I’m pleased to introduce begin publishing the results of my research into my grandfather and his unit during World War II. The late Dr. Robert Silverman served 33 months overseas as a dentist, most of it assigned to the 32nd Station Hospital (1942–1945). The 32nd Station Hospital was one of hundreds of U.S. military hospitals and is now largely forgotten. Most if not all of its personnel are now deceased. It is my goal to share their names, faces, and stories.
During World War II, the U.S. Army 32nd Station Hospital operated in the Mediterranean Theatre. It supported Allied forces in two separate locations: Tlemcen, Algeria (February 1943 to November 1943) with the Mediterranean Base Section and Caserta, Italy (January 1944 to July 1945) with the Peninsular Base Section. During my research, I’ve come across references to other incarnations of the 32nd Station Hospital (in France and South Korea post-World War II for instance) but this site covers the World War II unit.
What is a Station Hospital?
The U.S. Army had several classifications of hospitals. Field and evacuation hospitals were designed to be moved rapidly in order to stay closer to the front lines. Station hospitals and the larger general hospitals, however, were “fixed hospitals.” In his book The Medical Department: Medical Service in the Mediterranean and Minor Theatres, Charles M. Wiltse explains:
The station hospital normally serves a post or garrison, referring its more serious cases to a general hospital, but in a theater of operations requirements dictate use. In the Mediterranean the station hospital in practice was often indistinguishable from the general hospital, although a larger proportion of its patients were apt to be service or other rear echelon troops. In both types medical cases usually outnumbered surgical.
In 1943 there wasn’t much of a garrison in Tlemcen, Algeria for the 32nd Station Hospital to support. Instead, the hospital treated battle casualties and ill soldiers from the Tunisian front just as a general hospital would have. Later on, when operating in Italy, the 32nd did operate as more of a traditional station hospital fashion in support of Fifth Army (later Allied Force Headquarters from July 1944 onward) located at the Royal Palace of Caserta.
During the war, the number of station hospitals in the U.S. Army more than doubled; by 1944 there were over 400 in operation. The number of beds in an individual station hospital varied widely based on local needs from as few as 25 to as many as 900.
Africa to Italy: With the 32nd Station Hospital World War II
Created by the late Willard O. Havemeier, this was the best, and until this project was developed, the only source of information about the 32nd Station Hospital available online. An unrivaled source of photos, it is a thorough account of Havemeier’s wartime experiences.
The Dwight McNelly and Dorothy Eggers Collection
A collection at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago, this has not yet been digitized. Like Havemeier, McNelly was an enlisted man in the 32nd. During a recent visit, I was able to examine much of the collection. The photographs in the collection are phenomenal; McNelly was clearly a bit of a shutterbug and a significant portion of the collection is composed of large prints. Just as significant for research purposes are two drafts of an unpublished manuscript McNelly wrote about his experiences in the 32nd. The collection also includes one issue of The Weakly Reaction, the 32nd Station Hospital newspaper. The Pritzker has generously granted permission for me to display some images from the collection on this website.
Not that I expect anyone to want to go there to examine the unit records themselves, but the sake of completeness, I thought I’d mention that the National Archives in College Park, Maryland holds the surviving 32nd Station Hospital records in two separate collections. The first is in the Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), Record Group 112. The second set of records (poorly indexed online) is part of the World War II Operational Reports in the files of the Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 407.
The most interesting reading can probably be found in the annual reports from 1943, 1944, and 1945. The 1944 annual report is especially detailed, including multiple pages of statistics, graphs, and drawings of the hospital compound. The Operational Reports records include a report covering January 1 to May 1, 1944, followed by monthly reports thereafter. Although the annual reports (and January to May 1944 report) contain officer rosters, there do not seem to be any extant rosters of the unit’s enlisted men. I hope to post PDFs of some of the reports on this site in the near future.
The Medical Department: Hospitalization and Evacuation, Zone of the Interior
A book by Clarence McKittrick Smith which includes a discussion of U.S. Army hospitals in general.
The Medical Department: Medical Service in the Mediterranean and Minor Theatres
A book by Charles M. Wiltse that provides a general history of medical services in the M.T.O., including a more concise explanation about station hospitals (quoted above) then I could come up with.
A Mortal Terror (A Billy Boyle Mystery)
This novel by James R. Benn is the sixth in a series of World War II mysteries, published in 2011. It features a 32nd Station Hospital doctor as one of the murder victims. I was amazed that such an obscure unit as the 32nd Station Hospital would appear at all in a modern novel. I would guess it was selected due to the proximity of the hospital to the intrigue of the Fifth Army headquarters in Caserta. Although some artistic liberties are taken (since no doctors in the 32nd Station Hospital were killed during the war), Benn obviously did his homework since the novel contains an accurate description of the compound.
Request for Materials
As is apparent from the brevity of the “Further Reading” section, I can use your help. If you have photos, documents, oral histories, or anything else involving the 32nd Station Hospital or its members, I would love to know about them! Since there is no known roster of the 32nd Station Hospital’s enlisted personnel, even a name might help me to better piece together its story.
Last updated February 12, 2019