By Lowell Silverman
Willard Otto Havemeier (1920–2009), known as Bill, joined the U.S. Army on June 23, 1942. After training at Camp Pickett, Virginia, Private Havemeier was assigned to the 32nd Station Hospital on September 4, 1942 and joined the unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama on September 10. He was promoted several times during the following year, reaching the rank of technician 4th grade (equivalent to sergeant) on May 12, 1943. He was one of approximately 69 enlisted men who remained with the unit the entire time it was overseas, from January 14, 1943 through October 8, 1945.
In his later years, Havemeier played an invaluable role in helping to preserve the history of the 32nd Station Hospital by building his own website. The site went through several forms beginning in the late 1990s. It appears that Havemeier finished his work on December 24, 2003 (with the only other edit to the site being a brief obituary added after Havemeier’s death in 2009).
The site bounced around on several domains, coming down for the final time in 2020. After that happened, I reached out to Havemeier’s stepson, who provided me with a copy of a final version of the site and files. Since my own project would probably not exist at all if not for Havemeier’s website, I am proud to be able to help preserve it for future audiences.
Havemeier’s site had some 75 pages with content. It was designed some two decades ago, before broadband was common. Many of the pages were quite short, so navigating required a lot of clicking. Images on the original site were also quite low resolution. The site skiped rather abruptly from a detailed account of Havemeier’s life growing up in Minnesota to a description of his basic training at Camp Pickett, Virginia during World War II.
In presenting Havemeier’s work, I have made a number of changes. Due to my existing web platform, it was not practical to reproduce each individual page. For that reason, I have compiled them into one large one, with horizontal lines separating the original pages. At the end of each section, I have added a link to return to the index, so it can be navigated in similar fashion.
I have applied light editing to some of the site’s rough edges by correcting minor, obvious typos and adding some corrections in brackets. Occasionally, I’ve added my own clarifying remarks in bold italic text. At the end of each page from the original site, I’ve included a link to biographies of 32nd Station Hospital members mentioned in the text. Links in red have not been published on my website yet.
In a few places, I moved text around for chronological, thematic reasons, or because a caption for a photo ended up on another page. For example, a section involving nurses in Caserta had been, confusingly enough, added to the Tlemcen section. The section entitled “MORE LIFE ON THE FARM” was originally a postscript, but was moved to accompany the rest of his prewar experiences.
The only text I deleted were portions that Havemeier inadvertently duplicated or had clearly forgotten to remove when made redundant but his own editing. I also corrected minor spelling errors in the names of 32nd Station Hospital personnel.
Ranks are those listed in the original text. During World War II, some noncommissioned officers held technician ranks. In photos, these men are easily distinguished by letter “T” below the stripes on their sleeves. Men with technician ranks were typically referred to by the ordinary N.C.O. rank at the same grade, and that holds true to Havemeier’s account. That is, when writing, Havemeier referred to himself as a sergeant rather than as a technician 4th grade, Kenneth M. Robinson as a corporal rather than technician 5th grade, etc.
Havemeier also jumped back and fourth between referring to Herman C. Needles as a 2nd or 1st lieutenant. Needles was promoted from 2nd lieutenant to 1st lieutenant effective February 10, 1944, but Havemeier using one or the other should not necessarily be taken to mean Needles actually held that particular rank at the time of the event in question.
I did not otherwise alter the original text, even though certain parts have details that are a bit more salacious than my own articles would have included.
As I’ve collected materials from various families, I have sometimes obtained scans of the same prints as those on Havemeier’s site. When a higher resolution image is available, I’ve replaced the original. Captions are original, except to credit the source of updated images. In some cases, I turned longer captions into paragraph text. I’ve also removed a few modern items (maps and photos from a modern pamphlet about Tlemcen) that I’m concerned might be under copyright, as well as a photo of a Arab funeral procession.
I also retained the original website’s tendency to alternate between standard text and all caps (mainly because I didn’t want to retype everything). To experience the original version of the site (albeit without a lot of the images), please visit the site as archived on the Wayback Machine.
Special thanks to the Oppenheimer and Havemeier families for supplying the files and photos and allowing me to host Bill Havemeier’s work.
Africa to Italy With the 32nd Station Hospital Index
By Willard O. Havemeier
- My Story Begins
- More Life on the Farm
- My Brother and I Go to Lutheran School
- My Immediate Future is Decided for Me
- Basic Training
- Camp Rucker, Alabama
- On to Fort Benning, Georgia
- New York — The Big City at Last! (Ha!)
- The Ancon
- Background on the North African Campaign
- Allies Invade North Africa
- 32nd Station Hospital Set Up at Tlemcen
- My Military ID and a Few of My Friends
- More Friends and the Local Area
- Local Crafts
- Transporting Casualties
- Our Hotel
- The Tlemcen Area
- Patient Records
- Registrar’s Office Staff
- A Buddy Responds
- The Local Scene
- Houses of Ill Repute
- On the Road to Morocco
- My On-Site Medical Education
- Dr. Louis Linn
- No Integration
- More Friends and the Local Area
- Scarcity of News From Home
- Bastille Day
- German Surrender In Tunisia
- Ready for Italy
- Italy and Caserta
- Anzio and Monte Cassino
- Personal Problems
- Hospital Layout
- The Palace in Caserta
- Rome Falls
- More of Italy
- Armistice with Germany Signed at Caserta
- Final Days in Italy
- Nursing Report 1943 (scanned in 2018)
- Medical Report 1943 (scanned in 2018)
- Medical Report 1944 (scanned in 2018)
- Nurse Roster 1943 (scanned in 2018)
- Nurse Roster 1944 (scanned in 2018)
- Officer Roster 1944 (scanned in 2018)
MY STORY BEGINS
GROWING UP IN MINNESOTA
When I graduated from high school in 1938, I decided that I didn’t want to remain on my parents’ farm. This was a pretty serious decision for someone of my background. I was born in 1920 in Courtland, Minnesota, in a rented log house with no running water or electricity. The house was heated by a wood burning cooking stove. When I was eighteen months old we moved to my grandfather’s farm, which my parents purchased from my mother’s father, Otto Radke. My great grandparents had come to Minnesota in the 1850s in a covered wagon. They had been born in Schaumburg Lippe in Germany, and when I was born in 1920 everyone at home still spoke German. Although my parents understood English, we children didn’t. All of our neighbors were German-speaking, and the Lutheran church services were in German. I was not exposed to English until I entered public school in the town of Essig, which was a two mile walk from home.
MORE LIFE ON THE FARM
Farm life was never easy, but as children, we knew no other way of living. Before we were of school age we drove horses and wagons and pitched in doing all kinds of related farm work. We had no power tools or anything like a front end loader. Everything was loaded or unloaded by hand with a fork or shovel.
Cows had to be milked by hand, twice a day, at 5:30 AM and 5:30 PM. Because there were no milking machines, we developed very strong arms and hands. After morning and evening milking the cream had to be separated from the milk, because it was the cream we had to haul to Essig to the creamery which was two miles away. There is would be made into butter. The separating was done by a Delavalle separator which required someone to turn the handle to make it work. This job usually fell to one of us boys. The trip to Essig which was usually made on Monday, Wednesday and Friday was shared by our neighbors, the Mecklinburgs and the Roloffs.
After the cows were milked we needed to feed all of the animals. We had as many as 16 or 18 cows, 4 horses and some calves. Our ten or fifteen hogs were fed with a mixture of milk and ground up oats. Having this many animals in an enclosed barn created a nice warm sanctuary. We were always involved with manual labor, feeding the animals and cleaning their stalls.
THRESHING OF GRAIN
When threshing time rolled around it meant a lot of hard work, usually in the hottest time of the year. It also meant that we boys were asked to help. Usually there was one man to a bundle team. A bundle team amounted to two horses and a hay wagon, and it had racks on the side to hold in the bundles. Willis and I were only 13 and 14 years old so we handled a team together. We were not quite big enough to make it a one man job. Neighbors, the Mecklinburgs and Rolloffs, brought bundle teams with some of their boys. We may have had as many as 5 or 6 teams and all would be out in the fields early in the morning to bring in the grain bundles to the threshing machine which usually was set up in the barnyard. There we usually built a large rack where the straw from the thresher would be blown by a fan in the machine. This formed a shelter for our animals during inclement weather.
The threshing machine was powered by a large steam engine which came onto our farm from its last job, pulling the threshing machine, a water wagon, and then a tool and supply wagon. It had a loud steam whistle and made a lot of noise when it arrived. It scared us when we were very young. This engine had to have a lot of water and wood burning logs to make steam to move this machine. The engine had a large pulley for a belt which ran to the threshing machine to make it operate. I remember the man who ran this project: his name was Jim Case from Essig.
At this time there were a lot of hungry mouths to feed. My mother, along with the neighbor women, would do all the cooking on a wood stove. She also had a kerosene-burning stove to help out. This meant lunch for all in the fields, with lots of drinking fluids around 10 AM, then dinner at 12 noon (we called the noon meal, dinner) and at 3:30 PM there was another lunch. It was at this time we boys were so happy with all the cakes and pies which were baked especially for the workers.
Usually threshing started at sunrise and continued until dark. While threshing was going on the wheat or oats, whatever was being hauled in was placed in sacks, which then had to be unloaded in our granary. This required a lot of back breaking work. I remember my father carrying sacks of grain up a flight of stairs to the second floor of the granary.
After our grain fields were finished, the threshing operation moved to our neighbors, and we would help out there doing the same types of work. Remember at all times we had to take care of our horses by feeding them and giving them lots of water. On hot days we tried to keep the animals in the shade to try to keep them cool.
In 1922 we got our first automobile. Until then all travel was by horse and buggy. In the winter we used a sleigh. After automobiles came into being the roads were not very receptive to this mode of travel. There were no paved roads and most side roads were muddy in wet weather making for slippery driving. Autos got stuck a lot and the cry would go out to the unlucky person, “Get a horse”!
DRIVING THE MODEL T FORD
We got our first automobile in 1922. I believe it was a Model T Ford “touring auto” no side windows or curtains. I have a picture of it with my mother sitting in it with me to her right and she is holding my brother, Willis. I learned to drive this vehicle when I was 10 years old. My father placed a pillow beneath me so I could see through the steering wheel.
On the farm there was plenty of area to try driving this vehicle. On my first try I ran over the front steps of our house. The Model T Ford was a very interesting vehicle. It had four cylinders, and there was no starter; you had to crank it. It had no battery, but a magneto which consisted of several strong magnets placed around the fly wheel. As you cranked the engine, a small electrical current would flow to four coils, one for each cylinder, and from there a charge was sent to the spark plugs via a “timer” in the front part of the engine. That would start and run the engine. Cranking the engine was often dangerous. If you did not set the spark lever all the way in the up position, the engine would turn violently backwards and cause a fracture of the arm. In cold weather, you could hardly turn the crank because oil in the engine would become very stiff. In the early days there was no “winter grade” crankcase or transmission oil. Many was the time I helped my father jack up a rear wheel. My father would leave the transmission in drive which made cranking a little easier if the entire drive train was allowed to move while cranking.
Driving the Model T was easy once you got the engine running. It had three foot pedals on the floor. You would press down with your left foot on the left pedal and hold it until some speed was attained, then you would release this pedal and let it come all the way back. That put your drive train in “High” for driving. All the while you were using your foot pedals you had to handle the speed of the engine with the “gas lever” which was under the steering wheel. With this lever you controlled the revolutions of the engine and the speed you were driving. The maximum speed was around 30 to 35 mph. At that speed you were “really rolling”. The roads were in terrible shape for automobiles, with ruts and holes which could throw your vehicle out of control or into the ditch. The middle pedal was reverse ,and the one on the right was the brake. If the brake failed, you could hit the middle “reverse” pedal, and it would slow you down. I can remember my father coming down the hill in our yard with the rear wheels going backwards. We then knew he was using the reverse to get the vehicle to slow down. This vehicle had a disturbing fault: the rear axle had a tendency to break off while driving. You would learn about this when you saw the rear wheel drop off and run past your car, and the rear of the car drop down to the hubs.
