39th Field Hospital Unit History
Activation & Training:
Camp Ellis, Illinois, activated February 1, 1943 was to become an active Army Service Forces Training Center for Engineers, Quartermaster, Signal Corps and Medical personnel in World War 2. Although May 6 marked the arrival of the first Officers and Enlisted Men for the new Medical Unit Training Center, official records indicate that the 1644th Service Unit was activated June 1, 1943, per GO No. 14, Hq ASFUTC, Camp Ellis.
On May 15, 1943 a cadre consisting of 1 Officer and 11 EM were selected from the 29th Field Hospital, out of Cp. Campbell, Hopkinsville, Kentucky (Armored Division Camp; acreage 102,414; troop capacity 2,422 Officers and 45,198 Enlisted Men –ed), and ordered to Camp Ellis, Illinois, to activate the 39th Field Hospital.
20 Medical Units would in fact be activated at Camp Ellis on May 25, 1943 – 8 Station Hospitals, 3 Ambulance Companies, 2 General Hospitals, 2 Medical Sanitary Companies, 1 Field Hospital, 1 Medical Gas Treatment Battalion, 1 Medical Ambulance Battalion, 1 Convalescent Hospital, and 1 Headquarters Medical Service. In June another 12 medical units followed, while additional ones were being organized and started training. In December of 1943, 79 medical units were prepared for training, including Malaria Survey Units, Malaria Control Units, Hospital Trains, and General Dispensaries. Cp. Ellis closed its doors February 1, 1945, having helped activate and train a total of 266 medical units!
T/O 8-510 (28 Feb 42) of a Field Hospital included 12 MC Officers, 1 MAC Officer, 3 DC Officers, 1 Chaplain, 18 Nurses, and 211 Enlisted Men. Physicians and Dentists came from Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Enlisted Men from Fitzsimons General Hospital, Denver, Colorado; Army/Navy Hospital, Hot Springs, Arkansas; Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington D.C.; Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois; Camp McCoy, Sparta, Wisconsin, as well as from other Hospitals and Camps across the country.
The basic organization itself consisted of:
1 Company Headquarters (2 Off and19 EM)
3 Clearing Platoons (5 Off, 6 Nurses, and 64 EM each)
The WD defined Field Hospitals as mobile, fixed beds medical installations designed to give definite treatment in the field where it is impracticable to establish fixed bed Hospitals. The unit is completely motorized and organized into three identical Platoons, each of which is capable of independent action if required. The normal bed capacity of 1 Platoon when acting independently is 100.
… in August of 1943, the United States Army gathered men from various military Training Schools across the ZI and brought them to Camp Ellis, Table Grove, Illinois (ASFTC) for unit formation and training. In October it became really apparent that the 39th Field Hospital through hard training and sound planning had come together as a cohesive unit. The first Nurses were assigned to the Hospital on October 12.
1st Lt. Dorothy T. NEWMAN (N-702912)
2d Lt. Constance E. BARANSKI (N-771159)
2d Lt. Eunice M. BEARDSLEE (N-771766)
2d Lt. Avis M. BONNET (N-771729)
2d Lt. Mary C. CALLAHAN (N-771309)
2d Lt. Vida E. CASPER (N-772466)
2d Lt. Beatrice L. DUFFY (N-772578)
2d Lt. Helen M. ERSPAMER (N-771476)
2d Lt. Blossom FISHMAN (N-772763)
2d Lt. Elsie M. GOOD (N-771394)
2d Lt. Florence D. JEDREZAK (N-772389)
2d Lt. Margaret L. MAHONEY (N-771809)
2d Lt. Ann M. MORRISSEY (N-771089)
2d Lt. Lois E. OLSON (N-772591)
2d Lt. Gertrude M. PARLIAMENT (N-772390)
2d Lt. Grace H. SCHNEIDER (N-731590)
2d Lt. Sally Lou C. STRONG (N-772679)
2d Lt. Betty J. WING (N-772302)
About November 1, the unit received its travel orders, and the necessary equipment was loaded into boxcars with the vehicles on flat cars, in order to proceed by rail to Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base for training. The 39th Fld Hosp would spend November 24 – December 4, 1943 at Laurinburg-Maxton Field, North Carolina for training as an airborne Field Hospital. This lasted about three weeks and consisted of learning how to load and lash equipment in C-47 cargo planes and CG-4A gliders. On December 5, the Hospital unit then moved to Ft. Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina (Infantry Training Center) where new Officers were assigned and final preparations made for movement overseas.
Major Wallace (current CO) was promoted and reassigned, and the unit continued training while waiting for its new Commander. On January 5, 1944, Major Henry A. SEAMAN, MC, assumed command (assigned from the 120th GH), and the Officers and Nurses lost, were replaced. What followed was one inspection after another by the Fourth Service Command. During the same period, 1st Lieutenant Laura Jamison, ANC, was appointed Chief Nurse.
On February 20, the unit departed from Ft. Jackson with destination Cp. Kilmer, New Jersey (Staging Area), where it arrived twenty-four hours later. During the following week, all required medical shots were received, a shake down of personal equipment took place, and the rest of the time was spent preparing for deployment overseas and awaiting transportation.
Transfer to the ETO – United Kingdom:
Preparation for Overseas Movement (POM)
On February 26, 1944, the 39th Field Hospital left Cp. Kilmer for the Brooklyn Navy Yards, where it boarded the Troop Ship USS “Elizabeth C. Stanton”. The ship sailed at 0700 hours, Sunday February 27 to join a convoy bound for “somewhere” in the British Isles. After spending twelve days at sea, marred by some violent storms in the North Atlantic, she reached Newport, South Wales at 1800 hours, March 11, 1944. The unit debarked and immediately left for AAF Station 519 at Grove (located near the small town of Wantage), where it arrived at 0400 on March 12. On March 7, the 39th Fld Hosp had been officially assigned to the Ninth Air Force, being attached to the 31st Air Transport Group for rations, quarters, and administration, effective March 12, 1944. Its primary mission was to provide medical services to Ninth Air Force units and ground forces close to the front lines. The official designation of the three Platoons was now:
First AFCS (Air Force Clearing Station) i.e. 1st Plat, 39th Fld Hosp
Second AFCS (Air Force Clearing Station) i.e. 2d Plat, 39th Fld Hosp
Third AFCS (Air Force Clearing Station) i.e. 3d Plat, 39th Fld Hosp
Social life built up and many lasting friendships were begun. Almost a month was spent at Grove, which allowed personnel to become acquainted to the European climate, the black-outs, and the factors involved with living in tents and Nissen huts. Bicycle rides, hikes, visits, foxhole techniques, tent pitching, and planning for allowing the three Platoons to function as separate units, took place. Transfers, arrival of new personnel, kept the entire unit at T/O strength.
During the period following their arrival the 39th made all necessary preparations for organizational equipment and supplies, at the same time the respective Platoon Commanders and their staff were sent forward to pick sites for their units. Movements took place at different dates due to bad weather and were as follows:
First Air Force Clearing Station, departed from AAF Station 519 at 0800 April 11 by air and arrived at Braintree, Essex the same day.
Second Air Force Clearing Station, departed from AAF Station 519 at 1300 April 04 by air and arrived at Bistern, Hampshire, AAF Station 415 with full loads of equipment.
Third Air Force Clearing Station, departed from AAF Station 519 at 0930 April 10 by air and reached Cranbrook, Kent, AAF Station 417.
Headquarters, 39th Field Hospital, departed AAF Station 519 at 1430 May 1 by air with destination Cranbrook, Kent, AAF Station 413, where it arrived at 1630 the same day.
April 10, 1944 was to be a crucial date for the 39th Field Hospital, for this was the time when the three Platoons were split up – this separation would last until the end of the War, and except for visits by individual members of the Hospital, the Platoons would never operate together again during the War!
From April 11 – April 19, most of the time was spent in procuring supplies for the three Platoons. This was the task of 1st Lt. Richardson, Supply Officer. Informal inspections and visits were made by Major Henry A. Seaman (CO > 39th Fld Hosp) and Captain Harold V. Meima (Chaplain > 39th Fld Hosp). On 19 April alert orders came through and all units were to prepare for movement (patients at the 1st and 3d Platoons were transferred to other Hospitals). The 39th Field Hospital was further attached to the 43d Air Depot Group, Hq IX Air Force Service Command, by GO No. 56, dated April 23, 1944 (total unit strength was 23 Off, 18 Nurses, 190 EM).
