Veteran’s Testimony – Eula M. Awbrey SforzaSecond Platoon, 12th Field Hospital
I was born on a snowy morning of 21 February 1920 in Fordsville, Kentucky as Eula Awbrey. My Parents were Rhoda Francis Young Whistle and Thomas Awbrey. After losing two of her four young children and her husband, my Mother later re-married, and out of this new marriage I was born first, followed by more children. Eventually, the family moved to Owensboro, Kentucky, and later to a small farm that we rented. Living conditions were poor, the kids were often sick, my Dad was not really a farmer, and life in general was rather primitive as there was neither electricity nor running water. My only playmate was a dog named Blackie …
One day, Father disappeared, and he was gone for ever, leaving us, my Mother, my little sister, and me. I went to school in a tiny town called Kirk, also in Kentucky and received my eighth grade diploma from that school. I remember having to walk to it as there were no buses at that time. After moving some many times, our family finally managed to find a house with electric lighting, a real bathroom, and a school within easy walking distance. In 1938 I graduated from High School, but as I couldn’t find a job, the family doctor encouraged me to investigate nursing, and even offered to take me to visit St. Mary’s Hospital, Evansville, Indiana, and talk to the Sisters there. That’s where I became a Student Nurse. Training was interesting as I liked taking care of the patients. It was a hard life, as we had classes each day after work. While training and because of the lack of personnel, all students had to work in shifts and furthermore were expected to take calls for the operating and delivery rooms, including assistance with postmortems!
I must say that the many hardships endured in my early life helped me overcome the war years when serving in a hospital, as a result I was better able to survive!
When the war with Japan began 7 December 1941, I was working a shift at St. Mary’s Hospital. I had graduated there 13 September 1941, and was living about two blocks away from the hospital, in a house where I and two other Nurses rented a private room, shared a bath, and used the kitchen for simple meals. With the outbreak of World War Two, I started to make plans for the future. Through the American Red Cross I volunteered for service with the Army Nurse Corps. I resigned from St. Mary’s (where I had worked for more than 3 years) and reported to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana (Finance Replacement Training Center, total acreage 2,823, troop capacity 736 Officers & 13,632 Enlisted Men –ed) on 1 May 1942.
A High School friend, Louetta Carter, also a Nurse, stepped off the bus with me at Fort Ben and reported for duty (she was later assigned to the 13th Fld Hosp –ed). A new life began for me, a 22-year old inexperienced and naïve girl, miles away from home, confronted not only with the strict rigors of military life but eventually also witnessing suffering, death, and untold misery.
At the Fort Benjamin Harrison Station Hospital (where we worked and trained), nursing techniques seemed under control except maybe psychiatry, of which I had never had any practical experience. Some of the patients were young GIs with psychological problems resulting from war experiences. Some had left wives and kids behind; some had their education interrupted; all had elected, either willingly or unwillingly, to serve their country (and many were to be discharged before they had ever had an opportunity to really serve –ed).
My next job was the psychiatric ward which would provide me with the only psychiatric experience of my military nursing service. Our Chief Nurse was Major Helgrin, who used to walk, or rather follow us, to a small nearby soda fountain to have a coke and gossip. She always pretended to walk her dog (called Caesar), but she really wanted to check on her naughty Lieutenants. Christmas and New Year of 1942 were spent at Fort Ben and an official reception was organized by the Post Commander including all the Officers assigned to his command. For recreation there were buses into Indianapolis for window shopping and lunch or dinner, and sometimes a movie.
Soon after New Year’s Day January 1943, it was announced that a Field Hospital was being activated, and that the Nurses serving at Fort Benjamin Harrison would make up the first group to go. I volunteered, and eventually received the news that I was to join my new outfit – the 12th Field Hospital. On 26 February 1943, I left by train for Camp Bowie, together with another sixteen (16) Nurses, under the command of Second Lieutenant Freda M. Martin.
The following Nurses were assigned to the 12th Field Hospital, Camp Bowie, Brownwood, Texas (Armored Division Camp, total acreage 116,264, troop capacity 2,237 Officers & 43,247 Enlisted Men –ed) effective 28 February 1943:
Second Lieutenant Eula M. Awbrey, ANC, N-728790 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Gladys E. Detwiler, ANC, N-729072 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Sevilla M. Durkop, ANC, N-728339 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Elaine Henry, ANC, N-729303 (left the unit)
Second Lieutenant Helen M. Horvath, ANC, N-728650 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Ann T. Jackowski, ANC, N-729034 (left the unit)
Second Lieutenant Elizabeth T. Kramer, ANC, N-728357 (left the unit)
Second Lieutenant Mary J. Maegerlein, ANC, N-728416 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Freda M. Martin, ANC, N-728351 (promoted Captain 1 Jun 45, and appointed Assistant Chief Nurse)
Second Lieutenant Mildred J. Pickett, ANC, N-728810
Second Lieutenant Mary E. Schreiber, ANC, N-728420 (transferred 4 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Mary J. Taddei, ANC, N-728616 (left the unit)
Second Lieutenant Florence E. Thompson, ANC, N-728890 (later promoted First Lieutenant)
Second Lieutenant Nola A. Thompson, ANC, N-728346 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Isle R. Williams, ANC, N-729187 (promoted First Lieutenant 16 Feb 45)
Second Lieutenant Irene L. Yeik, ANC, N-728404 (transferred 7 May 45)
Second Lieutenant Clara A. Young, ANC, N-728435 (left the unit)
Our Headquarters were at Camp Bowie and in the beginning we lived in barracks for a while. We were not destined to stay there permanently, but eventually move into tents among the snakes and the armadillos. The intention was to train and train we did. We learned to pitch simple pup tents, set up large and heavy hospital tents, and become familiar with all our equipment. Hikes and road marches were the norm in oversized men’s shoes, wearing leggings, toting backpacks, and helmets. We also learned to dig proper foxholes and latrine trenches. Bivouacs were often set up among the sand and tumble weed. During these field exercises, Officers usually ate in the back of a 2 ½-ton truck. Other ranks remained within the assembly area. The Hospital was made up of personnel from all over the United States, but everyone seemed to work together quite well. All our Medical Officers were married with wife and families back home; many Enlisted Men had also left families to serve; but all the Nurses were single as the Army didn’t accept married Nurses at the time. I can say that the best food we ever had during the war was in Texas. There was always an abundance of beef and vegetables, but we also had to gradually get used to C-rations and later K-rations! Our Texas bivouacs were designed to ease us into yet further rigorous training, which was to take place in May of 1943…
During classes we learned about Field Hospitals. We were told that a Field Hospital consisted of a Headquarters and three identical Hospitalization Units (or Platoons –ed) each being capable of independent action. The capacity of one single unit was 100 beds. The normal capacity of the Hospital as a complete unit was 380 beds. The Field Hospital could not take care of a big load of combat casualties requiring operative procedures without being reinforced professionally since it was staffed with Officers, Nurses, and Enlisted Men on the basis of a Station Hospital, rather than that of an Evacuation Hospital. After joining, the nursing staff was also informed about the new organization, its employment and training. It was made clear that both unit and group training were to be expected, and indeed training with other units was foreseen during large-scale maneuvers, based on consolidated planning and management by a higher authority.