THE PARTY LINE
Our phone service was the New Ulm Telephone Co., and ours was a four party line. Ours signal was 4 short rings, Rolloff’s was 3 short rings, Mecklinburg’s was 2 short rings and another Mecklinburg’s ring was a short and a long. To call these party members we could “ring them” by turning the handle on the right side of the wall phone. Anyone else was a long distant call. There was a button on the left side of the phone which you had to hold in while turning the “ringer handle”. This brought you to an operator in New Ulm who would try to connect you. We got a lot of local news by listening in on other parties’ phone calls. Before my mother was married she worked for this telephone company as an operator. Many times during thunder and lightning storms lightning would hit the phone lines coming into the house, with sparks flying out between the two bells at the top of the phone. These lines always had a “humming noise” which was annoying at times. I remember being ill with some kind of respiratory problem and my mother put some kind of oil in my ears for earache.
We had very little radio reception because our equipment was some of the first on the market. I remember working with an Atwater Kent radio which had three dials. All three dials would have to turned to an exact place in order to get a desired station. Signals would drift, so adjustments had to be made constantly. Reception was poor with a lot of static. Remember, we had no electricity, so our radios were powered by batteries which were always running down and had to be replaced or recharged. The nearest broadcasting station was over 100 miles distant. I remember WCCO and KSTP from the Twin Cities, and there was another from Yankton, South Dakota. Farm market news was given at noon and in the evenings. Occasionally there was music. My father ran a wire from the house to the barn. This was our antenna.
It may come to mind about how young school age kids spent their recreational time. We had no television, radio, or daily newspapers. Our parents kept us busy with farm work from sunup to sunset. Many times we did farm work along with neighbor boys our age. Farmers helped each other during the heavy work loads like harvesting and butchering. With no electricity we had to do with kerosene lamps and lanterns in the house and the barn. In the house we may have had three lamps, and if you moved room to room you took the lamp with you. The light from these lamps was about as much as you get today from a 15 watt bulb: not much!
We made a number of play toys like sling shots, whistles, and small push cars. Sling shots were made from the rubber of inner tubes tied to a “Y” which we cut from a willow tree. Whistles were made from the willow again by slipping the bark off a twig and cutting holes in just the right places. The pitch of the whistle was determined by the size of the holes that were cut. We made all kinds of little wagons, some we could push and others we pulled with a rope. We had dogs and cats as pets. Sometimes we became very close to some of our hogs and horses.
Medical care on the farm was very rudimentary: mustard plasters, Vicks and cough syrup for colds. Mumps, measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox led to the entire family being quarantined with a sign prominently posted on the door. Polio and diphtheria periodically had everyone worried.
As I mentioned previously, at the beginning of WWII I tried to enlist into the Army Air Corps. I did well with the written exam, but when it came to my eyes I flunked out. It was the first time I became aware of a vision defect. My right eye did not work in complete unison with my left eye, causing double vision at certain times. In those days we had no eye examinations before school or anytime thereafter. I always thought that my eyes were OK; that everyone’s vision was like that. How was I to know? As a child lying in bed I would see double images of the corners of the bedroom, but thought nothing about it as I felt it was normal for everyone. Whenever I would turn my head to the right, my right eye would independently turn up, out of sync with the left eye. This caused me to have reading problems.
A number of times I have tried to discuss this eye problem with ophthalmologists, but could never learn if my eye ailment was hereditary, or if it came from a head injury. One said it was not hereditary. Even to this day I have a tendency to go over the same line or skip a line while reading, even though I have corrective eye glasses. This defect makes me a slow reader. It also did not help me in sports like baseball and tennis, where it is important to see the ball. At times if a ball came to me I did not have double vision, but looking back, it seemed that each eye would see what was coming on a different plane. Then depending on which eye was dominant at the time, I would get the correct message regarding where to meet the ball. I had a lot of trouble.
From the time I was five or six I got up every morning at 5:30 to help with the six o’clock milking. I was taught to use the separator. The skim milk was fed to the hogs. I had learned to drive a horse by the time I was ready for school. I learned to feed the animals and clean out the barn. In the winter we couldn’t always use a wagon; after a heavy snow everything was hauled by sled. Winters were bitterly cold, and sometimes we were snowed-in for days. We would have to dig a path to the barn, because we still had to care for the animals and do the chores. The frost line was six feet down. In the 1930’s we had days of 40 degree below weather. We had to be careful not to touch any metal outside because our skin would stick and burn painfully.
Cows and pigs were slaughtered for meat, which was either canned in jars or smoked in the smokehouse. My mother had a gigantic garden. She canned vegetables and fruits which were stored in the basement. We had beautiful apple trees. The apples were stored in straw-lined barrels. Mother made all of our baked goods. The only supplies we bought were flour, sugar, and seasonings. We would often exchange up to thirty dozen eggs for groceries. The store owner would hide a tiny bag of candy among our supplies, and we would eagerly help unload the bags when we got home. Going to the store was a red-letter event. You dropped in a penny, and after a long grinding sound, out popped a gumball.
THE FARM HOUSE
We had running water in the barn, but none in the house. Our well was 110 feet deep. Water was pumped by a windmill. We also had a rainwater cistern with a pump in the kitchen. The well was a drilled well because dug wells were too often contaminated. We carried water to the house in ten gallon drums and heated it on the wood stove for our Saturday night baths. The woodstove in the living room heated the entire house. A stove pipe went up through our second floor bedroom and then out the chimney. Mother had a kitchen cook stove which also burned wood. It had a water tank on the side which heated water for dishes and for washing our hands.
All the years I lived at home, even during my high school days, we never had a refrigerator or ice box. So any food which we bought, or produce we got from the farm had to be eaten in a day or two. Sometimes, this food was canned. We kept milk and butter by lowering it down our dug well in a pail on a rope. There the temperature was probably 55 degrees.
During the 1930s we suffered through very dry years and crops were poor. On top of that we had dust storms for days. Clouds of dust were so thick one could not see from the house to the barn. So as not to get lost my father tied a rope from the house to the barn which we followed to “stay on track”. The window sills in the house were covered with a fine sand which blew in from cracks in the windows.
Our house was of frame and had 9 rooms. Four bedrooms on the second floor, and kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and room for company downstairs. This house had an attic which was loaded with honey bees. In the winter my father could go up there and pull down sheets of honey for us to eat. The bees would be inactive in the cold of winter. When weather got hot in the summer time honey would melt in the attic and run down between the walls, covering the windows on both floors. I knew it was honey because I tasted it. It was a mess.
I want to talk about the small town of Essig. It was started by a family with that name and many were still there when we shopped here. In its busy time it had a grain elevator and live stock yard next to the railroad. Then there was a bulk oil and gasoline business. There was Henle Chevrolet garage. Next to that was the State Bank of Essig. Then there was Shower’s blacksmith shop. Across the street there were two beer joints. One run by the Lambrech family which had a dance hall in the back, and the other was run by a Johns’ family. There was Hyman’s general store, where you could by clothing, shoes, some non-prescription drugs and groceries. It was also the post office. Next to this store was Zupher’s barber shop which was very busy on Friday and Saturday nights. Customers would stop in there to get a numbered ticket, then wait in the bar until their number came up.
There was Wagner’s hardware store and Lamberton Lumber Yard. Churches, I think there were two: one was called Friedens and the other I do not recall, both were Protestant. The nearest Lutheran church was in New Ulm. One of the busiest places was the creamery, where many farmers hauled their cream to be made into butter. The operator was man by the name of Emery Johnson.
A MIGHTY FORTRESS
We were Lutherans, and of course were expected to attend church every Sunday. If you recall, when Willis and I attended Lutheran grade school, I became very disillusioned with religion. It was here in our religion class that Reverend Mr. Hinenthaul told us that Roman Catholics were bad, and we were not to associate with them. Our good neighbors, the Mecklinburgs were Catholic. I had little respect for the minister from then on. In addition, he came into our class, and for reasons known only to him, slapped four children on the backs of their heads. They never saw what was coming.
Interestingly, when we were in Germany in 1995, I learned that Lutherans and Roman Catholics now shared the same church buildings in some places. I was told this either in Trier or Speyer and that the two denominations work closely together. Recently, after many, many years, I dropped into a Lutheran church near my home and was quite surprised to see how close to the Catholic mass the service had become.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Ulm was huge and had a very large congregation. The Lutheran grade school building also was much larger than the one we had out in the country. Having little exposure to the world beyond our farm, we were shocked to see the large church and school buildings. Sunday English services started at 9 AM and German service at 11. If my parents wanted to attend the later service it would be in German. There were hymnals in both languages, but I had trouble reading both. We had little training in reading German print. Church services provided friends and relatives with the time to be brought up to date about all kinds of personal matters like births, deaths, and illnesses.
Our social life revolved around the many baptisms, weddings and funerals which were followed by large gatherings in local homes. Funerals were almost always the biggest, with meals served at the conclusion of the services and burial. If a funeral went by our farm on highway 14 we would sit and count the automobiles, sometimes the horse and buggies. The food was plentiful and the conversation always concerned farm issues. (Think “Lake Wobegone.”) The kids would play hide-and-go-seek or softball. We often felt isolated because the town kids looked down on us. They would make fun of our clothing and our accents. In high school some of the teachers did the same.
There were gatherings for picnics on the church grounds, but they were not as popular as when we had them at the Turnverein, the German Gymnastic Society’s, picnic areas where beer was served: beer made by two local breweries, Schell’s and Hohenstein’s. We had a lot of parades on the holidays like the 4th of July. Sometimes relatives and friends would gather at a state or national park, like Fort Ridgely, which was noted for defending the immediate rural area from Indian attacks which were frequent in the early 1860’s.
SOME LOCAL HISTORY
This brings me to the Sioux Massacre Indian Attacks: the Battle of New Ulm, which also involved surrounding villages, and went on from 1862 to 1865. At one crucial battle in New Ulm, a large stone building known as Crone’s Store was the last defensive post for the town and it survived the attack. I worked as a clerk for Carl Crone, a descendant of the original owner of Crone’s Store, in the late 1930s. In my early days I still remember some “old people”, who probably were in their 70s, talk about the “Indian Wars”, and the terrible things the Indians did to the white people. There is a plaque about the massacre on the outside of the Crone building today. It had a basement with an opening to the building next door. This was common in town to help occupants escape should Indians attack. Sometimes these doors served another purpose: one store in the next block, Meinie’s Men’s Clothing, had a hidden basement door leading to the neighboring basement. About 15 years ago a clothing merchant was arrested and pled guilty to burglary of the business next door; also a men’s clothing store.
To learn more about this period of Minnesota history, you may find it on the internet.
A TRAIN RUNS THROUGH IT
Having a railroad run right through the middle of our farm exposed us to a lot to trains. We waved at the engineers every chance we could, and they would usually wave back. The steam engines were huge monsters that pulled freight cars, sometimes over a hundred, with tow locomotives pulling, and one on the back pushing. The railroad had a right of way of about 25 feet on each side fenced in to keep animals from getting onto the tracks. Sometimes we would stand at the fence and watch the train pass by. During the depression years, the 1930’s, there were many men “riding the rails”. They would be inside empty box cars, and many times you would see them lying on top of cars. We called them “hobos”. There were times when one or two men would come to our door, and my mother would give them something to eat.
The right of way in the summer time was filled with the most beautiful wild flowers anyone would want to see. This made such a great impression on me that I have gone back in the past ten years to see this again, but I found very few flowers. I think that with modern herbicide applications we have lost this beautiful sight forever. So much for progress.
