NURSES OF THE 51ST EVAC HOSPITAL IN WWII
First-hand account by
51st Evacuation Hospital was a 750-bed field hospital and was a
channel through which all casualties passed on their transit out of the combat
zone to fixed hospitals in the communications zone. It provided major treatment of the sick and wounded as near
the front as possible. Up to that
point casualties had been treated by combat medics who prepared them for
transfer to an evacuation hospital where
definitive treatment was begun. Evacuation
hospitals were normally in the combat zone and could be in buildings or under
tents and on the major evacuation route to the rear.
The majority of the patients arrived at the hospital by field ambulance
and were evacuated the same way. Patients
returning to duty were either returned to their unit or sent to a replacement
51st was organized in Sacramento, California by local doctors and
nurses. The U.S. Army supplied
the balance of personnel to fill out the T/O (Table of Organization).
personnel of the 51st primarily consisted of 32 MDs (Medical
Officers) 3 DCs (Dental Officers), 5 MACs (Medical Administrative Officers), 2
chaplains, 52 nurses, 1 dietician and 318 enlisted men.
These amounts could vary depending on conditions.
unit came together at Fort Lewis, Washington, in October 1942 where all the
personnel went into field training except the nurses, who were put to work at
the North Fort Lewis Station Hospital.
Surgery Tent, June 1943
the hospital became operational in April 1943, it was sent by rail to the
Mohave Desert Training Center. Set
up in tents, the 51st provided medical support for troops on
maneuvers. In July the unit moved
to Banning, California where it operated as a General Hospital until relieved
by the 97th General Hospital.
Some of the nurses were sent on detached service to the 97th
until the 51st moved to San Luis Obispo, California.
Luis Obispo was a permanent post. After
living in the field for several months it was a welcome change to be in
buildings, have access to a P.X., and eat “A” rations again.
The nurses of course, were put to work at the station hospital.
While there, the entire unit, nurses too, went through the infiltration
course where they crawled through and around barbed wire entanglements while
machine guns and artillery were firing overhead and of course the field was
muddy. After finishing the
course, the best way to remove the mud was to shower while still fully
Nursing Service was the hospital’s largest single professional contingent
and critical to the unit’s mission. It
consisted of a Chief Nurse, who was a captain by rank, and had four nurses as
her office staff—all first lieutenants.
They were responsible for keeping records on nurses, such as duty
stations, work records, health related issues and other clerical records.
nurses were responsible for operation room duties. Two six-member teams were formed, each working a 12-hour
shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Shift changes were made every Sunday.
One shift worked eighteen hours and the other shift six hours to make
operating room held eight operating tables.
Four of the nurses on each shift were responsible for the patient care
on two tables, with the assistance of an enlisted man trained by the Army
Medical Corp. They assisted with
the transfer and positioning of the patient and the cleanup of the table.
The nurse assisted the doctor with procedures, dressings, and set-up
for each case.
nurse on each shift set up a sterile table and using the materials on the
table, set up instrument trays to be used at each table as requested by the
nurse, as well as providing sterile linens to be used at each operating table.
was a head nurse on each shift who was responsible for checking with triage to
learn which patient was ready for surgery and determine when and where the
patient would be treated and inform the nurse at that table what procedure to
prepare for. Two nurses were also
assigned to each shift to administer anesthetics, along with two MD
Anesthetists on each shift.
other nurses were assigned to wards for patient care with the aid of enlisted,
medically trained personnel. The
ward nurses were responsible for the care of the patient, dispensing
medications, changing dressings and following all doctors’ orders for the
patient’s care. They monitored
the care given by the enlisted personnel and assisted with the meal service on
the ward. Ambulatory patients ate
in the patients’ mess area.
of the nurses were in charge of two or more light care wards.
They also kept patient records from admission to discharge or transfer
to station or general hospitals or return to duty.
All wards were covered twenty-four hours by nurses’ care in
leaving the Desert Training Center, the nurses were sent to various Station
and General Hospitals on detached service, some as far as Brigham City, Utah.
The rest of the 51st prepared for overseas shipment.
shipping time came for overseas, the 51st came together at Camp
Cooke, California, and left by train to Hampton Roads Virginia.
The nurses traveled separately via the USA Southern Route.