The whole month of May found Lt. Colonel H. A. Seaman (promoted May 18) a very busy man. He had made several inspections at each of his Platoons and spent a good deal of time at Ninth Air Force Headquarters. Things were expected to happen soon and everyone was anxious to know just what …
First Platoon (1st AFCS) history:
The Advance Party of the First Platoon consisting of Major Paul C. McAndrew (CO), Captain William W. Jack, 1st Lieutenant Courtney C. Bowen and 12 Enlisted Men left Grove on April 5. The remainder of the Officers, Nurses, and Enlisted personnel remained at their Station until April 10. On that day, all departed with the unit’s equipment going by air (C-47 aircraft) to Andrews Field, whence the journey to Fairwood, 9 miles distant, was completed by truck. After arrival on April 11, tents were pitched and equipment uncrated, originally the plan was for the unit to be subdivided into an Advance 40-bed Surgical Hospital, and another 60-bed Evacuation or Convalescent unit. The bulk of the work consisted of inventorying all supplies, recording shortages, restoring equipment, painting and sorting equipment with identifying number. Some improvisation had to be made, and items such as cupboards, bedside stands, desks, tables, and numerous appliances were devised and manufactured.
The Nurses had to sew wrappers for sterile supplies, wristbands for surgical gowns, washcloths, and other similar items. Initially female personnel had a single pyramidal tent at their disposal (in lieu of two). Tub baths were taken once a week at a nearby Station Hospital, but for the remainder helmets were used. Field latrines were built, and heating was available by means of Sibley stoves. Personal laundry had to be done in helmets, with water heated either on stoves or by immersion units.
The functioning Platoon was soon ready to receive patients ten days later. Tents were pitched and taken down, and with additional training, personnel proficiency was kept at a high level. As more equipment arrived, comfort improved. Electricity was provided by a field generator for lighting and radio entertainment. A day room was built out of spare lumber and salvaged materials. Newspapers, magazines, stationery, reading and athletic equipment began to filter through channels and nightly ‘liberty’ runs to Braintree took place for such recreation as could be obtained, while showers were provided at the local Red Cross Club.
Upon receipt of orders, the entire Hospital unit was dismantled in a period of 6 hours. All boxes, chests, equipment, tentage and vehicles were painted in compliance with instructions (such as painting of 39AFCS on bumpers).
Second Platoon (2d AFCS) history:
The Second Platoon commanded by Major Andrew K. Temples (CO), was the first unit of the 39th Field Hospital to set up for field operation. On April 2, 1944, the Platoon consisting of 6 Officers, 6 Nurses, and 57 Enlisted Men, embarked from Grove to Bistern per C-47 to establish a 100-bed Hospital unit. The area was a low, boggy ground, covered with high undergrowth and pine trees. For several weeks there was no water supply, except for a 250-gallon trailer, later a single pipe was laid. Clearing undergrowth and find adequate space for tents proved a serious problem. The greatest difficulty was a total lack of containers for sterile supplies. As such, many days were spent in sewing wrappers, making operating gowns, drapes, and procuring containers for sutures, dressings, and other sterile goods. One week after arrival, the first patients were admitted. In view of forthcoming orders for another movement, all equipment was crated and marked for shipment. Another training program was initiated not only consisting of assembling and re-assembling personnel and equipment, but also including hikes, calisthenics, drill, and different lectures.
After packing the Hospital and its equipment, including living quarters, the Platoon had to do with pup tents in which they were to live three weeks.
Third Platoon (3d AFCS) history:
Third Platoon commanded by Captain William E. Seiler (CO), composed of 6 Officers, 6 Nurses, and 57 Enlisted Men left AAF Sta 519 on April 10 and proceeded by airplane to AAF Sta 417. Its mission was to set up individually as a 100-bed Hospital. Captain W. E. Seiler, then transferred to the 40th Field Hospital (servicing the IX Troop Carrier Command), he was replaced by Captain Francis O. Ward (ex-40th Fld Hosp). The period was one of transition, starting by occupying part of Glasenbury Castle, the unit was later moved to fields of the estate and quartered in ward tents, which were made comfortable with stoves and cots with straw mattresses. The men were kept busy with packing, crating, and tent pitching. Pharmacy was set up in a pyramidal tent and daily sick call was held there. Further training programs included hikes, tent pitching, litter drill, athletic games, and lectures for the Technicians, and Chemical Warfare training for all. A plane identification program was initiated. Weekly movies were introduced. One of the outstanding problems was securing an adequate supply of drinkable water and the installation of a satisfactory sanitary system. Water was piped from the town’s supply (purity checked by frequent lab tests), honey buckets were secured for the latrines, a warm shower bath unit was installed (shared with the neighboring 56th Field Hospital), and one of the portable washing machines was uncrated and installed. After some delay, enough paint was obtained to paint large Red Crosses on all of the unit’s tentage.
The rest of May and the first weeks of June were spent with usual duties being performed. Inspections and religious services were held, and Officers, Nurses, and Enlisted personnel were anxiously waiting for the Invasion to start, hoping to be part of the main assault against ‘Fortress Europe’!
Orders were finally received on June 11, and on June 12, 1944, First and Second Platoons proceeded to the Marshalling Area at Hursley in full combat regalia – impregnated clothing, gas masks, pistol belts, canteens, shovels, axes, musette bags, raincoats, etc. Final preparations were further made, such as waterproofing equipment, exchange of money for ‘invasion currency’, and distribution of necessary rations. Headquarters and Third Platoon would only leave on June 25.
Arrival on the Continent – France:
1st AFCS – the unit departed from Hursley at 1000 hours, June 17. Destination was Camp C-13, Southampton. At 2200 hours the unit boarded LCI No. 421 (during an air raid), and left to anchor outside of the main harbor. On June 19, First Platoon made a rough trip across the Channel to the Continent. After first arriving off Omaha Beach, orders were received to proceed to Utah Beach in order to discharge some troops of another unit. Because of a rough sea, 3 more days were lost at sea. Finally, with everyone being a bit anxious, the unit returned to Omaha Beach, where it debarked around 1930 June 22. The unit only arrived at Air Strip #3, Cardonville, France, at 2400 hours, June 23, 1944. Operations consisted of administering medical care to ALG A-3. The Hospital unit was set up and ready to receive patients as from 0800 hours, June 26, 1944. The first patient arrived at 1535, and the first surgical case at 2200 (appendectomy).
Many field improvisations had to take place during the first week of operations. The source of running water for the OR was prepared from two gas cans, copper tubes, rubber tubing, and wood. A sink was constructed from a salvaged ammo box. Items such as crutches and heat cradles were improvised from lumber.
At first all personnel slept in foxholes, upon receipt of orders, housing changed to pyramidal tents with foxholes nearby. Rations were K and 10-in-1. One of the greatest morale boosters was arrival of mail. One source of difficulty which caused considerable trouble was electricity. As a great deal of surgery had to be performed at night, the generator had to run day and night. Even a salvaged German generator was used part of the time but proved unsatisfactory, in the end restrictions in the use of the generator during the night became the only solution. Laundry was a problem too, the weather was so bad that it was impossible to dry washed laundry. It was decided to dry the laundry in a storage ward tent employing stoves, until on July 28, a fire broke out ruining tent, laundry, and some stored equipment. With the weather improving, laundry could now be dried during day, while a search was made to improve the situation. Social life was severely limited by restrictions. A highlight for personnel was the weekly, or bi-weekly visit of portable showers. Exchange visits took place between Platoons with organized inter-unit baseball games, there were few movies, but mail delivery improved.
2d AFCS – the unit departed by truck from AAF Station 415 at 1630 hours, June 12, with destination Camp D-5. It left this temporary station for Portsmouth which it reached around midday June 14.
Everyone drew about 10 days’ rations of candy, gum, and cigarettes. The unit left Portsmouth harbor at 1200 June 14 by LST and debarked at Omaha Beach at 2345 hours June 15 (low-flying German planes raided the beach that very night). A bivouac was set up for the night at Transit Area #5. Second Platoon left the Transit Area the next day at 1300 hours, and arrived at ALG A-1, St. Pierre-du-Mont, at 1430 June 16. It then moved to Boissel, ½ mile west, on June 18, in order to set up for Hospital operations. The Platoon was now very close to the front lines and was made responsible for medical care to ALG A-1 (Advanced Landing Ground # 1).