The railroad had telegraph wires for transmitting messages. There were probably 10 to 15 lines held in place with glass insulators on poles. We sometimes used our BB guns or 22 rifles to shoot at these insulators. We had a depot with an agent in Essig who would run the telegraph machine. I remember seeing and hearing the agent operate this gadget.
We had land on both sides of this railroad and one access from one side to the other. This required planks be put down between the tracks so our equipment could pass over. In crossing over with our hay wagons and other machinery we had to be careful that we did not get caught on the tracks by a fast moving freight or passenger train. When we had a fresh new young horse it sometimes would get “spooked” by the engine noise or the whistle, and we had to be alert to rein in the animal or suffer a runaway. In the cold winter when the ground was frozen we could feel the vibration of passing trains in our house which was about two city blocks away. In some winters when a heavy snowstorm hit our area this railroad was blocked by snow which closed in the high banks beside the tracks. The railroad would bring in large steam engines with rotary plows to clear the tracks, sometimes using two engines.
Sometimes, in my mind, I still hear the train whistle and the rumble of the cars.
Sometimes, if luck was with us, we rode to school on the wagon that took the milk to the creamery. School consisted of one teacher and fifty-six students in one room: first through eighth grade. Each morning the teacher would have to make a fire, but if the thermometer reached sixty-eight degrees, the fire would be banked. At school I began to learn English, although German was the language of the primary school playground.
Having been brought up to speak German, I knew no English when I started school. All my relatives were of German descent, and German was always spoken. Many of my neighbor friends my age also spoke German; some spoke a little English. However, my brother Willis, 16 months younger, and I were abruptly “dumped into school” in the nearby town of Essig, where we were forbidden to speak any German, even at recess time. I remember having arrived at school without a pencil; the teacher asked me when I was going to bring one to school. I did not know how to say tomorrow in English so I just sat there and said nothing, which did not please the teacher. I remember her name was Miss Sands. All the time in grade school I feared having to speak in my class because I had great difficulty with speaking English.
You have to understand that in a one room school with one teacher and eight grades, at every session (which started at 8 AM) the teacher would start by calling out “FIRST GRADE”, and all first graders would walk up to the front of the school room to respond to the teacher’s wishes. With as many as 52 students in the room all would be able to hear what went on in each of the classes: one through eight. So if you made a mistake in class the entire school would know about it, and that sometimes went home to your parents. Then they would talk to each other. If I did something which made the teacher keep me in the room for recess, my father would find out about it, perhaps from some of the other parents; then I caught more grief.
Remember that in these days, 1926, we did not always have a working radio or a daily newspaper. We did have the weekly New Ulm Journal which was so very much locally oriented that news from the outside world was sparse. The students in New Ulm were luckier than we were in Essig, because they had daily Twin City newspapers: the Minneapolis Journal and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which we could not afford, and when it came to current events, the city kids had the advantage over us.
A school out in the country meant outdoor toilets, no running water, and no electricity. Heat was produced by a wood and coal burning furnace a local farmer started for the teacher before the 8 AM class began. Drinking water was brought in by farmers. Sometimes we would bring our own drinking cup, but if you did not, there was a drinking ladle in the pail you could use, which was not wise, since a lot of diseases were prevalent. If the weather was warm enough we could play in the school yard, usually baseball.
Sometimes we would hunt gophers in the adjacent pastures. We would pour water down their holes, and when the rodents came out we tried to run them down. A furniture store, Buenger’s, in New Ulm, would give us a penny for each gopher tail.
Some farm kids would ride their horses to school and put them the barn next to the school building until it was time to go home.
MY BROTHER AND I GO TO LUTHERAN SCHOOL
Willis and I managed to pass our grades early on, but we had great difficulty in our sixth or seventh grades because we were required to stop going to our school (district #50) and start preparation for our confirmation in the Lutheran grade school in New Ulm. It was here in our religion class Reverend Hinenthaul told us that the Catholics were bad and we were not to associate with them. That did not set well with me because our best friends were our neighbors, the Mecklinburgs, who were Catholic. This was not my idea of what Christianity was about. We had new classmates and teachers, and with our German accents it was not easy. It also meant that we had to live with an old aunt of my father whom we called “Mother Leitchen”, who ruled her house with an iron hand. She kept telling us not to use more then two sheets of toilet paper when going to the bathroom. I think she may have been related to Hitler. In those days my father gave us an allowance of 25 cents a week and with this we bought “Necco Wafers” for a nickel. There were probably 25 or 30 wafers in a pack. I got into a fight with the son of the chief of police, Chief Harmining. This guy was a little bigger than I and kept pushing me around to the point when I finally jumped up on and him put a “hammer lock” around his neck, and had him in the gutter where he “cried uncle”. From then on we were left alone by the “bullies” in this school. After we were confirmed by the church we were sent back to our one room school around March or April. My father dropped out of school at fourth grade, and my mother went as far as sixth grade. They were not too keen on our going to school after we reached age twelve or thirteen, because they wanted us to work on the farm where we could be of great help, since we were both able to drive horses like full grown men, and do all kinds of farm work. Both Willis and I graduated from the Essig grade school; Willis did not go to high school, but I fought my father all the way and found my own way to New Ulm Public High School, which was four miles away.
I GO TO HIGH SCHOOL
No matter what happened, I never lost my determination to go to school. There were no school busses in those days, so I hitched rides with other students, and once in a while I was able to get the family car. Our neighbors sent their children to high school, and I sometimes rode with them. Part of my senior year I stayed with my uncle who lived about twelve blocks from the school. My uncle had impressed upon me early on that I must take four years of math and two years of a language: German, of course. I also had the good fortune to take typing, which was literally a life saver later in my life. I still had difficulty in my other courses, especially grammar and speech. because of my German-flavored English pronunciation and sentence structure, which drove the teachers crazy. Fortunately my farm background resulted in my being in top physical condition, and I soon excelled in gymnastics. One year our team participated in the Class C Gymnastics competition at the University of Minnesota. Athletics helped me improve my self-image. There was a time I could walk up and down two flights of stairs on my hands. I was still doing this at age 51 at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1999, my ophthalmologist told me to stop doing handstands.
According to Havemeier’s nephew, the last sentence above is no joke…he really could do handstands into his 70s! That might explain the quasi-beefcake photograph that Havemeier chose to put at the end of his website!
I GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL
After graduation I worked first in a hardware store, then as a carpenter’s helper, and later in what was then known as a haberdashery. I earned forty dollars a month, and my father paid my uncle for my keep with meat and produce from the farm. We were in the Great Depression and jobs and money were scarce.
We had about a dozen ballrooms in the area where local musicians, as many as 18 to 20, would play good big band dance music. Usually the entrance fee was around $1.00. This all started in the mid 1930’s and “jitterbugging” was the craze. Almost all dances were on the weekends and I recall George’s Dance Hall in New Ulm, then there was the Gibbon Ballroom which had real good bands on Sunday nights. Then there was the New Ulm Ballroom, way out the country between New Ulm and Courtland. It was one of largest buildings built as a dance hall. I still remember some bands: “Al Menke,” “Tiny Little,” and “Guy Lombardo” to name a few. We all knew each other at the dances. The boys went as a group and met girls when we got there. The bands were the Lawrence Welk variety, and dances were usually held on Sunday night. I had very little money, no car and no girlfriend. The Lutheran church had activities going on all the time, but I seldom participated. I belonged to the Turnverein, a gymnastics club which I had joined in high school. A bunch of us did a lot of fishing and target shooting. The greatest event was always the county fair. We looked forward to the automobile and horse races. There was always a big stage show with dancers and acrobats. When I had a little extra cash, I’d check out the sideshow. There was always a wrestler who challenged all the local boys. We spent some time at the livestock judging since we knew all the farmers who were showing.
MY IMMEDIATE FUTURE IS DECIDED FOR ME
This section was listed in the site index, but it appears that it was never uploaded to the completed site. The only hint at what the section may have contained is a reference in “MORE LIFE ON THE FARM”: “As I mentioned previously, at the beginning of WWII I tried to enlist into the Army Air Corps. I did well with the written exam, but when it came to my eyes I flunked out. It was the first time I became aware of a vision defect. My right eye did not work in complete unison with my left eye, causing double vision at certain times.”
Havemeier’s enlistment data card is among the roughly 15% that were lost or so badly microfilmed as to be unreadable. However, 32nd Station Hospital records provide his service number (37285539) and state that he entered the U.S. Army on June 23, 1942. Havemeier’s service number indicates that he was drafted into the Army of the United States.
Basic training began at Camp Pickett, and for me included Army Clerk School, lots of marching, and very little free time. I arrived at camp as a raw recruit along with several hundred other men. At a formation held in the first week we were asked if any of us could touch-type, and those who could were accepted for Clerk School. In addition to attending Clerk School, we learned first aid, close-order drill, did calisthenics and lots of marching. The staff of non-commissioned officers was in place for training sessions of 10 weeks duration. These men were from the eastern part of the country; the first sergeant was from New York City. At every chance the non-coms would be collecting money for some cause. Most of us gave what we could which was not much because our pay was only $20.00 a month. One time we gave to decorate the day room which we never saw because they had us busy day and night in training. Another time the 1st Sgt’s dog was sick and they collected money so he could take the dog to a vet in Richmond, Virginia. We complained to each other, but we didn’t know how to make a formal complaint “through channels” as you are expected to do when you are a private. However, someone must have gotten our message to a higher authority, because when I arrived at Fort Benning, my immediate “buck sergeant” arrived there with no stripes; he had been “busted” along with the rest of the crew at Pickett.
CAMP RUCKER, ALABAMA
When our ten weeks were up at Pickett we were transferred to [the 32nd Station Hospital at] Camp Rucker, Alabama, in September, 1942, where we stayed until the end of October. I was assigned to the registrar’s office under 2nd Lt. Herman C. Needles; we were together during our entire training period and the 33 months we were overseas. Needles, as he was always called, became a major force in determining my future, although I was totally unaware of this when we were introduced. We are in touch with each other to this day; both of us proud to be retired Army men.
I’m in the driver’s seat of a weapons carrier in basic training at Camp Rucker, Alabama
If the photo was taken at basic, it would have been at Camp Pickett rather than Rucker.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Herman C. Needles
ON TO FORT BENNING, GEORGIA
From Rucker we went to Fort Benning, Georgia for more training in hospital matters, ward duties, and office work. Here also was the parachute training facility for the military; there were three large towers from which the men were released to prepare them for jumping. On Saturdays, many of these men jumped from planes, and we got a lot of fracture cases in the hospital. Our training consisted of familiarizing ourselves with ward duty in addition to working in the office. Fort Benning was considered a permanent military post and there were extensive facilities for us. Dances were held on a regular basis in the service club in our area. We had live orchestras who played big band music. Girls were bussed in from the local colleges. I met a nice Southern girl. She was hard to understand, but then I guess I was, too. At twenty-two, this was my first real date. I visited her at the college and she came to the post. She wrote to me while I was overseas. I tried to look her up after the war and found she had married a lieutenant colonel. I tore up her picture. So much for my first romance.
NEW YORK — THE BIG CITY AT LAST! (HA!)
On December 15, 1942 we left Fort Benning for New York City, traveling by train. Shades down, we had no idea where we were headed, except that this was the first leg of our trip overseas. We were wearing woolen uniforms which had been standard for us, so we couldn’t speculate on our destination based on our apparel. We arrived at Camp Kilmer, where we encountered a sea of mud and below freezing temperatures. There was no heat in the barracks where we were prepared for our embarkation. We were given our immunizations; our equipment was inspected to make sure we had the requisite supplies. Every morning for fifteen days we did calisthenics and close-order drill. We were given “trial runs” several times a day to make sure we could pack and be ready to leave when a whistle was blown. Finally one of these runs proved to be the real thing, and we were loaded on trucks. We had two bags. One went ahead to the ship; the other, weighing approximately 100 pounds, we carried on our backs. We wore full uniform including helmet, gas mask, mess kit and winter overcoats. We boarded the USS Ancon which would leave the Port of New York at 0515 hours on January 14, 1943.
