standing uncertainly and says, “Let’s go, Corporal, get some
blood on your hands .” Not really funny, perhaps, but then we are all drunk with excitement and determined to do well … I follow him
through the blackout curtain into surgery where three surgical teams are at work . Generators outside the tent provide power for lights . I
am told to hold a leg while a surgeon saws it off . I wonder why I don’t throw up .
Isolation Tent, June 10 : the German is dying, but it is taking a long time . I have been sent to a tent at the end of the field, next to a hedgerow, and as far from the hospital tents as possible . The reason is gas, gas gangrene . I am supposed to stay with the German until he dies . There’s nothing I can do to help except to give him water. I cannot speak his language beyond the simple words like yes and no and does it hurt . And he cannot speak mine, except to moan and say “Ja.” He is blond and young and filthy dirty . His wounds exude the odor of gangrene . He does not seem to be a monster . Gas gangrene is our terror . It is a foul infection that flourishes in damaged flesh in the absence of oxygen . Death is virtually certain . Usually you don’t know it is there until you open up a wound . Then it smells to high heaven, someone shouts “gas” and everything in the surgery stops ! The man is hurriedly finished and moved away as far as possible from other wounded, lest he infect them . The tent then has to be scrubbed down with disinfectant, and all instrument packs re-sterilized . The night sky is lit by flashes of artillery fire . A lone German plane buzzes overhead, drawing a few bursts of anti-aircraft fire, which falls back on us in the form of shrapnel . A few yards away, the steadily growing hospital dump smells of burning bloody bandages and discarded flesh and limbs . I stare at the German boy, not knowing what to do . Finally, toward morning, he dies .
…. Ward Tent : a quiet night . Sixty men fresh out of surgery are sleeping on canvas cots . I have drawn ward duty, and dutifully go from cot to cot with a syringe loaded with penicillin, thrusting it quickly into each man’s buttock . It’s a real wake-up call, but most of them are too sick to care . I check IV fluids and suction, give water, take temperatures, and try to ignore the subdued moans of pain that have become a steady background sound . Men who have lost arms and legs are the worst . Some of them, I think, simply talk themselves to death . On most nights, two or three men in each tent die, and their bodies are placed in a truck waiting outside . Each morning it makes the trip to Graves Registration where digging crews bury them in temporary cemeteries ….
Third Platoon has four tents like this . Each is 50 feet long, (16 feet wide and 11 feet high –ed) supported by 4 poles, and weighs 350 pounds rolled up . Putting it up is an hour’s work for four men .
…. We move as the line moves . …. We keep moving . Pont-l’Abbé on June 17, St.-Sauveur-le-Vicomte (-ed) on June 22, Ste-Mère-Eglise on July 6, Carentan on July 10 …. The landscape around is littered with half-destroyed tanks and trucks, blasted houses, dead cows, and in the hedgerows and woods, American and German bodies turning black in the summer sun …. Without knowing why, we are told to change shoulder patches from the First Army to the Third Army (which became operational as per August 1, 1944 –ed) …. Our trucks roll through the devastated rubble of St. Lô, through villages whose streets are lined with cheering crowds, who push bottles of Calvados and fresh vegetables into our hands, welcome after a diet of K-Rations . Villedieu on August 6, Senoches on August 25, and finally Paris on August 28, where we set up in the outskirts on the Orleans Road and watch the Maquis race by in trucks, firing wildly in the air just to celebrate Liberation .
(James K. SUNSHINE, Tec 3, Surg Tech, Third Platoon, 42d Field Hospital, USA, 15359023, recollections)
Here follows the latter part of “War Stories”, written by Mr. J.K. Sunshine, 42d Field Hospital veteran, excerpts of which
are being reproduced below with the author’s permission (-ed) .
St. Vith, the Ardennes , December 15 : a long line of tanks clanks rapidly northward, past the field where we are playing touch football with the Second Platoon, somewhere in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (-ed) . It is December, and we have come a long way, out of Normandy, through northern France to Paris, briefly into Holland to support the failed Operation called Market Garden and on to the forested hillsides of Belgium . It is getting colder . We have holed up for the winter in St. Vith, a small Ardennes town that is in a quiet part of the line quite a few miles north of Clervaux (-ed) . The First Platoon is at another town further south, Wiltz, near Bastogne (-ed) . Occasionally we visit each other . Each town is surrounded by forested hillsides, the fir trees standing out black green against the white snow .
Our hospital in St. Vith is a three-story house that must have been some burgher’s pride before the war . Now it is pockmarked with shellfire . We are warm and snug and expect to spend the winter in comfort . The headquarters of the 106th Division, fresh from the States, is also in town . The division’s rifle companies and artillery are east of town . We talk constantly of the end of the war, and especially of the new GI Bill . Because I was an Oberlin freshman back home, my friends, who never dreamed of going beyond high school during the Depression years, ask my advice, beginning with questions like “If I did decide to go to college, how would I pick one out ?”
