Friday, December 30, 2011

Echoes of Navy Medicine’s Past: Enter the All Steel Navy (1866-1917)

Echoes of Navy Medicine’s Past
Part III: Enter the All Steel Navy (1866-1917)
By Jan Herman and Mr. Grog

If he were still alive in the years immediately following the American Civil War, French magistrate Alexis de Tocqueville may have observed a nation devoted to uniting its “house divided” through free enterprise and Western expansion. The U.S. Navy did not fit into this equation for national healing. After the Civil War, it lapsed into a period of dramatic decline as naval appropriations were cut and the number of ships and men on active duty shrank dramatically. The Navy and Navy Medical Department were, in a true sense, landlocked.

Medical Department resources were deemed “entirely inadequate to the proper support of the naval medical service, however prudently administered.” Because of inadequate remuneration in pay, low entry rank, and scant opportunity for promotion, few young physicians joined the Navy.

In his 1867 annual report to the Secretary of the Navy, Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Phineas Horwitz (1822-1904), complained bitterly about the Medical Department’s immediate prospects. He pointed out that 48 vacancies existed in the Medical Corps which were impossible to fill “properly.” The number of unfilled vacancies since the end of the recent war had grown to such a degree that according to some, the Navy Medical Department would simply disappear. Horwitz urged Congress to pass legislation immediately to increase the opportunities for promotion in respect to both rank and pay.

On 3 March 1871, Congress acted, granting medical and other staff officers of the Navy “relative rank” with grades “equal to but not identical with the grades of the line.”

This Act went further than any previous Congressional action in strengthening and transforming the Navy Medical Department. The Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery now held the additional title “Surgeon General,” with the relative rank of Commodore.” Surgeon General William Maxwell Wood (1809-1880) stood at the helm of this “revitalized” organization. At the time, Wood was a man entering his 42nd year of a naval career as unusual and varied as could be. He had served aboard USS Poinsett, one of the first steam vessels of the Navy, and designated flagship during the “expedition for the suppression of Indian hostilities on the coast of Florida” (a.k.a. the Seminole War). Wood served shore duty at Sackett’s Harbor, NY, Baltimore, was Fleet Surgeon of the Pacific Fleet, and served under Commodore Sloat in California during the Mexican War. Despite his credentials as the first Navy Surgeon General, he served less than two years.

The health of the Navy’s personnel steadily improved following the war partly due to the new emphasis on preventive medicine and hygiene. This was attributable, at least in part, to the transition from wooden hulls and sail to the all-steel, steam-powered Navy. The storage of coal in below-deck bunkers and the exhaust gases generated by its combustion required adequate ventilation. Moreover, the foul condition of many ships’ bilges had become a regular theme of reports from the Navy Surgeon General to the Secretary of the Navy. Conditions aboard many naval vessels were blamed for yellow fever outbreaks and led to the establishment of the short-lived and seldom used Navy quarantine hospital on Widow’s Island in Maine’s Penobscot Bay (1887).

On 20 March 1878, the Navy Department created a board of naval officers to solve the ship ventilation problem. The board advocated a ventilation plan consisting of a tube network running through every part of the ship and terminating in a large main through which air was drawn by a steam blower. In 1879, Surgeon General Phillip Wales urged the rapid installation of this new ventilation system throughout the fleet

During the 1870s the naval hygiene movement was promoted by Medical Directors Joseph Wilson, Jr., author of Naval Hygiene (1870), and Albert L. Gihon’s Practical Suggestions in Naval Hygiene (1871). As early as 1879, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) established a laboratory for investigating hygiene-related issues and began collecting items which would comprise the collection of the Navy Museum of Hygiene, established in Washington, DC, in 1882. Until it merged with the Naval Medical School in 1905, the Museum exhibited ship’s ventilation systems and housed displays illustrating disinfection techniques. It also was a leader in promoting environmental and occupational medicine. The institution went beyond its museum role by becoming an education center for the promotion and development of laboratory research, particularly with chemical, bacteriological, and microscopic investigations.

As American interests in the Pacific and the Far East became more prominent in the 1870s, so did the scope of the Navy Medical Department. Between 1867 and 1869, USS Idaho, which had been converted into a hospital ship and kept at anchor in Nagasaki, served as a floating hospital for the American Squadron in the Far East.

To provide more adequate medical facilities for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific activities, the Navy constructed new hospitals at Mare Island, CA (1870) and Yokohama, Japan (1872), which became the first U.S. Navy hospital in Asia.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s U.S. Navy presence became increasingly evident throughout the world as Navy vessels were being assigned to the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, European, Pacific, and Asiatic stations. In addition to routine cruises, the Navy was frequently called upon to protect American citizens and American interests; to give assistance to victims of shipwrecks, earthquakes, fires, floods, and civil war; and to carry out special explorations in the Arctic, Alaska, Central America, and elsewhere.

As Navy medical officers went ashore at hundreds of ports throughout the world, many of them wrote detailed observations of climate and medical conditions, the people, quality of medical facilities available, endemic diseases, and the methods being employed to combat them. Many of these narratives were published in volumes of the Annual Reports of the Navy Surgeon General (1871-1859).

On 17 June of that year, a century after the “first” loblolly boy reported for duty aboard USS Constellation, an Act of Congress established the Navy Hospital Corps. Navy Surgeons General had long promoted a well-trained professional corps to provide medical care in the field. However, it was only after the outbreak of the war with Spain that Congress finally acted. The first group of hospital corpsmen numbered only 25 pharmacists (apothecaries) with rank, pay, and privileges of warrant officers.

The Hospital Corps came just in time. Following the Spanish-American War, the world’s newest colonial power had “spoils” to administer—Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Samoa. The United States was now a Pacific naval power with new ships, new stations, and enlarged hospitals. Navy medical officers had to confront tropical diseases few Western physicians had ever seen before—dengue, yaws, leishmaniasis, leprosy, yellow fever, intermittent fever, filariasis, dysentery, elephantoid fever, not to mention venereal afflictions sailors acquired in exotic liberty ports.

The Navy Medical Department dealt with these issues through training. In 1902, the Navy Medical School, then located at the U.S. Naval Laboratory in Brooklyn, NY, relocated to the Naval Museum of Hygiene in Washington, DC. Its mission was straightforward: The new school was “for the instruction and training of newly appointed medical officers in professional branches peculiar to naval requirements.” Here was an institution where newly commissioned physicians could learn the kind of medicine they would not have been exposed to in civilian medical schools—tropical medicine, the treatment of ballistic wounds, burns—in short, the grist of naval medicine. A five-month course had a curriculum covering microscopy, naval hygiene, military law, and a program of physical exercise and military drill akin to what any student might experience in a military school or service academy.

Because tropical disease had accounted for many of the casualties suffered by troops in Cuba during the recent war with Spain, it was a chief focus of attention at the school. Indeed, future Surgeon General of the Navy Edward Rhodes Stitt (1867-1948), today considered the pioneer in tropical medicine, taught at the school and was one of its first commanding officers.

Following the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1902 by Congressional Act, BUMED campaigned for its own nurse corps. This effort paid off on 13 May 1908, when the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps was established. The first nurses in the Navy—a.k.a. the “Sacred Twenty”—reported for orientation and duty later that year at the new U.S. Naval Hospital, Washington, DC. The site also housed the Museum of Hygiene and Navy Medical School. On 8 August 1908, former U.S. Army nurse, Esther Voorhees Hasson (1867- 1942) became the first superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.

The Medical Department continued to expand. On 22 August 1912, President William Howard Taft signed a bill authorizing “not more than 30 acting assistant dental surgeons to be part of the Medical Department of the United States Navy.” By the beginning of World War I, the Navy Medical Department had grown in size to four separate corps. The Surgeon General, now with the rank of rear admiral, was at its helm. The Medical Department had 2 hospital ships and 17 naval hospitals to administer.