One ingenious measure to give a feeling of security to the patients was the sinking of entire ward tents into the ground. With help of the Engineer Group (constructing ALG A-1) a bulldozer was employed to dig a pit the size of a ward tent (about 4 feet deep), and sloping at the ends. The tent was then raised over the hole, with side flaps spread-eagled over the top surface. Surgery was raised the same, with the added improvement of tarpaulins over floor and sides. The tent was well ditched and remained dry for over seven weeks.
Search for missing unit equipment went on at the beach dumps, and scattered pieces were found at Army and Air Force dumps, although only about 75% of it was ever recovered.
Disturbing factors were the proximity of ack-ack guns at night, and the constant roar of planes taking off from the field during daytime. On June 27, Brig. General Malcolm C. Grow (AAF) inspected the unit’s installation and suggested that one entire side of the Admission tent should be cleared in order to better take care of emergency cases.
July 1944 brought the end of periodic night trips to the foxholes, and with diminishing air activities, Officers and Enlisted Men began to look around for improving tent life. One of the innovations was building a portable shower, rigged up from a barrel and the wing tank of a fighter plane. The mess began drawing B-rations and utilized a ward tent with tables, a counter, and three field ranges for the kitchen. Basic food supplies were stored in an adjacent pyramidal tent. Gravel was procured for around the wash cans used for mess gear. Two washing machines were now operational by using a spare X-Ray generator. About 36 medical cases were treated per week. Patients were evacuated with regularity to the 634th and 643d Medical Clearing Stations near Omaha Beach, where they were shipped back to the United Kingdom.
A large wall tent was used for a Day Room, and softball became the main sport. One amplifier was secured and after being connected to the radio in the Day Room provided regular news and music for all. Headquarters obtained a projector and made arrangements to bring in two movies a week from Ninth Air Force Headquarters. A large orientation map was overlaid with strings and thumbtacks giving a clear picture of the daily developments in the battle for Normandy.
Personnel changes, replacements, transfers, and promotions took place under normal conditions. Very few passes were honored in view of the current tactical situation.
3d AFCS – the unit left AAF Station 413 on June 19 and proceeded to the Marshalling Area at Broadmayne, Dorset. It left this temporary station by truck convoy on June 25 traveling to the embarkation point at Portland. The same night, it was about 2300, the unit boarded an LST and immediately set forth to cross the Channel under a cold rain. It debarked at approximately 2120 on June 26 at Omaha Beach, and after arrival hiked to Transit Area #4 to bivouac and spend the night under a general downpour. The following day, June 27, after breakfasting on K-Rats, the unit entrucked and proceeded to ALG A-2 where it arrived at about 1800 for another bivouac under shelter halves, but with better weather conditions. At noon the following day a short trip was made to the final site where they would set up for operations.
Due to difficulty in supply procurement, the unit had to beg, borrow, or steal for the necessary equipment to put the Hospital in operation. The missing equipment finally arrived July 13 at intervals being carried in 2 ½-ton trucks.
The first patient was received on July 4. Meanwhile the OR was improved, white sheets draped the walls, and separate smaller operating rooms were set up. Crates and salvaged lumber were used to build an overhead light, reflectors were improvised from captured enemy ammunition boxes. In fact as time passed on the need for more improvisation became very apparent. During the month of July several presentations of the ‘Purple Heart’ were made to a number of battle casualties. Nightly visitations by enemy aircraft took place, and as they always brought about a terrific barrage from the AA guns, flak and shrapnel fell heavily on numerous occasions, even penetrating some of the tents, with no injuries however.
The full Nurse complement boarded an LCI on June 16 for crossing the English Channel. The vessel was to become their home for the next 6 days because of unfavorable beaching weather. Late evening, June 22, the Nurses were taken to a pier in a smaller vessel and finally set foot on French soil. After being picked up by trucks and transported to the Transit Area, they were subsequently moved to a local Château, recently vacated by the Germans, where they spent a short night, sleeping on the stone floor without any blankets. After arrival at the Hospital location the next morning – a cow pasture – foxholes had to be dug and pup tents pitched.
The 39th Fld Hosp was one the (3) Field Hospitals being experimented with by the Army Air Forces in the ETO. It had been assigned to the Ninth Air Force, with instructions that each Platoon was to act as a separate Air Force Clearing Station, governed by Headquarters. Headquarters, comprising 4 Officers, 1 Nurse and 19 EM, was to handle all administrative matters between individual Platoons and higher echelons. The Chief Nurse, although assigned to Headquarters, would perform her duties with the Platoon to which she was attached.
Each Platoon would consist of 4 Medical Officers, 1 Dental Officer, 1 Medical Administrative Officer, 6 Nurses, and 57 Enlisted Men.
Since most of the supplies had not yet arrived from the UK, temporary arrangements were being made with the Ninth Air Force Supply Officer to see what could be done to remedy the situation. The first patients were received on July 4. On July 10, supplies for a whole Field Hospital Platoon arrived, thanks to the Ninth Air Force. Overall installations were operational within 12 hours after arrival. The non-arrival of the necessary supplies brought about numerous improvisations, procurement of water tanks, scrub sinks, stands, cupboards, was a major problem. Scrounging parties visited former German fortifications, white sheets were tailored to fit the operating tent walls and ceilings (to reflect lighting), copper tubing soldered to K-ration cans with small wires placed inside served for inserting scalpel blades for immersion in a disinfectant. Rubber tubing was salvaged from Plasma sets to make additional IV sets. Also missing were notebooks, ledgers for Doctor’s orders, ward records books, rubber sheets, caps, cans, sterile material. It was necessary to rely on ingenuity to carry out some of the treatments ordered with the very limited supplies and material available, as well as to provide for the maximum possible comfort for the patients under field conditions.
There were several nights of mass surgery, as a result of enemy bombings, plane crashes, and vehicle accidents, meaning that surgical cases far outnumbered medical cases. Work was often performed amid the incessant din of friendly antiaircraft fire.
In the evening of July 10, the first high-ranking visitors showed up: Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton (CG > First Allied Airborne Army), Maj. General Ralph G. Royce (Deputy CG > Ninth Air Force), and Colonel Edward J. Kendricks (Surgeon > Ninth Air Force).
August 1944 saw the 39th Fld Hosp reach its ‘peak’ in the field. All Platoons were kept very busy with a large census of patients, but as US Forces made one of the greatest drives in history and the front lines became more and more distant, the census started to fall off toward the end of the month.
Due to the fact that the Army was advancing so rapidly and that all outfits were moving up, difficulties arose. Instead of the usual short distances traveled to procure supplies, food, and water, distances had increased to such an extent that every available vehicle was kept in constant use. There was not only a considerable increase in the amount of liberated territory, with it came an increase in the number of airfields. Ninth Air Force from as far as 80 miles away were transporting patients to the Platoons. Battle casualties treated were nearly entirely Air Force personnel, and injuries from mines, booby-traps, and live ammunition were reduced, with battles farther away.
Liberty runs were now taken to Cherbourg, Barneville, and the Mont-St.-Michel. Forty-eight hour passes were authorized and most of the men visited the above places. More visits and inspections took place during August.
The 2d AFCS left its Air Strip at 0730 August 13, for Le Calvaire, where it arrived at 1300 hours the same day. Because of this move (by shuttle of nine 2 ½-ton trucks), all patients they served were redirected to the First Air Force Clearing Station. The remaining 20 patients were therefore also transferred to the First Platoon, since orders had been received to close the Hospital unit (certain surgical cases were transferred to the 5th General Hospital in Carentan). The Advance Party consisting of the CO, assisted by two other Officers visited the St.-Lô area on August 10, but as the initial site, ALG A-19 was still under construction, it was decided to look for another location. The best area appeared to be on a sloping pasture land, nearest the main highway between St-Lô and Bayeux, and approximately 5 ½ miles from A-19, i.e. Le Calvaire. Since the only available transportation were the four 2 ½-ton cargo trucks pertaining to the 39th Field Hospital, five additional trucks were obtained from the 2487th QM Truck Co (Avn).