St. Vith - winter landscape (1945)
Click image to enlarge
aerial view of Wiltz (1944)
Click image to enlarge
It is bright late fall weather . The sky is blue, the fallen leaves on the cobblestones are brown and gold . Back home we would have called
it perfect football weather . The war seems far away . Maybe it’s over and they haven’t told us .
December 16. A quiet day . We have one patient in the entire hospital . But he offers a nervous report : “Something is going on up the line . They’re moving around a lot .”
December 17 . I guess he was right . I come down to breakfast in the cellar . There are infantry from the 106th all over the place, looking shaken and terrified . Some have lost their weapons or thrown them away . It was the start of the Battle of the Bulge, which we called the “Breakthrough”, because the Germans had broken through the line for one last big drive . The snowy hills around town are beginning to show dark figures coming out of the pine forests . An entire combat command from an armored division rumbles through town into the hills . We stand apprehensively outside the hospital and watch them go by . Their confident colonel tells us not to worry .
Four hours later, the tanks rumble back through the fog . The same colonel says, “If you’re coming with us, come on .” We run for our trucks and join his column, leaving the hospital behind . For the first time since June, we are going in the other direction . We are retreating, something we have no experience in doing . The roads are jammed and we make slow progress . By nightfall we have passed the Malmédy crossroads and have settled in a convent at Vielsalm with friendly but suddenly fearful nuns who talk about “les Boches” coming back . Someone says the Germans machinegunned an entire battalion of American prisoners in a field near the crossroads whe had passed two hours before (this is the ‘Malmédy Massacre’, which took place at Baugnez on December 17 - members of B Battery, 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were killed by Kampfgruppe Peiper -ed) . The next 10 days are a nightmare . Without air support because of the dismal weather, we keep falling back, getting lost in the fog, hearing stories of Germans in GI uniforms, staring at the thick clouds as if we could make planes come by force of willpower . Always the word is, “The weather is too thick to fly .” We curse people who fly airplanes, who are never hungry and cold, and who never sleep in the snow .
We are in Sedan by Christmas Eve, a rotten Christmas, but we are putting a hospital together again with new stuff from the medical dumps . Days later the weather finally breaks, the planes come, wave after wave of them . Hundreds and hundreds of B-17s and B-24s and everything else with wings fill the sky . We stand outside waving and screaming like schoolboys at a football game : “Go, go, go !”
…. We hear the Second Platoon has been partly captured in Wiltz, and marched into Germany to a prison camp . One of the cooks was killed when the column was strafed on the road (in fact, it was the First Platoon, which when evacuating Wiltz, had to leave behind 22 non-transportable patients with a surgeon and a number of enlisted technicians who volunteered to stay . They were all marched into captivity to Germany December 19 . The Second Platoon was located near Walferdange, while the Third was at St. Vith (-ed) .
Neufchâteau, Belgium, January 9 : Major Lamar Soutter, age about 35, with sandy curly hair, horn rimmed glasses, and a patient voice resonant with the authority conferred by 300 years of Harvard . The voice is never raised, and the lowliest of enlisted men is patiently addressed by name followed by please and thank you . At home in Boston he is a well connected young chest surgeon . Here on the edge of the Siegfried Line, he is that rarity along commissioned officers, the idol of his enlisted men . Of all our surgeons, he is the best . Soutter is just out of Bastogne, having volunteered to be dropped by glider into the surrounded town where more than a thousand casualties lay in a warehouse under the care of a single surgeon . Blood and plasma were gone . Third Army asked for volunteers . Soutter and eight other surgeons and technicians responded and were loaded with fresh blood and drugs into a glider towed by a C-47 and cut loose to drift to a snowy field at the edge of town . Soutter said later that the first day in the warehouse they did 56 operations . By the 26th (-ed), the 4th Armored Division had broken the siege . The major and his team were given Silver Stars and assigned to us . We have become friends, and spend considerable time together mixing grapefruit juice and the contents of a 5-gallon can of medical alcohol that somehow made its way from the medical dump at Bastogne to the major’s tent concealed in an old barracks bag .
Elxleben, Germany, April 13 : I am sleeping on the floor of a battered house we have made into the hospital when someone shakes me . “Wake up . Roosevelt is dead , Truman is President, and it’s time for your shift .” The words are a shock . FDR has been President for nearly my entire life . I can’t imagine the country or the war without him . I have never heard of Truman . I get up and go into the surgery where I relieve another technician and am told to give a patient on the table a pint of plasma . My hand shakes so much I cannot find the vein .
Ohrdruf and Buchenwald : as the war winds down and we get deeper into Germany, the secrets begin to show . In Bavaria we take over a German hospital established in a handsome monastery at Maria Lach . As we roll up in our trucks, German officers emerge from the building on their way to prison camps . They wear long gray winter overcoats, and scowl at us . Days later we are ordered to send a medical detail up to a place called Ohrdruf where a camp has been discovered . They return with pictures and stories of opening up the camp to find it full of starving men and heaps of corpses, and how they forced the mayor and a group of citizens from the nearby town to walk through the camp, and how they said they knew nothing of what went on there . It is a response we hear more than once from that day on and seems hard to believe . At Buchenwald we enter the camp through the main gate to find the same heaps of corpses, this time many of the guards were caught by the liberated prisoners before they could escape to safety . We walk through the barracks staring at naked skeletal men on their wooden bunks .