Orders came in and on 28 May 1943 the organization moved to the Desert Training Center for combined operations. We were on the train for about two days and noticed the weather was becoming hotter (no air-conditioning –ed). About sunset of the second day, our train came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing in sight but a small building and sand, in fact miles of sand, and a small sign that read: Freda, California. Night was approaching rapidly, and our CO, Lt. Colonel George J. L. Wulff, Jr. was truly at a loss as to what to do with us Nurses. He decided to have the men set up cots for us so we could sleep in our bedrolls and he would post a guard to walk around the site the whole night. While this plan was proceeding a jeep pulled up. A Lieutenant jumped out and approached the Colonel to find out what was going on. This person was the Provost Marshal whose duty it was to patrol that particular part of the desert. Lieutenant Arthur B. Sforza, PM, explained that he might have a solution but needed some time to go up the road several miles to his camp and speak with his General about this. He promptly returned with a truck and invited us to be guests of the General and his command. We thankfully piled in with bedrolls and musette bags, and drove off. When we arrived at Camp Granite, tents and cots were waiting and we got a good night’s rest. The next morning, there were several EM waiting at a respectful distance to bring us water to wash and to fill our canteens. We had breakfast at the Officers’ mess and felt very honored guests all the time we were there (the Nurses stayed 3 days).
We returned after thanking the General for his hospitality and found our Hospital almost completely established. We only had to put the finishing touches to the wards. After being established in pyramidal and pup tents, the Hospital opened on 3 June 1943 and furnished station hospital coverage for troops quartered in the area until 21 June 1943. It was the 12th’s first operation, with patients, and under canvas. Our mission was to provide medical support for maneuvers which were to take place somewhere in the middle of that arid region. The 12th Field would remain in the desert from 25 June to 17 July 1943. Sand and thirst were a real plague, and we had to take salt tablets every day. Another problem was sleeping in the immense heat. Consequently the nursing staff worked out a system for the night shifts with work starting at 2200 hours and ending at 0500, thus allowing the Nurses to catch a few hours of sleep before the heat became unbearable. One thing we had to always remember, was to check our beds for snakes, spiders, and scorpions, and look into our shoes before putting them on. Sufficient water was always a problem in the desert, we used it sparingly, because it had to be hauled many miles, but nevertheless the men prepared a shower for us. Once in a while we were authorized to drive to Parker, Arizona, where we could have a swim in the Colorado River. After swimming we went into Parker to enjoy a cool drink and a fast-melting ice cream.
Desert Training Center: When the United States went to war they started building Divisional Training Centers and Maneuver Areas in Louisiana and Tennessee designed to handle up to two (2) Army Corps in a semi-military environment. It meanwhile became clear that the new conflict would be fought on a global basis requiring special training of the US Armed Forces. Army Ground Forces (AGF) opened four (4) special camps between March and September 1942 – the Airborne Training Command (Camp Benning, Georgia), the Amphibious Training Center (Tallahassee, Florida), the Mountain Training Center (Camp Carson, Colorado), and the Desert Training Center (Camp Young, California). The War Department sent George S. Patton, Jr. (CO > 1st Armored Corps) to California in March 1942 to establish a Headquarters for the Desert Training Center. He selected a site approximately 20 miles east of Indio in California. The Center was activated on 7 April 1942, at Hotel Indio, Indio, California. Out of the 87 Divisions of all types formed during World War Two, 20 (13 Infantry and 7 Armored) participated in maneuvers at the Desert Training Center.
Camp Young became the largest military post in absolute area in the Zone of Interior (and grew up to 28,000 square miles by mid-1943). Military installations were already located within or near Camp Young. An Ordnance Test Section (Camp Seeley), a Field Artillery Training area (Imperial), an Engineer Test Section (Yuma), an Antiaircraft Artillery Training Center (Camp Haan), all pre-dated Camp Young. The US Army Air Corps had Airfields at Victorville, Las Vegas, and an Air Depot at San Bernardino. The Desert Training Center stretched from west of Pomona, California, almost to Phoenix, Arizona, and from the Mexican border near Yuma north to Searchlight, Nevada. The Army built ten (10) temporary camps in addition to Camp Young for either use as Division Camps, or for combat and supply units (mostly built by the arriving troops). They were later considered permanent when concrete or wooden floors were added to the tents. The Camps were Coxcomb (Desert Center), Granite, Iron Mountain (Iron Mountain), Ibis (Needles), Clipper (Goffs), Pilot Knob (Ogilby), Laguna (Yuma), Bouse, Horn, and Hyder (the latter all in Arizona).
We had not been in the desert very long when our Chief Nurse arrived. Following her where a number of MAC Officers. They were Second Lieutenants Walter F. Koster; Claiborne H. Stokes; Richard J. Leyerle; and Theodore J. Regas. The unit now had 21 Officers, 18 Nurses, and 160 Enlisted Men. We were subsequently split up and divided so that we could function as three (3) independent hospitals – I was then assigned to Second Platoon. After completion of the maneuvers, the Hospital re-opened as a Station Hospital for only five days. It finally closed down on 28 July 1943. I almost forgot to mention, even in difficult moments, romances were beginning to manifest themselves, with some lasting the duration of the war and resulting in a wedding. Lieutenant Arthur B. Sforza and Bill Kitchen from Camp Granite (Iron Mountain) were frequent visitors to our camp, and as I found Art personally rather interesting (Art Sforza and Eula Awbrey would get married in Verviers, Belgium, 15 June 1945 –ed) I really grew very fond of him. Wherever we moved, the boys from the 183d Field Artillery Battalion always found us. We spent some very pleasant times together, even driving a tank one day.
While training, one of the more interesting, yet scary activities was the infiltration course. Our task was to crawl on our belly through ‘mines’, and under barbed wire, while a machine gunner was firing real bullets over our heads. Very impressive! Later we had to run and climb a wall and pull oneself over the top by means of a rope. Occasionally we were given a week-end pass to go to Palm Springs. It was heaven to be there, sleep in a real bed, eat real food, and cool off in a decent hotel swimming pool. On occasion we could catch a glimpse of some Hollywood stars too. Another week-end was spent at Los Angeles.