The rolling land proved to be a boon to the sanitary arrangements, showers were well ditched, telephone connections were obtained by a direct line extended from Air Strip A-19, food supplies were drawn from a Class II truckhead three miles away, water had to come from St.-Lô by 250-gallon water trailers, communications with Headquarters were maintained by courier service over a distance of about 30 miles. Evacuation of patients from this area was accomplished to the 2d General Hospital, only 22 miles away. French farmers who had tripped over a German minefield were brought in on carts, given emergency treatment, and transferred to a French Hospital in Bayeux. Black-out measures were still effective, and extensions of tent doorways were constructed with help of a wooden framework and draping of extra GI blankets. Two rolls of heavy tar composition material (used for laying runways) were obtained to add floors in the Admission, Surgery and Dental tents. Fly netting was strung along the sides of the ward tent for protection against swarms of bees present over the area.
First and Third Platoons remained in their stations until the month closed. It was pretty certain that everyone was going to move again to follow the flying units as the front was quickly advancing toward Northern France…
The ‘special’ project involving Army Hospitals and Army Air Force units in WW2, to service both ground and flying personnel, was initiated and implemented in both the Mediterranean and European Theaters. Following Hospitals were involved and operated on an ‘exclusive’ basis for the US Army Air Forces: 4th Fld Hosp (MTO) 15th Fld Hosp (MTO) 34th Fld Hosp (MTO) 35th Fld Hosp (MTO) 26th Gen Hosp (MTO) 55th Sta Hosp (MTO) 61st Sta Hosp (MTO) 39th Fld Hosp (ETO) 40th Fld Hosp (ETO) and 56th Fld Hosp (ETO).
The 39th was prepared to move again early September of 1944. The organization now consisted of 23 Officers, 18 Nurses, and 193 EM. From mid to the end of September the Hospital was very busy; and within three days the bed capacity was filled. Although an Air Force Clearing Station, the 39th Fld Hosp took care of ground force, PW, and French civilian patients. At one time the bed capacity rose to 150 and an average census of 120 patients was registered for the last two weeks of the month.
Headquarters and 3d AFCS – both units departed from ALG A-2 at 0800, September 8. Transport of personnel and equipment continued through September 8, 9, and 10, 1944. The new destination was Chartres, where the units were to be housed in a French school, which the Germans had converted into a Hospital nearly four years before. Because of a shortage in trucks, help was requested from the 31st Transport Group, which agreed to loan four C-47s for the move (two would go to Second Platoon and another two to the Third Platoon). Combining movement by trucks and planes, all was finally transported on September 10, and during the same evening, the first patient was admitted. The stay at Chartres, France would last from September 10 – October 17. The building that was to become the new station was a former German Hospital, and before that, it had been used by the French as a school. German PWs were used to clean up the place before the unit moved in. For the first time, Third Platoon had the opportunity to work under almost ‘normal’ conditions, more suitable for a Hospital unit. Supply, Pharmacy, Laboratory, X-Ray, Linen room, Morgue, and the carpentry shop were all located in the basement. The OR was installed on the first floor (more accessible for patients), while a second operating room on the upper (second) floor was utilized as a blood-drawing room for the Hospital’s Blood Bank. Also on the second floor were the Medical wards, Convalescent ward, VD ward, and the EENT ward. Electricity sometimes failed, but with the help of a field generator, quickly remedied. Water was available, and shower facilities as well.
Being the only Hospital in the area, Army and Air Force personnel, French civilians, and German prisoners (large PW enclosure nearby) were accepted and treated. A large number of cases involved truck drivers from the famous “Red Ball” Express highway (many road accidents), which passed in front of the Hospital’s gates. For September 1944, there were 437 admissions, including 50 operating room cases. Caring for patients in such a large building with a limited staff was quite a job for the Platoon, and for a certain time, outside help from a few additional Doctors (3), Nurses (6), and Enlisted Men (6) pertaining to the 48th Field Hospital (not yet in operation) was obtained.
1st AFCS – the unit began transporting personnel and equipment at 0600 on September 8 from ALG A-3 for a permanent change of station. The trip first went to Alençon where a site had been selected. On September 10, the party returned to the original site at Cardonville, and again departed for a new location . On their way First Platoon arrived at the Hospital in Chartres (see above) and stayed overnight, this was a great opportunity to visit Third Platoon, since the units’ separation in April. The move in trucks of the “Red Ball” Express” furnished by the 1576th QM Truck Co (Avn) took place on September 10, and was completed September 11, after arrival at Grugies. The Hospital was in operation at Grugies, France from September 11 – 28, 1944. Organizations serviced in the area were those supporting many ALGs (Advanced Landing Ground), such as A-71, A-72, A-73 and A-74. Morale of the troops was good, evening passes and liberty runs were obtained to St. Quentin. Food served in homes where some of the men were guests was a treat. Movies and shows were presented. Several improvements in daily life were enjoyed by everyone, such as good acquaintances with the local inhabitants, fresh vegetables, better furniture, and even a piano was obtained.
2d AFCS – the Hospital unit received orders to prepare for movement to the general vicinity of Orly, near ALG A-47C and Paris. It started its journey with personnel and equipment, leaving Le Calvaire at 0900 September 8 by C-47, however, due to a change in tactical plans, new orders were received from the IX TAC redirecting the unit to ALG A-70, near Laon. The operation was completed by 1500, September 12. The Hospital unit became operational at La Bovette, France (September 12 – 28, 1944). The Hospital was ready to function in a limited capacity, patients being admitted from the day of arrival. The installation was set up in tents, with Surgery behind Admission, flanked by the Wards. Trees provided a certain protection from the wind, but the cold damp settled down in this area from the hills, and in a few weeks the weather had made the whole area into a mud hole! About 35 patients were admitted on a daily basis. There was a Château nearby Fourdrain, which had been used by a group of Engineers. Having been previously occupied by Luftwaffe personnel, it had been improved with mess facilities for two kitchens. Under verbal orders from the CO, the entire Hospital (including 45 patients) was transported by ambulances, trucks, half-tracks, and jeeps to the Château (only 1 mile away). Moving in on September 28, this was the FIRST building occupied by the unit. Life was a luxury now, with baths in every room, toilets on every floor, beds with soft mattresses, a large kitchen, and an antique dining room. Officers and Enlisted personnel were quartered in separate buildings with their proper Mess hall, Day Rooms, and recreational facilities. Passes were authorized to nearby villages, and personnel were invited a few times to local folk dances. The French Château occupied by the 2d AFCS was the most comfortable building anyone could remember in the ETO.
After two weeks, the Hospital left Fourdrain at 0830 arriving at St. Quentin at 1830, October 14; Approximate distance was 25 miles and required 30 2 ½-ton cargo trucks (seven on loan from the 2487th QM Truck Co (Avn).
The new place was part of a French Hospital, located on a hill in the NW part of the city. The building had been built before World War 2 but was never completed. It had been occupied by the Germans, and was being occupied by the French Army as a training station. The ‘Maison des Mères’ (maternity ward) was best suited for a small hospital of maximum 90 beds. Since it was in a very decrepit and dirty condition, German PWs were employed to clean it up. The heating and water supply systems were reconstructed with help from the Town Major and the Bureau for Aid to the Allied Forces.
Patients were evacuated either to the 99th General Hospital in Reims, or the 108th General Hospital in Paris. The Hospital provided medical service to six Air Strips, and the various Dispensaries on five of those airfields made regular calls at the Hospital, bringing in patients and taking them back to duty. Medical supplies were obtained from the 34th Medical Supply Platoon and by occasional requisitions for odd items through M-407 (Paris) or M-408 (Reims) Depots. Other quartermaster supplies were drawn through Team ‘A’, 26th Service Group.
Second Platoon moved from the French Hospital it occupied on the edge of St. Quentin to a School House located in Rue de Metz, St. Quentin, between 0800 and 1600 hours, January 3, 1945. Approximate distance was only 1 mile but required transportation of 20 loads on 2 ½-ton cargo trucks trucks borrowed from some Ordnance Groups in St. Quentin.
The new locality had been chosen by Oise Base Section Headquarters as suitable for the operation of a General Hospital. The Advance Party for the 197th General Hospital arrived during the last week of December and began preparations of the other buildings on the Hospital grounds for occupancy. They were beginning operations for the first time in France, and experienced some considerable difficulties in refitting the other sections with heating and plumbing fixtures. As soon as the Nurses of the General Hospital arrived, they wanted the building (the only heated and completely fitted with sanitary appliances), it became therefore necessary for this unit to evacuate immediately. It was finally decided to move the Second AFCS into an old French School House near the center of town. Men were detailed to clean up all five floors, and French plumbers were engaged to check the heating system. The new Hospital was ‘camouflaged’ with other buildings in the business quarters of St. Quentin. The entrance, located on a small street, was marked with the required signs on both sides, and a Red Cross flag was suspended in the middle of the street to identify the Hospital.