Getting on the ship was a lengthy procedure. We walked up the gangplank and were checked off and assigned a “compartment” below deck which was to be my home for the duration of the trip. Four bunks were on each side of the passageway and I was on the third one up. Our ship was definitely not a luxury liner. We still did not know where we were going.
Before the war, the Ancon operated between New York City and Cristobal, Canal Zone, via Port au Prince, Haiti, under the ownership of the Panama Railroad. The Ancon was built by the Bethlehem Ship Building Company, Four River Yards, Quincy, Massachusetts, and was to be five hundred feet long and have a gross tonnage of ten thousand tons.
The ship was launched on September 24, 1938, christened by Mrs. V. Woodring, wife of the Secretary of War. Mr. D.H. Swanson, our Executive Officer, was the first Captain. The Ancon was fitted to carry two hundred and two first class passengers and a crew of 125. It was put into service in June 1939 at a total cost of $5,000,000. The Ancon had two sister ships, the Cristobal and the Panama, one of which was with us on this voyage. On January 11, 1942, the Ancon was taken over by the United States Army Transport Service and made two voyages between San Francisco, California, and Australia, visiting Brisbane, Adelaide, and Sidney during the trip. On her return from the second trip to Australia, she was sent to the East Coast for conversion for use of the United States Navy. The Ancon was placed in full commission by the Commandant, Navy Yard, Boston, on August 12, 1942, and became the U.S.S. Ancon. Captain P. L. Mather, U.S.N. was the Commanding Officer.
For further information, see Convoy U.G.F.-4: The 32nd Station Hospital’s Transatlantic Crossing, January 1943.
BACKGROUND ON THE NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGN
In 1941, Adolf Hitler made a final attempt to secure bases in Northwest Africa from the Vichy French. After Germany defeated France, the pro-German Vichy government under Marshall Petain cooperated with Hitler, who feared an American threat to North Africa. After the fall of France, Germany had permitted the Vichy government to keep a fighting force in Morocco. Tensions mounted with the French as more and more German “inspectors” were sent to oversee French military affairs. During the summers of 1941 and 1942 French troops were moved to defend the Atlantic coast, even though it was apparent that they could not put up a prolonged defense. The Germans, who did not trust the French, limited their participation.
On December 4, German General Rommel abandoned Tobruk under pressure from the British and retreated toward Tunisia. Hitler was unconcerned about an Allied attack on western North Africa. He felt that the Japanese were keeping the Americans too busy in the Pacific after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler anticipated no Allied landings in Morocco in 1942. In the fall, French forces moved back from the coast. Logistics prevented large scale Allied landings until November 1942. Algiers surrendered on November 8. Oran on November 9, and Morocco was surrendered to General George S. Patton, Jr. on November 11. On November 9, the Germans landed in Tunisia. The Germans and Italians would hold Tunisian positions until May 1943.
My first thoughts when I heard we were headed for Africa( we were told once we were on the “high seas”) were of safaris, lions, Tarzan and “Great White Hunters”. My knowledge of Africa came straight from Hollywood. How naive I was!
The sea was very rough from day one, and we were travelling in a convoy, which for safety’s sake would change course every twenty minutes. Many were seasick. North Africa began to look better and better. I hurried to the mess hall for a cup of strong coffee. Unfortunately it was heavily laced with sugar, and I joined the ranks of the infirm. From then on I was miserable. I stayed away from the mess hall and ate the Hershey bars I had brought along.
Feeding several thousand men in close quarters on a rolling platform became a real challenge. Breakfast was served at seven A.M. and supper at four P.M., and it took about three hours for each meal; about 600 men eating at a time. Meals were served on metal trays, cafeteria style, but each man was required to carry his own canteen cup, knife, fork, and spoon. When seas were rough, you had to hold onto your own tray or it would slide left or right and you could be eating off someone else’s tray if you didn’t hold onto your own. This was OK as long as the guy next to you didn’t use too much salt. Smoking was permitted on open decks during daylight hours, and in protected areas until nine o’clock at night. There was little to do to break the monotony of being cooped up and there was the terrible uncertainty of not knowing if we would get to where we were going. For most of us, it was the first time at sea, and for some of us, the first time we even had seen the ocean. It was a far cry from the tranquil Minnesota lakes where I was used to fishing.
In order to while away the time, another enlisted man, Lloyd Benore and I put together a show while we were en route. I saved a copy of the program.
PRODUCED UNDER THE PERSONAL SUPERVISION OF
LLOYD BENORE, ASSISTED BY WILLARD HAVEMEIER
1. “THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER”
Piano – Jack George Trumpet – Frank Silva
2. “BY MIR BIST DU SCHOENE”
“I WANT MY MAMMA” – Paul Soveges
3. “ALWAYS IN MY HEART” AND “WHISPERING”
Whistling Solo by Walter Houghton
4. “SHARPSHOOTERS MARCH” AND “CHINATOWN”
Accordion Solo by Pat Muscolino
5. .”NOVELTY NUMBER” “LIFE IN THE ARMY”
Lt. Ponton at the Harmonica
Chorus of Army Nurses led by Miss Milligan, assisting.
6. SONGS BY E. K. DORAN Jr.
7. HILLBILLY SONGS BY JOE SCHNEIDER.
8. COMEDY SONGS BY AL DAVIS
(Simm London at the piano)
“THE CHICKEN AIN’T NOTHING BUT A BIRD”
“MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU”
9. “IMITATIONS OF BIRDS” BY BRUNO LAGOSZ
10. PIANO AND TRUMPET
11. RUDY SPAGNOLO AND HIS “TONETTE”
12. GUITAR TRIO – REQUEST NUMBERS
13. “ECHOPHONE” SOLO BY PAT CAPTUTO
14. “MELODY IN “F” AND “I CRIED FOR YOU”
15. “IMITATION OF TED LEWIS”
Comedy song by Cohen
16. “LADY BE GOOD” AND “STARDUST”
Piano Duet by London and George
17. “NIGHT AND DAY” AND “AH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE” Solo by Otis Lumpkin
WE OF THE NAVY WISH TO EXPRESS OUR SINCERE THANKS TO
CHAPLAIN SHEARER, LLOYD BENORE, WILLARD HAVEMEIER, AND ALL
THOSE ASSISTING THROUGH WHOSE EFFORT AND KIND COOPERATION
THIS PRESENTATION WAS MADE POSSIBLE.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Private Lloyd J. Benore, Private 1st Class Paul C. Soveges, 1st Lieutenant James L. Ponton, 2nd Lieutenant Ruby Milligan, Joseph F. Schneider, Technician 4th Grade Bruno J. Lagosz, (possibly) Private 1st Class Jacob Cohen, and 1st Lieutenant John B. Shearer. The others were presumably members of different units also traveling aboard the Ancon.
ALLIES INVADE NORTH AFRICA
THE INVASION, ON NOVEMBER 8, 1942, INVOLVED AMERICANS ATTACKING AT FEDHALA IN PREPARATION FOR THE ATTACK ON CASABLANCA. RESISTANCE CAME TO AN END ON NOVEMBER 11. MEANWHILE, ANGLO-AMERICAN FORCES ATTACKED ORAN AND ALGIERS. FIGHTING AT ORAN WAS SEVERE, BUT SURRENDER CAME ON NOVEMBER 12. AT ALGIERS THERE WAS LITTLE RESISTANCE FROM THE FRENCH FORCES UNDER CONTROL OF THE VICHY GOVERNMENT. ADMIRAL DARLAN ORDERED A CEASE FIRE ON NOVEMBER 8. THIS WAS JUST AFTER THE BRITISH ARMY’S VICTORY AT EL ALAMEIN ON NOVEMBER 3.
ON NOVEMBER 12, 1942, BRITISH AIRBORNE FORCES CAPTURED BONE, ON THE ALGERIAN COAST, CLOSE TO THE TUNISIAN BORDER. BY THE FOLLOWING SPRING, THE GERMAN-ITALIAN FORCES COMMANDED BY FIELD MARSHALL ROMMEL HAD BEEN DRIVEN FROM NORTH AFRICA BY BRITAIN’S MONTGOMERY COMMANDING THE EIGHTH ARMY, WHICH PRESSED WESTWARD FROM LIBYA. EVENTUALLY THE BRITISH MET THE 2ND US CORPS, THE FRENCH 19TH, AND THE FIRST BRITISH ARMY, FIGHTING EASTWARD FROM ALGERIA. THE CASUALTIES SUFFERED BY THE ENEMY NUMBERED MORE THAN 50,000 DEAD AND WOUNDED. PRISONERS NUMBERED 250,000
IN JANUARY 1943, WINSTON CHURCHILL AND GENERAL DWIGHT EISENHOWER MET IN CASABLANCA TO PLAN THE NEXT STEP IN THE WAR AGAINST THE AXIS POWERS: THE LANDING IN SICILY AND THE BATTLE FOR ITALY.
THIS MAP OF ALGERIA SHOWS THE PORT OF ORAN WHERE WE LANDEDAFTER A 14 DAY TRIP OUT OF NEW YORK HARBOR. AFTER DISEMBARKING IN ORAN WE WERE LOADED INTO TRUCKS FOR A TRIP TO TLEMCEN, A CITY OF 80,000. THERE WE OPENED A HOSPITAL FOR COMBAT TROOPS FIGHTING UNDER GENERAL PATTON. WE WERE A PART OF “OPERATION TORCH”, THE ALLIED INVASION OF NORTH AFRICA. THE PLAN WAS TO LAND 35,000 TROOPS AND 250 TANKS UNDER GENERAL PATTON ON THE ATLANTIC COAST OF MOROCCO; AT THE SAME TIME ALLIED FORCES WERE TO TAKE ORAN AND ALGIERS. OUR HOSPITAL WAS TO SUPPORT THE FORCES FIGHTING FOR ORAN AND ALGIERS. THESE PORTS WERE TO BE SECURED AS BASES FOR CONTINUED MILITARY AND NAVAL OPERATIONS, AND TO DENY FUTURE ENEMY ACCESS TO THESE POSITIONS.
A few details in Havemeier’s account need clarification. The 32nd arrived in nearby Mers-el-Kébir, rather than the port of Oran itself. Although he implied that 32nd Station Hospital headed for Tlemcen right after unloading, its personnel staged for a few weeks first in Bouisseville. Also, Oran and Algiers were secured by Allied forces over two months earlier, in November 1942, at the beginning of Operation Torch, so the 32nd Station Hospital was not there “TO SUPPORT THE FORCES FIGHTING FOR ORAN AND ALGIERS” but rather the broader North African campaign, which was focused on Tunisia by that point.
OUR CONVOY TO TLEMCEN CONSISTED OF TWO TWO AND A HALF TON TRUCKS, ONE JEEP, A STAFF CAR WHICH WERE ASSIGNED TO OUR UNIT. WE WERE ALSO SUPPLIED WITH BORROWED VEHICLES IN ORDER TO TRANSPORT THREE HUNDRED ENLISTED MEN, FIFTY-FIVE NURSES, FORTY-NINE OFFICERS AND OUR CHIEF, COLONEL BERNSTEIN.