Germany, April 12, 1945 - Army brass (Generals Patton and Bradley) visiting Ohrdruf KZ,
subcamp of Buchenwald, FIRST Concentration Camp liberated by troops of the 4th Armored Division April 4, 1945
SHAEF Message dated April 19, 1945, from IKE to General G.C. Marshall informing the latter
of the discovery of German Concentration Camps during the Allied advance ...
Pfeffenhausen (near Munich) May 7, 1945 : our last setup . It is clear that the war is ending . The Germans
we see now are mostly old men and 14-year boys barely able to carry a rifle, and we have few wounded to work on . Major Soutter wants to see
Munich, where he had been a student tourist before the war, so he orders a weapons carrier and a driver and
off we go to see Munich . The city is chaotic, a scene out of Dante’s Inferno . Crowds fill the streets looting at will in the bombed out
remains of buildings and stores : Germans, Americans, British, French, DPs (displaced persons) from a dozen conquered countries, inmates from
the concentration camps in their striped pajamas . We stand in the great square in front of the City Hall (?) to see if the famous clock still
works . Strangely, it does . The major spots a line of people going into the cellar of a bombed hotel and emerging with bottles of wine . He
halts the truck, then orders the rest of us to join the line waiting for a turn in the cellar . I lead the way into the dark, noting with
amazement that the looters are perfectly polite and self-organized . Not a word is said as the line shuffles down the stairs . At the bottom
I see in the dim lights hundreds of bins reaching to the ceiling, each with dozens of bottles of Rhine wine on their sides . I climb into a
top bin and hand down 10 bottles to each of my friends without so much as looking at the labels, and we go up the stairs again into the light .
In the truck we find of course, that we have no corkscrew . The major, who is a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Medical School,
knocks off the top of the bottle by striking it against the side of the truck . As we start for the hospital, I see a man in concentration
camp pajamas coming out of the cellar with a two-gallon jar of dill pickles . The U.S. Army does not run dill pickles in wartime, and I have
a powerful homesick hunger . I offer him a pack of Lucky Strikes, point to the jar, and off we go, eating dill pickles and drinking Rhine
wine from broken bottles .
A sunny hillside, May 8 : the results are predictable . I wake up in a field near the hospital sometime the next day, desperately sick . Someone has stolen several chicken which we proceed to cook over a portable sterilizer stove set up on the hillside . A constant stream of Allied soldiers newly liberated from German prison camps are walking aimlessly down the highway : Americans, British, Indians, French . We share our chicken and the remains of the wine .
The war is over .
(James K. SUNSHINE, Tec 3, Surg Tech, Third Platoon, 42d Field Hospital, USA, 15359023, recollections)
... here follow some additional notes relating to the 42d Field Hospital, and written by Mr Sunshine, following his
correspondence with "Strictly G.I.", and kindly reproduced here with his permission
I was born June 3, 1924 and lived in Ohio . I was a freshman at Oberlin College, where I joined the Enlisted Reserves in late 1942 . I left College in March and asked for my orders . I entered the Army of the United States in 1943, at age 19 . I joined the 42d Field Hospital at Camp Carson, Colorado Springs, Colorado in August, after having gone through Basic Training at Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois (at the time, the Hospital was commanded by a Colonel Campbell) I was assigned to the Third Platoon . We drilled, learned, trained, set up ward tents again and again, and were assigned to various parts of the base Hospital for further medical training . In November 1943, we boarded a train bound eastward and ended up at Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina, to learn how the Airborne tackled gliders, and then moved on to Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base, North Carolina, where we learned to pack and pull all our hospital equipment into CG4A gliders, which, we were told, we were to ride into France . In December 1943 we were given Christmas leave, and after I returned to my station, all three Platoons were moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, our staging area for embarkation via New York P/E . We crossed the Atlantic without being hit by anything (we were lucky) and landed in Glasgow, Scotland in January 1944 . From there we were trucked to Bromyard, Herefordshire, (between Worcester and Hereford) which would become our UK base from about January 15 to May 15, 1944 .
Period postcard from Camp Carson
Period postcard from Camp Grant
Period postcard from Fort Bragg
In England, we uncrated and unpacked our medical instruments and supplies, continually practicing, pitching ward tents, lived in Nissen huts,
grew accustomed to local usages, learned the rituals of the 14 village pubs, listened to the usual jokes about ‘Yanks,
being overpaid, oversexed, and over here’, and made friends with girls . I was not quite 20 at the time . About mid-May we were
transferred to a town in Wales (I can neither pronounce nor spell its Welsh name), near Barry, in Glamorgan, Wales . We then boarded Liberty
Ships, each Platoon on a different ship, but we didn’t move for reasons unknown to us . We just sat and waited for about 10 days, unable to
leave . The waiting was unbearable. About June 2 or 3, we went down Bristol Channel, and around Land’s End to the English Channel and finally
crossed to Normandy, where we sat off Utah Beachhead for a day or two watching the ‘show’ … One Platoon (i.e. the Second) was torpedoed or
struck a mine. All personnel survived, but all the equipment was lost .
