A Brief History of
the 48th Surgical/128th Evacuation Hospital
*Author’s note at end
of the 48th/128th begins in Fort
Warren, Wyoming in 1941. The
unit was comprised of approximately 300 personnel. The nurses of the unit were
volunteers from various areas of the United
States with about 20% from Fort
Knox, Kentucky each of these
nurses had been stationed at military posts. The Medical Officers were mostly
doctors with a few logistic and administrative personnel. The Enlisted Men were
mostly draftees and volunteers.
On August 1, 1942, 39 nurses under LT
Salter and seventy-seven enlisted men arrived for duty with the 48th
Surgical at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
On August 6, 1942 the Nurses of the 48th
left the United States aboard the USS Wakefield in New
7, 1942 the 57-60 nurses of the 48th met their
Commanding Officer Col. Ringer aboard the USS
Wakefield which would end her journey in Glasgow,
Scotland by way of Halifax,
Nova Scotia, Canada.
The 58 tent hospital at this point
is made up of the following numbers: 22 Medical Officers, 1 Chaplain, 60
Nurses, and 250 Enlisted men. The 48th Surgical Hospital consisted of three units:
the First (nurses under Lt. Salter), Second (under Lt. Teresa Archard), and Surgical Auxiliary (which would always be with the most
forward of the two units.). While in Tidworth, the days were spent marching,
drilling and guarding, until they moved up into the mountains outside of
Glasgow to begin a whole new regimen of field living.
The 48th had been
selected to provide medical personnel for the Roosevelt Group during the
Invasion of North Africa. This select personnel from the 48th
consisted of six Nurses, six Officers, and twenty Enlisted men. This group
embarked for North Africa with the 26th
Infantry, 1st Division and General Roosevelt (Theodore Roosevelt’s
son). The Oribita and the Monarch of Bermuda were the ships which
carried the 48th Surgical Hospital during “Operation Torch” to the shores of North Africa on November 8, 1942. The
Roosevelt Group on the Monarch of Bermuda
landed on the west of Oran at the village of Les Andalouses. The Allen Group
aboard the Orbita, carrying the rest
of the 48th Surgical, landed east of Oran at Arzew. 30,000 American soldiers of the Central Task Force, along with the
Doctors, Nurses and Enlisted men of the 48th Surgical Hospital (Unit’s 1 & 2)
disembarked from landing craft for the first amphibious landing of American
troops in North Africa. These troops (Nurses included)
landed under fire from the French Garrison on the shores.
After the invasion the First Unit
along with the Mobile Surgical Unit set up operations in old military barracks
and the Second Unit took up residence in an old infirmary about 2 blocks away
in Arzew and opened its doors on November 9. The hospital treated over 300
casualties within the first three days (12 abdominal laporatomies, amputations
[done by flashlight, no power] and wounds which required surgery) under
constant sniper fire. When the hostilities ended the unit functioned as a Station Hospital until January 14, 1943.
The unit left Arzew, eastbound
towards Constantine on January 15, 1943. They moved 400
miles over a period of two days. The First Unit set up near Thala,
Tunisia on 27 January.
The Second Unit with the Mobile Surgical Unit set up at Feriana,
Tunisia in old outpost
barracks. On 1 February the First Unit shut down and joined the Second, then
the entire unit was ordered back to Thala, and all Units were open and working
on 10 February 1943.
The Second Unit with the MSU
(Mobile Surgical Unit) was ordered to evacuate on 15 February for the beginning
of the German counter offensive at Kasserine Pass. They set up at Bou Chebka,
and before they could receive causalities they were forced to move further back
to Youks les Bains. The First Unit was forced out of Thala.
