For some months, I’ve been doing research on my grandfather, the late Dr. Robert Silverman, who was a dentist in the U.S. Army during World War II. During most of the 33 months he spent overseas, he served in the 32nd Station Hospital in the Mediterranean Theatre. Operating in Algeria and Italy, 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.
My role in this undertaking begins with a yellowed drawing dated 1943, carefully glued into a musty scrapbook. As I worked to digitally restore the drawing in Photoshop Elements, poring over every detail, my curiosity grew about subject it depicted and the artist who drew it. Here are the eight drawings (two confirmed, six suspected based on style) drawn by Don Sudlow in the Robert Silverman Collection.
Dr. Silverman’s North African Branch, 1943
Perhaps the most interesting single item in my grandfather’s scrapbook, it is unclear if this cartoon was commissioned by Robert or simply a gift from Sudlow. (Sudlow’s family members fondly recall receiving drawings as birthday gifts.) The original paper is thick and might best be described as a cardstock. Dimensions are roughly 9½ inches by 10½ inches (24.1 cm by 26.6 cm) and the area within the border is about 8 inches by 9¼ inches (20.3 cm by 23.5 cm). Two small holes at the top and right edges of the paper indicate the drawing was displayed on a wall with push pins prior to ending up in the scrapbook.
In neat capital letters, it is titled “DR SILVERMAN’S NORTH AFRICAN BRANCH” and subtitled “(ONE HANSON PLACE WAS NEVER LIKE THIS)”. The subtitle references Robert’s private practice from 1939 to 1942 at 1 Hanson Place in Brooklyn. There are actually still dental offices in the building (as well as a Hanson Place Dental nearby). Perhaps Sudlow was teasing Robert about a tendency to compare military life to his private practice?
In true dentist tradition since time immemorial, Robert is holding a one-sided conversation with a patient unable to speak back, telling him: “NOW TAKE THE BROOKLYN DODGERS[,] THEY’RE WHAT I CALL A BASEBALL TEAM!” Interestingly, my father doesn’t remember Robert being a particularly rabid Dodgers fan. Later, once the Dodgers bailed on Brooklyn for Los Angeles (after the 1957 season), Robert went to Mets games.
The patient appears to have a rank of Technician 4th Grade (usually addressed by the equivalent rank, “Sergeant”), perhaps even representing the artist, who held the same rank.
Meanwhile, an assistant works a “foot engine” for the drill (apparently to the beat of “As Time Goes By,” the 1931 song made famous by the 1942 film Casablanca). The tray reads “MD 60 TOP”, referring to the M.D. No. 60 medical chest, a field dental equipment set. It’s a pretty faithful representation of my grandfather’s workspace, as the following photo demonstrates.
The cartoon is signed: “SGT. DON SUDLOW” with location and date “NORTH AFRICA – 1943”. It is the only drawing in the collection that Sudlow signed.
The drawing was heavily damaged during the seven decades that followed the war, with uneven yellowing due to interaction with the contents of the facing page; envelopes on that page apparently protected sections of the drawing, while parts that touched the scrapbook’s black paper were more heavily yellowed.
Starting with a high resolution scan, I used a clone brush in Photoshop Elements to restore the yellowed areas of the drawing. By using the clone brush, I maintained the texture of the paper itself (although that’s not necessarily evident at web resolution). Sudlow penciled in some parts of the drawing before inking in over (or nearby). I did my best to leave these pencil marks intact. Although the results were by no means perfect, considering my lack of any formal training or experience in art restoration, I was satisfied with the results.
Five Franc Note, 1943
The scrapbook contains several other drawings that, although not signed, have Sudlow’s style as well. The artist decorated the watermark area on both sides of an Algerian five franc note.