Britain, 1943/1944 period -
fixed Hospital installation with medical wards in Nissen huts ...
Click image to enlarge
First and Second Platoons and Third were together (as far as I can recall), and set up camp in a big field near
Ste-Marie-du-Mont (or was it Montebourg ?) . My Platoon, the Third, was commanded by a Major
Bartolini . We were joined by the 45th Field Hospital, and with our arrival we now had the makings of 4
complete tent hospitals in one big field . Together we functioned as the "Utah Beach Hospital", treating all
sorts of wounds and evacuating casualties back to England . About mid June 1944, the Platoons split up, each one assigned to a separate
Division, and that’s how we would function for the rest of the war .
Surgeons working on casualties near the Invasion beaches, June 9, 1944 ...
Army medics treating and comforting an injured French child, early June 1944 ...
Chain of Evacuation as applied in a Theater of Operations - from Field treatment to Battalion
Aid Stations, further through the Collecting Stations to the Clearing Stations, if necessary, emergency cases for surgery to Field
Hospitals, and others to Evacuation Hospitals for eventual transportation by ship or plane to ComZ General Hospitals ....
Utah Beach, June 13, 1944 -
… For most of the war I worked for the Tec 3, in charge of the 42d Field Hospital’s surgery section . Field
Hospitals had their own staff of Medical Officers, Enlisted Technicians and assigned Nurses, but these were supplemented by attached surgical
teams (surgeons, anesthetists, and surgical Technicians) . These teams were highly skilled and did most of the real work . Following my
promotion, I ran the 42d surgery and was responsible for its operation . Most of the time I ‘circulated’, meaning I did non-sterile tasks for
the operating teams, and from time to time did ‘scrub’ and assisted surgeons during operations . Near the end of the war I was promoted to
Technician 3 Grade (I was a Surgical Technician - MOS 861 - corresponding to S/Sgt) . After the war, while
waiting to go home, we were stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany . As I didn’t have enough points, my ASRS was only 77 (out of the necessary 85
points), a few of us were re-assigned to the 79th Infantry Division and finally went home with them . My only
problem was that as a S/Sgt (Tec 3) I was put in charge of a Squad . I looked at the Machine Guns on the floor of the orderly room and
wondered what the hell I was supposed to do with them . In all my time with the Army, I had never fired a gun !
42d FIELD HOSPITAL
According to different sources, the Hospital was either activated in Texas or in Kentucky . Mr. J.K. Sunshine (see his Testimony) thinks his unit was activated in Texas, at a post where other Field Hospitals were equally constituted and/or activated . Unfortunately no date of activation could be found ! Also according to him the Commander at the time was a Colonel Campbell . After going thru subsequent training phases (including transfers from Cp. Carson to Cp. Grant, then to Ft. Bragg, and finally to Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base), the 42d Field Hospital prepared for overseas movement staging at Ft. Lee, New Jersey . The Hospital shipped out of New York P/E with destination Europe in March 1944 aboard the USS Susan B. Anthony (AP 72), a former luxury liner converted into a troopship . The first stop was Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the second was Glasgow, Scotland . The troops disembarked there and further moved by train to England . The42d set up at Bromyard, Herefordshire, where it would remain until mid May 1944 . In view of the coming Invasion of the continent, the unit moved to Barry, Wales late May 1944 . At this time a new Commander was appointed, i.e. Lt. Colonel William Todd De Van III, who would land with the Hospital on D-Day, June 6, 1944 . While personnel went down the Liberty Ship’s cargo nets or gangways to board the landing craft (LCVPs), the heavy equipment which was all packed in trucks came later via larger landing craft (mostly LCTs) . The 42d Field Hospital landed on Utah Beach June 8, 1944 together with the 45th Field Hospital . Nurses of the 45th Fld Hosp arrived on Utah Beach (together with a group of the 128th Evac Hosp) at 1530, on 10 June, while those of the 42d Fld Hosp and the 91st Evac Hosp only reached shore around 1600 hours . During and after the D-Day operations, the 42d Fld Hosp admitted following numbers of patients: second week of June > 952, third week of June > 91, fourth week of June > 97, first week of July > 114, second week of July > 288, third week of July > 285, fourth week of July > 274 .
6 june 1944 - the overall situation on Utah Beach was as follows : company aidmen and battalion medical personnel (4th Med Bn) from the 4th Infantry Division landed first at Utah Beach, June 6, 1944, followed closely by the 9 officers and 72 corpsmen of the 2d Naval Beach Battalion which immediately set up two Beach Aid Stations for treating, collecting and evacuating assault landing casualties to DUKWs and landing craft for movement to LSTs offshore . The only other medical unit operating at the beach was C Co, 261st Med Bn, part of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade which also reached Utah Beach on D-Day, followed by A Co elements and six surgical teams of the 3d Auxiliary Surgical Group . The VII Corps and 4th Inf Div surgeons already landed the same day with the largest part of their staff sections, and during the next three days, medical support expanded as did the beachhead .