Despite the fact that the unit had only a short time to prepare the new building for occupancy, moving in on January 3 with over 40 patients, the various services continued to function so that a high professional standard could be maintained. Food rations and coal supplies were secured through Team ‘A’, 1074th QM Sv Co, at A-72. Supplemental Hospital Food Rations were drawn from the QM Railhead at Reims. Hospital laundry was arranged through Reciprocal French Aid once a week (but since inadequate, was sent a few times to 39th Fld Hosp Hq at Charleroi). The vehicle most used at the time was the ‘deuce-and-a-half’ cargo truck, which usually carried trash, picked up food and gasoline, medical supplies and also coal. Special Services organized regular movies, USO shows, and basketball games.
During the month of February, the 2d AFCS Hospital operated with a daily average of 37 patients, mostly coming from Ordnance and QMC Truck units within St. Quentin.
A 16-hour review course in Chemical Warfare Training was given from February 5 – 23. It consisted of lectures, demonstrations, films, and the use of sniff sets, including individual protection, first aid treatment, and a trip to the gas chamber. Another course on Water Purification had to be attended as well, lasting from February 13 to 22. Improvements in living conditions of personnel continued at the unit’s station. Water supply was improved by adding a chlorination unit in the public water main. Showers for the use of ambulatory patients were installed in each ward with the help of local plumbers. A mobile water heating unit was constructed to pump hot water into the EM’s shower room. The entire System of Supply was revised and a general survey held in all departments. Recreational activities were plentiful, and passes were given until 2200 hours in St. Quentin, and in addition one 48-hour pass became available each month. Most of the passes were taken to Headquarters at Charleroi, Belgium. Members of the unit were also invited to 2 parties given at 39th Fld Hosp Headquarters in commemoration of ONE year overseas.
A great advantage of consultation services in the 197th and 228th General Hospitals was used to the fullest extent. Ambulances from the various Dispensaries were routed to the two General Hospitals, as required, to pick up patients returning to duty. The system helped in getting discharged patients back to their parent organization with a minimum of delay. Meanwhile after a stay of three months at this location, the building was continuously dressed up and improved as possible in cleanliness and sanitation. Thirty-five (35) new signs identifying the Hospital were painted and posted at street corners throughout the town, and a flagpole was raised and extended from the fourth floor to display the Stars and Stripes over the center of the building.
The 2d AFCS, still located in St. Quentin, operated with a daily average of 35 patients, gradually diminishing to 12 by end of April. The departure of the Bomber and Service Groups on A-71, A-72 and A-73 worked out very smoothly, and the Hospital tried to return as many men as possible to duty, in time for their units to make preparations for moving. With the number of patients declining, the French civilians who helped clean the Hospital building were dismissed, and men in the unit took over. Periodical inspections were still held to keep everything at a high standard.
Medical supplies could no longer be obtained from the same sources (the unit moved), and therefore it became necessary to drive to Q-183 Depot in Amiens, France, for rations. Clothing and other supplies came from a major QM Depot at Reims. Softball games (sponsored by the 228th Gen Hosp) were scheduled between six teams on three nights a week and Sunday afternoons. Movies were shown every night, and the number of 48-hour passes to personnel was increased, with night passes within St. Quentin, now valid until curfew time at 2300 hours.
Many listened to the radio installed in all parts of the Hospital, eagerly following the news events foreshadowing the end of the war against Germany…
Crossing into Belgium:
On October 14, 39th Field Hospital Headquarters and Third Air Force Clearing Station were informed that they were to move. The Hospital stayed in operation until October 16, meanwhile evacuating patients and packing equipment. Due to bad weather the Advance Party could not leave before October 17. Three days were spent transporting personnel and equipment with help of five C-47 transport planes. On October 20, the Hospital was ready to receive its first patients. The new station was set up in the middle of Charleroi, Belgium. The Hospital building was barely completed in 1939, just before the Germans invaded the country. It was a five-storey yellow brick building very clean and neat in appearance, with marble and tile floors, completed at the instance of the occupation forces during the war. Belgian Civil Affairs furnished the necessary manpower to help keep the place clean. The building included a modern laundry, three elevators, a complete kitchen, and adequate room for all personnel. The Hospital was always very busy, and by the end of the month patients numbered around 100. The most outstanding contribution for the month of October was made by the WAC Detachment at “Bombay Headquarters”, who supplied whole blood, when there was a desperate need for it. Evacuation of patients was done to the 15th General Hospital in Liège, and toward the end of October to the 130th General Hospital in Ciney.
November proved to be nothing but routine. The winter had slowed down the Allied offensive, front lines had advanced very little, and very few battle casualties were received. Inspections took place and 2 additional Medical Officers were obtained, while 12 EM were assigned from the 171st, 172d, and 173d Replacement Companies. Among recreational activities and shows, there was a well-received visit by Marlene Dietrich to the Hospital on November 25.
The Third Platoon, although established to individually accommodate 100 patients at any one time, as a separate operational Hospital, was unique since it was combined with Headquarters, which gave it some additional staff of 2 physicians, 2 dentists, 3 MACs, 1 Chaplain, 5 Nurses, and a complement of 63 EM. Before December 1944, an average of 340 patients was admitted per month, and the unit functioned more in the capacity of an Evacuation-General Hospital, doing much elective surgery and conserving the strength of the Air Force units it serviced. Because of the threat of being overrun by the advancing enemy, the 130th General Hospital in Ciney, and next in the 39th’s chain of evacuation, was forced to close and move in with it, as German armor began shelling their installations. Leaving a skeleton medical staff behind for the seriously ill, the CO ordered all personnel and moveable patients to travel by motor convoy to the 3d AFCS Hospital. In one evening, 60 patients and over 100 Doctors, Nurses, and Enlisted Men descended on the 39th unit without warning. Upon arrival, patients were triaged, extra blankets and cots were secured, and towels, bedsheets, and bars of soap distributed.
The Hospital began to bulge with patients the following days, the mass exodus of patients and personnel (of the 130th GH) crammed all available space, and an explosion of an ammo truck in the local railroad terminus had already previously filled many surgical beds. Air Strips serviced by Third Platoon were strafed by enemy planes and wounded began to arrive by the ambulance load. The 10th Evacuation Hospital began to evacuate from their location near Namur, because their evacuation rearward was disrupted. The 11th Replacement Depot at Givet, France, deprived of its source of evacuation, began to send over 40 patients a day too. 9th TAC made a strategic withdrawal from its front line position and sent many patients to Charleroi. To top it all, First Platoon (39th Fld Hosp) was ordered to evacuate all its Nurses and patients to the Third Platoon in anticipation of a six-hour move-order from their threatened area at Hoegaarden.
Halls of the Hospital building were lined with folding cots, and with the influx of patients continuing unabated, the less seriously wounded had to sleep on litters in the Ward aisles. Three additional Ward tents were pitched behind the Hospital in anticipation of even greater numbers of wounded. Everyone was on a 24-hour duty status, and daily admissions climbed from 20, to 59, to 65. Several key men and women of the 130th were asked to assist in the Hospital’s operation.
The Surgeon, Ninth Air Force, realizing that the 3d AFCS was one of the only Hospitals operating west of the Meuse River in this sector, arranged for Air Evacuation. A planeload of blankets and litters was flown in, and on the way back, the plane took 18 litter patients. For five days thereafter, until the weather turned really too poor for C-47 aircraft, 87 more patients were so evacuated. After this period, evacuation was handled by ambulance convoy. The Surgeon, 9th TAC, ordered all units in his command to send every possible ambulance to the 39th, and large convoys made daily trips to the 90th General Hospital in Bar-le-Duc, and later the 178th General Hospital in Reims, France.
ADSEC (Advance Section, ComZ) came to the rescue by ordering Hospital Trains to stop at Charleroi on their way from the front to Paris. By this additional means, it was possible to finally reduce the patient census to less than 100 by January 23. The highest census for any day was 260 at the height of the German attack. Trips for supplies to Liège, Reims and Paris were made almost daily. Of the 823 patients admitted in December 1944, 437 were Ground Forces and 386 Air Forces. Although anxiety and nervous tension prevailed, the local YMCA and Rotary Club combined to give a Christmas party to the patients and personnel. They brought in a large Christmas tree, decorated it, and rehearsed carols in English, and a group of 30 Belgian parents and their children offered songs and dances to the personnel. Everyone who could walk or be moved was present to see the tree and receive a small present.