March 1944, the nurses embarked on the USS Billy Mitchell with nurses from
several other hospital units. After
eight days they debarked at Casablanca where they spent two days before
boarding a train made up of boxcars and traveled across North Africa to Oran.
USS Billy Mitchell
a small village on the Mediterranean outside Oran, the nurses were allowed to
recuperate for a few days at a lovely recreation area then were sent out on
detached service to various Army hospitals in the area.
Oran in May 1944, the 51st boarded the U.S. Army Hospital Ship,
Seminole, and sailed to
Naples, Italy. There the nurses
were again sent on detached service to various General Hospitals in the area
while the rest of the 51st prepared for the invasion of Southern
U.S. Army Hospital Ship, Seminole
their off-duty hours, the nurses enjoyed the sights of Naples and trips to
Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, etc. Naples
had some neat officers’ clubs and the nurses were always welcome.
August of 1944 the 51st sailed from Naples for Southern France.
After landing at St. Tropez, the 51st set up outside the
town of Draguignan, in tents in a field, and began receiving patients.
The unit received patients at this location for 25 days, and admitted
2007 patients. Conditions were
very good; weather was balmy and much time was spent outdoors.
While waiting for the next move after closing, many of the nurses were
able to take short trips around the local area, visiting wineries, the perfume
center at Grasse and interacting with the local French populace.
next move was September, 1944. The
war had moved so fast the 51st was left behind since it had to rely
on other transportation to move. Subsequently
it was moved by rail using old third class coaches and boxcars of various
sizes and nationalities. It took
five days on the train to make the 500 miles from Dragiugnan to Vincey.
It was one of the first trains to make the trip after the Germans
abandoned the railroad. A
captured 400 gallon “Trink Wasser” tank was put on board to provide
potable water. The nurses carried
their own C & K rations. Some
carried small Colman stoves enabling them to have an occasional hot meal and
heat water for sponge baths.
Sleeping was a problem. At various stops they scavenged lumber, doors, etc., to bridge the two seats in the coach compartments to form a sleeping platform. Some slept on the platform, others under. Everyone took inconveniences in stride and arrived in Vincey ready to go back to work.
next place of operation was outside the little village of Vincey in
Northeastern France. The hospital
was set up on October 8th in another farmer’s field.
It was the start of the cold and rainy season and soon became a muddy
mess, making it difficult to walk and keep things clean, dry, and operational.
It was here the surgery was doubled in size by connecting two ward
tents, providing a much more workable area for everyone.
nurses were housed four to a 16 X 16 pyramidal tent. They became very resourceful.
Some had wooden bed platforms which were made by locals and paid for by
the nurses’ cigarette rations. They also lined their tents with blankets
captured from the Germans. The
tents were heated by coal stoves. In
one tent a nurse set her alarm clock for 3 a.m. to wake her so she could stoke
the stove. While quartered in
tents in this cold, wet area, the Army issued new complete winter wardrobes to
the nurses. They consisted of
olive drab wool pants and shirts, wool socks, gloves and knitted skull caps to
wear under their helmets. Also
included were raincoats, combat boots and warm undergarments which were soon
found to provide much needed warmth when worn as pajamas.
These outfits were worn on duty as well as off-hours and really made a
difference from the light nurses’ field uniforms they had been wearing.
women came daily to the nurses’ quarters to pick up any laundry available.
Laundry was returned in two or three days, clean and nicely pressed,
often smelling of home cooked meals, as they were dried indoors, usually in
the kitchen. The nurses didn’t
mind the odor but rather enjoyed the reminder of home.
at this location, one of the OR nurses and the medical supply officer were
married in the local village church. The
hospital chaplain, supported by the parish priest, performed the ceremony.
The wedding was attended by off-duty members of the 51st,
the church choir, and local citizens. The
married couple was given a 3-day pass (honeymoon) to Nancy, France.
The 51st remained in the area for 51 days and admitted 3677 patients.
Second Lieutenant Tillie (Horath) Kehrer
November 27th, 1944, the unit moved into an old French Cavalry
barracks in St. Die, France. The
officers and nurses were billeted in heated buildings, as were the wards and
surgery. The weather was very
cold with snow most days. The
fighting was very rough in the Vosge Mountains and the Colmar Pocket. Casualties were high from both battles and severe weather.