7 June 1944 – 82d Airborne and 101st Airborne Division jump and glider casualties were being transferred to the beach for treatment and/or evacuation . They were immediately inspected and treated by personnel of the 491st Coll Co and the 649th Clr Co of the 50th Medical Battalion .
8 June 1944 – as more 82d Airborne casualties were discovered, the 4th Med Bn Clr Sta and the 261st Med Bn had to intervene in the beach area, additional medical elements disembarked . The 492d Coll Co as well as the 315th Med Bn (90th Inf Div) were now called upon for help . After landing of the 42d (+ three surgical teams) and 45th Field Hospitals, the same day, the 2d Sec, Adv Pltn, of the 1st Med Dep Co was also brought in .
9 June 1944 - two more units, the 9th and 90th Infantry Divisions disembarked with their full medical complement ! The hospital ship “Lady Connaught” arrived during night and discharged personnel of the 502d and 427th Clr Cies (31st Medical Group) as well as officers and men of the 662d Clr Co (134th Medical Group) . During the night (8 – 9 June), it also brought ashore the 2d Platoon / 42d Field Hospital, after their ship had been sunk and most of their personal and part of their organizational equipment lost .
10 June 1944 - the first Evacuation Hospital, the 128th, disembarked and set up near Bouteville the next day . It was followed later in the day by the 91st Evacuation Hospital .
11 June 1944 – the 463d Coll Co disembarked, followed by the 50th Medical Battalion and its clearing and collecting companies which could now share the burden of medical and surgical care of the other units … Further landings took place, with arrival of additional Hospital units; 24th Evac Hosp (12 June) 5th Evac Hosp + 41st Evac Hosp (13 June) 45th Evac Hosp + 96th Evac Hosp + 67th Evac Hosp (16 June) 97th Evac Hosp (17 June) 44th Evac Hosp (19 June) 2d Evac Hosp (23 June) 4th Conv Hosp (24 June) 47th Fld Hosp (10 July) etc. … including a number of Collecting Companies, Clearing Companies and Ambulance Companies .
During the build-up of the First US Army on the continent, medical capabilities were augmented during the period 26 June > 1 August 1944, by temporarily transferring following hospitals of the Third US Army to First Army : 32d – 34th – 35th – 39th – 200th – 102d – 103d – 104th – 106th – 107th – 109th Evac Hosp and 16th Fld Hosp . All these units eventually reverted to Third Army control on 1 August (except the 106th + 109th Evac Hosp, which were only returned later) . An additional unit, the 77th Evac Hosp became available on 21 July, and with the help of three extra ambulance companies was given the task of transferring casualties from the Evacuation Hospitals to the beaches . At the height of the D-Day operations (6 June > 31 July 1944, inclusive), there were 22 Evacuation Hospitals, and 6 Field Hospitals assigned and/or attached to the First US Army for supporting a total of 16 active combat divisions !
As per T/O 8-510 dated April 8, 1943, a Field Hospital consisted of one Headquarters and three separate Hospitalization Units (or Platoons) . Headquarters numbered 2 officers and 16 enlisted men, while each Platoon had 6 officers, 6 assigned nurses, and 58 enlisted men, i.e. a grand total of 20 officers, 18 nurses, and 109 enlisted men . 15 vehicles were normally available, including 9 cargo trucks, 6 ambulances, and 7 trailers . A Field Hospital was generally commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, assisted by a First Lieutenant . The three separate Platoons were run by a Major, assisted by two Captains, and one First (or Second) Lieutenant . These units could operate independently with a capacity of 100 beds, and thus serve as a fixed hospital unit in isolated places, on islands, at air bases, distant from other facilities . Moreover, they had sufficient transportation to move their own personnel and equipment, and when reinforced with extra surgical teams, they could even be used as a mobile hospital to support ground troops in combat . Transportation by air was also possible, after loading and flight tests in 1942 .
T/0 & E dated August 31, 1944 introduced some changes to the original structure of a Field Hospital . While it still consisted of one Headquarters and three separate Hospitalization Units, some numbers now varied . Totals were now as follows : Headquarters numbered 4 officers, 3 nurses, and 28 enlisted men, while each Hospital Platoon had 6 officers, 5 nurses, and 52 enlisted men, i.e. a total of 22 officers, 18 nurses and 184 enlisted men ! Its commander, a Lieutenant Colonel (or Colonel), was now assisted by a Captain and two First Lieutenants, while the three identical Hospitalization Units were now each under command of a Major, assisted by one Captain and three First Lieutenants . The new Field Hospital could now handle up to 400 patients . Each separate Platoon was responsible for up to 100 patients, and one or more Hospitalization Units would be the advance section of the Hospital . They would move ahead, begin setting up and handling casualties, while the other units would close out the activities underway and catch-up with the advance unit . The patients remained where they were for about 10 days, as per regulations . The Hospital was moved every two or three days, leaving the operated patients in tents to be cared for by holding companies which moved up and gave the Platoon new tents, etc. …
About mid June of 1944, the 42d Field Hospital’s three separate Hospitalization Units split up, each one being assigned to a separate Division in the field . On September 19, 1944 the 42d Fld Hosp was attached to the 134th Medical Group (Hq at Malmédy) charged with medical service for troops belonging to V Corps . On October 21, 1944, the 42d was transferred to the 64th Medical Group (Hq at Trois-Ponts) which supported VIII Corps troops .
