29 January, 2012

29 January 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
29 January, 1945       1105

Dearest darling Wilma –

Well – I lied to you yesterday when I wrote that even if I were a Captain for two years – there was no cause for a celebration. That was forenoon. At chow – noon – one of the boys produced a bottle of Burgundy red – very dry. It was a blue Sunday p.m. and the boys said I ought to celebrate – so we drank. Well – the wine was so dry – we became thirsty and went over to our room and from nowhere appeared a couple of champagne bottles – so we killed that. By that time, darling, we felt like music – so we harmonized for an hour or so – until we became hoarse; but we still felt like music – so I had my clarinet dug out from the bottom of our trailer. It had been there ever since Normandy and was plenty frozen, the keys were stuck etc; when I had completely winded myself we had the chaplain’s organ sent up and one of the boys banged away at that. By this time we were drinking Curacao – a liqueur which must be rather scarce in the States these days. After chow we decided to play some Poker – but it didn’t materialize into much of a game. We were at the Dispensary and no one knew one card from the other; I’m afraid the game degenerated into a drinking brawl. I had said I wouldn’t drink until my Birthday – but that was a pretty difficult thing to do. I said that on the 21st – and it seems as if I’ve celebrated on every day since. But I’ve saved one bottle of cognac for the 31st.

I’m glad you enjoyed that Bridge puzzle, sweetheart, and we’ve got to hand it to Mother B. I didn’t get it either although it was ridiculously easy once you saw it. And while I’m on the subject – forgive me, dear, I don’t know how to do cryptograms! I’ve never done one in my life. It’s a shame, too, because I’d like to know what you wrote.

And I wrote to Nin Feldman some time ago, dear. I wrote to her Boston address and assumed it would be forwarded.

I never did meet Capt. Lief whom you mentioned in one of your early letters in December – but the interesting thing is that I know the 45th Evac very well. As a matter of fact they came over on the same boat as we did – i.e. from the States to Scotland – and I got to know a few of the MC’s very well; 4 of them shared the same stateroom with me. And I ran into them several times thru Belgium. The fact that they were in Belgium while we were in Germany – is nothing – because Evac Hospitals are usually at least 10 miles behind the front. They were actually in a town on the Belgium-German frontier. To my knowledge – they were never hit – but about that time we had moved on to Stolberg and they stayed where they were. Hospitals have been hit by these robombs and that’s one compensation, dear, for being up froward. Hardly a day goes by but what we see and hear several go over us – but they keep on going towards the rear. The first few were somewhat frightening – the roar, I mean, but we’re used to them now. They look exactly as pictured in the newspapers.

And if I’ve seen kissing bugs, sweetheart, I haven’t known it – although Cyn’s gift sounds cute. What I’d like to be doing right now is to act the part of one of those things – with you the counterpart. I think I could give you the longest and hardest kiss ever given on this or any other continent – Sweetheart – and with all the ‘fixings’, too. Of course – my lips are quite tender now and out of practice – but I know of no better way to make them sore – do you? Gosh dear. I love you so – it drives me crazy to see these days and months slip by wasted – as it were – but by heck – we’ll make up for it – you’ll see!

Oh – I was sorry to read about Les and his arm; from what you wrote – it sounds more serious, than slight – although the Army has a way of labeling things slight – so long as a soldier is in no danger of dying. I hope his arm is not paralyzed – as you thought it might be. If it is – it means that whatever struck him – got the nerve – and that’s not good. I’ll be interested in your next news about him.

Have to quit now – Sweetheart. Incidentally I’ve been to lunch and it’s now 1400. Take care of yourself, dearest, love to the folks and

My love is yours for always

P.S. Regards to the office gang.


about Philip Lief and the
45th Evacuation Hospital

Greg mentioned knowing officers from the 45th Evacuation Hospital when Wilma asked him about Philip Lief. In April 1945, shortly after the 45th Evacuation Hospital was set up nearby the recently liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Dr. Philip Lief was asked about the camp. The following quote was taken from The Story of World War II, by Donald L. Miller, 2001 (revised, expanded and updated from the original text by Henry Steele Commager, 1945).
"I had studied German literature while an undergraduate at Harvard College," said Dr. Philip Lief, an Army surgeon, "and I could not really believe that ... a cultured people like the Germans would undertake something like this ... I saw the pocketbook made out of human skin that supposedly Ilse Koch, the wife of the commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp carried about, and also saw the lampshade made out of human skin that had been stretched over a frame and used as a lampshade in her apartment."
This quote is made all the more interesting because Greg also studied German literature while at Harvard College. Greg also said that to his knowledge the 45th Evac Hospital was never hit. Actually, it had been damaged a bit, as can be seen in a brief bit of its history, written for the U.S. World War II Medical Research Centre:
After boarding the “Aquitania” at 1030 hours the same day, the ship finally left New York harbor bound for the United Kingdom at 1100 hours, 17 November 1943. Total unit strength of the 45th Evacuation Hospital at time of departure was 46 Officers, 43 Nurses, and 212 Enlisted Men.