The unit departed from the Mojave Desert area 13 August 1943, arriving at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania (Training Center, total acreage 17,065, troop capacity 1,440 Officers & 25,562 Enlisted Men –ed), 17 August 1943. More Nurses were to join the unit on 18 August 1943, including: First Lieutenant Claudia M. Draper, ANC, N-703058 (later promoted to Captain and to become Chief Nurse); Second Lieutenant Vivian M. Robinson, ANC, N-735115 (later promoted First Lieutenant); Second Lieutenant Grace R. Boggs, ANC, N-760515 (later promoted First Lieutenant); and Second Lieutenant Eva D. Whittier, ANC, N-721894 (transferred 7 Jun 45). The Nurses were quartered at the Station Hospital. It was a pleasant place to stay, with plenty of recreation such as dances and shows, including a wonderful performance by the Benny Goodman Band. One day I received a surprise visit from Art Sforza who had been on leave in his hometown New York and stopped to see me on his way back to Camp Gruber, Braggs, Oklahoma (Division Camp, total acreage 65,447, troop capacity 1,882 Officers & 42,986 Enlisted Men –ed). He spent a few days at Harrisburg and we were happy with the war so far away …
Other ANC Officers who also were to serve with the 12th Fld Hosp joined us later in the war. They were: Second Lieutenant Mary E. Andrews, ANC, N-760347 (later promoted First Lieutenant); Second Lieutenant Virginia L. Towers, ANC, N-760853 (promoted First Lieutenant 1 May 45); Second Lieutenant Rita E. Murphy, ANC, N-732956 (promoted First Lieutenant 1 May 45); Second Lieutenant Thelma L. Raphael, ANC, N-721255 (assigned 13 Mar 45); and Second Lieutenant Rebecca Sack, ANC, N-759298 (assigned 5 Mar 45). First Lieutenant Frances R. Holt, ANC, N-771908, followed after VE-Day (assigned 13 May 45 & transferred 20 Jun 45).
Preparation for Overseas Movement:
One day orders came to pack and leave beautiful Pennsylvania and move to Camp Kilmer, Stelton, New Jersey. (Staging Area for New York Port of Embarkation, total acreage 1,815, troop capacity 2,074 Officers & 35,386 Enlisted Men –ed). We immediately knew we were gradually getting closer to our day of embarkation, but where would we go, North Africa ? Europe ? We still needed more training, such as how to abandon ship and survive in the water while waiting for rescue. As I had never learned to swim it took some courage to jump into the massive swimming pool, and although we were provided with life belts, it remained a terrifying experience for me.
We left the Zone of Interior 12 October 1943 on the “Queen Elizabeth”, a beautiful ship; how enormous she looked. She managed to load up to 15,000 troops with all their equipment. Leaving New York Port of Embarkation, we wondered where we were going to ? nobody had told us our destination… The voyage in itself proved uneventful. Officers and soldiers often played cards or gambled. Days were filled with routine activities; such as abandon ship drill, air raid drill, anti-aircraft fire practice, assistance at the dispensary, and only little time to sit on deck and sun a bit, because with so many people on board, we weren’t allowed much freedom of movement. The food served was British-style, horrible at times, with some dreadful combinations. Because of the pitching of the ship, dishes would slide back and forth during meals. After a few days at sea, I was dreadfully seasick and spent quite some of my free time in my bunk, being fed hard and dry rolls by some friends. Taking a cold shower in sea water was another unpleasant ordeal.
It took the “Queen” five (5) days to cross the Atlantic. After zigzagging almost all the way, she docked in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, 20 October 1943. Debarkation took place as rapidly as possible and before we knew it, we entrained for a southern destination, once more it was hush-hush, we were not told where the trip would go to.
We finally reached a place called Rhydlafar, near Cardiff, in Wales. Our mission there was to prepare a Station Hospital which would take over when we moved again. The installation consisted of a number of Quonset huts to house personnel and patients. Sixteen (16) Nurses lived in one such metal hut. Our beds were about three feet apart, like a real dormitory. There was a tap with running water and we had toilets that flushed! At the entrance to our quarters was a small room which we transformed into a cosy lounge. There was a pot-bellied stove for heating, but no chairs, so we sat around on the floor or on the beds. During our stay, we had passes to go visit places of interest and I visited Cardiff as often as I could. We also made friends with local people and were invited to spend some very pleasant evenings with them talking about home and listening to stories about Wales. Pubs were visited too, and that’s where we learned some local games. We discovered rationing and that food was in short supply, yet the population seemed to find a solution to their shortcomings. It was funny though to learn that when our Chief Nurse and some of her staff were entertained by the Cardiff elite, those ladies each brought sugar by the teaspoon for tea. When being accompanied by male Officers, we often had the advantage to travel comfortably in either a jeep or a command car. One night a group of us went into Liverpool to a concert. In the middle of it along came some enemy bombers. The conductor kept right on with the concert, he didn’t seem bothered. The bombs were getting very close and the music had to be stopped because we couldn’t hear it anymore. We remained there, sitting in the dark for a half hour or more, hoping and praying that none of the bombs would hit the concert hall. After the bombing stopped, the conductor calmly resumed. That was a night to remember!
We spent Christmas of 1943 in Wales. I wasn’t sure whether Art Sforza was in England at the time, but one day, I unexpectedly received a phone call, he was! I knew he would soon find a way to come and see me. The 183d Field Artillery Battalion was located near Chichester, England, and Art did pay me a visit. Our love remained strong (until the time he arrived in England, Art had been writing almost every day –ed).
Finally, the 348th Station Hospital arrived to take over from us on 1 January 1944.
Our next move was to Midhurst, and from there to Fernhurst, in Sussex, where we set up in temporary buildings (an ex-British camp -ed). The Nurses’ quarters were quite comfortable and had showers and flush toilets. In March of 1944, the unit was ordered to set up a tented Station Hospital for the purpose of caring for nearby American combat and service troops. Official opening took place on 8 March 1944. We varied the setup from previously used ward tents to pyramidal tents to make hospital wards. Five (5) pyramidal tents were pitched together in the form of a cross, one in center and four attached to the sides, thus affording more bed space and requiring less medical personnel to care for the patients. With such setup, a single Nurse could be situated so that she could observe what was going on in the entire ward. This arrangement was most advantageous when one (1) Hospital Platoon functioned alone! It should be noted that from the moment our unit arrived in Wales, black-out regulations were in effect.
Water, as always was a concern as we had to be very conservative in its use; fuel was also scarce, when burning, the coal gave off many sparks and many tents had holes burned in the canvas. As it was cold and damp, stoves were a necessity, yet they were difficult to start. Free time was filled with embroidery and crocheting. Food at the camp was not bad, I learned to eat Brussels sprouts and fried potatoes, and our cooks began to do great things with powdered eggs which were getting more edible with time. While at Midhurst we earned occasional passes to London where we could stay over in an American Red Cross billet, and visit the city and many of its beautiful monuments and places.