Battle of the Bulge (campaign 16 Dec 44 > 25 Jan 45)
During this period the three Hospitalization Units were stationed in three different locations .
First Platoon under command of Major Huber was at Wiltz, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where it supported the 28th Infantry Division . When the Germans broke thru, the unit was supposed to evacuate as well, but the unit did not possess organic transportation for rapid withdrawals . As the hospital unit was situated directly in the path of the enemy drive toward Bastogne, the 28th Inf Div passed word that the platoon should prepare for immediate evacuation December 18 by means of a 64th Med Gp truck convoy that was on the way . The hospital had 22 non-transportable patients under care of Major Charles A. Serbst (senior officer, Auxiliary Surgical Team) . Major Huber insisted that these patients should stay . The AST's commander, Major Serbst, another officer, and 16 enlisted technicians and miscellaneous personnel volunteered to remain behind with the casualties, and hence went into German captivity on December 19, when enemy troops entered Wiltz . The rest of the medical personnel, with several truckloads of hospital equipment was able to leave and made their way back to VIII Corps lines . Some trucks carrying medical equipment, diverted to another mission, and unloaded their precious cargo in Bastogne, an occurrence for which the 101st Airborne Division medics would soon have cause to be grateful !
Second Platoon was at Walferdange (north of Luxembourg City), Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where it served the 83d Infantry Division (we only know that this was the unit which lost its equipment on the way to Utah Beach, its ship having been torpedoed en route, all personnel was recovered - unfortunately we haven’t been able to find any more data regarding the unit commander and this platoon) .
Third Platoon under command of Major Bartolini was at St. Vith, Belgium, where it supported the 106th Infantry Division . Since the Hospital Platoons were under command of the Medical Groups, they had difficulty in obtaining timely orders and information, because of different channels, and so their movements were not always well coordinated with those of the divisions they worked with . Surgeons in St. Vith only found out about the German Counteroffensive when their hospital unit was engulfed by 106th Inf Div wounded, by which time the division’s 331st Med Bn Clearing Station had already left for Vielsalm . On December 18, the unit was able to move their personnel to Vielsalm, but due to lack of proper transportation, was forced to leave behind all their equipment . This left the division’s medical service in a serious plight, for the non-transportable cases, normally treated by a Field Hospital, were now to be treated at the Clearing Station which did not carry the necessary special equipment for this type of casualties . When Montgomery ordered XVIII Abn Corps to evacuate the salient of St. Vith, southern defense forces began moving thru Salmchâteau . First went CCB, 9th Armd Div, followed by two surviving American units; the 112th Inf Regt of the 28th Inf Div, and the 424th Inf Regt of the 106th Inf Div, leaving just a limited TF under Lt. Colonel Robert Jones to cover their retreat . In the north, CCB, 7th Armd Div, was trying to stop the gap . The officer who urged Third Platoon to run for their trucks and join their convoy bound for Vielsalm, must have been from the 31st Tk Bn (7th Armd Div), a unit which was fighting a desperate battle to maintain a semblance of a defense line around St. Vith, as it slowly retreated toward Vielsalm …
An Aidman (or Medic) is usually assigned to the Battalion medical section, but serves with the line companies and gives first aid to the wounded and injured in the field .
An Aid Station (or Battalion Aid Station) is a first-aid post or center established by the Medical Department on the route of evacuation from a combat area to which the wounded are brought, i.e. a Dressing Station or an Aid Station . Its location is near the frontline . Casualties are given first aid, treated for shock and provided minor surgery . They are then grouped according to their injuries; those needing further care are prepared for transportation to the rear . The Battalion Surgeon, Aid Station personnel, and the Company Aidmen together form one of the three Battalion medical sections of the Regiment’s Medical Detachment . (separate Battalions have their own medical detachments) .
AUXILIARY SURGICAL GROUP
When the combat situation produces casualties in tremendous numbers, this would result in doctors, surgeons, and nurses being overworked to the point where their efficiency would be impaired or other medical personnel would have to be brought in to assist them ! The problem was solved by the establishment at Army Headquarters of an Auxiliary Surgical Group, consisting of a number of ‘specialized’ teams of experts in such fields as brain surgery, chest surgery, plastic and general wound surgery, with anesthetists, nurses and men trained in the special requirements of the work of the team . The Auxiliary Surgical Teams were held in reserve and were sent out to supplement Field and Evacuation Hospitals during periods of intense activity, where they really made up the entire operating room staff of the three separate Hospital platoons . The E.T.O. by late 1944, possessed 5 complete Auxiliary Surgical Groups attached to the Field Armies and Army Groups . Each such AS Group included about 25 teams of doctors, nurses, enlisted technicians, the majority organized for general surgery and the rest for neurosurgery, maxillofacial work, X-ray, and dental protesthetics . The AS Groups also included varying numbers of truck-mounted mobile operating rooms and X-ray facilities, thereby enhancing mobility of the Field and Evacuation Hospitals, they were assigned to …
A Clearing Station is a medical station in the field, where sick and wounded are assembled from Collecting Stations, it is in fact a small forward hospital . It is the place where they are given temporary aid, classified, and then sent to the rear for further care . This organization is the last element in a Division, and is responsible for what is designated “second echelon” medical service .
