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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 explained:
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.
Although there were friendly forces in and around Tlemcen, Algeria, which the 32nd Station Hospital supported, many of its patients were battle casualties and ill soldiers from the Tunisian front. Effectively, it served 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. Tables of organization existed for station hospitals with few as 25 beds to as many as 900. Actually, the 32nd Station Hospital had as many as 1,000 beds at times despite only having the staffing of a 500-bed station hospital!
32nd Station Hospital Timeline
This timeline summarizes major events in the unit’s history. For further detail, see History of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part I (Stateside and Algeria, 1942–1943) and History of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part II (Italy, 1944–1945).
- June 25, 1942: 32nd Station Hospital activated as a 250-bed station hospital at Camp Rucker, Alabama. 25 enlisted men arrive soon after
- August 7, 1942: First officers arrive; Major William D. McElroy assumes command
- August 13, 1942: Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Burstein assumes command
- October 26, 1942: Move from Camp Rucker to Fort Benning, Georgia, by ground
- November 1, 1942: Unit becomes a 500-bed station hospital
- December 27, 1942: Departure from Fort Benning by train
- December 28, 1942: Arrival at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey
- December 29, 1942: 55 nurses join the unit
- January 13, 1943: Unit boards ships of Convoy U.G.F.-4 at the New York Port of Embarkation, with the main body aboard U.S.S. Ancon
- January 14, 1943: Convoy departs N.Y.P.O.E.
- January 26, 1943: Ships arrive at Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria
- January 27, 1943: Unit disembarks and goes into staging at Bouisseville, Algeria
- February 13, 1943: Advance party moves to Tlemcen, Algeria
- February 18, 1943: Main body moves to Tlemcen, Algeria, by ground
- February 28, 1943: First patients arrive at 32nd Station Hospital in Tlemcen, Algeria
- May 21, 1943: Lieutenant Colonel Gayland L. Hagelshaw assumes command
- June 23, 1943: Lieutenant Colonel Harold L. Goss assumes command
- November 24, 1943: 2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan killed in a plane crash
- November 28, 1943: Operations cease in Tlemcen
- December 7, 1943: Unit leaves Tlemcen by train and truck
- December 8, 1943: Unit’s male and female personnel arrive in separate staging areas outside Oran
- December 15, 1943: Male personnel ship out for Italy aboard H.M.T.S. Cameronia
- December 18, 1943: Male personnel arrive in Naples, Italy and enter staging near Bagnoli
- December 28, 1943: Female personnel sail for Italy aboard U.S.A.H.S. Shamrock
- December 31, 1943: Female personnel rejoin the rest of the unit
- January 10, 1944: Unit moves to Caserta, Italy, by ground
- January 15, 1944: First patients arrive at 32nd Station Hospital in Caserta, Italy
- April 24, 1944: Air raid on Caserta results in dud bombs landing on the hospital compound
- November 3, 1944: Technician 5th Grade Dominick La Monica killed after he was struck by a vehicle
- May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe Day
- July 7, 1945: Colonel William A. Smith assumes command
- July 20, 1945: End of operations in Caserta, Italy
- July 21, 1945: Responsibility for compound turned over to a detachment from the 300th General Hospital
- August 2, 1945: Move by ground to staging area in Naples, Italy
- September 17, 1945: Remaining female personnel transferred to 7th Replacement Depot to ship home separately from the rest of the unit
- September 22, 1945: Unit ships out of Naples, Italy, aboard S.S. John Clark
- October 8, 1945: Arrival at the Boston Port of Embarkation; most personnel transferred to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts
- October 9, 1945: Last four members of the unit transferred to Camp Myles Standish; 32nd Station Hospital inactivated
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. Update: The original website is no longer online. I have placed a link above to the site as preserved in the Wayback Machine. A curated version of the original website can be viewed on this site.
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 visit in the fall of 2018, 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 Operations 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 Operations Reports records include a report covering January 1 to May 1, 1944, followed by monthly reports thereafter.
The N.P.R.C. has rosters and payroll records for the unit from 1942 and 1943. The center also has the unit’s morning reports from August 7, 1942 (when the first officers arrived), through inactivation on October 9, 1945. Although the U.S. Army did not retain most rosters from 1944 and 1945, the morning reports do have a roster from when the unit shipped home at the end of the war.
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!
Last updated January 21, 2022