On 9 April 1914, Mexican soldiers arrested U.S. Navy personnel seeking supplies in Tampico, Mexico. The Mexicans released the soldiers but without the apology President Woodrow Wilson demanded. Wilson ordered RADM Frank F. Fletcher to occupy the Mexican port of Vera Cruz with the naval forces under his command. The U.S. intervention and occupation fomented fierce Mexican resistance and generated casualties on both sides. For their heroic actions treating the wounded under fire, Navy surgeons Middleton Elliott (1872-1952), Cary Langhorne (1873-1948), and Hospital Apprentice 1st Class William Zuiderveld (1888-1978) were awarded the Medal of Honor. Shortly thereafter, there would be ample opportunities for heroism. Just four years after the Mexico intervention, Navy Medical personnel would find themselves braving U-boats in the North Atlantic German soldiers on the Western Front.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Society for the History of Navy Medicine Graduate Student Travel Grant Program


Society for the History of Navy Medicine Graduate Student Travel Grant Program

In 2010, the Society introduced its Graduate Student Travel Grant Program in order to induce and encourage graduate students of history and the health sciences to explore work in our area of particular interest – the history of navy or maritime medicine. Funded by the tax-deductible dues-donations of Society members (and in 2010 by an especially generous gift from Rear Admiral Fred Sanford, Medical Corps, U S Navy, Retired), Grants of $750 are given to students whose papers are selected for presentation at the Society's Meetings and Papers Sessions. The Society presently rotates the panels between the American Association for the History of Medicine (of which the Society is a Constituent Society), the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS), and either the Society for Military History or the U S Naval Academy biennial History Symposium.

Interested graduate students or students of medicine, nursing or allied health sciences should contact the Society Executive Director, Tom Snyder, at

VADM James Zimble Remembrance

ATTENTION DEAR BLOG READERS. We are collecting stories and recollections of the life and career of former Surgeon General Vice Admiral James Zimble. Any stories that you may have of your service with him that you are willing to share would be appreciated. It is our intention to incorporate these memories into our archives and publish them in an upcoming article in our Navy medical history periodical. Please e-mail us at:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Archives: Album of Medical Commissions

Album of Medical Commissions
Organizational records
1 album, unrestricted, no finding aid

Medical commissions especially those of Surgeon General Edward Stitt,
collected at the Stitt Library, NNMC, and transferred when the Library
closed. One commission from Woodrow Wilson appears to be missing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Brief Glimpse: Navy Medical Facilities in Naples

U.S. Navy Infirmary Afragola, Italy (ca. 1952).*


All Photographs from BUMED Library and Archives

The Navy established its first shore-based medical activity in the Naples area during the latter months of 1951 when the personnel of USS Adirondack moved ashore to establish the Headquarters, Support Activity, Naples. To augment this dispensary, and to provide for an increasing number of military and their dependents, a 50-bed infirmary was set up in Afragola (20 miles outside of Naples). In March 1954, the infirmary was moved to a remodeled building in Naples. All medical services were centralized within this "new" structure, and the dispensary and infirmary were decommissioned.

"Plankowners" at U.S. Navy Infirmary Afragola, Italy (ca. 1952) **


U.S. Naval Hospital Naples (ca. 1954)


In July 1965, construction began on a new eight story, reinforced concrete structure on the slopes of a volcanic crater within the city limits of Pozzouli, a suburb of Naples. The new hospital was occupied in October 1966 and in July 1968 was commissioned as Naval Hospital Naples. After severe damage to the hospital as a result of a series of earthquakes in the Pozzuoli-Agnano region the Navy began planning a newer facility that would keep pace with the latest seismic requirements. In April 2003, the new Naval Hospital opened in the Gricignano area of Naples.

U.S. Naval Hospital Naples (1966-2003)

*1st floor - officers + 12 bed medical ward. 2nd floor - 21 bed Surgical ward + Operating room. 3rd floor - Dependents Ward + Del. Room. SOQ not shown.

**1st row L-R: LT M.M. Lepine, LT A. Vitillo, LT J.E. McCarthy, LT R.D. Clarke. 2nd row: Lt. M Petrusky (MSC), CAPT F.J. Weddell Jr. (MC), CDR P.J. McNamara (MC). 3rd row: LT D.C. Dixon (MC), LT D. Mundie (MC).

Kane, Joseph. Naples Delivers: The Birth of a Naval Hospital. Navy Medicine Magazine. July-August 2003.
Patton, W. Kenneth. “Naval Hospital Naples.” History of Navy Hospitals (unpublished), ca 1970.
Smith, Robert L. Naval Pharmacist-Italian Style. U.S. Navy Medicine Magazine. Volume 58, August 1971.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Archives: Brounoff Music Room Guest Book

Brounoff Music Room Guest Book
Personal papers
1 volume, no finding aid, unrestricted

Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class and Dallas Symphony Orchestra violinist Zelman
Brounoff established a music listening room at Naval Hospital Shoemaker
CA during World War II, and kept a log of people who came by to listen
(and to perform) with their comments of appreciation. The book acts as a
commentary on the value of "music therapy". A small number of
photographs of Hospital officers are tipped in. Brounhoff was a violinist with the DSO from 1926 until his retirement as concert master emeritus in 1983.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The War's First Christmas

LCDR Grace B. Lally
Chief Nurse, USS Solace, 1941
BUMED Library and Archives 09-5043-039


The War's First Christmas

(Originally Published in The American Magazine, January 1945)

By LCDR Grace B. Lally, NC, USN

I was a chief nurse aboard USS Solace, Navy’s hospital ship attached to the Pacific Fleet, when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. From that fateful morning until Christmas Eve, neither I nor the twelve nurses who served under me had much sleep or peace of mind. But in spite of weariness, all of us were aware of the Navy tradition that a tree rides the mast on Christmas, and we had managed to collect four scraggy cedars in Honolulu, together with enough tinsel, holly, decorations, toys, and knick-knacks so that every man aboard the Solace would have a gift and a celebration.

Now, on Christmas Eve, the nurses’ quarters were bustling with preparations.

Suddenly, I remembered we needed a Santa Claus.

“Get the yeoman who stands with the Commander at quarters—the plump, jolly-looking boy,” someone suggested.

“He’s perfect, “ I agreed. “Send for him, and the sailmaker.”

In our wardroom, the nurses who were off duty and I worked frantically against time.

“Trees on the mast, the quarterdeck, and in the mess hall,” we instructed the corpsmen.
“And take these trimmings to the wards. Let the up-patients help you decorate.”

“You’re Santa Claus,” we told the rotund yeoman, who grinned delightedly. “Be prepared for anything.”

“Here’s the bunting; make him a suit,” we told the ship’s sailmaker. “Get some rope and make him a beard.”

The sailmaker’s fist hit the table. “A department-store Santa Claus won’t hold no candle to him!” he swore, piloting the yeoman from the room.

Some of our presents were already wrapped; the majority were not. We had 32 pounds of candy to be divided into small, gay packets. We had one gift for each of our 327 patients and one for each member of the ship’s crew.

Fortunately, the paper held out until the last small present had swapped its cheap commercial bindings for the trappings which to every boy there would spell Christmas, and be a symbol of the gifts from which, this year, would not come through.

The nurses segregated the toys for the most critically injured, and learned that there would not be enough of the nicer gifts to go around. Over the last, a tawdry mechanical ballet dancer, they argued hotly, loyally:

“But Swenson’s blind. He’s got to have something he can feel. He could wind her up and feel her dance.”

“Look. I’ve got a machinist’s mate. He’s old and very critical. He’s got kids at home. This is the sort of silly present he’d bring home to them for Christmas. Maybe it’s his last. Maybe it would bring them closer.”

The machinist’s mate got the little dancer. There was compromise and exchange. Some of the girls still weren’t satisfied, so they went to their quarters and dug around in the bureau drawers.


The girls were beautiful that evening, I thought. They sort of shone, as if the lights had been turned on inside. There was a mother-thing in all of them that fought fiercely to protect its own from hurt, from neglect. It went beyond nursing, beyond self.

Before December 7 we had made tentative plans for Christmas Eve. A famous choir was to have come out from Honolulu and sung on the deck. But now our decks would be dark, only the black shadow of the tree would ride high on the mast. Maybe the stars would etch its silhouette.

Carols we must have, and luckily I remembered there was a corpsman who played a sweet accordion. Immediately we routed him out.

“Sure, I can play carols,” he said proudly. “I was weaned on ‘em. And I’ll get six of the boys who can sing.”

And so at nightfall, when the wards had been fed and the nurses had changed into their best uniforms, Santa Claus—more beautiful than a department store’s—with a bulging seabag on his back, led our small procession below. We sang Jingle Bells as we went, and out of nowhere the ship’s captain appeared. “I’m with you, Miss Lally,” he said.

The captain had second sight, I knew, when anything of harm or benefit to his ship was concerned. But I did not know that he was aware of our Christmas celebration, nor of how much his presence on such an occasion would mean to the patients.

He fell into step behind Santa Claus, and I followed him, first to the G.U. War, where, after the Japanese attack, we had placed our most serious burn cases. Behind us came the girls and the corpsmen, all singing. I could not sing right then, being too terribly aware of the eyes that looked at me from some of the burn-blackened faces.