The front depicts my grandfather operating on a hapless (and nearly toothless!) patient, while the back shows him in uniform with his arms full of francs and souvenirs. Very few of these souvenirs seem to have made it home (or at least passed down) aside from a map and some postcards; quite a bit of the foreign currency ended up unspent in the scrapbook and in my grandfather’s wallet! They would have been drawn sometime between January 26, 1943 when the unit arrived in Algeria and November 3, 1943 when Robert was promoted to captain.
Easter Greetings, April 1943
Another probable Don Sudlow piece from Easter 1943 is what appears to be a mimeographed drawing on now yellowed paper, with the egg and tree colored by hand. My grandfather handwrote “to ‘110’ from Bobby”―presumably a reference to my grandmother’s address of 110 Riverside Drive. Incidentally, baseball legend Babe Ruth lived in the same building at the time.
Easter Greetings, March 1944
The scrapbook also contains several pieces of Victory Mail. V-mail letters were transferred to microfilm overseas and then reproduced in the United States. One (dated March 19, 1944) features a drawing with Sudlow’s particular style and sense of humor. Titled “EASTER GREETINGS FROM SUNNY ITALY”, a soldier sits in the rain on a box of “POWDERED EASTER EGGS” (a reference to a staple military food of the era). Horrendous weather in the early months of 1944 certainly dispelled whatever preconceptions 32nd Station Hospital personnel had about the Italian climate.
Sudlow appears to have distributed mimeographed copies to several members of the unit; a copy of this drawing is also in the Dwight McNelly collection at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago. The McNelly copy is on the original V-mail paper, unlike the Silverman copy, which is reproduced from microfilm.
Since my grandparents were Jewish, I imagine this V-mail was sent more for the amusing cartoon than the spirit of the Easter greeting; indeed, Robert sent a separate V-mail with Passover greetings the same day!
Cocktail Hour Invitation, March 1944
Another of Sudlow’s drawings decorated what I guess is a mimeographed invitation for a cocktail hour in honor of Captain William A. Carey, Jr. He is listed as Ward Officer – General Medicine on a 32nd Station Hospital officer roster dated May 1, 1944. His bride was 2nd Lieutenant Ina L. Bean. (Ina L. Beane is listed as a nurse, general duty on the same roster. I thought the extra letter must be a typo, but according to her son, the Beans sometimes spelled it that way.)
I recently contacted their son who told me that his parents were married March 29, 1944 at St. Mary of Angela (Santa Maria degli Angeli), a Catholic church located in the village of San Nicola la Strada, about a half mile (750 m) southeast of the hospital compound. The officiant was Captain William V. O’Connor, the 32nd Station Hospital’s Catholic chaplain.
After the war, the Careys lived in Framingham, Massachusetts and raised four children. Their marriage lasted just shy of 58 years, until Ina’s death on December 30, 2001, aged 81. William died on August 27, 2002, aged 86.
Robert Silverman Writing a Letter, November 1944
I found another of Sudlow’s drawings in a folder in the Silverman Family Archives (aka the bottom drawer of the buffet in my parents’ dining room). It was drawn on V-mail paper, but evidently mailed the old fashioned way instead. Perhaps my grandfather considered it too good a drawing to merely consign to microfilm, given that the original would be destroyed.
Commemorating Two Years Overseas
Sudlow most likely illustrated a booklet for the “32nd Station Hospital Two Years Overseas Dance” on January 13, 1945. The booklet ended up mixed in with an envelope of my grandfather’s photographs.
My grandfather left his dance card blank, wisely choosing to write: “All dances reserved for my A-1 sweetheart, Lucille”. The songs appear to be mostly fictitious references to the unit’s travels anyway, “Over the Waves” and “Jersey Bounce” excluded.
Biography of Donald E. Sudlow
What of the man behind the art? I was able to put together a piecemeal biography using various records and newspaper stories. Donald Edward Sudlow was born in Butte, Montana on May 31, 1915. His parents were Clyde Milford Sudlow (an electrician) and Emma Jessie Sudlow (née Grumbling). Don also had an older sister, Marjorie Grace Sudlow. Clyde and Emma had been married on June 27, 1910 in Glendale, California and by 1920, the Sudlow family had returned there. After Clyde died on September 15, 1920, Emma apparently raised Don and Marjorie by herself.