In late May of 1944, the 12th Field moved to Portland-Weymouth in Dorset. Our Hospital was set up under tentage at this location, with an accessible underground air raid shelter nearby, claustrophobic at times. Another unit nearby was the 50th Field Hospital also established under canvas on the city’s outskirts to receive most of the non-transportable cases for inland evacuation (extra support was rendered by the 12th and 109th Evacuation Hospitals stationed side by side near Portland-Weymouth to provide additional transit beds –ed). We did some surgery but most of the time waited for anticipated casualties from D-Day. There were several British-manned antiaircraft guns positioned along the coast near us. Our mission consisted in maintaining a Holding Hospital for non-transportable casualties evacuated across the channel from the French invasion beaches. We had twelve wards with operating rooms all ready and in a central location. Incoming patients were admitted to cots made up with sheets and blankets. Three (3) auxiliary surgical teams were attached to the 12th Field and consisted of 9 Medical Officers, 3 Nurses, and 6 Surgical Technicians each. This additional personnel relieved our own staff from long hours of duty and with their assistance no one was overtaxed. The 12th did not receive patients for three days after the Invasion. They did not come directly to us, but were triaged on the docks after being unloaded from the LSTs. They were then transported to our Hospital by ambulance. Most of the cases received were surgical ones or patients in shock requiring plasma and/or whole blood. There was also a Blood Bank as well as a limited amount of penicillin available to us. While on site, the organization endured many air raids which kept the antiaircraft guns quite busy much of the time. There were lots of naval craft in the harbor. I remember that one day we received a gift of gallons of ice cream from the Officers, it was a rare treat!
It was nice to learn that our unit really worked in combat situations and we were glad that the many trials and exercises we experienced in Texas and in the desert proved their worth! This was for real now and everything worked!
Stations in the United Kingdom – 12th Field Hospital
Rhydlafar, Wales – 21 Oct 43 > 27 Nov 43
Fernhurst, Sussex – 5 Feb 44 > 7 Mar 44
Portland-Weymouth, Dorset – 27 Apr 44 > 22 Jun 44
Southampton, Hampshire – 25 Jun 44 > 25 Jun 44
Before leaving for France, we closed the Portland-Weymouth Hospital and moved by motor convoy to Southampton, England. We had to wait for more than two hours for transportation. At the marshalling area, Hursley Village, Hants, in the vicinity of Winchester, we were quartered with the 46th Field Hospital (located about twelve miles from the marshalling area –ed) until it was time to leave England. We underwent another inspection, roll call, and received a small amount of French money (aka Invasion currency). When final orders came in 25 June 1944, our 21 Officers and 159 Enlisted Men left for Southampton, but where were the Nurses ? Captain Claudia M. Draper, our Chief Nurse had no embarkation personnel roster for us. She hurriedly typed up a list, but the rest of our outfit were already aboard LCI 495 and on their way to France. We really felt abandoned and were forced to take another boat across. From Southampton we embarked onto another LCI to cross over to Omaha Beach. This was 27 June 1944 and another bad experience for me as I was scared and seasick. When we finally neared the coast, we had to transfer to a smaller naval craft to get closer to shore where we eventually had to step into the water because it was impossible to continue further on to dry land. Once on the beach, carrying our musettes and wearing our raincoats, we were told to rapidly move up an incline to a RV point where we would be able to pause and take a breather. We were then given instructions for the march to our next assembly point, an Evacuation Hospital, already established on the beachhead. There were dead soldiers and abandoned equipment everywhere; while proceeding further we were reminded to stay on a narrow path because the Engineers had not had time to clear the entire area of mines. We remained only two days with this hospital. I remember taking a bath (well, sort of) in a helmet half-full of water and then washed my underwear and socks in it. As drinking water was also scarce we drank sparingly. Disregarding the large Geneva Convention marker between the tents, German aircraft came over and strafed the area.
Near this Evacuation Hospital was a morgue with the bodies of dead GIs who died on the beach. Lieutenant Freda Martin’s brother had gone in on D-Day (member 1st Infantry Division). Freda had a bad feeling that her brother might be lying among the dead in that area and she was going to look, so two of us accompanied her. We searched all the shrouds and blankets reading the dog tags, even though the man in charge said he had already checked them. Many bodies were incomplete, in passing among the rows, I looked down and saw a hand that looked like Art’s. I died a thousand deaths until I read the dog tag, it was not Art. I stopped and offered a silent prayer for the brave GI whose body lay there. We found out much later that Freda Martin’s brother had been taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in a German PW Camp.
Stations in France – 12th Field Hospital
Omaha Beach, France – 26 Jun 44 > 28 Jun 44
Cherbourg, France – 29 Jun 44 > 30 Jul 44
The battle for Cherbourg was still going on. Plans for the final drive against the city and port area initially developed 18 June 1944 by the US commanders were taking place. The Germans locked in the northern Cotentin peninsula were estimated at between 25,000 and 40,000 including Flak, Kriegsmarine and Organisation Todt workers. It was urgent to capture Cherbourg as a four-day storm struck the English Channel and the invasion beaches on 19 June, just as the delivery of supplies across the beaches was working smoothly and at full capacity. Unloading started falling behind schedule on both beaches (Omaha and Utah) as ferrying operations had to be suspended and small landing craft and artificial port installations at Omaha Beach broke up. The result was that unloading activities would not resume before 23 June 1944.
Nevertheless, on 21 June orders were given to resume the attack on Cherbourg. Following massive air, artillery, and ground attacks, American Divisions made significant progress penetrating the main enemy defenses. On 24 June, VII Corps closed in on the city, and the whole enemy defense started collapsing although some bitter last stands exacted heavy tolls of the attacking force. On 25 June the Allies opened up with a naval bombardment. Reduction of the numerous enemy positions continued, largely based on courage and initiative of individuals and small groups of Infantry. The following incident took place 25 June. At approximately 0700 hours, a German Medical Officer, Adjutant of the Naval Hospital, accompanied by a captured US Army Air Forces Officer, came through the lines of the 9th Infantry Division to request that the Hospital be spared from shelling and that plasma be sent for the wounded American PWs there. He was given the plasma and returned to Cherbourg bearing a demand for the immediate surrender of the city, which was rejected by the enemy. By 26 June US forces had found out that General von Schlieben (overall German Commander –ed) was staying in an underground tunnel and after sending in TDs to fire into some of the tunnels and threatening to blow up the stronghold, some 800 Germans, including Generalleutnant Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben and Konteradmiral Walter Hennecke, capitulated. The fall of the Arsenal on 27 June brought an end to all organized resistance in Cherbourg, except for the outlying fortifications. While the German Commander had surrendered and Cherbourg had fallen, some 6,000 enemy remained to fight on at Cap de la Hague. The last harbor forts in the Cherbourg area capitulated 29 June 1944. Over 10,000 prisoners had been captured in less than two days in the city and port area, including 2,600 patients and the complete staffs of two hospitals! Allied losses were 22,000 casualties, including 2,800 killed, 5,700 missing, and over 13,000 wounded. The enemy lost over 39,000 men.