AS WE TRAVELED OVER THE RUTTED, DUSTY ROAD WE ENCOUNTERED OX CARTS, AND ARABS RIDING DONKEYS. OLD CHARCOAL-FIRED BUSSES CARRIED PEOPLE GOING TO AND FROM ORAN. MILITARY TRAFFIC WAS EVERYWHERE. AMERICAN, BRITISH AND FRENCH COMBAT VEHICLES WERE HEADED TO THE FRONT IN TUNISIA. SMALL HOUSES OF STONE AND MORTAR DOTTED THE LANDSCAPE TOGETHER WITH TINY GARDENS AND PICTURESQUE VINEYARDS. BEGGARS, INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN, WALKED ALONG THE SIDES OF THE ROAD. THE TRIP TOOK THREE HOURS. WE MADE ONE REST STOP IN A DESERTED FIELD AT THE FOOT OF A SMALL HILL. THE NURSES WENT OVER THE HILL TO RELIEVE THEMSELVES, WHILE WE MADE DO WITH THE AREA NEAR THE ROAD.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Theodore Burstein
On February [18, 1943], we arrived at our destination. The city of Tlemcen is located about 100 miles southwest of Oran in the Atlas Mountains. The population at that time was about half French and half Arab. Tlemcen was a summer retreat for the well-to-do French, and when Germany invaded France many of those people fled their homeland and settled in Tlemcen. Our hospital unit arrived as the first and only American unit in the area. Some of the local residents were friendly, but many looked on us as intruders, and we could not blame them. Before we left this town, five of our men married French girls, among them, I believe, Major Isadore Wessel, our X-ray specialist.
The city captured my interest immediately, although I now realized that Africa was not at all what I had imagined it would be. The buildings in Tlemcen looked unbelievably old. They were fantastically colored with walls of pink, cream and burnt orange, and decorated with elaborate Moorish designs.
There were several large and beautiful mosques in the city. They were intricately tiled with multi-colored mosaics that glowed in the light of the sun. The designs were abstract, because the Muslim religion forbids the depiction of the human figure. Late in the day a golden haze hung over the precincts of the mosques. I shall never forget the haunting voices of the muezzins as they called from the minarets, announcing the [call to prayer (original ends abruptly).]
[Two images omitted]
Left: Ornate Minaret of the Mosque of Mansourah: 13th century. Closely related to the Giralda of Seville. There is evidence of the north African influence throughout Spain as a result of the Moorish conquest.
Right: Elaborate handmade tiles surround a well within a mosque. The skills and craftsmanship of Algeria are known world-wide.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Isadore Wessel
[Two images omitted]
Above left: Sultan’s Mosque. Right: Mosque of Sidi Boumediene, a wise man who was born 1116.
[Two images omitted]
Courtyard and Exterior: Grand Mosque 11th and 12th century
Grand Mosque: Interior
The streets of Tlemcen were narrow and rutted. Wheel tracks marked the cobblestone surfaces. The gutters flowed with raw sewage. Arabs in long hooded jellabas went by, riding donkeys. Small carts transported all manner of household goods. People in North Africa were constantly on the move.
The United States Army established a hospital at Tlemcen, Algeria, to care for the combat troops engaged in the Tunisian campaign, the Sicilian Campaign, and the invasion of Italy. This was the same hospital unit originally organized in Camp Rucker, Alabama, August 13, 1942. It was then transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia on October 26, 1942, left Fort Benning on December 28, 1942 and arrived at Camp Kilmer, NJ on December 29, 1942, leaving with a convoy from the port of New York, January 14, 1943. Our first admissions were two soldiers, dead on arrival, as a result of a jeep accident on February 28, 1943. We were so exhausted from our trip that everything that happened during those first days seemed like a dream. At that point, we had no idea of what was to come, and the terrible number of casualties that eventually would reach us in Tlemcen. In May, our bed status had to be increased from 500 to 750.
A couple of minor points: The unit was actually activated on June 25, 1942, rather than August 13, 1942 (which was the date that Lieutenant Colonel Burstein assumed command of the unit). Dwight McNelley‘s unpublished manuscript, held by the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, went into the story about the unit’s first patients in greater detail. The hospital wasn’t quite ready to open that Sunday, but received word that patients were on the way nonetheless. McNelly recalled:
Finally, an ambulance stopped at the receiving room door and behind it was a single vehicle– a weapons carrier. A captain jumped out and we heard him say that he had three wounded and two bodies. Imagine the excitement – –we had our first induction [sic] to emergency situation. His story didn’t jive with the rumors we had been circulating.
While unloading shells from a rack, one shell was dropped and it exploded, and it killed one soldier outright. Knowing that our unit was the closest and was to be open, a jeep with the captain and two sgts. started for our hospital with the ambulance and the wounded fellow. Also, one soldier that had gone on sick call and was to be checked out at the unit of ours. Taking up the rear was the weapons carrier. They started out, down the mountain road and no doubt speeding. Anyway, it follows that at one small bridge, an Arab cart forced the small jeep off the road and into a ditch. It overturned and the occupants thrown out. The captain was just a bit bruised, but the two sgts. were badly hurt. Placing the accident victims into the ambulance, the two vehicles proceeded. On the way, the two sgts. died.
Unloading, we found that there was one more dead than the captain had said. We were not ready for such a mess. No X-ray set-up and no operating room as such. So emergency treatment in the one receiving room had to be it. All our surgical doctors were busy as were some of the nurses.
(Some typos corrected for clarity.)
32ND STATION HOSPITAL SET UP AT TLEMCEN
The following passage appears to be adapted from Colonel Harold L. Goss’s 1943 annual report.
Under the direction of the Surgeon, Mediterranean Base Section in Oran, this hospital was set up in two school buildings. A station hospital was different from a field hospital which was at the front. Headquarters, Administrative Offices, and the Admission and Disposition Office and Dispensary, the Operating Rooms, X-ray Department, Orthopedic Clinic, Pharmacy, and Physical-Therapy were set up in L’Ecole des Filles Indigenes (Building “A”). This building accommodated approximately 200 patients. The second building housed the laboratory, E.E.N.T. clinic, Dental Clinic, Prophylactic Station and G.U. Department, and 200 patients, and was named building “C”. The engineers constructed Nissen Huts (building “B”) adjacent to L’Ecole des Filles Indigenes, to house more patients and medical supplies. When in June the bed capacity was further increased to 1,000, the roofs of Building “A” and building “D” were put under canvas and screening; later wood and tar paper roofs with enclosed sides and plastiglass windows were set up.
The two school buildings were separated by a ten minute walk. The detachment was within a three minute’s walk from hospital “C” and seven minute’s walk from hospital “C.” The officers, nurses, dietitian, P.T.S.O and Red Cross workers lived just around the corner from the main hospital.
Because of the scattered layout of the various hospital units it was necessary to have four messes: at the main hospital, at Hospital “C,” at the detachment, and at the hotel for the Officers and Nurses. This worked a hardship on both mess personnel and equipment. There was a great problem with security; we had to post guards at all installations which took a lot of man power we could not spare. Also, we were trained as non-combatants with no arms, so all we had to confront any intruders was a club; I pulled this guard duty a number of times. Getting equipment and supplies from one place to another presented many problems because we had a limited number of vehicles. We needed one or two vehicles every day to make the 90 mile trip to the docks in Oran for our supplies. Our table of allowances and equipment was set up for a unit to handle 500 patients when we eventually were treating over 1500 patients.
On 8 September 1943, Italy capitulated, so some of the Italian prisoners we had as patients were hired for menial jobs, which relieved some of our own men. We did get some “filler” personnel from a replacement depot, but they never arrived on time when we needed them; many were poorly trained for hospital duties. Some of our equipment arrived at the dock in broken crates with damaged goods. In my opinion, our superior, the Surgeon General of the Mediterranean Base Section did a very poor job preparing for us. They were not ready for us upon our arrival in Oran; it took over a month for us to become operational.
[Two photos omitted]
Traditional Dress on left: Lace and jeweled items locally made.
Right: Arab women in street dress.
The two photographs mentioned in the following passage are not found on the site.
Below: Executive Officer, Major Jerry Krueger. In the lower picture, note the background which shows one section of our hospital, located in a school building which the Army had requisitioned. We had a canvas covered walkway between two school buildings. This snapshot was taken at the same place as the one above It shows the writer, and one of our nurses, Virginia J. Donehue. She was a special nurse in orthopedic medicine. Note the white uniform which was not easy to keep neat and clean under very difficult conditions. It was difficult to keep on hand replacement garments for the nurses as well as the enlisted men.
Charles Ballard who was directly responsible for the enlisted staff in the registrar’s office under the registrar, 1st Lt. Herman C. Needles.
This was one of my best buddies, Richmond Parmenter. He is standing on the balcony. Below “Deak” is at the switch board at hospital headquarters. Telephones throughout the hospital were all routed through this board and needed to be attended all hours of the day. He was an accountant and was in charge of the payroll of our unit. We called him “Deak” I guess for deacon, because he had to wear thick glasses to see well to read. He had a great sense of humor and liked to party.
MY MILITARY ID AND A FEW OF MY FRIENDS
Cpl. Kenneth Robinson who worked with us in the registrar’s office. He had a wonderful sense of humor. 2nd Lt Herman C. Needles, our registrar and boss, took this picture without his knowing it. He was a good worker and very dependable. Notice we were using upright typewriters which is all we had. We had to do a lot of typing and often times as many as five carbons had to be made. We had no copy machines except a mimeograph machine which required typing on a blue sheet called a stencil. If you hit the keys too hard some of the letters would be completely taken out; one had to have just right touch.
Cpl. Steven Hair, a great southern boy from Georgia. He worked with me in the registrar’s office. Steve was a very good worker, very dependable, and a good friend of mine.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Kenneth Robinson, Herman Needles, Steven Hair
MORE FRIENDS AND THE LOCAL AREA
Sgt. Walter Butler was our supply sergeant the entire time our unit operated overseas. He outlasted several supply officers because he was well trained and did his job very well. He was in charge of supplying the needs of enlisted men: uniforms, etc. He was also in charge of medical supply which required a great deal of work. We called him “Whimpy”; he and I have secrets which are known only to us.
Captain William C. Sommermeyer who was our supply officer. He did a splendid job under very difficult circumstances in that our supply depot was 100 miles away on treacherous two lane roads which required a 2½ ton truck to make this trip almost every day.
CWO Thomas J. Haggerty had various administrative assignments which included assistant registrar and assistant unit adjutant. He was a terrific baseball player and very good friend of mine. He was fun to have as a boss and had a good sense of humor.
[Photo of funeral procession omitted]
Arab funeral procession. The body is placed on a rack carried by bearers who are preceded by professional chanters; their chanting had some kind of rhythm which we could imitate after we were there a while. We could hear them blocks away.
[Four photos omitted]
In the Bazaar
Local Craftsmen: Furniture Maker and Metal Worker
[Six photos omitted]
Weavers and their Handiwork
Barrel Maker and Flat Bread Baker
Left: Embroidering Ornate Camel Saddles
Right: Selling Hand Made Baskets in the Bazaar
A railroad ran from Oran through Tlemcen, then on to Casablanca. When battle casualties arrived at [La Sénia] airport in Oran from the Tunisian Campaign, either by auto conveyance or by air (C-47 transports), some were loaded on trains, and when they arrived at Tlemcen, our staff went to check the patients. Anyone who needed more than 6 weeks’ hospitalization was left on the train which then continued to Casablanca. From there they were sent back to the States. Our men had these long rides under very primitive conditions. Helicopters were not in the military inventory as yet.
The surrounding areas were comprised of small garden type farms which brought produce into town. After we were there a short time, our mess hall officials purchased various items for our meals; this was mostly fruits and vegetables (we had none of these in our “pipeline”). These farmers hauled away our leftovers, garbage, fats, etc., which they used mostly for fertilizer.
THIS HOTEL IS WHERE ALL OF OUR 345 ENLISTED MEN WERE IN QUARTERS. MY ROOM WAS ON THE SECOND FLOOR AT THE FRONT CORNER WHERE I COULD SEE UP AND DOWN BOTH STREETS AT THIS CORNER. OUR DETACHMENT WOULD STAND REVEILLE IN FRONT OF THE QUARTERS EVERY MORNING. THE STONE WALL BEHIND THE MEN WAS A PRISON OR JAIL WHERE I WAS DETAINED FOR SOME HOURS ON ONE OCCASION; I WAS CAUGHT FOR BEING OUT AFTER CURFEW. AFTER BREAKFAST WE WOULD THEN GO TO OUR ASSIGNMENTS AT THE LOCAL SCHOOL BUILDINGS WHICH WERE REQUISITIONED BY THE ARMY FOR USE AS A HOSPITAL. THE MESS HALL AND DAY ROOM WERE ON THE FIRST FLOOR. THE UPPER THREE STORIES IS WHERE THE MEN LIVED. WE HAD DANCES ON THE ROOF WITH LIVE BIG BANDS.