War and Christmas seemed suddenly incongruous. Only yesterday these kids were sneaking down the stairs to watch their mothers and dads place the last glimmering icicle on the tree, tuck a walnut deep in the toe of a stocking. Pain now made the young faces seem mature. But even eyes that had been almost lifeless brightened miraculously as the nurses distributed their presents and Santa Claus his bounty.

“Shaving soup! You know, Miss Lally, I’ve worked for months to grow this beard. You wouldn’t be hinting or anything?”

“Hey, look at Wilkins. He got vilet talcum powder. Oh-h-h, Wille-e-e-e!”


We continued to walk, singing from ward to ward, and gradually a real procession formed behind us—a line-up of most of the ship’s officers, all the junior officers, and the crew.

Up in the nurses’ quarters we had our own party afterward. We had eggnog, and all of the girls talked at once, comparing notes on the different boys’ reactions to their gifts.

-“That big landlubber, Ogonski said, ‘Geez, the scrub me from top to toe twice a day, and then give me a cake of poifumed soap to remember them by!’”

-“We were right to give the ballet dancer to the machinist’s mate. When I went back to say good night, there he was, fast asleep, a bit of smile on his face, and the toy clutched in his hand—just like a kid.”

-“You know, it’s funny,” Tess Duggan said suddenly. “It’s the biggest Christmas Eve we’ll ever know. I mean the most important. We’ve all the ornaments, and glitter, and fine presents, and family. We’ll all have those things again, too. But it will never again be quite so big tonight.”

**A few minor edits were made to the original article

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Office of the Historian - 2004 annual report excerpt from Command History (repost)

[I just ran across this data sheet from 2004 and it still had useful information describing the office and collections.]

Office of Medical History and Navy Medicine Magazine (M00H)


The Navy Medical Department's Office of the History can trace its roots back to April 1907 with the founding of the Naval Medical Bulletin, a quarterly publication serving the "informative needs of the Medical and Hospital Corps." Early articles varied from professional studies of abdominal wounds to the progress of zoology. The Bulletin was unique in that two of its contributors, and editors, were historians. CAPT Frank L. Pleadwell, MC, USN, and CAPT Louis B. Roddis, MC, USN, wrote abridged biographies of Navy medical, greats and people who had an impact on the Navy Medical Department and histories of medical facilities.

During World War II, the Navy Medical Department re-established the Hospital Corps Quarterly (originally begun in 1918) a publication directed toward the growing Navy Hospital Corps community. The Quarterly's editorial staff included former Navy Cross recipient LT George Strott, HC, and ENS W. Kenneth Patton, HC. When not publishing the Quarterly, Strott and Patton continued the work of Roddis and Pleadwell, both now retired, in producing historical monographs. Most notably was The Medical Department of the United States Navy with the Army and Marine Corps in France in World War (1947).

World War II spurred the expansion of the Navy Medical Department (total military personnel grew from 5,802 in 1941 to a 169,225 by the end of the War). A staff of civilian historians were commissioned as reserve officers to collect, record, and write the history of the Navy Medical Department. Artist Samuel Bookatz (Lieutenant Commander in the Hospital Corps) was recruited and headquartered in Building 4 at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery to record the history of the Medical Department's activities through his paintings. He also operated a studio in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom where he painted and sketched portraits of naval officers. He concurrently completed portraits of the President and First Lady, which presently hang on the walls outside the Roosevelt Museum at the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, MD.

The U.S. Navy had always been a favored service of former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was President Roosevelt who supported RADM Samuel Elliott Morison's concept of recording the Navy's participation in World War II. This effort resulted in Morison's fifteen-volume history of the Navy in World War II written while the history was still "hot off the griddle."

The Surgeon General during the war, VADM Ross McIntire, who also served as President Roosevelt's physician, may have been inspired by Morison's efforts in having the daily happenings of the Medical Department recorded. As a result, the historians recruited from the academic community produced a series of volumes on the History of the Medical Department, although these were never published.

At the end of the 1940s the Bureau disestablished the Medical Bulletin, Hospital Corps Quarterly, and the historians returned to academe. The historical program's torch was carried into the 1970s by W. Kenneth Patton and Quentin Sanger, whose official capacity was speech writer in the BUMED Office of Information (now known as the Public Affairs Office). Sanger spearheaded the publication of the History of the Medical Department 1945-1955 and, with Patton, wrote an unpublished History of Navy Hospitals. Patton served as the Surgeon General's historical source and was tasked with responding to all Navy medical historical queries.

Although, BUMED's historical program operated originally from the BUMED Publications Office, and later the Office of Information and Public Affairs, its place in the organization continued to evolve into the 1980s. Jan Kenneth Herman, the Editor of U.S. Medicine magazine (and later the bi-monthly Navy Medicine) re-established the historical program which had been neglected since W. Kenneth Patton's retirement. Photographs, articles, artifacts, and books pertaining to Navy Medical Department's heritage, which had been collected at the Bureau for nearly 70 years, was consolidated into a BUMED Library and Archives located in the confines of the old Naval Observatory (now known as BUMED Building 2). Herman instituted an oral history program and sought interviews with Navy medical veterans. Navy Medicine magazine now periodically published articles about Navy medicine's illustrious past. In 1989, the Office of Historian and Navy Medicine Magazine was officially established as a distinct code in the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Now known as BUMED Code M00H, this office serves the needs of the Navy Medical Department, Department of Defense, and interested parties in preserving the history and heritage for future generations.

Survey of items in BUMED Library and Archives

Annual Reports of the Navy Surgeons General (1871-1958)

Navy Medical Corps Bulletin (1907-1949)

Hospital Corps Quarterly (1919-1930; 1943-1949)

Navy Medicine Magazine (1943-Present)

History of the Navy Medical Department in World War I

History of the Navy Medical Department in World War II (Vols 1-4)

Navy Medicine Department in World War II, Unpublished (Vols1-2)

Biographies/Autobiographies of famous Navy Medical figures.

Books written by former Chiefs of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and Surgeons General of the Navy Medical Department.

All books relating to Navy Medical Department

Topics of material in BUMED Library and Archives:

  • History of the Navy Medical Department

  • History of the Navy Medical Corps

  • History of the Dental Corps

  • History of the Medical Service Corps

  • History of the Navy Nurse Corps

  • History of the Navy Hospital Corps

  • History of Navy Hospitals

  • History of Navy Hospital Ships

  • History of Navy Medical School/Museum of Hygiene

  • History of Hospital Corps Schools

  • Navy Medicine in War:

  1. War of Independence

  2. Quasi-War with France (1797-1801)

  3. War with the Barbary Pirates

  4. War of 1812

  5. Winning the West and Southwest

  6. Civil War

  7. First War in Korea

  8. Spanish-American War

  9. World War I

  10. South American interventions

  11. World War II

  12. Korean War (1950-1953)

  13. The War in Vietnam (1954-1975)

  14. Beirut Bombing

  15. Persian Gulf War

  16. Operation Enduring Freedom

  17. Operation Iraqi Freedom/War in Iraq

  • POW experience in World War II (including POW journals and pictures)

  • History of Aviation Medicine (Navy)

  • History of Submarine Medicine

  • Medical Aspects of the Wilkes Expedition, 1838-1842

  • Medical Aspects of the Opium War

  • Navy Medical Department In Peace

  • Care and Treatment of Dependents of Navy Medical Personnel

  • Navy Hygiene and Sanitation

  • Distinguished Medical Department Personnel.
    Lives of the Surgeons General and Chiefs of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

  • Navy Medical Supply System

  • Transcripts of Oral Histories (conducted with veterans from World War I to the Present)

  • History of BUMED Campus (In the time of Jacob Fuenck's Hamburgh to present-day Foggy Bottom)


To oversee, direct and execute the Navy Medical Department's history program and produce the bi-monthly medical journal, Navy Medicine.*

Staff Members

  • Mr. Jan K. Herman, Historian/Editor

  • Mrs. Janice M. Hores, Assistant Editor

  • Mr. AndrĂ© B. Sobocinski, Assistant Historian/Staff Writer

*Navy Medicine Magazine was produced by The Office of Medical History through 2009.

Echoes of Navy Medicine's Past: The Civil War (1861-1865)

Echoes of Navy Medicine’s Past
Part II: The Civil War (1861-1865)
By Jan Herman and Mr. Grog

“David goes out to meet Goliath and every man who can walk to the beach sits down there, spectators of the first ironclad battle in the world... The day is calm, the smoke hangs thick on the water. The low vessels are hidden by the smoke. They are so sure of their invulnerability they fight at arm’s length. They fight so near the shore, the flash of their guns is seen and the noise is heard of the heavy shot pounding the armor.”