Following the liberation of Cherbourg, Colonel E. Albert Aisenstadt, MC, arrived on 7 July 1944 to establish a Headquarters for ADSEC, ComZ. He was to take charge , supervise, coordinate, and liaise all activities of medical units in the Cherbourg area, including hospitalization, evacuation, training, and liaison, with the Army, Civil Affairs, and Military Intelligence (he was later appointed ADSEC Surgeon, Cherbourg area –ed).
After a couple of days, our Officers had all personnel and equipment together and we subsequently received orders to move to the Port of Cherbourg and take over the French Naval Hospital (Hôpital Maritime) there. For the trip to Cherbourg, we rode in the ambulances. We couldn’t see much but could smell gun powder and hear the shells going off as we rode along. We arrived in Cherbourg about mid-morning of 29 June 1944 witnesses to a horrible scene. The Naval Hospital was a rather impressive building. It had only been liberated a short time before our arrival, and the troops had not had the time to clear the place yet. Many dead Germans were laying about the grounds and upon arrival, we discovered that the Hospital still had patients in some of the wards, both Allied and German. There was no water supply, the mess hall was filthy, the stench from the dead and the garbage left behind was so vile we couldn’t even think of eating. We ate our K-rations outside the building, it was healthier! The Engineers came in to inspect and check the building for bombs, and they found many, well-concealed. The Germans had left them behind together with their wounded.
I was part of the operating team that went in. We found out surgeries had been done underground. The operating rooms were a horrible sight; there were dirty instruments everywhere, dirty linens were thrown about, and amputated body parts such as arms and legs even filled the trash cans. It took a great deal of effort to get that mess cleaned up enough to do any surgery there. Connected to the surgery was a long underground tunnel which had been used as barracks. There we found bunks with straw-filled mattresses along the walls. Our mission was to set up a provisional hospital until a General Hospital could take over. Eventually the complete Hôpital Maritime (Naval Hospital), except one wing to be operated by the Free French Navy, was to be taken over with a planned capacity for 1,500 patients.
Some of the Cherbourg fortifications had not been completely liberated when we arrived, and shells were being sent over the city from two small islands off the coast. We heard them scream when passing over our heads at night. Even though the Germans knew they were losing the war in Normandy, they intended to fight to the last shell!
On 10 July, the first contingent of civilian patients was moved from the 12th Field where they were being cared for, to the Hôpital Louis Pasteur. The remaining 250 patients were all transferred on 12 July 1944 (the Pasteur Hospital was subsequently turned over to the French –ed). The 68th Medical Group had meanwhile been able to evacuate all the freed Americans and the transportable German wounded, but about 400 German PW patients remained from the other two captured enemy hospitals.
It is strange what small things one remembers from the stark realities of war. The Nurses had rooms on the top floor of the Naval Hospital. We did sleep in real beds with straw mattresses which we first loaded with DDT, just in case there were bugs in them. They were comfortable and had been made with real sheets of pure unrefined linen, rough but real sheets! When we left Cherbourg I kept mine, and eventually made tablecloths out of them. They lasted thirty years. One of our Nurses, Isle Rose Williams, found some real eggs somewhere and one night we boiled them in a tin can in our quarters; they tasted like gourmet food after all those field rations we had been eating. Because of the work we didn’t have much time to make friends with the French at Cherbourg. We did however meet and talk to some of the French medical personnel, however. Our Hospital did make the news though. We were written up in the “Daily Herald” (dated 19 July 1944) by Iris Carpenter, a BBC war correspondent present in Cherbourg. At the time our unit consisted of 31 Medical Officers, 21 Nurses, and 194 Enlisted Men. Our unit was relieved by the 298th General Hospital on 27 July 1944. They took over Hospital Plant No. 4266 with a T/O strength of 56 Officers, 100 Nurses, and approximately 500 Enlisted personnel. Meanwhile, a section from the 30th Medical Depot Company was cleaning some abandoned warehouse to set up a new depot. Their first job consisted in checking the large lot of medical supplies left behind by the Germans. Headquarters, 428th Medical Battalion set up in the city to supervise all operations of the four (4) Ambulance Companies attached to it (they landed between 28 June and 8 July 1944 –ed). The 559th Motor Ambulance Company (Colored) also arrived in the city on 1 July and offered its services. In order to help support evacuation of the many wounded, Air Evacuation Holding Units were set up near the Querqueville airstrip including two Platoons from the 8th Field Hospital, supplemented by the 592d Motor Ambulance Company, and personnel from two Auxiliary Surgical Groups. The entire 9th Field Hospital arrived and was established as another Holding Unit near Tourlaville on 12 July 1944 to help organize air evacuation to the United Kingdom. On 20 July, the 93d Medical Gas Treatment Battalion reinforced by one Platoon of the 8th Field Hospital opened another Air Evacuation Holding Unit at Biniville, about 15 miles south of Cherbourg.
As I mentioned, the 12th was set up so that we could function as three (3) small independent Hospital Units. I belonged to Second Platoon, and from Cherbourg, we were sent to an open field near Valognes. An advance party consisting of 2 Officers and 17 EM and the equipment moved by motor convoy arriving at their destination at 1315 hours 31 July 1944. Works were still going on at the site. The main body with 14 Officers and Nurses, and 41 Enlisted Men left Cherbourg at 1500 hours by train reaching Valognes around 1615 hours. Once again our unit was established under tentage around 2000 hours the same day.
The unit opened to receive patients at 0001 hours, 3 August 1944, as requested. We did some surgery and also had some medical patients too sick to be exposed to the elements in foxholes. As it was warm, we usually had the sides of our tents rolled up, unless it was raining. There were three (3) Nurses to each tent. We dug our foxholes alongside the tent wall – one along the three sides of the tent. That way they remained easily accessible in case a German aircraft decided to dip down to do a little damage. It was real easy, we could just roll down from our folding cots into the foxholes and remain there until the strafing was over. However, we felt quite vulnerable because every night a small train stopped in the valley below us and waited while “bed check Charlie” tried to find it. The German plane was very punctual, but the train would cut its engine so as not to give its location away. We were lucky that “Charlie’ never found it because we would surely have suffered some hits and damage. It stopped that close to us. We received quite a number of visits from ETOUSA and SOS high-ranking personnel.
During the time, Second Platoon stayed a Valognes, Art’s 183d Field Artillery outfit was at St-Lô. He came back to see me whenever he was bringing in supplies or mail to his Battalion, and we would enjoy each other’s company for a while. At the time my unit was at that location, Third Platoon was functioning near Barneville, while Headquarters and First Platoon were sent to Avranches.
While there we were visited by a Congress woman. Her son was a patient at the 12th Field Hospital; he had a cold. The man was embarrassed by his Mother’s concern and I was a bit resentful that he was taking up a bed, which we might need at any moment for a wounded GI. Our situation at Valognes was in complete contrast to what we had experienced in the Naval Hospital in Cherbourg. We didn’t have to clean up someone else’s mess and filth, but we were not as safe, in the open, as we were during our last days spent at Cherbourg. We did however have more contact with the local population, who were most gracious and appreciative of our efforts.