MEALS WERE NOT TO OUR LIKING BECAUSE WE HAD NO FRESH FOOD. WE HAD POWDERED POTATOES, POWDERED EGGS, POWDERED MILK, ALONG WITH “SPAM” WHICH COULD BE SMELLED BEFORE WE GOT TO THE FRONT DOOR OF THE HOTEL. WE SOON FOUND SOME LOCAL EATING PLACES WHERE AT LEAST WE COULD GET FRESH EGGS; COW’S MILK WAS NOT READILY AVAILABLE, BUT GOAT’S MILK WAS SERVED WITH COFFEE. I RENTED AN APARTMENT WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE FROM THIS HOTEL.
A FOUR STORY STRUCTURE, TYPICALLY FRENCH INSIDE. NOTE THE FRONT ENTRANCE WHERE SOME SOLDIERS OF MY UNIT WERE LOUNGING AT THE ENTRANCE. THE BOTTOM PICTURE ON THE LEFT ABOVE SHOWS THE STREET SCENE TAKEN FROM MY SECOND FLOOR FRONT ROOM
NOTE HOW THE MEN OF THE UNIT WERE HOUSED AT THIS HOTEL, FOUR MEN TO A ROOM, TWO IN EACH OF THE TWO DOUBLE BEDS. WE HAD TO PUT UP WITH LOVELY WHITE SHEETS: THIS WAS WAR! THE PICTURE ON THE LEFT SHOWS ME IN UNIFORM. EACH ROOM HAD A SINK AND A BIDET (FRENCH, OF COURSE). THE TOILET WAS DOWN THE HALL ON EACH FLOOR.
“OLD JOE”, THE BEGGAR, WHOM WE WOULD PASS GOING TO AND FROM THE HOSPITAL AND OUR QUARTERS. HE MADE OUT VERY WELL BECAUSE MANY OF US WOULD TOSS HIM A COIN AS WE WENT BY.
YOUNG GIRLS WERE DRESSED IN VERY COLORFUL COSTUMES FOR AN ARABIC CELEBRATION. AT THAT AGE THEY WERE PERMITTED ON THE STREET SHOWING THEIR FACES. THIS WAS NOT ALLOWED FOR ADULT FEMALES.
THE TLEMCEN AREA
I WAS TRYING TO HAVE A PICTURE TAKEN AS THOUGH I WAS WALKING WITH THE FIGURE ON MY LEFT, BUT THE WOMEN CAUGHT ON AND BACKED AWAY.
THIS IS ANOTHER STREET SCENE TAKEN FROM OUR HOTEL; THE FIGURE ON THE RIGHT IS TYPICAL OF WOMEN WHEN ON THE STREET. THEY MUST BE COMPLETELY COVERED WITH ONLY ONE EYE VISIBLE.
Our Officers and Nurses marching in Tlemcen on November 11, 1943, Armistice Day. Our enlisted men also took part in this celebration, and I must add that it was a great feeling, marching to one of our American Military bands and saluting our flag.
Lt. Col Robert O.Y. Warren, Chief of Medical Service. He was a well-liked officer, and from my perspective as an enlisted man I always thought of him as a credit to his profession and an excellent example of an officer and a gentleman.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Robert O.Y. Warren
The swimming pool which was set aside for the enlisted men and operated by the Red Cross.
You can see me as nearest to the camera. Although we had snow at one time, most of the time the weather was warm enough for swimming.
1st Lt Herman C. Needles who was our registrar the entire time the unit was operational. The registrar’s office of a military hospital had the job of seeing that all patient data was correctly gathered and reported to higher headquarters, daily, weekly, and monthly. Our job was to see that our physicians completed each patient’s chart immediately after discharge according to military regulations.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Herman C. Needles
Patients who were hospitalized for more than 6 weeks were transferred to the
hospital detachment of patients from their unit. We paid these patients, usually with partial payments and this information was recorded on a temporary service records if we did not have his unit service record, which very often was the case. To Needles’ left you can see the right edge of my desk; we worked closely together on many responsibilities in this office. Keeping track of patient records which were forwarded to the Surgeon General, Washington, D.C. when a patient was discharged. Every day an admission sheet was prepared by the admission office and a copy was provided to us which we compared with our disposition sheet of the day; this would give us the patient count for the day. Every morning we were required to call higher headquarters, M.B.S. [Mediterranean Base Section] in Oran, and give them the count broken down by battle casualties, common accident injury cases, and diseases. For security reasons we used a coded chart at both ends of the phone line so that this data did not reach the attention of the enemy. The registrar’ office was required to have someone of the staff attend autopsies, take notes and later type them up which was then sent to the commanding Officer. At times we were called upon to help clean up crash sites. We had a B-17 crash almost in our post in trees next to the unit. We were called upon to “pick up the pieces”, body parts, etc., and identify each victim. I still have the list of names on a sheet I prepared during this job. There were 17 bodies including the crew. On all seriously ill patients a letter had to be prepared and sent to the next of kin. On all deaths a letter of condolence was sent to the next of kin.
Although most of the events of this section pertain to the unit’s service in Algeria, I believe the B-17 crash occurred in Italy.
REGISTRAR’S OFFICE STAFF
The following photo appears to have been taken at the 32nd Station Hospital compound in Caserta, Italy in 1944 or 1945. The original version of the site also includes photos of several nurses and some material pertaining to the 32nd Station Hospital operations in Caserta. Since this is out of order, I have moved this material to later in the account.
The entire staff which worked in the registrar’s office. Starting from the top left: Pat Sorrento, Charles Ballard, William Wilson, next row down, that me, the writer on the left, next to me is 2nd Lt Herman C. Needles and to his left you see CWO Thomas J. Haggerty. In the bottom row: Pat Golden, Sgt [George J.] Murray, Kenneth Robinson, and Stephen Hair on the bottom right.
Captain Gerard Krueger, Adjutant, and Thomas J. Hagerty, Assistant Registrar. These two men were excellent administrative officers. I worked with both of them in my capacity as a clerk typist in the Registrar’s office. Hagerty was a very good baseball player; and had a great personality. Krueger was a pleasure to know in that he liked to tell a good joke and was terrific at any party.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Pat Sorrento, Charles E. Ballard, William Wilson, Willard O. Havemeier, Herman C. Needles, Thomas J. Hagerty, Pat Golden, George J. Murray, Kenneth Robinson, Stephen Hair, Gerard Krueger
A BUDDY RESPONDS
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Earle Metcalf
THE LOCAL SCENE
Some of our enlisted men on the roof of our hotel. Note the leggings on the man closest to the camera. We hated these things, but they had to be worn before combat boots came into being. We were able to buy and drink beer and for some time we had dances up here with military big bands. At times some of our nurses joined us. Note the floor is of some kind of brick or tile.
These pictures show donkeys as a mode of transportation for people and belongings. Foreign soldiers also used donkeys.
This is a typical French scene: Tlemcen had outdoor garden type drinking places. The building on the right was the Red Cross Club – probably the most modern building around this part of the country. These French people really knew how to take life easily considering this was July, 1943, when France had been overrun by the German Army. In my opinion, the French did very little to help, leaving it to the Americans and the British to fight the war. Many French escaped to French North Africa and settled in what were considered resort areas like Tlemcen, where we were in operation.
HOUSES OF ILL REPUTE
When we arrived in Tlemcen, Algeria, we were the only troops in this town for several months. There was not even a military police detachment, just the local French civilian police. Fortunately, our unit had a well behaved group of enlisted men and the officers were not a problem either. However, it did not take long for our troops to find out that there were three houses of prostitution in town. One was called “The La Belle” staffed by Arabs, and another “The La Favorite” run by the French. I do not recall the name of the third.
Of course, I never was one of their customers, because in basic training we were bombarded with all kinds of lectures and movies about the consequences of infection with venereal disease, and this farm boy was a good listener. Also, by the time we were operating in Tlemcen, my co-workers became my friends and we were like a family. I was dating some of the nurses and had very friendly relationships with many of the officers and enlisted men. I was not about to ruin my health and damage my reputation by doing something foolish. However, some of our boys threw caution to the winds and became customers on a regular basis.
As an enlisted man, I had to take my turn as CQ (Charge of Quarters) at our enlisted men’s hotel. This required that I check passes, and keep a record of those who were out for the evening. If someone was missing at 10 o’clock bed check, the CQ was to report this to the 1st/Sergeant. I hesitated to do this because it would have meant extra duty and other punishments for the guilty party. One night when the Officer of the Day came by, I had to tell him we were missing three of our men. He thought they might be at “The Favorite.” He and I went there and found our men in the downstairs bar talking to a very pretty bleached blond who was known as “Daisy Mae,” after the cartoon character in the “Lil Abner” comic strip. The OD had a .45 caliber pistol in a holster strapped to his side and did not have to say much to get our men to come home with us.
The “Favorite” had a nice rustic look. It had a bar on the ground floor with a small dance floor, and a stairway to the second floor where there was a balcony with a railing. Looking up, you could see men coming and going from the rooms with the girls. The place looked like a barroom in a western movie. The madam sat at the cash register with her poodle. Our men told the story that the madam also had a set of buttons which were wired to the rooms, and if a customer was staying too long she hit the button and a loud bell would ring in the room and the man would have to leave.
Daisy Mae made friends with some of our enlisted men. Our troops had the run of the town until the war in Tunisia was over. Then many combat men were gathered in our area to get ready for the invasion of Sicily and Italy. That is when all hell broke loose in our town. Military police had to take over law enforcement and our hospital set up a “pro station” to treat troops who were in the areas of the “houses.” If any men were caught within the boundaries of these houses they got the “treatment” before they could proceed out of the area. Our troops stuck close to quarters, because these war weary men were not happy with the medics. When we arrived in Naples in December, 1943, Daisy was at the dock when we landed. How she made it from North Africa to Naples is anyone’s guess.
ON THE ROAD TO MOROCCO
My buddies and I went for R&R on the Mediterranean beach near a small town called Beni Saf. We really lived it up on the beach during the day and tried to find some night life and a little French wine in the evenings. It got to be boring after a few days so four of my buddies and I took a walk westward along the beach. We were warned not to cross over the border into Spanish Morocco, which was neutral, but we were not aware how close we were.
We were quartered in beach houses some distance west of Beni Saf, not far from the Moroccan border. There were no signs or guard posts at the border, but it did not take very long for soldiers to “lower the boom” on us and give us a scare. Although Spain was considered neutral during WWII, it was no secret that dictator Franco was “playing footsie” with Hitler. Just before the invasion of Sicily, the British had dropped off a dead body dressed as an officer near the Spanish coast. This gambit was called “Operation Mincemeat,” and the “officer” was carrying top secret material prepared to confuse German intelligence about the location of the coming invasion. The documents indicated that any attack on Sicily would be a ruse, and that the real destination of the Allies would be Sardinia. The fact that the British did this indicated the close relationship which existed between Franco and Hitler. I hate to think what might have happened to us had we been hauled to Spain as [prisoners.]
Well, we wandered over the border and were picked up by Spanish soldiers. We had only beach clothes, and I did not even have shoes. Our captors made us walk to their headquarters where we were questioned and held for over six hours. A small Arab boy had been hanging around with us, and while we were detained this boy talked to the soldiers: what he said I do not recall, but it got us on the way back to our troops. The boy could converse with the soldiers much better than we could, and must have convinced them we were “the good guys.” We were hauled back in a vehicle similar to our jeep. I was terribly sunburned, and the bottoms of my feet got burned from walking on the hot sand. According to my buddies they had to lay me down on my back in the vehicle because I was having delusions.