This is how U.S. Navy physician Charles Martin described the legendary fight between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. What made the Civil War at sea different from what came before is indeed that image—the first seemingly unequal duel of the ironclads—the Yankee cheese box on a raft versus the slope-sided, ungainly ex-Merrimack. After all, the once U.S. Navy sloop of war had just hours before set Congress afire, rammed and sank the Cumberland, and run Minnesota aground. The following day she was headed out to finish off the grounded vessel when Monitor, her low-freeboard decks nearly awash, popped into view and saved the day, fighting Virginia to a draw.

What was the medical aftermath of that now legendary combat: On the Union side, three men were injured on Monitor. One was the acting master whose knee came into contact with the turret at the same instant one of Virginia’s heavy shot struck it. Knocked senseless by the impact, he regained consciousness 10 minutes later. Another seaman in the turret was knocked unconscious in a similar manner. Acting Assistant Surgeon Daniel Logue described this sailor’s injury as a concussion of the brain. His circulation remained depressed and it became necessary to administer stimulants. When the patient regained consciousness, Dr. Logue watched for a reaction and then applied cold affusion to the head.

Toward the close of the action, the Confederate ironclad inflicted its last and most significant casualty—Monitor’s skipper John Worden. LT S. Dana Green, Monitor’s executive officer described the event:

“Soon, after noon, a shell from the enemy’s gun, the muzzle not ten yards distant, struck the forward side of the pilot house directly in the sight hole or slit and exploded, cracking the second iron log and partly lifting the top, leaving an opening. Worden was standing immediately behind this spot and received in his face the force of the blow which partly stunned him and filling his eyes with powder, utterly blinded him...

“[Sent for], I found him standing at the foot of the ladder leading to the pilot house. He was a ghastly sight with his eyes closed and the blood apparently rushing from every pore in the upper part of his face. He directed me to take command. I assisted in leading him to a sofa in his cabin. Dr. Logue examined his eyes, succeeded in removing tiny scales of iron and a small quantity of paint, and then made cold applications to his eyes.”

Following the battle, only Worden left the ship for hospitalization in Washington. The other two patients returned to duty the following day. Worden, it turned out, proved to be the only serious casualty of the battle, permanently losing the sight in one eye and incurring a disfiguring scar on his face.

On the Confederate side, Virginia’s crew did not get away unscathed. In her unequal fight with Congress, Cumberland, and Minnesota the previous day, Virginia suffered several killed or wounded. In contrast, her wooden-hulled victims suffered enormous losses. Cumberland alone lost over 100 men. Before the ship went to the bottom, all the wounded who could walk were ordered out of the cockpit; but those of the wounded who had been carried into the sick bay and on the berthdeck were so mangled that it was impossible to save them. So recalled her acting commander. During her engagement with Virginia the following morning, Monitor’s two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores did moderate damage, wounding a few aboard the Virginia but killing no one. As it turns out, the Confederates got a lucky break. Although each 11-inch Dahlgren aboard Monitor threw a shot weighing 168 pounds, Worden was under orders from the Navy Department to fire half-weight powder charges of 15 pounds for fear the guns would explode.

If this first great combat between the ironclads ended in a draw, war at sea had changed forever and with it the practice of naval medicine. What made the naval environment different from the Civil War battlefield was the advent of the ironclad ship. John Ericsson’s Monitor employed the new technology, incorporating many technical advances for the time including forced ventilation of living spaces, a protected anchor which could be raised and lowered without it or the crew being exposed to enemy fire, and a protected pilothouse.

Nevertheless, the new technology of iron and steam introduced brand-new hazards—exploding boilers, scalding with live steam, burn injuries, and primary and secondary wounds resulting from large caliber, rifled naval guns. Ironclad vessels also introduced environmental and occupational concerns for sailors aggravated by badly ventilated and hell-hot engine rooms. It is estimated that a typical low ranking coal heaver aboard a poorly ventilated ironclad routinely endured temperatures approaching 130 degrees F. In fact, aboard Monitor in summer, temperatures of 125 degrees were recorded on the berth deck and 150 degrees in the galley. One cannot underestimate the utility of awnings in deflecting the sun from ironclads decks.

Almost everyone has experienced opening the door of an automobile after the vehicle has been baking in the summer sun all afternoon. Those freshly scrubbed teak decks on World War I and World War II era battleships were not designed for aesthetics. They insulated steel decks and made living conditions somewhat bearable in the days before air conditioning. One can only imagine then, the plight of the typical Civil War ironclad sailor stationed on an inland river of the deep south or in the vicinity of the besieged Charleston, SC. Add the oppressive humidity of July or August and now one can begin to understand the life of an ironclad sailor.

There were other hazards to be endured. With only inches of freeboard, many ironclads of both navies were literally only inches from disaster. One has only to contemplate Monitor’s ill-starred voyage to Hampton Roads even before her fight with ex-Merrimack. Only one day out of New York, she encountered a storm which soon had heavy seas cascading over her deck, washing out turret caulking, flooding her berth deck, disabling her blowers, and nearly extinguishing her boiler fires. Her paymaster recalled what the ironclad’s fight for survival meant for her crew.

“Turning to go down from the turret I met one of our engineers coming up the steps, pale, black, wet and staggering along gasping for breath. He asked me for brandy and I turned to go down and get him some and met the sailors dragging up the fireman and other engineers apparently lifeless. I got down as soon as possible and found the whole between decks filled with steam and gas and smoke; the sailors were rushing up stifled with gas. I found when I reached the berth deck that it came from the engine room, the door of which was open. As I went to shut it one of our sailors said he believed that one of the engineers was still in there—no time was to be lost, though by this time almost suffocated myself, I rushed in over heaps of coal and ashes and fortunately found the man lying insensible. One of the sailors who had followed me helped pull him out and close the door.”

This nightmare would be played out again—fatally—at the end of the year when Monitor’s pumps failed to stem the incoming seas and John Ericsson’s ironclad pioneer plunged to the bottom off Cape Hatteras with the loss of several crewmen.

Even the fuel that fired an ironclad’s boilers was a threat. Coal, while not a new fuel used by the Navy, had the potential of becoming a silent killer. Fossil fuels require proper ventilation and this concept was not yet adequately understood by Civil War engineers. Untold casualties, some fatal, occurred when crewmen either loaded wet bituminous coal in below-deck bunkers or bilge water contaminated the fuel. Both the Mississippi Squadron and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron reported a number of cases of sailors being discovered either dead or unconscious below deck. The more fortunate were revived when exposed to the fresh air. Besides unconsciousness, surgeons described their patients as being cyanotic—blueness of the skin caused by oxygen starvation with foreheads and eyelids markedly swollen. Similar cases reported aboard a coal-fired ship in 1913 recognized the problem as carbon monoxide poisoning. Wet, unventilated coal produces high levels of that dangerous gas.

Indeed, there were significant differences in warfare once ironclads came into their own. Naval guns up to the middle of the nineteenth century had an effective range of only about a mile and a half. These were the smoothbores throwing balls weighing 24 and 32 pounds. The strategy therefore called for close-in fighting terminated by boarding parties and hand-to-hand combat.

There were many differences between wounds sustained in battle on the old wooden ships and those encountered aboard ironclads. Shots striking wooden vessels tended to throw about splinters which, as secondary projectiles, caused many of the wounds. Burns were uncommon. In yardarm engagements and during the hand-to-hand fighting resulting from boarding an enemy’s vessel, many wounds were caused by small arms, cutlasses, bayonets, and pikes.

In ironclad fighting, splinters might be fewer, but burns and fragment wounds became commonplace. The so-called protected environment an ironclad warship provided was illusory. If anything, it offered fatal hazards the crew of a wooden ship rarely experienced. Take the example of the monitor Nahant. Engaged in Samuel Du Pont’s attack on the Charleston forts in April 1863, shellfire from the forts slammed against her pilot house and turret with such velocity that broken bolts ricocheted about her pilot house like bullets, killing one man and injuring two others, including her captain.