A Collecting Station is a medical station that provides additional first aid, oxygen and whole blood and forms a Regimental holding unit for casualties until they can be evacuated to the rear .
A Convalescent Hospital is a fixed or mobile Hospital for patients who no longer need active treatment . It is included in the std. organization of an Army and operates under direct control of the Army Surgeon . Specially designed to care for medical cases who will probably fully recover and be ready for duty within a limit of usually 120 to 180 days, but who require little or no medical treatment other than observation and rehabilitation . The Convalescent Hospital receives patients from Evacuation Hospitals, Army Clearing Stations, and any other units in the vicinity . It usually disposes of patients by transfer to a Replacement Center or Depot, or return to an Evacuation Hospital (in case of unsatisfactory medical progress) . The Convalescent Hospital has a normal capacity of 3,000 patients and can be expanded to accomodate 5,000 patients for a short period .
An Evacuation Hospital is a mobile Field Hospital situated in the combat zone . It gives necessary treatment to casualties, but sends serious cases on to fixed Hospitals for further care . Evacuation Hospitals ARE organic elements of a Field Army and function under Army Headquarters . There are two types: the 400-bed semimobile and the 750-bed capacity unit, which function in direct support of a frontline Division and carry out the so-called “third echelon” medical service . Evacuation Hospitals receive their patients from Division, Corps, or Army Clearing Stations .
A Field Hospital is a mobile hospital which may be divided into three separate Hospitalization Units (or Platoons), that can even be located at widely separated places, if necessary . This hospital is employed in the field under tentage or other locally improvised shelter . It was developed, organized and equipped for use in locations where the Station Hospital type of coverage is desired, but where no buildings are available, and where changes in location are frequent . Although it is classified as a ‘fixed’ hospital, it can easily be moved and even transported by air . The Field Hospital may receive patients from the Station served, from Clearing Stations, or from Portable Surgical Hospitals, or direct from the site of injury . Each Hospitalization Unit can handle 100 patients, and up to 150 in emergency conditions . This type of Hospital is very flexible, and if strengthened with auxiliary surgical teams, it can operate as a small independent hospital . Disposition of patients is by return to duty, or by evacuation to General Hospitals for further treatment . A Field Hospital is usually attached to either an Army Corps or a Division .
A General Hospital is a hospital designed to serve general and special needs . It is equipped and staffed for special treatment of a professional nature, and therefore affords better facilities for study, observation, and treatment of serious, complicated and obscure cases . It performs “fourth echelon” medical service, receiving patients from Evacuation Hospitals, by either motor ambulance, hospital train, or even by airplane . Patients are sent to a (numbered) General Hospital for additional treatment and care up to a period of usually 120 to 180 days . If they are to be hospitalized for a longer period, they are evacuated to a (named) General Hospital in the Zone of Interior (ZI) . Numbered General Hospitals are of three sizes: 1,000-bed, 1,500-bed and 2,000-bed capacity .
A Hospital Center is a collection of General Hospitals operating under a single Headquarters . It really is an intermediate Hq between a Base Section and the individual General Hospital . The Hospital Center performed the administration, supply, and evacuation functions as specified; it thus needed less administrative personnel, while using the extra available medical and dental officers to reinforce hospital staffs and their enlisted men to aid in patient rehabilitation . Component hospitals normally specialized in the care of one or more types of disease or injury, and pooled their resources whenever necessary .
A Station Hospital is a fixed hospital in or near a Military Post, where it gives medical and dental care to personnel attached to the post . Station Hospitals and General Hospitals are the two types of fixed medical installations . When located in the Communications Zone (ComZ), it is housed in tentage or improvised housing of the Theater of Operations, and even located in the very combat zone . Numbered Station Hospitals have bed capacities ranging from 25 to 900 beds . In exceptional circumstances, the Station Hospital may serve as an Evacuation or General Hospital .
In time of war a Graves Registration Service will be organized for the purpose of caring for deceased military personnel interred outside the continental limits of the United States . It will also care for civilian, allied, and enemy dead when necessary . Its major tasks are supervision of the identification and burial of the dead, the collection and disposition of their personal effects, and the plotting of location and the registration of battlefield graves and cemeteries . Labor for grave digging is normally furnished by the QMC service units, is secured locally, or is sometimes provided by captured enemy personnel . The Graves Registration Companies concentrate on physical collection, evacuation, identification, and burial of battlefield dead, and also select proper sites for (temporary) cemeteries . The Quartermaster General is (in addition to his other duties) designated Chief, American Graves Registration Service, and is thus charged with the formulation of policies related to the operation of the Graves Registration Service outside the ZI .