This story is also mentioned in Dwight McNelly‘s unpublished manuscript at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library:
Deciding to leave the beach as the sun was now getting quite hot for me, I declined to join five of my buddies that were strolling westward in the surf. […] The day passed quickly, and at supper chow we were missing viee of our group… the five that I had last seen on the beach, walking in their shorts or swimsuits.
A jeep, one of two vehicles that we had with us, went to search for them. It was now near dusk and still no sign of them. Later on and well into the night the scouting produced no positive results as to the whereabouts of the five soldiers. […]
Everyone was awake and milling around the area until about midnight. Suddenly around the corner of the road into the section by the mess tent, came a scout car. It was colored like one of our own jeeps. Riding in it we could make out some of our [men] that had been missing and they were guarded by two armed men. On closer view we saw also that there was a small Arab boy. What commotion and excitement took over; we couldn’t understand at first what had taken place and it seemed one of our fellows was on a blanket on the bed of the vehicle…it was Sgt. Havemeyer. [sic]
After much shouting, the air cleared and the mystery was solved: our stolling fivesome had ventured into the neutral zone, captured, and interrogated by the Spanish soldiers; let go due to the small Arab boy’s translations. […] Were we relieved and that night I spent some hours bathing the Sgt’s hot and blistered feet and body. He was quite delirious most of the time. […] Thanks to the Arab boy, our buddies were not interned for the duration.
(Minor typos corrected for clarity)
MY ON-SITE MEDICAL EDUCATION
Although I was assigned to a army medical unit as a clerk/typist it became necessary for me to become very familiar with medical terms. We had to type up the final reports on all disposition documents for the patients whom we treated. We had a medical dictionary beside our typewriters to check the correct spelling of all the unfamiliar terms. It did not take long for most of us to know the correct name of almost every part of the human body. I could name all the bones and many of the main blood vessels in the body and knew how to spell their names while on this duty.
I attended autopsies under the direction of Captain Reddin Britt. He was a surgeon from an old southern town and always bragged about how a good mint julep was his favorite drink. Even though he was an officer and I was an enlisted man, we were friends. I would take notes while various parts of the body were examined and then type the notes up for the final report for our registrar’s office.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Reddin Britt
COMBAT VETERANS’ PROBLEMS WITH FRATERNIZATION
Our troops were not well liked in many of the countries we occupied during WWII. The saying was “those Americans are over paid, over sexed, and they are over here.” There was a lot of truth in this statement. We were paid more than any other foreign troops. Almost all military personnel received roughly ten weeks basic training in places where there were few available females. After completion of basic these men would usually go overseas into combat. The isolation of the men was essential to keep knowledge of troop movements from the enemy. We were quarantined from the moment we got our overseas orders, which meant no visitors, phone calls, letters, or passes outside the military complex. Our 32nd Station Hospital was alerted at Fort Benning, Georgia, to “ship out” overseas. Immediately we were, restricted to quarters. When we got on the train to New York we had to keep the shades pulled down so onlookers would not see that a troop train was passing. From then on, until we got to North Africa, five weeks later, we saw no females, or for that matter heard women’s voices. After being “cooped up” in a smelly troop ship for two weeks we finally landed in Oran, Algeria, where we got a first look at some of the nurses. I never was so pleased just to hear a female voice. It was like music. We were very fortunate to have females in our unit.
That was not the case for most units. For example, the invasion of North Africa in November, 1942, required a lot of combat troops. Most of these men had a longer period of basic training than I did, and when they landed they immediately were shipped to the Tunisian front where they were in combat until May. Then they were retrained in the rear areas of Algeria for further combat in Sicily and Italy. That is when “all hell broke loose” with the local French women. After all this time living and fighting with only male company, I do not think anyone can blame the boys for being “over sexed.”
Another problem with our combat troops resulted from very rough duty in Tunisia. Our hospital received many patients with “battle fatigue” and when they were released, some were difficult to handle. Many went overboard drinking all types of wine, liquor, and beer. Some of these men came back to us as psychiatric patients. Some of the more aggressive had to be physically restrained with straight jackets. Severe cases were given “the cold treatment.” That involved wrapping them from head to toe in bed sheets and immersing them in a bath tub filled with ice and water. In those days there were few medications we could use to calm the patients down.
DR. LOUIS LINN
Dr. Louis Linn, our psychiatrist in Algeria. Dr. Linn is still active in his New York City practice.
Indeed, Dr. Louis Linn continued to practice until his death in 2009, aged 95. Here is the transcription of the letter above, dated January 10, 2002:
Someday, when time and patience permit, I will try to say more about myself as a 32nd Station Hospital alumnus. Meanwhile, I am enclosing a picture which will give you some idea of how I look now. I wonder if it will be at all recognizable to and of the other 32nd survivors.
I recently became a great grandfather. Our family is [roaring?] along peacefully and happily. Even though I am the last survivor of World War II doctors at my hospital, I am still active in my practice and in my hospital visits.
My warmest regards to you for the New Year and to all the surviving 32nd with whom you are in touch.
MORE FROM DR. LINN
This was originally a link to another letter, dated July 29, 1998 and transcribed below.
What a pleasant surprise it was to be contacted by you concerning the 32nd. I regret that I am computer illiterate and am compelled to communicate with you in this old-fashioned way. I do not think I have any pictures or other items to share with you. *[Handwritten note at the bottom:] *I plan to look around at home for picture However, for whatever it is worth, I will give you a brief rundown of my truly happy stay with the 32nd.
Following my induction in the army in New York City as a medical officer. I reported to duty at the O’Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri where I was put to work at once as a psychiatrist. Incidentally, I had a few years of psychiatric training before entering the service and particularly requested this assignment. After two months in Missouri, I received orders to join the 32nd at Camp Rucker. My wife accompanied me on that trip. We arrived at the camp in the midst of a downpour and the sea of mud in which I found myself was quite discouraging to my wife and I put her on a train to stay with friends in Birmingham until I could rent a place for us with a very dear family in Ozark, Alabama. I say they were a very dear family for good reason. I was sitting at a counter in a coffee shop alone and, I will admit homesick, when this older gentleman came over to me, one of the local physicians. When I told him about the search for a place for my wife and myself, he immediately requested that we stay with him. We were truly happy there for the months that we stayed at Camp Rucker. Incidentally, the 3rd General Hospital which was the unit of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, was being organized at Camp Rucker at that same time. I found many old friends among them and subsequently served with them in southern France a couple of years later.
While waiting for our next assignment at Camp Rucker, I did a Rorschach test on every enlisted man in the outfit. It was occupational therapy for me and certainly kept me out of trouble. The paper record of those tests filled to bursting a barracks bag which I had to drag along with me in all subsequent travels of the 32nd until we got to North Africa. On the high seas, when we were told we might be torpedoed, my only worry was losing the barracks bag with my Rorschach records. I subsequently wrote a report based on those records which as far as I can make out no one read except me and the editor of the journal who published it. In spite of that, I think it was a damn good report and I think I can certainly select soldiers who will either succeed or fail in their subsequent army duties following induction based on those tests.
The ocean crossing with memorable for me. We were on the USS Ancon, the flagship of a large convoy. Having boarded this ship in total darkness, totally unaware of its whereabouts or where we were heading, we were awakened the next morning by a loudspeaker that summoned us to the deck. At that point, land was no longer in sight. We were addressed by the commanding officer of the entire convoy, General [Elwood “Pete”] Quesada, of the United States Air Force. [sic] He informed us that we were crossing to North Africa to participate in the Tunisian campaign which had recently begun in North Africa. He told us that submarine sinkings were at their peak and we might as well know that we have strong suspicions that we too might be torpedoed. We were instructed to wear our Mae West [life jacket] at all times. We were assigned to “abandon ship positions” and were summoned to report to those positions every sunrise and every sunset and stand at our abandon ship posts waiting for the torpedo. I must say that I have never seen sunrises and sunsets as beautiful as I saw on that ship. I should also add for local color that General Quesada said that in the event we were torpedoed, if anyone through panic or fear, interfered with the rescue operation, the officers on ship (non-medical) carrying side arms were instructed to fire on or kill any obstructionists. Although I must say I did not take any of this seriously and assumed that the general was having a good time trying to scare the shit out of us. He concluded his initial meeting that opening morning with the advice that each of us assemble and pray for our lives. Each denomination was assigned to a specific place on board the ship. Having toured the various locations, I can confirm the fact that the Catholic and Protestant services were well-attended. The Jewish service, alas, consisted of about eight or ten frightened boys who welcomed me and asked me to conduct services for them. While I was fully prepared for duties as a psychiatrist, I did not have the training to function as a rabbi. However, I rose to the occasion, however briefly and uninspired. In my subsequent investigations, I discovered that the missing Jewish contingent were all shooting craps or playing poker in one of the lower areas of the deck. I remember thinking what an optimistic act this was and how each hoped to maximize his spending money when we got to our destination.
I will never forget the beauty of the sky late at night when we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and I will never forget the ominous spectacle of the wrecked French fleet in a half-sunken state in the harbor at Mers El Kebir. These vessels had been sunk by British forces so, needless to say, it did not win us any friends in the Vichy government.
You can see from the foregoing, I could easily fill a book with our adventures. Believe me, I am being as brief as possible and choosing only occasional highlights. However, since I have been invited to do so, I will continue with my story.
The medical officers were billeted in a beautiful villa in [Bouisseville], a charming little village at the edge of the Mediterranean. There was an encampment of French enlisted men nearby. They had an accordionist who played what he thought were popular French songs. They were surprised to learn from me that they were old Tin Pan Alley favorites and they were delighted to hear me sing the songs in English. Nearby was another charming little town with very strong Arabic influences in its structures and population named Ain El Turck. The hospital of Northwestern University Medical School was billeted there. I knew some of them professionally and made many lasting friendships among them. I do not recall how long we remained there but we were subsequently moved to Tlemcen. I do not have to tell you what a gorgeous setting that was. The medical officers and nurses were billeted in the Hotel Transatlantique. I should say I was then a lieutenant in the Medical Corps and I shared a room with the following medical officers: Lewis McKee, Candler Willis and Nace Cohen. I had the extraordinary experience of having all three of these men as my patients subsequently: Willis for a neurologic disorder; Cohen for jaundice secondary to a gallstone attack; and McKee for intractable weight loss. All three of them are now, unfortunately, dead.
The first group of patients I got on my service were men who had been through the battle of the Kasserine Pass. (I may have a picture of my first group of patients. If I find it, I will send it on.) Those of you who have seen the film Patton will be familiar with that battle which was a terrible defeat inflicted on our inexperienced troops by Rommel, the Desert Rat, more familiarly known as the Desert Fox.
Despite the fact that I am a psychiatrist, I have always enjoyed the skills of a general practitioner. At one point a young GI, not in our hospital unit, committed suicide. Official requirements demanded an autopsy which I performed as the only one experienced in that area. We had a few cases of malaria and I taught our personnel how to prepare slides for the diagnosis of this condition. As medical officer of the day (MOD), I made rounds on all the wards and enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the other cases in our care including battle casualties.
I remember Colonel Burstein, our first commanding officer, who had to go home shortly after our arrival because he suffered from an acute coronary occlusion (heart attack to you). Subsequently we had an unusually fine new commanding officer [Lieutenant Colonel Gayland Lyle Hagelshaw] whose name escapes me. I will never forget his approach to command. When he arrived he said, “I can see that this is a well-run hospital and you fellows obviously are doing good things. Accordingly, I will just be an observer for a couple of weeks before I institute any changes in accordance with my own ideas.” Unfortunately, this wise and civilized man received orders assigning him elsewhere very soon. Then came Colonel Goss. He was in every way the antithesis of the aforementioned colonel. He felt that everything we were doing was wrong and he instituted drastic changes in every detail of the hospital operation, almost on the day of his arrival. I do not know how matters worked out subsequently because, shortly after the arrival of Colonel Goss, I received orders transferring me from the 32nd Hospital to the 51st Station Hospital which was designated to function exclusively as a psychiatric hospital. We set up in tents in Oran. After the Tunisian campaign, I went on to Naples with the 51st, then to southern France. I spent the final few months of my overseas stay in the environs of Paris. Needless to say, this is a story in its own right, but obviously not for the archives of the 32nd. Altogether I was overseas thirty-three months. If you remember the point system, I had ninety-four points when I finally got my opportunity to go home.