As the Allies pushed back the Germans in the Ardennes sector, the Russians made their spectacular advance toward Berlin, the salient on the First and Third Army fronts had been almost completely reduced. The patient census now registered below 100 and stayed there. During the period lasting from December 23, 1944 to January 23, 1945, 1293 patients were received! Patients often arrived in groups of twenty to forty. After the ‘Battle of the Bulge’, Hospital trains did not yet run daily, but every second or third day. All the personnel of the 130th General Hospital had meanwhile returned to Ciney and re-established their Hospital in its former building. The city of Charleroi was put on bounds again, and everyone was happy to get out of the Hospital after such long restrictions. Many units returned to Charleroi and its vicinity, including the 9th TAC and affiliates which moved back to Verviers. The weather took a sudden turn for the worse, and snow began to fall in January, and roads became either impassible or so slippery that traffic was at a complete standstill. Road accidents increased, several men were down with severe upper respiratory conditions, luckily, evacuation by Hospital Trains went on.
The beginning of the new year found the 39th Field Hospital stationed in Charleroi, Belgium. The period proved to be a decisive one for the Germans, their counter-offensive launched in the Belgian Ardennes was beat back and the Allies resumed their advance in direction of the ‘Fatherland’.
Arrangements for continued evacuation of patients were carried out by Hospital Trains, which proved an excellent system. The country was still covered with snow and travel by motor was almost impossible, causing numerous accidents, which brought the Hospital census up. New Officers and Nurses joined the organization and transfers to other medical organizations took place. With the month of January 1945 came the thought of returning home, with a consequent upswing in morale and enthusiasm. The war was going well and victory seemed inevitable now!
January was to be especially remembered because for 6 consecutive days, the Mess served fresh eggs every day. The Colonel’s birthday was a grand party celebrated with a combined banquet at a local restaurant, where steaks and French fries were the main course. Inspections were held and Ninth Air Force Headquarters found the unit’s situation very satisfactory. Another lighter spot was the entertainment by an all-woman orchestra of the Café de la Bourse, Charleroi, who, dressed in Spanish costumes, played all kinds of classical and popular music. Movies were shown, including two special films, “The Battle of Russia” and the “Battle of China”. Several Officers were on detached service with the Hospital for a varying period of time, and some of these would become permanent members of the unit.
During the month of February 1945, all men were physically inspected to see if they met the qualifications to be assigned to the Infantry! There was an urgent need for combat personnel and a certain percentage would be called from the outfit at intervals, the first one coming on February 15, which cost the Platoon 8 men, who were sent to Reinforcement Depots.
The 769th Army Air Force Band visited the Hospital, and three movies were now available each week. An Officers’ Club and an Enlisted Men’s Day Room were put in use. As the month ended, the men got high hopes of an early Victory in Europe, because of the American offensive against the Ruhr and Rhine, and the Soviets’ advance in the east.
For the first time, since arrival on the continent, a case of VD was reported in the Third Platoon, and the Enlisted Man was immediately placed under intensive penicillin therapy.
Innovations and improvements in living conditions continued, and ice cream, made from powdered milk, was now served twice a week. Novel types of soups were tried, hot biscuits and buns were prepared, and many new cakes and pies appeared. The PX came forward with new ideas too, several watches, alarm clocks, and cigarette lighters were raffled off in conjunction with the usual sales. Coca Cola was obtained for all three Platoons. Clubs for Officers and Enlisted Men were opened. Also interesting was the fact that the FIRST WACs were admitted; a Detachment of WACs moved into Charleroi with “AJAX” 8th Fighter Command Headquarters, and two of them were received for illness.
A new organization was introduced. Colonel Coughlin, 56th Field Hospital, coordinated all 9 Platoons of the three Field Hospitals in the Ninth Air Force, and paid several visits to his units during February. One of the goals was to bring all Platoons together so that each had similar personnel and equipment proportions, and would function similarly in their medical practice.
Tec 3, Addison J. Davis, ASN 33110098, was honored by the salute of the entire Third Platoon and Headquarters in a ceremony commemorating his being awarded the Bronze Star Medal on March 21, 1945. For the first time in the history of the Ninth Air Force Field Hospitals, an Enlisted Man was awarded the Medal for superior performance beyond the line of duty. The only somewhat disturbing event was the steady stream of troop carriers and gliders droning over the Hospital and on their way to the Rhine. With the crossing of the Rhine at many points, the Hospital overhauled its tentage in anticipation of a possible move into Germany in the near future. During the month of March, 729 patients were admitted and treated, and 2144 outpatients were seen in the Dispensary. Also enemy PWs and British and Canadian troops were brought in as well.
On September 26, the 1st AFCS Hospital was alerted for another change of station. Patients were transferred to Second Platoon and to the 108th General Hospital. The First Air Force Clearing Station departed from Grugies September 29, with the assistance of cargo trucks and half-tracks secured from the RTO at Laon. Orders directed the unit to Belgium. The new permanent change of station was to be the town of Hoegaarden, Belgium which they reached the next day. The change from field conditions to the relative comfort and security of a building was welcomed by everybody. The building itself was a four-storey brick structure with tiled or linoleum-covered floors throughout, and large enough to accommodate the Hospital.
In this location, there was a much higher percentage of Air Force patients than in Normandy. Units serviced by First platoon included the 36th, 48th, 363d, 365th, 368th, 373d, 404th, 474th Fighter Groups and their supporting units, the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, and the 70th Fighter Wing. The highest patient census however was only 49, with an average of 27 for October. Occupation of the building had been made possible by the ‘Soeurs de l’Union du Sacré Coeur’ – ‘Sisters of the Union of the Holy Heart’ who had been extremely cooperative in all matters, particularly in maintenance. They also supplied large tureens of soup prepared in their kitchens and fresh fruit delivered from their orchard. The people of Hoegaarden, Tirlemont, and the Belgian Red Cross were equally very supportive, sending large baskets of fruits and flowers to the Hospital. Many buzz bombs could be observed flying over the city. Many V-1s being on their way to Liège and to Antwerp.
Promotions were celebrated, motion pictures were secured for entertainment of patients and personnel, radios and extra amplifiers were obtained. The unit traded Chaplains. Passes were given for visits through Belgium and its capital city Brussels.
Armistice Day (November 11, 1944) was celebrated by the Belgians and a detachment comprising 1 Lieutenant and 16 EM marched in the official parade through Hoegaarden. The men were later entertained at a beer party offered by the Hoegaarden Brewery. Thanksgiving Day was the highlight of the month and the traditional turkey dinner was served; it was the best meal the Mess had ever served! A motion picture projector was sent by Headquarters and contributed to the entertainment of both ambulatory patients and hospital personnel.
During November there were no casualties, awards, or promotions, though a few transfers took place.
On the morning of December 19 orders were received to evacuate all patients because the Germans had launched a major attack and pushed American lines far back into part of Belgium. The Hospital was alerted as it might have to move suddenly to keep from being surrounded and trapped! Although personnel didn’t really feel to be in real danger, they could not help appreciate the seriousness of the situation and what some of the ‘boys’ were having to face in combat. Armed guards were to be posted at the gates. On December 23, or 24, orders were to evacuate the Nurses and their personal belongings. They put all their excess luggage in the care of the Sisters and left. Meanwhile, a number of EM collected candy and gum among themselves and distributed two large boxes among the school girls and the children of the town, after all it would soon be Christmas. As things cooled down, in fact the Germans never got through to Hoegaarden, the Nurses returned the evening of December 31. On New Year’s eve the Major called everyone to the Mess hall for greetings – the cooks mixed a large tank of punch, and the CO furnished the necessary spirits with which to spike it, after finishing the drinks, a movie was shown, and then, come midnight, everyone raised the roof, wishing the best to everyone (there were only two patients in the Hospital at the time).
In January and February there were few changes in the organization, except for some other transfers, from the 1st to the 2d Platoon. The only sad event was the departure of the CO, Major Paul C. McAndrew, MC, on February 25, to a General Hospital for reasons of ill health. He was temporarily replaced by Major Carlton A. Fleming, MC.