Iron shot weighing over 150 pounds were now common, making the 24- and 32-pound size thrown by earlier guns seem quite puny in comparison. What’s more, a newer generation of rifled guns that could pulverize masonry forts could do worse to those enclosed within an iron-sheathed hull. What resulted was the “garbage can” effect. Imagine yourself encased in a typical galvanized steel garbage pail or a 55-gallon steel oil drum, ears unprotected, and then having your antagonists hurling 50-pound cement blocks against your cocoon, one per second. With blood dripping from nose and ears, crewmen were sometimes driven mad under the barrage of both rifled and unrifled artillery impacting against iron armor. And if not driven mad, many sailors had their eardrums ruptured or, at very least, suffered temporary or permanent deafness. Civil War sailors frequently described ringing in the ears or tinnitus. With noise levels aboard Civil War ironclads routinely exceeding 130 decibels, one can only conjecture what kind of hearing damage resulted among these warriors. For comparison, a modern F-18 jet engine produces about 125 decibels of noise. The noise on the flight deck of a modern aircraft carrier during flight operations routinely exceeds that level. And these crews have available hearing protection. One can only imagine the degree of hearing loss suffered by Civil War sailors.

As similar as the practice of medicine may have been for both Army and Navy physicians--certainly in the treatment of battle injuries--the marine environment offered some very unique circumstances. Sailors on blockade duty experienced little battle and much boredom. Off Cape Fear, NC, a sailor in the blockading squadron wrote home to his mother that she should get some notion of blockade duty if she would go to the roof on a hot summer day, talk to a half dozen degenerates, descend to the basement, drink tepid water full of iron rust, climb to the roof again, and repeat the process at intervals until she was fagged out. Then go to bed with everything shut tight.

Needless to say, under these conditions, the psychological health of sailors was often in question. “Give me a discharge and let me go home,” a distraught coal-heaver begged his skipper after months of duty outside of Charleston. “I am a poor, weak, miserable, nervous, half crazy boy. Everything jarred upon my delicate nerves.”

And this routine was accompanied by an unbroken diet of moldy beans, stale biscuits, and sour pork. To ease the monotony or perhaps to anesthetize themselves from reality, mess crews specialized in the manufacture of outlaw whiskey distilled from almost any substance that fermented in the southern heat. Commanding officers and medical officers assigned to the James River Flotilla complained a great deal of the lack of fresh provisions and vegetables. Following a July 1862 inspection, Fleet Surgeon of the North Atlantic Squadron, Dr. James Wood, recommended that vessels be furnished with fresh provisions twice a week. His report on his inspection also contained a recommendation for improving the water supply used in the vessels. He said that the “turbid and objectionable” river water used tended to produce diarrhea. He saw no reason for continuing to use impure river water, since steam vessels could condense more pure water than their crews needed.

Even though sanitary conditions aboard ship were often superior to those ashore, and both navies probably fared better than the armies when it came to the frequency of disease, rheumatism and scurvy kept the doctors busy along with typhoid, dysentery, break bone fever, hemorrhoids, and damage done by knuckles. In the southern climes, insect-borne malaria and yellow fever laid low many a crew. And, regardless of what they had to work with, surgeons aboard the ironclads, and indeed every vessel, had no medicine for the ills of the spirit brought on by the strain of monotony, poor food, and unhealthy living conditions which produced much longer casualty lists than did Confederate shells or mines.

The ironclad navy of the Civil War was neither all wood nor all iron. Nevertheless, it represented the first, halting steps into the modern age. Even though many of the hulls were still wood with but a veneer of iron, such vessels as Monitor and the vessels it spawned would soon become commonplace. The age of sail was over and had been since Monitor and Virginia fought their legendary duel in 1862. It was a new navy in 1865, even though hard-bitten conservatives in Washington had been loathe to trade traditional wooden hulls and canvas for an all-iron fleet. By the late 1870s and certainly by the turn of the twentieth century that fact was a reality. Medical planners and health care providers would now have to face squarely the realities Civil War surgeons had already encountered during their war. The new steel ships now carried rifled, breach-loading artillery. What their muzzle-loading predecessors had inflicted upon human flesh and bone had already been demonstrated. Traumatic amputations, penetrating fragment wounds, and horrific burns had become commonplace during that war. In the post- Civil War environment, these wounds would increase exponentially as would new kinds of injuries merely hinted at during the Civil War—primary and secondary blast injuries, scalded skin and flesh caused by ruptured steam pipes and boilers, toxic smoke inhalation—the products of fire below decks. The problems first encountered during the war of the ironclads would now have to be dealt with aboard ships of the all-steel, all-steam navy.

Whether victims of disease or hostile action, sailors required treatment and much Navy medicine took place in the three existing hospitals at Chelsea, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. By the fall of 1862, all three were filled to their utmost capacity. As a result, medical facilities at navy yards and naval stations were expanded and both civilian and Army hospitals were also treating naval patients. To remedy the situation, a major hospital expansion campaign began. Unfortunately, many of these improvements weren’t realized until the very end of the war.

Following their recapture by Union forces, the two naval hospitals in the South--Portsmouth and Pensacola were put back into operation. In addition to the naval hospitals that had been established before the war, at least four others came on line between 1862 and 1865. These hospitals at Mound City, IL (1862); Memphis, TN (1863); New Orleans, LA (1863); and Port Royal, SC (1864), were located within the theater of operations of the blockading river squadrons and acted as receiving hospitals, taking patients on a short-term basis.

Ironically, one of the medical stations that could perform long-term care was not stationary at all. In 1862, Union forces captured a Confederate side-wheeler, Red Rover. Under the order of the Naval Fleet Surgeon, the ship was converted into what can be considered the Navy’s first hospital ship (however, there is evidence that Navy ships used during the Tripolitan Wars were used as floating hospitals). According to a Navy General Order of June 1862, “only those patients are to be sent to the hospital boat who it is to be expected to be sick for some time, and whose cases may require more quiet and better attention and accommodation than on board the vessels to which they belong.”

Regardless, Red Rover was something of a naval anomaly. The vessel had a laundry; an elevator that could transport the sick from lower to upper decks; an amputation room; nine water closets; an icebox to store fresh food; and gauze blinds to keep flies, mosquitoes, cinders, and smoke from “annoying” the patients. It was also the first ship to have a staff of female nurses trained in the medical arts.

On Christmas Eve, 1862, Sisters of the Order of the Holy Cross of St. Mary’s of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, reported aboard the medical vessel to care for sick and wounded seamen. One hundred years later, the Navy helped to honor these women at a ceremony on the campus of Notre Dame as true pioneers of the Navy Nurse Corps.

From 1862 until 1865, the medical staff on-board Red Rover cared for 2,450 casualties, including 300 wounded Confederates. In roughly the same time period, Navy shore facilities handled more than 31,000 patients, with 990 treated in 1864 alone, a record for a four-year conflict. However, the conflict was not without other distinctions. The war took a heavy toll on the Navy Medical Corps, killing 33 surgeons including Assistant Surgeon William Longshaw, Jr., who was acknowledged by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and RADM John Dahlgren for gallant behavior for his action on 15 November 1863 when he, under heavy fire, volunteered to retrieve the monitor Lehigh which had run aground. In January 1865, Dr. Longshaw was killed in an assault on Fort Fisher, NC, while binding the wounds of a dying man. His heroism under fire encapsulates Navy medicine’s real Civil War legacy.

IN MEMORIUM: VADM James A. Zimble, MC, USN, Ret. (1933-2011)

VADM James Allen Zimble, MC USN, the beloved former Surgeon General of the Navy passed away on 14 December 2011. He was 78.

Admiral Zimble was born on 12 October 1933 in Philadelphia, PA. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin and Marshall College. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

James Allen Zimble joined the Navy in 1955, served his internship at Naval Hospital St. Albans, and then chose undersea medicine and submarine duty. After a tour aboard the fleet ballistic submarine USS John Marshall, Dr. Zimble acquired skills as obstetrician-gynecologist serving at several naval hospitals. He became CO of the Naval Regional Medical Center, Orlando in 1978, and Medical Officer of the Marine Corps in 1981. He then served as Fleet Surgeon for Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

From 1987 to 1991, VADM Zimble served as the Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy. In this role, Dr. Zimble presided over the disestablishment of the Naval Medical Command and the return of BUMED, and managed the deployment of the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort, the Fleet Hospitals, and Medical Department personnel for the Gulf War.He was responsible for developing and establishing overall Naval health care policies and priorities, contingency and wartime planning, and program development. This was in support of more than 2.8 million Navy and Marine Corps active duty and retired beneficiaries and their families.

Upon his retirement from the Navy in 1991, Admiral Zimble served as president of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, MD (1991-2004).