Jodie Harmon recalls:
“One day the
whole Army began to move back past us coming from the front. The Germans were
attacking and we were in full retreat. Late that evening the commander couldn’t
understand why we hadn’t received orders. Why was everyone retreating and not
us? So he and the first sergeant got in the command car and left to go to corps
headquarters and find out. They sent word back for us to stack all of our
equipment and get it ready to burn in case we had to surrender. We got
everything torn down except one ward tent and maybe another small tent that had
a few patients that we had no way to move. All vehicles were in use moving
other units to the rear. We finished before nightfall. The wind was blowing
hard and it was a cold February night. We just lay down and went to sleep
expecting to be in enemy hands when we woke up or maybe wake up in time to
torch our equipment. A little bit after midnight,
a two and a half ton truck came rolling in and a large sergeant came along and
jerked the blanket off of us and said to get our equipment together and get on
the truck……We got lost and almost drove into enemy lines.”
The First Unit moved to La Messianic,
days later, and the Second Unit went to Montesquieu,
The Second Unit was ordered to Gafsa to set up on March 27, 1943. At this time the 48th
Surgical Hospital was just 12 miles behind the front lines at El Guettar. On this third day of
battle, 416 wounded men came through admissions in the night till early morning;
eighty six of them required emergency operations. Shortly after this War
Correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote an article about the 48th and on
April 19th the 48th Surgical set up for the last time.
On May 1, 1943 CG#34 re-organized the 48th Surgical Hospital into the 400 bed 128th
On May 4 the 128th moved to Sidi Nisir near Hill 609. On May 8, fighting
stopped in Tunisia.
The hospital moved to Lac Bizerte on June
With the 7th Army moving
out to Sicily on July 9th,
the 128th received the order to support them. The first group of
personnel from the 128th landed on July 22, 1943 at Lacata,
0700 BDST a storm struck the
hospital on October 2, 1943.
Within five minutes every tent had been torn down. Tent poles, Lab equipment, X
ray equipment were broken in two and 195 patients were on the wards. They
worked ferverently to move the hospital into buildings in a nearby town. Although
the Sicilian Campaign lasted thirty-eight days, the 128th remained
in Palermo until November 8, 1943.
November 8, 1943 marked the one year anniversary of the
unit’s entry into combat. They had received and treated 21,305 causalities,
2,586 of them requiring surgery and it was on this date that they left Sicily as the most experienced hospital in the U.S. Army. Next stop, England,
to train the new and inexperienced hospital units for the planned invasion of France.
The 128th EVAC hospital
was stationed at Tortworth Castle in England from
November 1943 to June 1944 for three primary reasons: 1. To prepare for the
planned invasion of France.
2. To share the knowledge gained in a year of combat with new medical units
arriving in Europe. 3. The need for rest in recuperation
for this unit. The 128th at this time was the most experienced
hospital in the ETO, so it was selected to train personnel of hospitals that
would be landing in Normandy following the D Day Invasion.
Spring was coming to an end and on June 6, 1944 the members of the 128th
EVAC packed and left Tortworth Castle for a port of embarkation. During transit to Falmouth the 128th was informed that the D Day Invasion had begun. It was
here they boarded the William N.
Pendleton, and began the trip to the shores of Normandy.
On June 10, 1944 at 1530
hours the first members of the 128th waded in on Utah Beach.
This excerpt from Dr. Schwade’s
diary from June 8, 9, &10 tells his story:
“Trip-along coast of Southampton-met convoy of 25 LCI’s and across channel to France.
4 a.m. attacked by Jerries. Got four
ships of convoy in rear. One glider bomb missed us by 100 yards-some fun. Ate
good and slept in cabin while others were in hold and eating K-rations. Met
nice chap-Jerry Hale, 2nd Engineer on ship who took good care of us.
Landed at Utah, red-beach at 4:30-waded in again and walked to area. 42nd
Field Hospital set up and busier than hell. We’re first Evacuation Hospital to land-even 42nd
Field Hospital nurses beat their outfit in-some fun."
"Slept in field-in pup tent with
fire artillery and planes going day and night. Saw one Jerry shot down-good
site. Lots of gliders smashed in fields. Many colored parachutes and supplies
around in trees.”
The 128th first site in Europe was Boutteville, about 5 miles from the coast. By July 2 hospital personnel
began to care for German POW’s with the German surrender at Cherbourg.
July 24, 1944 brought about
St. Lo and “Operation Cobra” and the members of the 128th found
themselves packing up and moving to La Foret for three days.