Stations in France – Second Platoon, 12th Field Hospital
Valognes, France – 2 Aug 44 > 28 Aug 44
Four (4) days after Paris was liberated (25 August 1944), we moved by motor convoy to Le Bourget Airfield (where amidst the ruins of the Luftwaffe Air Base, an Advanced Landing Ground A-54 was eventually established –ed), Paris. We reached our destination in the middle of the night of 29 August 1944, after having lost our way in the dark, and the truck we were riding in almost fell into a large shell hole. We were so exhausted from this journey, that we gladly fell onto some cots in a tent there, without bothering to undress. The next morning we were glad we had not; there were men sleeping in the same tent. We were genuinely surprised when we awoke, and so were they! In the morning we were able to shower in very cold water. Not pleasant at all!
We were given permission to visit Paris which we did in full battle dress – helmet, fatigues, shoes, and leggings. We Nurses were quite a sensation as we walked into the cafés and stores, but we were well received by the native Parisians. Our welcome was of course not quite as demonstrative as that given to the American GIs, but almost. People offered to buy us drinks and show us beautiful Paris … We did some shopping, bought some perfume, gloves, cigarette cases, and other souvenirs. Some people purchased lingerie, but I thought it was a bit daring and resisted the temptation. it was also frightfully expensive anyway.
We were having a good time until the Chief Nurse, ETOUSA, happened to see us walking around downtown in our fatigues and promptly told us we re not giving a good impression and we were not to be on the streets unless we were in full dress uniform (the 12th Fld Hosp CO received a warning from General Paul R. Hawley about this –ed). The dear lady would not have appreciated what we looked like in class A uniform either. Our uniforms had been rolled up in our bedrolls since we left the United Kingdom, and we had no way to press our clothes. Believe me, we looked better in our fatigues. So much for our first visit to Paris!
After being released from their various assignments by the Office of the Chief Surgeon, the complete 12th Field Hospital was reassigned to Advance Section, Communications Zone. All Holding Units closed on 10 September 1944 and the entire organization was instructed to proceed to Belgium.
After a few days of rest and recuperation in Paris, we were once more on the move into Belgium. I believe we set up in tents, near Cerfontaine, which our unit had reached on 15 September 1944. As we had not enough cots we had the patients lying on stretchers on the ground. It was raining and water was running in small rivulets between the stretchers. We were now established as a Holding Unit, with patients waiting for transportation, either by ambulance or airlift depending on the nature of their wounds or injuries, for evacuation further to the rear. It was cold, damp and miserable for both the patients and ourselves as fall was to set in. We had problems with changing dressings and keeping IVs going. The food we had to feed our patients were mostly K-rations because it was almost impossible to cook.
On 7 October 1944, Second Platoon was established in an empty warehouse in Pépinster, Belgium, with the mission to operate with Headquarters and one Company of the 93d Medical Gas Treatment Battalion a Railway Holding Unit. We lived with another Belgian family named Hanson. Father, mother, and teenage daughter lived in a large house. That family was so friendly to us and made us feel welcome, looking out for us as much as possible. We called the mother “Mama” because of her honest concern for us. As well as our own American patients we also cared for a few German PWs. One day, the FO pilot from Art’s outfit stopped to visit us and went to the latrines, and there sat a German. “Prop” as the pilot was called, whipped out his pistol and “captured” the enemy, not realizing he was a patient! We were so hysterical and couldn’t stop laughing. We made him a blue ribbon out of toilet paper and presented it to him for his outstanding valor – he was a good sport and didn’t get angry, in fact he had a good laugh at himself too. We left Pépinster, Belgium on 17 November 1944.
The next location was a place called Hollogne-aux-Pierres, a small coal-mining town. The Hospital, together with support provided by the 93d Medical Gas Treatment Battalion was to operate an Air Evacuation Holding Unit. We were established in an abandoned zinc factory and each time a buzz-bomb landed nearby, zinc powder and dust from the rafters would come raining down on everything. In the OR area, we had to put up extra sheets like a canopy over the operating tables to catch the zinc dust. The operating room was heated by pot-belly stoves and there was always the fear of an explosion from them, of course also oxygen and anesthesia products were hazards. One day a buzz-bomb fell almost at the door of the hospital and blew it right off its hinges. Some patients heard these flying bombs falling and were so afraid they begged to return to the front were they thought they were safer; at least they had foxholes or dugouts for protection. It was indeed frightening to watch the walls of the building move outward with each blast. During the period that we were feeding the patients in the different wards, we would carry large buckets of hot C-rations to be spooned out to the patients’ mess kits. Primitive, but what else could we do. Near the zinc factory was a château where our Officers were quartered, I remember that it had a marvellous bathroom with a large sunken tub in marble, the Officers offered its use to us and we sometimes took our towels and soap and went over to enjoy the luxury of warm water and a real tub. The Officers would receive packages from home, and I must say that we would all share goodies, food, candies, or books. We spent Christmas at Hollogne-aux-Pierres, Belgium. My mother and sister sent fruit cake and cookies. They were stacked in empty oatmeal boxes and popcorn was used to cushion the contents. They came through without breakage. I managed to save a few for Art which I sent through to him together with my cigarette ration, and he shared these with his men. Christmas dinner was held at our Belgian host’s place. It was almost a gala happening; a true feast, with drinks, and dinner, most enjoyable after a diet of rations. Their Christmas tree was beautiful, with colored ornaments and real candles. I remember Jean-Pierre, their 3-year old son who tried to teach us French. We sang carols together and had a lovely time exchanging small gifts. Somehow Art had been able to obtain a pre-engagement ring in the States; he had it sent over to me through the mail service.
Headquarters, accompanied by First and Third Platoon next moved to a large estate in the vicinity of Namur. Some of our Nurses were billeted in the beautiful old manor house and in spacious rooms. There was unfortunately no furniture, but the room they occupied had a big fireplace. The contents of the building had been removed, probably looted by the Germans as they passed through the area. I don’t remember we had any patients in there as the place was cold and difficult to keep warm, moreover it was raining. The 910-bed Holding Hospital proper was established in the Hôpital Militaire at Namur with support from First and Third Platoons, supplemented by A Company, 93d Medical Gas Treatment Battalion (we would not join our parent unit until 31 December 1944). Our outfit moved to another town in Belgium; Huy. It was colder there and there was a lot of snow. Freda Martin and I went sledding near the school where we had the classrooms set up as wards. I remember one patient in particular who had suffered a head injury; he had an open wound in his skull about the size of a dollar, yet, he walked around, coherent, and seemingly without difficulty. His head had been dressed at an Aid Station in the field and treated with penicillin (supply of the new drug was not abundant at that time, but we had some with us).