See more photographs of Admiral James Zimble at:

VADM James Zimble photographs

VADM James Zimble, MC, USN, (Ret.) passed away this morning. VADM Zimble was our 30th Surgeon General of the Navy from 1987 to 1991. He then served as the 4th President of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences from 1991 to 2004. This is a selection of hundreds of photographs we have of him.

JAMES A. ZIMBLE, VICE ADMIRAL U.S. NAVY, THE SURGEON GENERAL. (National Museum of Health & Medicine, NCP 1974)

Naval Hospital Dedication. Vice Admiral James A. Zimble. San Diego, California. 09-5054-061.

Naval Hospital Dedication. Left to right: Captain Wesolowski, Dr. Mayer; Seated MCPO [Master Chief Petty Officer] Jessup, Rear Admiral Sears, Vice Admiral Zimble, Rear Admiral Montoya, Chaplain Kieffer. San Diego, California. 09-5054-063

Vice Admiral James Zimble and Vice Admiral Donald Hagen (in background) at Exhibit on the Mall. Gulf War - National Victory Celebration. 09-7987-001

Vice Admiral James Zimble (center), Vice Admiral Donald Hagen (right), and Rear Admiral Rober Higgins inside exhibit tent. [Gulf War - National Victory Celebration. 06/1991; U.S. Navy BUMED Library and Archives 09-7987-17

Navy Surgeon General Vice Admiral James A. Zimble, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy, right, chats with a patient during a visit to Fleet Hospital 5. Zimble commended Navy medical personnel at the Navy's first activated fleet hospital for providing the best medical care possible. [Persian Gulf War.] Desert Storm Photos. 12/1990; U.S. Navy Photo by HM2 Jim Moyer; U.S. Navy BUMED Library and Archives 09-7988-101

Dr. James A. Zimble, MD. 1996 Ash Lecturer. National Museum of Health and Medicine, MIS 08-1598-1

Vice Admiral James Zimble. U.S. Navy BUMED Library and Archives 09-9023-10

"Department of Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Department of Navy Naval Medical Command." Vice Admiral James Zimble. U.S. Navy BUMED Library and Archives 09-9023-20

Monday, December 12, 2011

Roosevelt's dedication of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda

The archivists at the FDR Library kindly suggested this site to us, and
we found FDR's dedication speech when we needed it:

Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Address at the Dedication of the Naval Medical
Center, Bethesda, Maryland.," August 31, 1942. Online by Gerhard Peters
and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day: Lee B. Soucy

World War II pharmacist’s mate second class Lee B. Soucy, a medical laboratory technician assigned to the target ship USS Utah (AG-16).

What do you remember about that morning of 7 December 1941?

I had just had breakfast and was looking out a porthole in sick bay when someone said, "What the hell are all those planes doing up there on a Sunday? Someone else said, "It must be those crazy Marines. They'd be the only ones out maneuvering on a Sunday." When I looked up in the sky I saw five or six planes starting their descent. Then when the first bombs dropped on the hangers at Ford Island, I thought, "Those guys are missing us by a mile." Inasmuch as practice bombing was a daily occurrence to us, it was not too unusual for planes to drop bombs, but the time and place were quite out of line. We could not imagine bombing practice in port. It occurred to me and to most of the others that someone had really goofed this time and put live bombs on those planes by mistake.

In any event, even after I saw a huge fireball and cloud of black smoke rise from hangers on Ford Island and heard explosions, it did not occur to me that these were enemy planes. It was too incredible! Simply beyond imagination! "What a SNAFU," I moaned.

As I watched the explosions on Ford Island in amazement and disbelief, I felt the ship lurch. We didn't know it then, but we were being bombed and torpedoed by planes approaching from the opposite (port) side.

What time did this happen?

The bugler and bosun's mate were on the fantail ready to raise the colors at 8 o'clock. In a matter of seconds, the bugler sounded "General Quarters." I grabbed my first aid bag and headed for my battle station amidship.

A number of the ship's tremors are vaguely imprinted in my mind, but I remember one jolt quite vividly. As I was running down the passageway toward my battle station, another torpedo or bomb hit and shook the ship severely. I was knocked off balance and through the log room door. I got up a little dazed and immediately darted down the ladder below the armored deck. I forgot my first aid kit.

What did you do?

By then the ship was already listing. There were a few men down below who looked dumbfounded and wondered out loud, "What's going on?" I felt around my shoulder in great alarm. No first aid kit! Being out of uniform is one thing, but being at a battle station without proper equipment is more than embarrassing.

After a minute or two below the armored deck, we heard another bugle call, then the bosun's whistle followed by the boatswain's chant, "Abandon ship... Abandon ship."

We scampered up the ladder. As I raced toward the open side of the deck, an officer stood by a stack of life preservers and tossed the jackets at us as we ran by. When I reached the open deck, the ship was listing precipitously. I thought about the huge amount of ammunition we had on board and that it would surely blow up soon. I wanted to get away from the ship fast, so I discarded my life jacket. I didn't want a Mae West slowing me down.

Did you dive off the ship?

Yes and no. And that’s an interesting story. Another thing had jolted my memory. I remembered how rough the beach on Ford Island was. The day previous, I had been part of a fire and rescue party dispatched to fight a small fire on Ford Island. The fire was out by the time we got there but I remember distinctly the rugged beach, so I tied double knots in my shoes whereas just about everyone else kicked their's off.

So you did dive off the ship?

Not exactly. I was tensely poised for a running dive off the partially exposed hull when the ship lunged again and threw me off balance. I ended up with by bottom sliding across and down the barnacle encrusted bottom of the ship.

When the ship had jolted, I thought we had been hit by another bomb or torpedo, but later it was determined that the mooring lines snapped which caused the 21,000-ton ship to jerk so violently as she keeled over.

Nevertheless, after I bobbed up to the surface of the water and tried to get my bearings, I spotted a motor launch with a coxswain fishing men out of the water with his boat hook. I started to swim toward the launch. After a few strokes, a hail of bullets hit the water a few feet ahead of me in line with the launch. As the strafer banked, I noted the big red insignias on the wing tips. Until then, I really had not known who attacked us. At some point, I had heard someone shout, "Where did those Germans come from?" I quickly decided that a boat full of men would be a more likely strafing target than a loan swimmer, so I changed course and hightailed it for Ford Island.

What happened when you reached the beach?

I was exhausted. As I tried to catch my breath, another pharmacist's mate, Gordon Sumner, from the Utah, stumbled out of the water. I remember how elated I was to see him. There is no doubt in my mind that bewilderment, if not misery, loves company. I remember I felt guilty that I had not made any effort to recover my first aid kit. Sumner had his wrapped around his shoulders.

While we both tried to get our wind back, a jeep came speeding by and came to a screeching halt. One of the two officers in the vehicle had spotted our Red Cross brassards and hailed us aboard. They took us to a two- or three-story concrete BOQ (bachelor officer's quarters) facing Battleship Row to set up an emergency treatment station for several oil-covered casualties strewn across the concrete floor. Most of them were from the capsized or flaming battleships. It did not take long to exhaust the supplies in Sumner's bag.

What could you do with no supplies?

A line officer came by to inquire how we were getting along. We told him we had run out of everything and were in urgent need of bandages and some kind of solvent or alcohol to cleanse wounds. He ordered someone to strip the beds and make rolls of bandages with the sheets. Then he turned to us and said, "Alcohol? Alcohol?" he repeated. "Will whiskey do?"

Before we could mull it over, he took off and in a few minutes he returned and plunked a case of scotch at our feet. Another person who accompanied him had an armful of bottles of a variety of liquors. I am sure denatured alcohol could not have served our purpose better for washing off the sticky oil, as well as providing some antiseptic effect for a variety of wounds and burns.

Was it a bizarre situation?

Yes, it was. Despite the confusion, pain, and suffering, there was some gusty humor amidst the pathos and chaos. At one point, an exhausted swimmer, covered with a gooey film of black oil, saw me walking around with a washcloth in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other. He hollered, "Hey Doc, could I have a shot of that medicine?" I handed him the bottle of whichever liquor I had at the time. He took a hefty swig. He had no sooner swallowed the "medicine" than he spewed it out along with black mucoidal globs of oil. He lay back a minute after he stopped vomiting, then said, "Doc, I lost that medicine. How about another dose?"

It all sounds like a very incongruous way to practice medicine.

Well, it certainly wasn’t normal but then again, the circumstances were anything but routine. My internal as well as external application of booze was not accepted medical practice, but it sure made me popular with the old salts. Actually, it probably was a good medical procedure if it induced vomiting. Retaining contaminated water and oil in one's stomach was not good for one's health.