The 1930 census records Don as working as a “paper-carrier” at age 15. In 1939, Don married his first wife, Martha Wylie. (They divorced in 1973.) He must have begun attending college classes somewhere around 1939, since the 1940 census lists him as having completed one year of college; he had three under his belt by the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. When he registered for the draft on Oct 16, 1940, Sudlow was living at 516 Raton Ave in La Junta, Colorado. At that time he was working as a clerk for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. His card describes him as being 6 feet (183 cm) tall and weighing 150 lbs. (68 kg), with black hair and brown eyes.
I only know bits and pieces about Sudlow’s military service. According to records, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Colorado in 1942. (Various sources give his enlistment date as January 1, January 17, and June 17, 1942.) He attended training at the Medical Replacement Training Center at Camp Pickett, Virginia in the summer of 1942. His name was listed on Transfer List No. 978 (September 4, 1942), assigning him from Camp Pickett to join the 32nd Station Hospital at Camp Rucker, Alabama by September 9. His Specification Serial Number on the transfer order was 213 (stenographer), but he may not have served in the 32nd Station Hospital in that capacity, given that a September 30, 1942 unit roster listed his Military Occupational Specialty Code as 521 (basic).
It appears he served with the unit through the end of war. He was promoted to the rank of technician 4th grade (usually addressed by the equivalent rank, “Sergeant”) on April 8, 1943, but went no higher. According to his entry in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs B.I.R.L.S. Death File, Sudlow left active duty on October 8, 1945 (the same day the 32nd Station Hospital arrived in Boston).
Sudlow was the art editor for the 32nd Station Hospital newspaper known as The Weakly Reaction and probably drew its banner. He met Joe Louis when the famed boxer visited the 32nd Station Hospital on a goodwill tour on September 30, 1944.
After the war, Sudlow returned to California. According to his stepson, Sudlow finished college thanks to the G.I. Bill. By 1952, he was working on the staff of Eliot Junior High School in Pasadena, but that June he left to become Assistant Professor of Art at Los Angeles State College (now California State University, Los Angeles). An August 16, 1956 article in The Valley News (Van Nuys, California) indicated that Sudlow would be joining Los Angeles State College’s Valley campus, which in 1958 gained its independence as San Fernando Valley State College.
From 1958 to 1960 he took a leave of absence and according to a December 11, 1960 article in The Los Angeles Times, “Sudlow spent two years in South Korea as a member of a United States State Department teacher – training team.” By October 1960, he had returned and become Chairman of the Division of Fine Arts at Valley State. (Valley State became California State University, Northridge in 1972.)
On May 25, 1974, he married a second time, to Ann Robertson, an elementary school teacher. Even later in life, he continued to draw caricatures for his family members as birthday gifts. Even after the Sudlows retired to the artist colony of Taos, New Mexico, Don taught art workshops. He died on February 4, 2006, aged 90. His headstone resembles so many other soldiers’, with one cryptic addition at the bottom: “AND ANOTHER THING”. In email correspondence, Sudlow’s stepson explained to me:
The epitaph was a group thing after knowing him for so long. He always was in the professor role and loved to be the devils advocate. Their last home had a balcony over looking the living/kitchen area. The joke was that he would stand above and spout “And another thing…….”
Special thanks to the Pritzker Military Museum & Library for allowing use of the photo of Sudlow as well as their copy of the August 6, 1944 issue of The Weakly Reaction.
Request for Materials
If you have any information, photos, or documents about the 32nd Station Hospital, I could use your help filling in the pieces! I would love to be able to post more Don Sudlow drawings to this site and to be able to piece together a more complete biography for him.
Last updated May 19, 2020