The other Platoons were somewhere near Herstal, northeast of Liège, Belgium, where they occupied the Collège Notre-Dame et St. Lambert. The town was an assembly point for the British. It was there that our CO, Lt. Colonel George J. L. Wulff, Jr. and our Chief Nurse, Captain Claudia M. Draper were wounded by flying glass. They were attending a reception and dance given by our British Allies, and during the affair a V-1 flying bomb came down near the building and exploded. They were hit by flying glass and debris. So they were candidates for the Purple Heart. First and Third Platoons were housed in tents and in a school complex of several buildings and almost had a period of inactivity. They were consequently to furnish some 12 Nurses and 25 EM to medical units stationed in nearby towns, such as the 77th Evacuation and the 28th General Hospitals. This was during December 1944. One other night, another buzz-bomb hit across the street from school which was partially destroyed, with the Officer of the Day, Captain Harold Thomasson, being wounded by flying glass. He received the Purple Heart for his injuries. The very same night some other Officers, Lieutenants Roy C. Warner, Claiborne H. Stokes, and Walter F. Koster (all from Headquarters Detachment –ed) had the roof blown from their room and retired for the rest of the night in ambulances. While operating at the zinc factory, we were in fact operating like an evacuation hospital, sending most of our patients back to France and England for further treatment. On 13 January, we received orders to return to our parent organization, a movement which was completed by 16 January 1945.
Stations in Belgium – Second Platoon, 12th Field Hospital
Cerfontaine, Belgium – 15 Sep 44 > 26 Sep 44 (complete Hospital)
St. Trond, Belgium – 26 Sep 44 > 6 Oct 44
Pépinster, Belgium – 7 Oct 44 > 17 Nov 44
Hollogne-aux-Pierres, Belgium – 17 Nov 44 > 16 Jan 45
Vyle-et-Tharoul, Belgium – 25 Jan 45 > 7 Feb 45 (complete Hospital)
Our trek across Belgium brought us closer and closer to Germany. Our first location was to be Aachen. Upon arrival in February 1945 we were horrified at the devastation of the city, including the sad state of the Skt. Elisabeth Krankenhaus (aka Karin Göring Foundation, this was Reichsmarschall Herman Göring’s wife, Baroness Karin von Fock-Kantzow –ed) we took over. Movement of personnel and equipment took place by shuttle between 7 February and was completed 9 February 1945. The place was flooded in some areas, and much of its equipment ruined. There was neither electricity nor running water. Fortunately, it was a much cleaner facility than we had encountered in Cherbourg, France, and there were no dead Germans around! As with similar cases, we had to rely on Engineers to assist with the works. The mission called for setting up a 910-bed Railway Evacuation Holding Unit in the 8-story building for evacuation of First and Ninth United States Army casualties. Despite all the difficulties, the facility opened for operations at 2400 hours, 10 February 1945 in time to receive the first casualties from the First and Ninth Unite States Army.
We were not to remain permanently in Aachen, as our duty was to prepare the clinic for a General Hospital which would relieve us, as we advanced further in Germany. While there, we did take care of some very severe casualties which kept our ORs busy. Since our task was tremendous, we requested additional support from other medical units. The first floor was used for Officers quarters, offices, and administration, and messes; the second floor provided the surgical wards and operating rooms; the other floors were reserved for additional wards and litter patients; with the fourth and fifth floors being reserved for Enlisted personnel quarters. There was enough room to store supplies, furniture, and other material. Additional quarters for the Engineers and a mess for our own personnel, as well as the utilities section, were installed in buildings near the Hospital. It should be noted that the FIRST Hospital Train to leave Aachen with casualties from Germany left the city on 15 February 1945. Quite some achievement despite the difficult circumstances.
I spent my twenty-fifth birthday (21 February 1945) in Aachen and had a visit from Art. Though we only had a few moments together, he told me about a big Allied offensive in the making and that the noise would be unbelievable as a very large number of big guns would be going off simultaneously. Art knew how much I hated the sound of gunfire and wanted to reassure me that these were our own guns I would be hearing. He did not tell me, however, that he would be a forward observer as they attacked Cologne (the target –ed). The thunderous force of the attack turned a very large statue at a crossroads near Cologne completely around so that it faced in the opposite direction!
Because of the large number of incoming patients, the Surgeon General, ADSEC, ComZ, decided that it was necessary to establish another Railway Evacuation Holding Unit in the immediate vicinity of Aachen. The selected site became Brand, Germany. Operations at the Skt. Elisabeth Krankenhaus ceased at 2400 hours, 4 March 1945, with the entire installation being taken over by the 32d General Hospital.
The move to Brand began on 6 March and was completed by 7 March 1945. The 12th Field Hospital officially opened 8 March 1945 with assistance from other units in the neighborhood. We closed the facility at Brand 9 April 1945 and made preparations for another move further into Germany.
13 April 1945, when still in Brand, Germany (waiting for our next move), we heard about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. To me he had always been a hero, it was a shock to me, I didn’t really know he was ill. When I was a student in Rochester, he came to visit his son who was a patient with us. That’s the first time I realized FDR was a cripple. During our stay in Brand, we were quartered in school buildings.
After closing the Hospital 9 April 1945, new orders to move forward came in. Our unit packed and got ready to move to a field near Hildesheim, Germany, and to set up an Air Evacuation Holding Unit close to an airstrip. This was south of Hanover and about ninety miles from Berlin. We reached our destination 19 April 1945 and began to set up a tented hospital for 600 patients. Our mission was to provide triage facilities, initial treatment, and evacuation of Recovered Allied Military Personnel by air to France and England. Upon arrival we set up our tents as rapidly as possible and made ready to welcome the many patients who would be sent to us. One of our most interesting patients was a titled lady, a French Marquise from Versailles, France. She had been severely mistreated by the Germans in an effort to make her give them information. They submerged her in tubs of water, tortured her, and humiliated her and she was fed only a thin soup. She had been arrested by the enemy because she had helped escape US airmen who had been shot down over France. The poor lady was so emaciated and covered with sores. Her limbs were drawn in the fetal position and it took us several days and frequent small feedings to get her to a point where she could tolerate food. Notwithstanding her miserable state she had a remarkable spirit of survival and I do hope she made a good recovery after she left us.
Next to our Hospital was a school which housed ex-American Prisoners of War (RAMPs –ed). The Germans had left them as they retreated and our advancing soldiers had also left them behind because they seemed to be in rather good physical shape. Many of them were indeed ambulatory, yet many suffered from dysentery from a poor and insufficient diet received during captivity. They would often come over to our mess tent and forage through our garbage for leftovers. We were so ashamed and felt sad to see our own boys looking through garbage for food. We didn’t know how long they had been, without nourishment. I’m sure Sergeant Leonard W. Bierfeldt gave them whatever he could from our supply, because he was such a good-hearted man. The mud continued to give us much trouble as it rained constantly, which partly affected air evacuation as well.