The unit was there 81 days with 7969 admissions.
While at St. Die, one of the OR nurses married a major from one of the
7th Army Field Artillery Batteries in the local village church. The wedding was performed by the 51st protestant
51st celebrated Christmas at St. Die. It was a festive occasion in spite of being busy.
A lovely turkey dinner with all the trimmings was prepared by the mess
department, champagne flowed freely, and hard liquor from the monthly ration
was abundant too. The meal was served at 5:30 P.M.
Those on shift were able to break away long enough to enjoy the meal.
Many members shared packages from home filled with goodies,
fruit-cakes, cookies and candy.
next move was to Sarre Union, France. The
51st was set up in tents again for only nine days with 971
next move was to Neustadt, Germany into a German hospital.
However, the building’s configuration and equipment were not
compatible to the operation so the surgery was set up in large garages.
The nurses were housed in the buildings.
This was a short stay of five days with 861 admissions.
next move was to Waldurn, Germany. The
51st was back in tents again.
There the unit processed many U.S. and allied prisoners of war who were
released as allied troops liberated their camps. The 51st was there 17 days and had 1851
last place the 51st operated as a field hospital was Welzheim,
Germany. It was situated in
another farmer’s field in tents. It
operated there for 89 days with 4329 admissions.
At Welzheim, one of the ward nurses married the lieutenant in command
of the ambulance company that serviced the 51st.
There were married in the town church by the 51st protestant chaplain.
It was there the unit suffered its first and only fatality.
One of the nurses was killed in a command car accident.
arrived while the 51st was in Welzheim, a welcomed change after a
severe winter. The nurses were
able to relax and even nap in the fields when off duty. As the workload diminished, trips were taken to various
scenic areas in Southern Germany, even to Hitler’s Adler Horst (Eagles Nest)
on top of a mountain in Berchtesgaden and to Salzberg, Austria.
Day came on May 8, 1945. It was
anticipated that the 51st would be redeployed to the Asiatic
Pacific Theater via the U.S. The
married nurses, some who married military personnel overseas, could opt out of
going to the Asiatic Pacific or be assigned to a unit slated for the Army of
Occupation; consequently several 51st nurses were assigned to the 2nd
Evac Hospital in Fulda, Germany. Other
nurses remained with the 51st and served when it reopened as a
General Hospital in a German hospital building in Stuttgart, Germany, sharing
the facility with the Germans. The
nurses transferred to Fulda worked in the 2nd Evac Hospital every
other week. They were housed in
small apartments with complete kitchens.
Some of the nurses used their culinary skills to prepare some delicious
dishes, mostly pastries and other desserts.
As a result, these apartments became gathering places for officers of
the 51st and enlisted personnel who had also been transferred to
the 2nd Evac. Many
hours were spent reminiscing over events and experiences they had shared for
the past three years.
was a lot of visiting back and forth with the 51st in Stuttgart
when transportation was available.
the war with Japan ended and nurses were sent home via the point system,
determined by the length of service, time overseas, and awards earned.
VJ Day nurses who had accumulated enough points to go back to the U.S. and home,
were sent to a nurses’ staging area at Camp Carlisle outside Riems, France.
This was a large camp where troops were processed for shipment to the
States and home. While at this
area, nurses were able to visit Riems and Paris and shop for souvenirs and gifts
to take home. Prices were high.
the scheduled embarkation port, LaHarve, was congested, the 51st
nurses and others were sent by hospital train to Marseille, a two-day trip.
At the nurses’ staging area, while waiting for shipping space, the
nurses could bicycle, swim, listen to lectures, and be entertained by U.S.O.
troops and even visit Lourdes or Cannes, the officers’ rest area.
One of the 51st nurses was able to celebrate her first wedding
anniversary with her husband at the Carleton Hotel in Cannes.
The nurses finally embarked for the States and home on October 27, 1945. Their ship was the USS Hermitage, the former Italian Cruise Liner White Angel.
thousand women joined the Army Nurse Corps during WW II.
Horath, Sweetland, Darcy, King and Dulancy
Digging a Fox Hole
On the Road Again, July 1943
© Copyright 2006, Tillie Kehrer, All rights reserved.