Pvt. Jodie Harman recalled the
“The ground was plowed and cratered for miles. Buildings were pulverized.
Some of the bombs fell short and killed many American soldiers and one of our
generals. This attack opened the front and we started moving out of the
beachhead. As we traveled through the bombed out area of St. Lo, the smell was
so bad that I could hardly stand it. Body parts and animals were rotting
everywhere. We moved thirty miles to another area and set up the unit.”
COL Wiley received orders to move
the 128th on August 15. A few miles south of Argantan, in the
southern opening of the Falaise Pocket was the site of the hospital. Germans
were trapped and the fighting in this area was fierce. By August 31, the unit
was stopped at Senonches, for some rest and recuperation, and by 10 September
they were on the move towards Belgium.
Jodie Harmon recalls:
time we stopped to set up the hospital we were in Belgium.
We got kind of bogged down there for a while. We then moved very close to the
Belgium-German border, right up to the Siegfried line. The fall weather began
to set in and we began to have a lot of cloudy, rainy weather. The conditions
were extremely muddy. We had to haul material in to make streets in order to
get vehicles between the hospital tents.”
Since 29 September, the battle for
the German city of Aachen continued,
in a frenzy until well into October. The 128th was able to watch the
destruction from their current location and with the fall of Aachen,
November brought lots of rain and new problems for the 128th. With the steady rainfall pools began to form
on top of the tents causing stress on the ropes and collapsing them.
In December the 128th
set up residence in Brandt, Germany in a German Army Post where it would begin
service for a new battle raging in the Heurtgen Forest. 16 December 1944 brought much activity to the
128th, the Battle of the
Bulge which raged into January 1945 bringing in its wake causalities, and
German paratroopers had been
dropped only a few miles away from the 128th at Malmedy. The sound
of anti-aircraft fire was consistent throughout the night. Trucks from the 128th
were sent to Malmedy to move patients and hospitals to safer areas behind the
lines, and on 23 December the 128th EVAC moved to Verviers,
with the Germans forces threatening them.
At 0800 on December 25 the 128th
opened its doors at Verviers. That
afternoon a Christmas Dinner was served to all personnel, including visitors
from the 97th EVAC.
As causalities from the Bulge were
still coming in Nurse Anesthesiologist LT Martha Cameron remembers the
importance of her trade:
“Anesthesia was a necessary adjunct
to surgery. General anesthesia was restricted to sodium pentothal, nitrous
oxide, and ether. Nitrous oxide, oxygen and ether anesthesia, then popular, was
deliverable only by the two field anesthesia machines which were used for
special abdominal and all chest cases, one in each operating room tent. These
cases were managed by M. D.’s Kirby Schiffler, Chief of Anesthesia, Richard
Stappenbeck and George M. Bogardus, who was sent to battalion Aid Station
during the Battle of the Bulge and
lost a leg due to shrapnel wound. Those cases were long and hard.”
“In addition to the two “suitcases”
that contained the breakdown Heidbrink Anesthesia machines, we had one
five-by-two foot long boxes that contained syringes, needles, anesthetic agents,
and various tools of the trade which when unpacked turned into our anesthesia
worktable, one in each tent. We were responsible to evaluate each patient in
turn, consult if necessary and render the patient unconscious for surgery. I
remember lining up the pins that accompanied each new syringe for Pentothal on
the chest pocket flap of my fatigues over a 12 hour duty tour. During the first
Normandy day 20-25 pins were
there, so that averages two or more cases per hour. We didn’t try to count
“Some cases were long with 3 or 4
specialty surgeons, particularly in face cases, which meant a long recovery
period as well. We didn’t have a recovery room set-up in those days so the
anesthetist stayed with the patient until all reflexes were present and the
patient talked. I got a new name after one such case. The patient ‘McCarthy’
and I were alone in surgery for an hour or two and I had resorted to repeating
loudly, “Speak to me, McCarthy,” not realizing I was being overheard. Finally
McCarthy spoke and I called for help to take him to the post-op ward tent. To my
surprise, the next day as I passed by a cluster of surgical techs I was greeted
with a chorus of ‘Speak to me, McCarthy!’ and that was not the end of it. It
became my second name. COL Proffitt called me by that name in the mess tent to
step up to receive my promotion order to First Lieutenant. Corporal James G.