An Advance Party departed from Hoegaarden, Belgium for a permanent change of station on March 9, 1945. The complete unit left on March 10, arriving at the village of Bies, Holland the same day. The Hospital set up operations in part of a Boy’s Parochial School building. Several days were spent cleaning the building which was in quite a poor condition, from a sanitary point of view. As the unit was located quite far from any troops to get much ‘business’, this stay became pretty much of a rest period. The unit already left Bies March 30, arriving at Maaseik, Belgium, without incident. The unit set up in a modern building, spotless clean, bright and airy. This was no doubt the finest building structure ever had. Its location, much closer to the nearby airfields was an asset to adequately be able to care for the Air Force sick and wounded.
The First AFCS was still isolated at Maaseik, Belgium, although the location itself was most fortunate because of the proximity to Airfields Y-29, Y-30, Y-44 and Y-55 occupied by Fighter Groups, but with the rapid progress of Allied Forces eastwards into Germany, these Groups moved to the east and the fields were now occupied by Bombers. The census of the Hospital Platoon varied between 30 to 50 patients a day, tending to increase toward the end of April. Evacuation took place by ambulances which were routed to the 25th General Hospital at Tongeren, Belgium.
Meanwhile, arrangements were made to improve mess and kitchen conditions and group the facilities in a school building around the corner. Patients could then be fed on the wards from food kept warm in insulated containers. Filled with hot food, the containers were transferred rapidly by vehicle to the Hospital building and distributed by the wardmasters. As the city of Maaseik did not possess a water system, the Hospital installed its own pump and storage tank.
The long absent movie projector (multiple breakdowns) was returned and after further repairs functioned in a fairly satisfactory way. A Venereal Disease Control film as well as other Training films were shown. A ‘live’ jeep show entertained the Hospital patients in a nearby hall on April 26, it was put together by the 16th Special Services Company.
On April 28, news was received that US and Russian troops had linked up on the Elbe River, and the end of the war seemed imminent…
There were strong rumors about a possible move into Germany, and a small party left to locate a good place for the Hospital. Then came confirmation that it was to be France, in lieu of Germany. The CO left for France after receiving the necessary movement orders directing a change of station in the vicinity of Cambrai. After securing a TB Preventorium for Hospital, the Advance Party, upon arrival on site was informed that the building had been returned to the local French authorities. Another site was then chosen at Havrincourt, France, approximately nine miles from Cambrai. The Advance Party left Maaseik once more, it was 0915, June 17, 1945 and the remainder of the unit personnel and equipment arrived on June 18. The Hospital was set up in the small Château d’Havrincourt, occupying most of the building. 6 Ward and 4 Pyramidal Tents had to be erected for Dispensary, X-Ray, and Day Rooms on the back lawn.
The outstanding social event in the unit since its formation and overseas assignment was the wedding of 2d Lt. Florence D. Jedrezak, ANC, N-772389, and 1st Sergeant Elwood B. Smith, MC, ASN 36510260. It took place on June 21 in a church near the Hospital grounds. The newly-weds were off to a 7-day honeymoon in Paris shortly after the ceremony with the best wishes of the entire unit (the bride’s gown was made from a brand new parachute).
Lt. Colonel Henry A. Seaman took off early on the morning of June 21 for Paris to find out where and by what route the unit was to move next – he returned in the evening stating that all personnel was to sail for the States October 15, and would remain operational for a while in the Zone of Interior, instead of being redeployed in the CBI. Operations would continue in the present set up until September 1, at which time the Platoon would cease operation and turn in its equipment.
The Hospital functioned less than two weeks after its arrival, with 22 patients still being treated on June 30, 1945. There was indeed very little outside of routine treatment of illnesses and wounds, battle casualties were very few, and unusual. Evacuation of patients was carried out by ambulance to the 197th General Hospital at St. Quentin, France. There was no Air Evacuation in the past three-month period. The Dental Section made a complete dental survey of all personnel. As there was a very limited amount of work, it was hard to keep all the Nurses on duty. All leaves were completed and usual passes were given each month.
Early August rumors were getting wilder, personnel heard that the outfit would return stateside, but that 90% of all Enlisted Men were to be transferred and replaced by high point men! There was news about ‘new’ weapons to be used against Japan; On August 16, a broadcast by President Harry Truman was received, stating that Peace was declared and a Cease-Fire Order had been issued. The War Department also announced that points would be lowered to 75 (instead of 85).
Inspections went on, numerous passes were obtained, and personnel started wearing neckties again. On September 8, formation was called, and in an official ceremony, Good Conduct Medals were presented by Colonel H. A. Seaman (CO > 39th Fld Hosp) and Major C. A. Fleming (CO > 1st AFCS). After formation, the Colonel addressed the troops and informed everyone that the unit would move to the assembly area October 15, and sail for the States on October 21, he predicted that most of the men would be out of the Army by next Christmas. All unit equipment was to be turned in, when the Platoon would move in with Third Platoon.
Men listed with high points were to leave the unit September 16 to join the Third Platoon. Transfers occurred, and a number of Officers moved on to the Second Platoon, and to Germany (Bad Kissingen).
Amiens, France, was reached at 1030 September 12, and after setting up, dinner was arranged with EM, Officers and Nurses during which the CO announced that the shipping date would be postponed to November 21. 39th Field Hospital Headquarters and 3d Platoon, and 1st Platoon were now reunited!
More news was received and word came that men in the unit with 70-77 points or more would leave for the States by October 7, followed by men with 60-70 points next November and December. By end of September – early October, new Nurses came in as a number of them left for home.
The Second Air Force Clearing Station was still stationed in Northern France in January 1945. By the end of April, it was the only Ninth Air Force unit remaining in St. Quentin, France. It was later relocated to Germany.
(There are no official entries or reports covering the period of December 1944, when the Germans launched their counter-offensive, creating a “bulge” in the American lines –ed).
|Commanding Officers – 39th Field Hospital|
|39th Field Hospital||Major Henry A. SEAMAN|
|Headquarters 39th Field Hospital||Captain William W. JACK|
|First Air Force Clearing Station||Major Paul C. McANDREW
Major Carlton A. FLEMING
|Second Air Force Clearing Station||Major Andrew K. TEMPLES|
|Third Air Force Clearing Station||Captain William E. SEILER
Captain Francis O. WARD
April brought new orders for Headquarters, to move into Germany, enemy country!
The daily census ran between 80-85 patients. On April 7, the Advance Party of the 56th Field Hospital bivouacked overnight at the Platoon’s installation (Charleroi) and were very impressed with the Hospital. They departed for Germany the next morning. On April 12, the CO sent out 2 Officers with instructions to find a suitable location for the Hospital. Final determination as to whether the 2d AFCS or the 3d AFCS would move into Germany had not been made at that time.
April 13 brought the tragic news of President Roosevelt’s death.
On April 18, it was announced that the Hospital was to move into Germany on short notice. All wards and offices were taken down to an operative minimum and the equipment was packed. Headquarters and 3d AFCS moved from Charleroi, Belgium, to Rhoda, Germany by motor and air for another permanent change of station. An Advance Party of 4 Officers and 25 EM had already left at 1300, April 24, 1945, while the main body departed on April 28 by air (because of heavy rain and snow). The 39th’s mission was to provide medical support to the XXIX TAC.
The building taken over by the Hospital was a textile factory, evacuated by the Germans two weeks earlier. As the building was very large, only a portion would be used i.e. only one floor conveniently facilitating the handling of patients. There was no question that the war had passed by only two weeks before in Rhoda. The town had apparently not be bombed a great deal. The streets were jammed with Russians, Poles, French, Belgians and a smattering of every other people, recently liberated from their concentration and/or labor camps nearby. Non-fraternization was in evidence everywhere, and none paid the least attention to the Germans and their demands. The first thing the unit did was to get settled as soon as possible and find places for the Emergency OR and the Admission room. There obviously was no place in this building for Officers’ and Nurses’ quarters, so two houses nearby were simply requisitioned. The inhabitants were allowed to leave and take their blankets, clothes and cooking materials along, but all beds, furniture and other usable items were to be left. The people seemed resigned and completely subjugated, however, the undercover looks of hatred could not be missed. None of the Hospital’s personnel asked for a pass.
The building was a former mill, which manufactured clothing for the Wehrmacht and also shell cases. Bolts of gray-green and camouflaged cloth littered the storerooms and different types of unfinished uniforms were racked up. The men immediately began to deck themselves out and within two hours it looked as though a new ragged Volkssturm had risen. Some of the men slept in new clothes that had not been removed from the factory, and some found silk pajamas in one of the rooms.