The 45th Evacuation Hospital landed at Omaha Beach at 1500 hours on D + 10 (16 June 1944). After transferring to smaller landing craft, the personnel were dropped a quarter of a mile offshore. Loaded down with personal gear and equipment, Officers and Enlisted Men made their way to shore.

Hospitals and other medical installations were protected by the Articles of the Geneva Convention. An Evacuation Hospital was supposed to be safe by being set up to the rear of possible harassment by enemy ground action. Although considerable air activity occurred over the Omaha Beach sector as the personnel and equipment awaited debarkation, the only risk to personnel was “ack ack” fire fragments, unexploded AA shells, low level firing of machine guns, and mines. In fact, the intense noise of these activities caused more apprehension than the falling fragments which fortunately caused no casualties among personnel or patients.

Stations – 45th Evacuation Hospital – To Date
La Cambe, Calvados 16 Jun – 14 Jul 1944
Airel, Calvados 5 Jul – 5 Aug 1944
Saint-Sever, Calvados 9 Aug – 16 Aug 1944
Senonches, Eure-et-Loir 22 Aug – 30 Aug 1944
La Capelle, Aisne 5 Sept – 14 Sept 1944 (bivouac)
Baelen, Liège Province 16 Sept – 26 Sept 1944
Eupen, Liège Province 28 Sept – 18 Oct and 28 Oct – 25 Dec 1944
Jodoigne, Brabant Province 31 December 1944 (non-operational)
Spa, Liège Province 19 January 1945 – 8 February 1945

The 45th Evacuation Hospital operated far longer than anticipated in Eupen, Belgium. Many more patients were processed with a total of 7707 medical and surgical patients being taken care of. The designation of the various wards was changed in order to better accommodate the different types of cases received. Wards 5 and 6 in the basement were used solely for medical and non-operative surgical cases. The wards on the first and second floors were devoted entirely to the use of post-operative cases. Ward 1 remained the early transportable ward. Because there were many lesser wounded who were not evacuated as quickly as before, this ward was enlarged by setting up an additional 20 beds immediately above it in the corridor of the second floor. One room of ward 3 was converted into a third surgery ward. The other room was used exclusively for patients with vascular injuries. Wards 2 and 4 remained as before, for the care of abdominal wounds and chest injuries.

Wards 7 and 8, on the second floor, previously used for medical cases, were converted into post-operative wards. Another room was used for post-operative treatment of head and spine injuries. The other three rooms were used for post-op non-transportable orthopedic cases. The number of vascular and head cases was so large that segregation of these patients greatly facilitated their after-care, both by the Officers and ward personnel. Being housed in a building made things easier, as the inclement weather would have greatly handicapped the organization, were they set up in the field and under tentage. The burden placed upon the EM was made greater by the fact that frequently personnel of the Medical Collecting Company, who were assisting the unit, were called upon for duties elsewhere. By shifting men to wards where they were needed most, the 45th managed as best as they could under the circumstances.

45th Evacuation Hospital Buildings in Eupen, Belgium

Of the total admissions, 35% were medical. There were 2172 cases in total. The number of diagnoses totaled 125 cases. Trench foot now headed the list, of which there were 739 cases, seen in various stages of the disease. The milder ones were sent to the Medical Gas treatment Battalion, from where quite a large proportion was eventually returned to duty. Many patients developed swollen, hot, painful feet when exposed to warm air of the wards. If ice was available, it might have helped prevent some of the more serious sequellae. Diarrheal diseases, upper respiratory infections, malaria, and anxiety neurosis followed in this order. There were also 16 cases of infectious hepatitis, 12 of atypical and 3 of lobar pneumonia. Some cases of diphtheria were also encountered, which responded well to antitoxin and penicillin treatment. Eight patients were admitted with a history of methyl alcohol ingestion; 3 died despite treatment, the other 5 never had any symptoms. Two of these showed the presence of methyl alcohol in the urine, while this proved negative for the other three. Toxicological examination of the gastric contents of this patient indicated that he also died of methyl alcohol intoxication.