Were you still under attack while all this was going on?

Oh, sure. And I remember another incident. A low flying enemy pilot was strafing toward our concrete haven while I was on my knees trying to determine what to do for a prostrate casualty. Although the sailor, or marine, was in bad shape, he raised his head feebly when he saw the plane approach and shouted, "Open the doors and let the sonofabitch in."

Events which occurred in seconds take minutes to recount. During the lull, regular medical personnel from the Ford Island Dispensary arrived with proper supplies and equipment and released Sumner and me so we could rejoin other Utah survivors for reassignment.

When the supplies ran out at our first aid station, I suggested to Sumner that he volunteer to go to the Naval Dispensary for some more. When he returned, he mentioned that he had a close call. A bomb landed in the patio while he was at the dispensary. He didn't mention any injury, so I shrugged it off. After all, under the circumstances, what was one bomb more or less. That afternoon, while we were both walking along a lanai [screened porch] at the dispensary, he pointed to a crater in the patio. "That's where the bomb hit I told you about." "Where were you?", I asked. He pointed to a spot not far away. I said, "Come on, if you had been that close, you'd have been killed." To which he replied, "Oh, it didn't go off. I fled the area in a hurry."

What happened when the Japanese aircraft left the scene?

Sometime after dark, a squadron of scout planes from the carrier Enterprise (200 hundred or so miles out at sea), their fuel nearly depleted, came in for a landing on Ford Island. All hell broke loose and the sky lit up from tracer bullets from numerous antiaircraft guns. As the Enterprise planes approached, some understandably trigger-happy gunners opened fire; then all gunners followed suit and shot down all but one of our planes. At least, that's what I was told. Earlier that evening, many of the Utah survivors had been taken to the USS Argonne (AP-4), a transport. Gunners manning .50 caliber machine guns on the partially submerged USS California directly across from the Argonne hit the ship while shooting at the planes. A stray, armor-piercing bullet penetrated Argonne's thin bulkhead, went through a Utah survivors's arm, and spent itself in another sailor's heart. He died instantly.

The name Price has been stored in my memory bank for a long time as this fatality but, at a recent reunion of Utah survivors, another ex-shipmate, Gilbert Meyer, insisted that Price was not the one killed. I didn't argue too long because I recalled meeting two men at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital several weeks after the raid who walked around with their own obituaries in their wallets--clippings from hometown newspapers.


Interview with former World War II pharmacist’s mate second class Lee B. Soucy, a medical laboratory technician assigned to the target ship USS Utah (AG-16). Conducted by Jan K. Herman, Historian of the Navy Medical Department, 11 February 1995.

Pearl Harbor Day: Horace Warden

Excerpt from interview with RADM Horace D. Warden, MC, USN (Ret.), Experiences during World War II, as White House physician, and involvement with space program and Pueblo crew repatriation. Telephone interview, San Diego, CA, December 14, 21, 23, 28, 1993. Interviewed by Jan K. Herman, Historian, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Were you on the Breese that Sunday morning when the Japanese attacked?

Yes sir. On that Sunday morning we were moored to a buoy near Pearl City. I happened to be aboard the previous night because in those days they used to divide Pearl Harbor into three areas. There was supposed to be a doctor assigned to each area all night for medical coverage. It was my night to be aboard in Pearl City. I was due to go off duty at 8:00 on Sunday morning. I had changed into civilian clothes and was waiting on the deck for a whaleboat to take me to my car so I could go to breakfast at home on the far side of Honolulu. The Japanese hit at five minutes to eight and I never got off the ship.

Did you see them coming?

No. The first thing I remember was the sound of firing and then they called general quarters. We were not a large ship so we were not immediately threatened. After the Japanese delivered their bombs on the large ships they had to come up over us. That's when we got one of them with what I think was a 3-inch gun.

Did you see that happen?

No. I didn't see the plane get hit.

When you went to general quarters, your station was in the sick bay below decks?

Yes. But I didn't have time to get there. I remember one of our food handlers was milling around very upset and crying, a real basket case. We went to where we had the firearms stashed away and we got a rifle and gave it to him. Once he started shooting he was alright. The plane we had shot down landed right near us in the water. The pilot was still alive so they got a whaleboat to go rescue him. Apparently he made a move, put his hand under his vest or something, and so they killed him and then didn't have a live pilot to question. The sailor who shot him was told that he was going to get court martialed. But later that all was quashed and there was no court martial.

We then tried to get underway and out of the harbor. Our ship was ready because we had had the duty the night before, but we were tied to three other ships and they didn't have many people aboard on Sunday morning. So we had to wait until enough crewmembers arrived on these ships to get them out of the harbor.

Did you have any casualties to treat at this point?

None. After about an hour or an hour and a half we were out to sea and started to patrol looking for miniature subs and dropped depth charges. We stayed out about a week and then came back. I can't remember whether we ran out of food or fuel. Anyway, we came back in to Pearl Harbor. Then we could see all the damage that had been done. Going out we couldn't see it because of where we were. While we were out we kept wondering why the big ships hadn't come out.

What did you think of all that damage?

It was just terrible. It was one of those things when you think, what's the world coming to? What's going to happen to us now? Everyone was all set to try to get even if we could, but my family was on the other end of Oahu so the first thing I wanted to do was get ashore and let them know that I was okay and find out that they were okay. That was probably the worst week of the war for me.

What did you do once you got back to Pearl?

We stayed there waiting for further orders. There was nothing really to do. I then got permission to go to the Naval Hospital to help out over there.

Did you still have a lot of casualties to deal with from the attack?

Yes. We still had surgery to do. One of the Japanese planes had crashed in the Naval Hospital yard and I have a piece of it.

Did you still go patrolling with the Breese?

Yes. We would go out for a few days patrolling looking for submarines and then come back to Pearl. I remember that on Christmas day in 1941 we were tied up right at Hospital Point. Meanwhile, my family came out to the Naval Hospital to have Christmas dinner with me. That was a wonderful occasion.

Medical First Responders Remember Pearl Harbor

A story from the Department of Defense's Military Health System:

Pearl Harbor Day: Nurse Ruth Erickson

Excerpt from a telephone interview with CAPT Ruth A. Erickson, NC, USN, (Ret.), World War II nurse and later tenth Director of the Navy Nurse Corps, 24 March, 30 March, 6 April, 12 April 1994. Interviewed by Jan K. Herman, Historian, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

In late summer of 1939 we learned that spring fleet maneuvers would be in Hawaii, off the coast of Maui. Further, I would be detached to report to the Naval Hospital, Pearl Harbor, T.H. when maneuvers were completed. The orders were effective on 8 May 1940.

Tropical duty was another segment in my life's adventure! On this same date I reported to the hospital command in which CAPT Reynolds Hayden was the commanding officer. Miss Myrtle Kinsey was the chief of nursing services with a staff of eight nurses. I was also pleased to meet up with Miss Winnie Gibson once again, the operating room supervisor.

We nurses had regular ward assignments and went on duty at 8 a.m. Each had a nice room in the nurses' quarters. We were a bit spoiled; along with iced tea, fresh pineapple was always available.

We were off at noon each day while one nurse covered units until relieved at 3 p.m. In turn, the p.m. nurse was relieved at 10 p.m. The night nurse's hours were 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
One month I'd have a medical ward and the next month rotated to a surgical ward. Again, I didn't have any operating room duties here. The fleet population was relatively young and healthy. We did have quite an outbreak of "cat [catarrhal] fever" with flu-like symptoms. This was the only pressure period we had until the war started.

What was off-duty like?

Cars were few and far between, but two nurses had them. Many aviators were attached to Ford Island. Thus, there was dating. We had the tennis courts, swimming at the beach, and picnics. The large hotel at Waikiki was the Royal Hawaiian, where we enjoyed an occasional beautiful evening and dancing under starlit skies to lovely Hawaiian melodies.

And then it all ended rather quickly.

Yes, it did. A big dry dock in the area was destined to go right through the area where the nurses' quarters stood. We had vacated the nurses' quarters about 1 week prior to the attack. We lived in temporary quarters directly across the street from the hospital, a one-story building in the shape of an E. The permanent nurses' quarters had been stripped and the shell of the building was to be razed in the next few days.

By now, the nursing staff had been increased to 30 and an appropriate number of doctors and corpsmen had been added. The Pacific fleet had moved their base of operations from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. With this massive expansion, there went our tropical hours! The hospital now operated at full capacity.

Were you and your colleagues beginning to feel that war was coming?