Darsie was totally responsible for that and also for many pleasant memories of
how excellent teamwork in the O.R. can be. He, Francis Farabough and Mike
DeVito and I could turn out cases with unparalleled efficiency and
“Sodium Pentothal, not without its hazards,
proved to be the answer to the challenge of caring for multiple surgical cases in the shortest time,
keeping pace with the needs of war in the Forties, but we couldn’t have done without ether.
I never saw an explosion with ether even though once during the Bulge at Verviers
the surgeon’s hands were so cold they begged for the nearby stove to be lit.
Dropping a few wet towels near the head of the patient,
I relented and the surgeons appreciated it.”
After the move to Hannut,
Belgium, on January
24-25, the unit moved to Banneaux on January 28 and opened the doors once again
to the hospital on February 3, 1945.
The weather was warmer than normal and the patients were regular and
manageable. On February 26, 1945 LT Gladys (Martin) Flynn left the 128th. Only 17 of the original
57-60 nurses who landed in North Africa on November 8, 1942 were still with the
On March 9, 1945 the 128th EVAC moved to Euskirchen,
Germany in support of the
battle for the Ludendorff Bridge,
at Remagen. After nine days the unit was moved again across the Rhine River to Duenstekoven,
began operating under canvas again. American and Allied troops were moving across Germany and the scenery that greeted the 128th was some of the most
beautiful they had ever seen, along with mass destruction side by side.
Personnel were inwardly concerned about the possibility of being sent to the
Pacific now that things were winding down in Europe, but
they were told that they would be going home, and many hoped it was true. It
was spring once again and along with causalities hospital personnel were
ravaged with mumps.
On April 14, 1945 the hospital was located at Kromback,
Germany and it had moved
two more times. The hospital at this point was treating mostly POW’s. On April 30, 1945 the 128th Evacuation Hospital moved for the last time to
As the war in Europe was coming to a close the army
instituted the “point system”. Each soldier was awarded points for time in
service, time in combat theaters, and other factors. Most of the members of the
128th were sent home between July 1, and December 1, 1945. They sailed and flew home on converted
troop ships and bombers. The adjustment of returning home was tremendous and
required time and patience. The nurses were also subjected to various indecencies
traveling home on ships. LT Marte Cameron recalls:
“As the ship passed the Statue
of Liberty in New York Harbor,
the band struck up “Roll Me Over in the Clover.” The men sang and cheered until
the boat docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”
The following entries from Dr.
Leonard Schwade’s diary tell the sentiments of those coming home from the war
weary battlefields of Europe in 1945:
July 11, 1945:
Will travel by air to States-Yea Man!”
July 15, 1945:
“To Paris-stayed 11 days and left on green project by air from air field at 3:00 a.m.
Stopped in Lisbon, Portugal, the Azores, Newfoundland,
and then Washington D.C. Too foggy to land in New York.
Called Esther. On to Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Then Pullman train to Chicago to Ft. Sheridan.
Saw Esther this night – 28 July – Wonderful!!”
AUTHORS NOTE: THE ACCOUNTS INCLUDED IN THIS BRIEF HISTORY ARE USED WITH PERMISSION AND COURTESY OF G. JESSE FLYNN.
JESSE IS THE SON OF 48TH/128TH VETERANS LT JOHN J. FLYNN AND LT GLADYS (MARTIN) FLYNN AND THE AUTHOR OF
HEROES FROM THE ATTIC: THE HISTORY OF THE 48TH SURGICAL/128TH EVACUATION HOSPITAL 1941-1945.
THE AUTHOR OF THIS SUBMISSION PERSONALLY THANKS MR. FLYNN AND ON BEHALF OF THE 48TH SURGICAL/128TH EVAC LIVING HISTORY GROUP,
FOR HIS CONTINUED SUPPORT AND WILLINGNESS TO ASSIST.