Not until the start of the German counter-offensive did the unit find itself under fire of enemy air and ground elements. As soon as the news of this enemy attack came through, all prisoners of war were evacuated and all personnel restricted to the Hospital area. At 0530, 16 December 1944, Eupen came under intense enemy artillery fire. One shell burst about 10 yards from the building housing the shock and pre-op wards. An intervening stone wall fortunately caught most of the blast and shell fragments, and no damage resulted to the Hospital. At 2300 hours, 17 December, a gasoline dump east of the Hospital building was hit by a stick of firebombs falling from 150 to 180 yards of the unit. HE bombs or shells then fell within only 60 yards of the northwest corner of the Hospital. The concussion was severe, all windows were blown out, the lighting system was disrupted, and corridors, ward floors, and beds were littered with debris. All personnel had immediately assisted with immediate evacuation of the 166 patients to the basement and shelters and an emergency surgery facility was promptly established in one of the basement rooms

There were no casualties and no undue excitement whatever among personnel and patients, quite astonishing in view of the extensive damage which was evident the following morning. Bomb fragments and blast caused most damage to the north side of the building housing the 45th. The walls of the wards on that particular side, the Registrar’s office, the Laboratory and the Pharmacy showed evidence of splinter damage and cannon fire. The ceiling of the Nurses’ quarters, shock, and pre-operative wards showed evidence of machine-gun fire, and the entire Hospital was filled with miscellaneous rubbish such as plaster, glass, cement, screens, and other parts. An incendiary container was found in front of the Mess Hall; unexploded flares in the storeroom; and an unexploded phosphorus bomb in the street facing the Hospital. Two precautionary measures, as well as extreme good fortune, seemed to have prevented injury to patients. Blankets had been used as black-out screens and barred or arrested the flight of fragments; and at the beginning of the attack beds were pushed to the center of the wards, away from walls and windows.

The next day, 18 December 1944, all patients were evacuated and repairs started. Enemy air activity did continue but mostly in the form of aerial observation and occasional strafing of important road junctions. On 19 December 1944, the Surgeon’s Office directed the Hospital to dismantle its installations and prepare all equipment for loading. During the same night, flares but no bombs were dropped. On 20 December at 1000 hours a retrograde movement was made to a new area in Huy, Belgium. A total of 45 2 ½-ton trucks had been dispatched by infiltration and many had already arrived at the new site (Huy), when Headquarters First United States Army ordered all vehicles to return to Eupen, unload, and proceed immediately to Malmédy, in Belgium, to assist in evacuation of the First US Army Medical Depot and the 44th Evacuation and 67th Evacuation Hospitals. Four MC and 2 MAC Officers were also requested by Corps; they left at 2000 hours.

The following morning, 21 December, the Officer dispatched to Malmédy with a detail of 42 EM returned to report 3 of his men missing. All were subsequently accounted for, 2 having been evacuated for wounds caused by enemy MG fire. Only one vehicle was seriously damaged by gun fire. In the meantime the Hospital again prepared to receive patients. The excitement had abated and only American heavy artillery about 1½ miles from the installations was active. On 22 December 1944, 218 patients were received and the organization managed to remain open to patients until Christmas day. The Motor Officer now on DS with the Infantry was reported wounded in action although not seriously. On Christmas an egg-nog party and an excellent supper were not in the least disturbed by occasional appearance of enemy aircraft. Bombing and strafing occurred intermittently, but at considerable distance from the Hospital.

30 and 31 of December were spent in moving from Eupen to a new location in Jodoigne, Belgium. The precaution of transporting the Nurses by ambulance was taken because of continuous enemy air activity. The movement of personnel and equipment on the whole was uneventful.

On 19 January 1945 the 45th Evac Hospital moved to Spa, Belgium. It appeared at first glance that difficulties would be encountered in setting up a smoothly functioning Hospital unit in the buildings which were allotted to the organization. Access to the building’s upper floors for litter patients would have been almost impossible because of the high, narrow, winding staircases. With aid of some Engineers however, the EM were able to utilize all the available space on the street level floors of the buildings, and litter haul was thus reduced to a minimum. Collapsible field carriers were put to use and from that angle the situation was better than in the previous set ups. The shock and pre-op wards were given ample space and were conveniently located in close proximity both to the X-Ray department and to Surgery. The post-op wards were also suitably situated in relation to Surgery, although not as spacious as they previously were. A separate building was utilized as a medical pavilion. Two garages, close to the receiving ward, were converted into extra wards and were reserved exclusively for trench foot cases. Lighting and heating of these spacious buildings posed a problem, but they were sorted out and taken care of. In general the physical and functional set up of the organization turned out to be as good, if not better, that the one at Eupen.

45th Evacuation Hospital Motor Pool and Part of Building

Total medical cases were 1432, representing some 56% of the total admissions. Respiratory infections were again frequently encountered; both atypical and lobar pneumonia showed an increased incidence. Atypical pneumonia and severe diphtheria with laryngeal involvement coexisted in the same patient, who made an excellent recovery with 200,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin in combination with penicillin. Diarrheal infections and diseases were still present in large numbers, including almost as many cases of bacillary dysentery. Infectious hepatitis was now more frequently seen too. Trench foot however, still headed the list of medical admissions and also frostbite was frequently treated. The shortage of Officer personnel in some of the wards was solved by the return of Officers from the Division where they had been detached to, and the addition of a newly assigned Officer. Three Officers pertaining to an attached Medical Collecting Company assisted in great measure with ward service.

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