No. We didn't know what to think. I had worked the afternoon duty on Saturday, December 6th from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. with Sunday to be my day off.

Two or three of us were sitting in the dining room Sunday morning having a late breakfast and talking over coffee. Suddenly we heard planes roaring overhead and we said, "The `fly boys' are really busy at Ford Island this morning." The island was directly across the channel from the hospital. We didn't think too much about it since the reserves were often there for weekend training. We no sooner got those words out when we started to hear noises that were foreign to us.

I leaped out of my chair and dashed to the nearest window in the corridor. Right then there was a plane flying directly over the top of our quarters, a one-story structure. The rising sun under the wing of the plane denoted the enemy. Had I known the pilot, one could almost see his features around his goggles. He was obviously saving his ammunition for the ships. Just down the row, all the ships were sitting there--the California, the Arizona, the Oklahoma, and others.
My heart was racing, the telephone was ringing, the chief nurse, Gertrude Arnest, was saying, "Girls, get into your uniforms at once. This is the real thing!"

I was in my room by that time changing into uniform. It was getting dusky, almost like evening. Smoke was rising from burning ships.

I dashed across the street, through a shrapnel shower, got into the lanai and just stood still for a second as were a couple of doctors. I felt like I were frozen to the ground, but it was only a split second. I ran to the orthopedic dressing room but it was locked. A corpsman ran to the OD's desk for the keys. It seemed like an eternity before he returned and the room was opened. We drew water into every container we could find and set up the instrument boiler. Fortunately, we still had electricity and water. Dr. [CDR Clyde W.] Brunson, the chief of medicine was making sick call when the bombing started. When he was finished, he was to play golf...a phrase never to be uttered again.

The first patient came into our dressing room at 8:25 a.m. with a large opening in his abdomen and bleeding profusely. They started an intravenous and transfusion. I can still see the tremor of Dr. Brunson's hand as he picked up the needle. Everyone was terrified. The patient died within the hour.

Then the burned patients streamed in. The USS Nevada had managed some steam and attempted to get out of the channel. They were unable to make it and went aground on Hospital Point right near the hospital. There was heavy oil on the water and the men dived off the ship and swam through these waters to Hospital Point, not too great a distance, but when one is burned... How they ever managed, I'll never know.

The tropical dress at that time was white t-shirts and shorts. The burns began where the pants ended. Bared arms and faces were plentiful.

Personnel retrieved a supply of new flit guns from stock. We filled these with tannic acid to spray burned bodies. Then we gave these gravely injured patients sedatives for their intense pain.

Orthopedic patients were eased out of their beds with no time for linen changes as an unending stream of burn patients continued until mid afternoon. A doctor, who several days before had renal surgery and was still convalescing, got out of his bed and began to assist the other doctors.

Do you recall the Japanese plane that was shot down and crashed into the tennis court?

Yes, the laboratory was next to the tennis court. The plane sheared off a corner of the laboratory and a number of the laboratory animals, rats and guinea pigs, were destroyed. Dr. Shaver [LTJG John S.], the chief pathologist, was very upset.

About 12 noon the galley personnel came around with sandwiches and cold drinks; we ate on the run. About 2 o'clock the chief nurse was making rounds to check on all the units and arrange relief schedules.

I was relieved around 4 p.m. and went over to the nurses' quarters where everything was intact. I freshened up, had something to eat, and went back on duty at 8 p.m. I was scheduled to report to a surgical unit. By now it was dark and we worked with flashlights. The maintenance people and anyone else who could manage a hammer and nails were putting up black drapes or black paper to seal the crevices against any light that might stream to the outside.

About 10 or 11 o'clock, there were planes overhead. I really hadn't felt frightened until this particular time. My knees were knocking together and the patients were calling, "Nurse, nurse!" The other nurse and I went to them, held their hands a few moments, and then went onto others.

The priest was a very busy man. The noise ended very quickly and the word got around that these were our own planes.

What do you remember when daylight came?

I worked until midnight on that ward and then was directed to go down to the basement level in the main hospital building. Here the dependents--the women and children--the families of the doctors and other staff officers were placed for the night. There were ample blankets and pillows. We lay body by body along the walls of the basement. The children were frightened and the adults tense. It was not a very restful night for anyone.

Everyone was relieved to see daylight. At 6 a.m. I returned to the quarters, showered, had breakfast, and reported to a medical ward. There were more burn cases and I spent a week there.

What could you see when you looked over toward Ford Island?

I really couldn't see too much from the hospital because of the heavy smoke. Perhaps at a higher level one could have had a better view.

On the evening of 17 December, the chief nurse told me I was being ordered to temporary duty and I was to go to the quarters, pack a bag, and be ready to leave at noon. When I asked where I was going, she said she had no idea. The commanding officer ordered her to obtain three nurses and they were to be in uniform. In that era we had no outdoor uniforms. Thus it would be the regular white ward uniforms.

And so in our ward uniforms, capes, blue felt hats, and blue sweaters, Lauretta Eno, Catherine Richardson, and I waited for a car and driver to pick us up at the quarters. When he arrived and inquired of our destination, we still had no idea! The OD's desk had our priority orders to go to one of the piers in Honolulu. We were to go aboard the SS President Coolidge and prepare to receive patients. We calculated supplies for a 10-day period.

We three nurses and a number of corpsmen from the hospital were assigned to the SS Coolidge. Eight volunteer nurses from the Queens Hospital in Honolulu were attached to the Army transport at the next pier, USAT Scott, a smaller ship.

The naval hospital brought our supplies the following day, the 18th, and we worked late into the evening. We received our patients from the hospital on the 19th, the Coolidge with 125 patients and the Scott with 55.

Were these the most critically injured patients?

The command decided that patients who would need more than 3 months treatment should be transferred. Some were very bad and probably should not have been moved. There were many passengers already aboard the ship, missionaries and countless others who had been picked up in the Orient. Two Navy doctors on the passenger list from the Philippines were placed on temporary duty and they were pleased to be of help.

Catherine Richardson worked 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I had the 4 p.m. to midnight, and Lauretta Eno worked midnight to 8 a.m. Everyone was very apprehensive. The ship traveled without exterior lights but there was ample light inside.

You left at night?

Yes, we left in the late afternoon of the 19th. There were 8 or 10 ships in the convoy. It was quite chilly the next day; I later learned that we had gone fairly far north instead of directly across. The rumors were rampant that a submarine was seen out this porthole in some other direction. I never get seasick and enjoy a bit of heavy seas, but this was different! Ventilation was limited by reason of sealed ports and only added to gastric misery. I was squared about very soon.

The night before we got into port, we lost a patient, an older man, perhaps a chief. He had been badly burned. He was losing intravenous fluids faster than they could be replaced. Our destination became San Francisco with 124 patients and one deceased.

We arrived at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day! Two ferries were waiting there for us with cots aboard and ambulances from the naval hospital at Mare Island and nearby civilian hospitals. The Red Cross was a cheerful sight with donuts and coffee.

Our arrival was kept very quiet. Heretofore, all ship's movements were usually published in the daily paper but since the war had started, this had ceased. I don't recall that other ships in the convoy came in with us except for the Scott. We and the Scott were the only ships to enter the port. The convoy probably slipped away.

The patients were very happy to be home and so were we all. The ambulances went on ahead to Mare Island. By the time we had everyone settled on the two ferries, it was close to noon. We arrived at Mare Island at 4:30 p.m. and helped get that patients into the respective wards.

While at Mare Island, a doctor said to me, "For God's sake, Ruth, what's happened out there? We don't know a thing." He had been on the USS Arizona and was detached only a few months prior to the attack. We stayed in the nurses' quarters that night.

The next morning we picked up our orders in the commanding officer's office. They informed us that we were free until 0800 the following morning, which would be the 27th. That night several of us were invited out and we went to dinner in our white uniforms and capes. We really stood out in a group. Being Christmas, San Francisco was quiet and we were not feeling very Christmasy. We made some telephone calls for ourselves and our shipmates.

When did you leave San Francisco?

We left on the morning of the 28th of December to return to Pearl Harbor. We went aboard the Henderson (AP-1), an old time transport. The ship was really bulging with troops. These were the first troops to go out since war was declared. Too, this ship was talking the first mail back to Hawaii since the war began and included the Christmas mail.

We arrived back at Pearl Harbor on January 10th and we three Navy nurses were picked up and returned to the hospital. It was like coming back to family. A bonding had been created by reason of our common experience beginning on December 7th. Fifty-five years later that bond still exists whenever one meets up with another.