Special Medical Mission to BASTOGNE
Major Lamar SOUTTER was the man in charge of a hazardous glider flight to besieged Bastogne, in order to provide medical care to the wounded and injured of the 101st Abn Div and attached units defending the city . He flew in by glider during the afternoon of December 26, 1944, accompanied by the following volunteers; Captain Edward N. Zinschlag, Captain Stanley P. Wesolowski, Captain Henry M. Hills Jr, Captain Foy H. Moody, Sgt John Knowles, Tec 3 Jack Donahue, Tec 4 Lawrence Rethwisch, and Tec 4 Clarence Metz . The Third Army Surgeon’s office obtained medical officers and enlisted technicians, all volunteers, from the 4th Auxiliary Surgical Group and the 12th Evacuation Hospital to reach Bastogne and set up an extra surgical facility. At first it was intended to drop these men into the defense perimeter by parachute, but this was changed later . One medical officer, Major Howard F. Serrel, had already been flown in on Christmas Day by a small liaison plane . Using the 42d Fld Hosp equipment, which included an operating lamp and an autoclave, the surgeons and technicians set up and started examining and sorting the patients and by nightfall had the first casualties on the operating tables . The volunteers, assisted by three Belgian women, and a 10th Armd Div battalion surgeon operated thru the night and until around noon of December 27th . After a rest, they continued for another twenty hours … and completed over 50 major operations . The whole team was awarded the Silver Star .
Camp Barkeley, Abilene, Texas > Medical Replacement Training Center & Armored Division Camp (69,879 acres, 3,192 Officers + 54,493 EM)
Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pennsylvania > Medical Field Service Training School (1,390 acres, troop capacity 164 Officers + 3,332 EM)
Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina > Field Artillery Replacement Training Center (129,422 acres, troop capacity 4,311 Officers + 76,170 EM)
Camp Carson, Colorado Springs, Colorado > Division Camp (68,355 acres, troop capacity 2,707 Officers + 44,240 EM)
Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois > Medical Replacement Unit Training Center (3,349 acres, troop capacity, 453 Officers + 20,836 EM)
Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base, Maxton, North Carolina > Major Combat Glider Training Center (active Oct 42 > Apr 45)
USS SUSAN B. ANTHONY (AP 72)
The luxury liner S/S Santa Clara,was acquired on August 7, 1942 . After having been converted to a troopship at the Bethlehem Steel’s NY yard, it was recommissioned September 7 and renamed Susan B. Anthony . AP 72 transported US troops for 10 months (August 1943 > May 1944) and moved back and forth across the Atlantic, carrying soldiers and cargo between the United States, England, Iceland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland . The ship participated in Operation Torch (Allied Invasion of North Africa – 8 Nov 42) and Operation Husky (Allied Invasion of Sicily – 10 July 43) and ended its career when it struck a mine off Omaha Beach June 7, 1944 !
OHRDRUF KZ (Concentration Camp)
Ohrdruf KZ, located in Thuringia, was technically a subcamp of Buchenwald . It only opened on November 6, 1944 and thus could only operate for a number of months, before being discovered by troops of the 4th Armored Division which liberated the camp April 4, 1945 (with help of attached elements; such as C Co / 602d TD Bn, and the 355th Inf Regt, / 89th Inf Div) . Many prisoners were shot by the Germans as American units neared the place . Since it was the FIRST nazi Concentration Camp liberated by the Americans, its discovery was highlighted in the period press, leading to a visit by Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton on April 12, 1945 . IKE realized that it was imperative for the soldiers to at least understand what they were fighting against – he wanted the whole world to know of the inhuman conditions discovered at Ohrdruf !
... Ohrdruf KZ, Germany, April 4, 1945 -
survivors just liberated by troops of the 4th Armored Division ...
Click image to enlarge
BUCHENWALD KZ (Concentration Camp)
Nazi concentration camp, located near Weimar . This camp already opened in 1937 ! Some 65,000 prisoners perished during the war, and after the Germans had started to evacuate the inmates, the camp was finally liberated by US forces on April 11, 1945 . Buchenwald was one of the few camps where prisoners seized partial control to prevent atrocities by the retreating camp guards . Troops pertaining to the 6th Armored Division (elements of the 9th Armd Inf Bn) discovered more than 20,000 victims of nazi persecution … still alive .
Remark : Soviet forces were the first to reach a major Nazi camp, when they discovered abandoned Majdanek camp near Lublin, Poland, July 24, 1944 – they were to liberate other extermination camps, as well, such as Auschwitz, the largest extermination and concentration camp, on January 27, 1945 …
... Buchenwald KZ, Germany, April 11, 1945 -
poor emaciated bodies, camp inmates,
after their liberation by elements of the 6th Armored Division ...
Click image to enlarge