Stations in Germany – Second Platoon, 12th Field Hospital
Aachen, Germany – 10 Feb 45 > 4 Mar 45 (complete Hospital)
Brand, Germany – 8 Mar 45 > 9 Apr 45
Hildesheim, Germany – 19 Apr 45 > 11 May 45 (complete Hospital)
Brand, Germany – 14 May 45 > 13 Jun 45
When the last of our patients were evacuated to the rear, our mission at Hildesheim was finished, this must have been around 11 May 1945. One Platoon, the First, had orders to proceed to Koblenz to establish a small German PWE Hospital. Headquarters, First and Second Platoon were ordered to return to Brand and reached their destination on 14 May 1945 to set up a PWE Hospital for 3,000 beds intended for the triage of the numerous PW patients. When the 12th Field cared for German PWs, we noticed they arrived at the Hospital in poor condition. They were filthy, dirty, scantily clothed, some had no shoes, only rags. Many suffered gangrene from frostbite or trench foot and needed amputation. They were often covered with lice, some had pneumonia, and all had some degree of malnutrition. Many of them died soon after being admitted. Our unit treated many of these German PWs before sending them back to rear area hospitals for further treatment. We had to build a fenced-in compound to keep them together and some of our men were made guards and provided with a rifle. There was an incident with a German doctor. His family was from Aachen and he tried to escape. The man refused to halt when ordered so and kept going. Our guard shot him and the doctor died. The guard was extremely upset at having killed someone. Most of the PWs were attended partly by their medical doctors including a few nurses. They were required to take orders from us. In the end a total number of 40 German doctors, 21 Nurses, and 250 medical/sanitary enlisted personnel were secured. For food we only had K-rations to offer them, which was not exactly the food they needed in their condition, but it was all we had. For comfort we tried to provide a warm shower with soap or at least some hot water to wash their clothes and underwear. Our main duty was to triage the enemy patients and after preliminary treatment send them on to rear echelon organizations for additional care. The majority of patients were received from the 77th Evacuation Hospital and from the many PWEs in the region.
Also German civilian casualties were brought in. I remember a young girl that was brought to us. She had picked up a hand grenade which exploded and disembowelled her. The injury was so severe that we couldn’t really help but try and get her to a hospital that might possibly save the little girl. I remember how beautiful she was. Such is the cruelty of war, there were many innocent victims.
Art Sforza and I had been planning our wedding since the Battle of the Bulge, so once the new offensive started we seriously started sending money home to buy things like silver and china.
New orders received 20 June 1945 sent the 12th near Reims, France, where they were once more to function as an Air Evacuation Holding Unit at airstrip A-62 (large Advanced Landing Ground operated by the 9th Army Air Force, used as a resupply, casualty evacuation, and liaison airfield after October 1944 –ed) , approximately three miles north of the city. Due to unavailability of the necessary trucks the move took place in three groups, being only completed on 30 June.
Belgium and a Wedding:
With the war ending, Art and I seriously started planning our wedding. We had decided that we would get married in Belgium. At the time Art was about 500 miles away in southern Germany acting as a Bürgermeister. He had never been far away from our Hospital since we landed in Europe. It was at that location that he had some very beautiful pieces of silver made for me by a local silversmith. Like many brides I wanted a white gown, and have a traditional wedding, if possible. I managed to obtain a new parachute at the nearest airfield, and went looking for a dressmaker. Art had met a wonderful Belgian family in Limbourg, near Liège. Charles and Christiane Poswick, the lady volunteered to be the mother of the bride and offered her home for our reception. She knew a talented dressmaker, next came the wedding rings which we purchased locally too. My mother had the announcements printed stateside and sent to me. We then approached Colonel G. J. L. Wulff to ask his help in getting the proper papers processed by 15 June 1945, and to give me away. Our witness would be Second Lieutenant Rita E. Murphy (Second Platoon) and First Lieutenant Bill Smith (183d Field Artillery Battalion). My bridesmaid was Francine, a niece of the Poswicks. Father Bradley (a friend of Art) would perform the ceremony. The wedding ceremony would be held at a Convent Chapel in Verviers, Belgium. It was considered to be US soil since it had been requisitioned by the Army to billet American troops (it should be noted that between 13 and 20 June 1945, the 12th Field Hospital was inactive –ed).
The Poswick family offered to prepare the reception and lunch. As food was scarce, I obtained the CO’s assistance and our rations for the day were taken to the family cook for preparation. Art had arranged for champagne and cognac. Luncheon was delicious and beautifully served in our host’s dining room; followed by a wedding cake made from powdered eggs and powdered milk. It was decorated with the Belgian and American flags, atop a ship that said “Bon Voyage”. We spent our first night in Brussels, and then traveled by C-54 to London for our honeymoon. In order to avoid any potential legal problems, we were advised to have a civil wedding ceremony, which took place 4 July 1945. We did not have a second honeymoon but returned to duty. Art went back to Germany, and I returned to the 12th Field Hospital, now stationed in France.
Personnel were quartered in ward tents. There was more free time to enjoy now, consequently passes were plentiful to the French Riviera, Paris, London, Brussels, and daily passes to Liège could easily be obtained, the war being over. By the end of July, I knew I was pregnant. My outfit was now transferred to a Staging Area and it seemed entirely possible that the whole unit would be sent to the Pacific Theater. I, personally did not want to end up somewhere in the Pacific and Art was against it too. Colonel Wulff was sympathetic to my condition and said he would arrange air transportation for me, if I wanted it. I decided to accept his offer. I left Europe by C-47 in August 1945 in the company of other Army personnel, mostly Nurses. The trip was almost direct, with one stop at the Azores for fuel. Although it took over twenty-four hours I will never forget the feeling as I discovered the Atlantic coastline out the window, it was a great thrill to see all the beautiful lights twinkling below. No more black-outs! No more war! I was home!
The MRC Staff edited these personal recollections and used large excerpts from the book “A Nurse Remembers” written by Mrs. Eula Awbrey Sforza and published in October 1991. Additional data were based on vintage reports written by the Commanding Officer, 12th Field Hospital. The many pages and photographs used in this individual Testimony are courtesy of the book’s author.
First Lieutenant Eula M. Awbrey Sforza (ASN:N-728790) served with the Second Hospitalization Unit, 12th Field Hospital in the European Theater from May 1942 to August 1945 in support of the First and Ninth United States Armies. She was eventually married to First Lieutenant Arthur B. Sforza (ASN:O-1170972) member of the 183d Field Artillery Battalion (155mm How Tractor-driven) activated 8 February1943, at Ft. Lewis, Washington, ZI, inactivated 30 October 1945 at Cp. Myles Standish, Massachusetts, ZI, non-Divisional unit, temporarily attached to the First United States Army in the European Theater of Operations.