With help of 3000-5000 French, Belgians, Dutchmen, Poles, and Russians who were housed in the far end of the same building, a French Captain (processing the repatriation of ex-PWs to their home countries) assigned a number of men to clean up the place and do much of the heavy work. These ex-forced German laborers thanked the unit for the privilege of letting them work for it, and in compensation they were fed and received cigarettes. They had only been liberated from their camps the day before and tasted butter and white bread for the first time in nearly five years.
When the major party arrived with Officers, Nurses, and several loads of equipment, they were accompanied by 20 Belgian civilian women who were engaged to do the cleaning. After four long days, the whole Hospital area had been cleaned so that it could withstand an inspection!
The drama of the Allied Prisoners of War unfolding before the men’s eyes could hardly be expressed in words.
These were the men who were only paragraphs in newspapers before, they could now be seen as individuals, each with their families waiting at home, each with hates and loves of their own, just like everyone of their ‘liberators’.
|Overseas Movements of the respective 39th Field Hospital Platoons|
|1st AFCF||2d AFCF||3d AFCF (combined with 39th Fld Hosp Hq )|
|Newport, South Wales||Newport, South Wales||Newport, South Wales|
|Grove, Dorset||Grove, Dorset||Grove, Dorset|
|AAF Station 519||AAF Station 519||AAF Station 519|
|Fairwood, Wiltshire||Bistern, England||Cranbrook, Kent|
|Braintree, Essex||AAF Station 415||AAF Station 417|
|Hursley, Hampshire||Portsmouth, Hampshire||Broadmayne, Dorset|
|Southampton, England||Channel Crossing by LST||Weymouth, Dorset|
|Channel Crossing by LCI||Landing at Omaha Beach||Channel Crossing by LST|
|Landing at Omaha Beach||St.-Pierre-du-Mont, France, ALG A-1||Landing at Omaha Beach|
|Cardonville, France, ALG A-3||Boissel, France||Cricqueville, France, ALG A-2|
|Alençon, France||Le Calvaire, France||Chartres, France|
|Grugies, France||Fourdrain, France||Charleroi, Belgium|
|Hoegaarden, Belgium||St. Quentin, France||Rhoda, Germany|
|Bies, Holland||Bad Kissingen, Germany||Amiens, France|
ALG or Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) was the term given to the temporary advance airfields constructed by the Allies during the liberation of Europe.
When the Allies invaded Normandy on D-Day, Royal Air Force Airfield Construction Service engineers were among those in the initial assault waves. Their mission was to rapidly construct forward operating airfields, known as Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs), on the European continent. As the Allied Armies advanced across France, Belgium, and into Germany, several hundred airfields were built or rehabilitated for use by the Allied Air Forces. For security reasons, these temporary airstrips were referred to by a coded number instead of location. In the United Kingdom, USAAF installations were identified by three digit (AAF) numbers ranging from AAF-101 to AAF-925. Following D-Day, continental airfields in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) were also assigned coded numbers. American airfields were given A, Y, or R, prefixes and numbered consecutively from 1 to 99. British airfields on the continent were also consecutively numbered, but with a B-prefix.
The numbering system for temporary Airfields was sequentially assigned as ALGs were allocated, not by location or by date of operational use. Examples: A-1, Saint-Pierre-du-Mont, was declared operational on June 13, 1944; A-3 Cardonville on June 14. However A-2, Cricqueville-en-Bessin, was only declared operational a few days later on June 16, 1944.
Many of these airfields had no combat air group or squadron attached to them. They were chiefly designed for casualty evacuation and supply transport and usually consisted of a quickly-built runway manned only by a small complement of station personnel with little or no infrastructure other than tents. As Allied Ground Forces moved further east, the demand for transport, supply, and evacuation fields increased dramatically. Bringing in ammunition of all types and especially gasoline on the trip to the ALGs on the continent, C-47 cargo aircraft on the return trip evacuated wounded to the rear. They would be collected and sent to the temporary airfield to be picked up for evacuation to hospitals in England or in other rear areas. Once completed, these Advanced Landing Grounds were usually utilized by the combat groups or squadrons within a day or so of being declared operational for military use by the IX Engineering Command. They could be used for a few days to a week, to several months, depending on their location, use, and operational requirements. Once the combat units moved up to the next assigned ALG, they could be utilized as Supply and Evacuation airfields, or closed and abandoned, with the land being released back to the landowners or the civil authorities in the area.
List of ALGs as mentioned in subject Unit History:
|Advanced Landing Ground||Open||Closed|
|A-3, Cardonville, France||June 14, 1944||September 1, 1944|
|A-1, Saint-Pierre-du-Mont, France||June 13, 1944||September 5, 1944|
|A-2, Cricqueville-en-Bessin, France||June 16, 1944||September 15, 1944|
|A-19, Saint-Georges d’Elle, France||August 14, 1944||September 7, 1944|
|A-71, Clastres, France||September 9, 1944||April 29, 1945|
|A-72, Péronne/Saint-Quentin, France||September 6, 1944||April 25, 1945|
|A-73, Roye/Amy, France||September 8, 1944||August 8, 1945|
|A-74, Cambrai/Niergnies, France||September 12, 1944||May 2, 1945|
|A-70, Laon/Couvron, France||September 9, 1944||May 23, 1945|
|A-47, Orly, France||September 5, 1944||November 7, 1945|
|Y-29, Asch, Belgium||November 20, 1944||June 20, 1945|
|Y-30, Le Havre/Octeville, France||November 2, 1944||December 15, 1945|
|Y-44, Maastricht, Holland||March 23, 1945||August 1, 1945|
|Y-55, Venlo, Holland||March 12, 1945||August 14, 1945|
1945 found the men and women of the 39th Field Hospital beginning the long journey back home. First and Third Platoon were merged at Amiens, France, while 2d Platoon was transferred to Bad Kissingen, Germany. A number of personnel from the First AFCS were transferred to the 2d AFCS before the 1st and 3d were combined (transfers took place on September 11 and 25, 1945).
It would seem that the 2d was then utilized as a Clearing Station for them all. On October 11, 1945, 26 men left Bad Kissingen, on the first lap of a long journey home. They were to be transferred to the 573d Signal Battalion in Kassel, Germany. At the time this Signal unit only consisted of 1 Officer and 1 EM, then it received 28 men from the 39th Fld Hosp (1st & 3d Platoons personnel) transferred from Amiens, France. On October 12 another 40 Officers and 200 Enlisted men arrived, and the remaining 1000 were expected to arrive by the evening of October 13. Processing would start on October 15, and final sailing date was October 20…
Dates kept being postponed, readiness date was now set on November 6; then suddenly orders came in on November 4, and about 500 people entrucked with destination Kassel, unloaded and stepped onto the good ‘old’ 40 & 8 boxcars with destination Stuttgart. After roll call formation, it was announced that the men were now part of the 429th Fighter Squadron (474th Fighter Group). Shipping date was planned for November 14. On November 19, the men left Stuttgart by train, and after spending the rest of the night traveling, plus another full day, France was finally reached by early morning of November 21.
Destination was Camp Phillip Morris (one of the ‘cigarette camps’). The group arrived in Camp Pall Mall instead, but just in time for breakfast, at about 0800 hours. After having pictures taken, washed and shaved, eating Thanksgiving dinner, everyone was transported to Camp Wings for further processing. Billeted in tents. the announcement came in that the 474th Fighter Group was inactivated! The group was broken up in Squadrons now and assigned to the SS “Madawaska”, sailing out of Le Havre, France, November 26, 1945.
The ship sailed at 0815, November 26, 1945 with about 1500 troops on board belonging to the 76th General Hospital and the 428th and 429th Fighter Squadrons. After a rough sea voyage, the ship reached New York harbor December 4 at 0630. Debarkation started at 0950, and then a train was taken for Camp Kilmer, on to Discharge …
The MRC Staff wish to thank Fred O’Keefe who was instrumental in providing them with the book “The History of the 39th Field Hospital”, compiled and edited by Nina Spurrier & James H. Carter. Mrs Nina Spurrier is the daughter of Tec 4 Elmer R. Spurrier (ASN:37412757) who served with the 1st AFCS (First Platoon) of the 39th Field Hospital from the unit’s very conception to its disbandment. Much of the above material, including a number of pictures, was extracted from this book. Fred O’Keefe is the son of Tec 5 Harold F. O’Keefe (ASN: 32596985), another member of the 1st AFCS who served with the 39th Field Hospital in World War 2.