A final note: on arrival in New York City, I had the first glimpse of my daughter who was born when I was overseas. A couple of years later my wife and I had a son. Each one of my kids, when they got married, had a son and daughter, so I now have four grandchildren, one of whom is married, but I am not yet a great grandfather.
I have many fond memories of the 32nd and I send my loving regards to all of you who remember my stay with the 32nd. I applaud your plan to assemble a history of the 32nd and I hope that I will be on your mailing list for further developments in this project.
I should add a few additional thoughts that strike me now. I met Dr. Silverman, one of our dentists, who was embarking on a career with the United States Public Health Service. I do not know what happened to him thereafter. Coincidentally, I met another one of our dentists, Dr. Wiener, just by accident in a Broadway theatre at a performance of Orphan Annie many years ago. I also met with Lewis McKee and his family at their home in Durham, North Carolina on an occasion when I gave a talk at the medical school of the university. Lewis and his wife subsequently visited us in New York City, an occasion which we remember with much love and fondness. As I mentioned previously, Lewis McKee died a few years ago, as did Nace Cohen and Candler Willis, all of whom were my roommates in Tlemcen. I also met Ginny Don[e]hue, one of our wonderful 32nd Hospital nurses. I do not recall her married name but I know she married a warrant officer. They had a son who became a brilliant concert violinist.
Dr. Nace Cohen and I remained close friends for many years after our return to civilian life. He had two daughters, both of whose weddings I attended. His older daughter Linn (spelled like my last name) was named as a greatly appreciated gesture of affection to me. His son is a professor of English at one of the southern universities and conducts regular tours to Stratford, England with his students studying Shakespeare.
I remained very close friends with Dr. Joseph Dolgin and his family until his death a few years ago. He died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). He and his wife had three children. His oldest, a son, is now chief of pediatric surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His other son is a successful lawyer in private practice. His daughter is a professor of law at one of the great law schools in the New York City area. I should mention that the Dolgin family’s interest in law is connected with their mother who was, for many years, with one of the great New York law firms and is now on the legal staff of Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Joseph Dolgin was a much loved pediatrician on Staten Island. On the occasion of his retirement hundreds of families and children assembled to honor him. [Handwritten:] He died about 3 years ago
Louis Linn, M.D.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Dolgin’s family advised that the photo above does not in fact depict Dr. Dolgin. The photo appears to have been taken at the 32nd Station Hospital compound in Caserta in 1944 or 1945, but exactly who it depicts is currently unknown.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Louis Linn, Lewis McKee, Candler Willis, Nace Cohen, Theodore Burstein, Gayland Hagelshaw, Harold Goss, Robert Silverman, Irving Weiner, Virginia Donehue, Joseph Dolgin
During all my time on active duty in WWII we never had any black soldiers assigned to our unit and had none as patients. The military was not integrated at that time. Growing up in Minnesota I had had no opportunity to meet black people. I saw my first African American when I went to a high school gymnastics meet. In North Africa we had many different nationalities as patients: soldiers fighting as our allies. I never felt any different toward them. We did have German and Italian prisoners of war as patients. While operating in Italy we never had any black patients.
Havemeier was correct about the U.S. military being segregated during World War II and that there were no African-American members of the unit. However, he was incorrect that there were no black patients treated by the hospital, as demonstrated by unit records, at least two photographs of patients, as well as Dwight McNelly’s manuscript.
These black musicians played big band music for officers’ parties. Enlisted men never saw them or heard their music. They were from the USO. (Higher resolution photo courtesy of the Hills family)
The photo above was taken at the 32nd Station Hospital officer’s club in Caserta, Italy in 1944 or 1945. The band members wear the patch of Allied Force Headquarters, located a mile north of the compound in the Royal Palace of Caserta.
MORE FRIENDS AND THE LOCAL AREA
First Lt. Herman C. Needles, our registrar. Smoking was the “in thing” those days. At one time he wore a pencil moustache trying to look like Errol Flynn, the handsome movie star of those days. He took a lot of kidding and shaved it off.
The writer, Red Cross worker, Dorothy Clark, and John Jones, a fellow worker in the registrar’s office. Taken on the roof or our hospital building.
Three of my favorite friends. From left: 1st Lt. Herman C. Needles, our registrar; our Red Cross worker, Dorothy Clark, and Warrant Officer Thomas Hagerty, personnel officer. Picture was taken on the roof of our hospital building. Needles and I became great friends and after all these years we still speak to each other on the phone several times a month. Sorry to say that both Hagerty and Clark have passed away.
Sgt. Fred Weber who was in charge of men working on hospital wards. He is sitting on the balcony of our hotel room; note the sign behind him. He was a good friend and came from Sheboygen, Wisconsin, having worked for the Kohler Plumbing Manufacturing Company. He and I could speak German and when we wanted to discuss matters confidential to us, this came in handy. He was very talented playing the trumpet; he had it shipped from home and would play “Good Nights Ladies” at 10 o’clock bedtime. Fred died several years ago.
Local French residents who we hired to work in our offices. They were a great help and relieved some of our soldiers from routine office work. Note, we had snow several inches deep; this on the roof of our hospital building.
Snow on the roof of our hospital building and Cpl. Lowell Sparks, who worked in Headquarters. The picture on the right is of Sparks somewhere on the hospital grounds.
The photo above on the right looks like it was taken at the compound in Caserta, Italy.
Bates Motel (Remember the film “Psycho”?)
We had to fold the mosquito nets on our beds. We hated to use them in hot weather because they kept air from moving over the beds.
An old man we used to see every morning on our way to work. Sometimes that wagon was “loaded to the hilt”; you could say way overloaded.
Arabs all piled on one wagon. Note the turbans and Fez as headgear.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Fred Weber, Lowell Sparks
The Arabs would have as many as five or six mules hooked up in a single row and they were always blocking traffic. Sometimes we encountered herds of sheep which were being herded along streets and roads.
Typical Arab children: note the absence of western type of clothes. Most wear tops and bottoms stitched together from rough cloth, grayish in color. These boys were always trying to find something to do for us for which they wanted payment most often in candy bars or some other objects which they could use to barter.
Women washing their clothes. Note the rocks upon which they scrubbed the clothing and how it was dried hanging on trees and bushes.
Arab children: one carrying unbaked bread to a central bakery. It is rough and grayish dough with a hole in the center.
T/Sgt. Raymond Plzak, who was in charge of the men at headquarters. He had a wonderful personality and had many friends; he was one of my best buddies. Unfortunately, he was killed in a car crash shortly after the war.
1st/Sgt William Hall in a weapons carrier talking to some Arabs.
Also, you see a snapshot of him at his desk; his name plate says 1st/Sgt Bill Hall. Sgt. Hall was not one to become overly friendly with our enlisted men who were in his charge. He “ran a tight ship”; controlled a staff of about 350 men. Hall was from Texas, had a heavy southern accent and still wanted to “show those Yankees” who was boss. He was regular Army having entered the service before the beginning of WWII. He was a good soldier!! After the war, I was able to contact him at an address in Mexico, but later correspondence was returned. Note the Atlas mountains in the background outside Tlemcen where we operated our hospital. The natives of this area traveled a lot on foot or rode donkeys. There were some buses, but they were crude mostly without windows. Passengers would hang on anywhere they could and rode on the roof of the vehicles. These buses burned some kind of wood, making charcoal, which would run an engine to operate the bus.
A minor clarification in Havemeier’s description of 1st Sergeant William R. Hall: Hall was drafted on March 24, 1941. That was before the U.S. entry into World War II, but as such he would have been a member of the Army of the United States (which was largely composed of conscripted soldiers, though it was possible to volunteer for it as well) as opposed to the Regular Army (which, at the risk of oversimplifying was composed of volunteers). Perhaps the takeaway point, though, is that 1st Sergeant Hall projected such a level of professionalism that Havemeier did not know (or forgot in the decades that followed prior to writing this account) that Hall was not in fact a career soldier.
The 350 men figure is a little high. During its entire time overseas, the 32nd Station Hospital was organized under the table of organization for a 500 bed station hospital. Although personnel numbers fluctuated during the war, the numbers were not wildly different from when the unit first overseas. As of January 14, 1943, the unit had 269 enlisted personnel, 84 officers (including 55 nurses) and six civilians. (Three of those civilians, women who were physical therapists and dieticians, were subsequently commissioned.) So the entire unit had about 350 men and women, but during operations there were only (roughly) 270 or so enlisted men under 1st Sergeant Hall at any one time. Later in the account, Havemeier refers to there being 275 enlisted men, a more accurate figure.
The photo of Phillipe Girard referred to below is not on the original website.
The man with the dark glasses was Phillipe “Frenchie” Girard. Frenchie was of French descent. He had a French accent which made it difficult to understand him at times. Frenchie was a good truck driver and since he was bilingual, he was in “Seventh Heaven” when we arrived in this French North African town, Tlemcen. He had a lot of friends.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Raymond F. Plzak, William R. Hall, Philippe E. Girard
SCARCITY OF NEWS FROM HOME
SCARCITY OF NEWS FROM HOME AND THE FRONTLINES
During the entire time we were in Tlemcen we knew very little of what was going on in the Tunisian Campaign; news from the front arrived only with the casualties, and even then, the fighting men had very little concept of the overall picture. We found that many of the men were not only severely wounded, but also dehydrated and covered with dirt and mud. It was a long trip from the front to the hospital in Tlemcen, and the men were weary and disheartened. I tried to imagine what they had been through, but to me it seemed that the actual war was somewhere off in another world. It was not until many years later when I had time to read accounts of the war that my ignorance of the true nature and details of the conflict was to some extent dispelled. In Tlemcen I was still overwhelmed by the newness of the situation. I never felt homesick; there was too much going on around me.
During my entire time in the service I received few letters from home, but then I wasn’t much of a letter writer myself. It was some time before I knew that my brother Willis had been drafted, or that he would wind up in some of the heaviest fighting in Europe after D-Day. Somehow the lack of letters was to be expected. My father never got over my decision to attend high school and stay in town after graduation. My life in the Army was filled with new friends and new experiences. It was like our own small universe. I was coming to have less in common with my Minnesota friends. I was part of something closer and this sense of closeness would last a lifetime.
After we had been in Tlemcen for a time, we were invited to visit several Arab homes. The Arab women were not allowed to participate actively in these gatherings, but did serve the food. Everyone ate from a common bowl with the fingers of the right hand only. Meals consisted of lamb, chicken, vegetables and bread. The French residents also entertained us with food and lots of wine. These excursions away from the base were welcome respites from the work we were doing at the hospital.
We had dances on the roof of our hotel, and local girls were invited. Eventually our nurses joined in, although this was against regulations, since the nurses were officers and we were enlisted men. When we got a new commanding officer he threatened us in writing with court-martial if we continued having nurses at our dances. It was difficult for young people who had so recently been civilians to conform to the restrictions of army life.
I became friendly with one of the nurses, Rachel Sheridan, a real Irish beauty with a great smile. We were seeing each other regularly at the dances. I really liked her a lot. The nurses also had dances at their hotel where only officers were invited. Apparently one night she met a fighter-bomber pilot, and accepted a ride in his plane. This was tantamount to going AWOL. When Rachel didn’t show up for work, an investigation was initiated, and it was discovered that she had gone off on the plane. The plane never returned, and no traces of it were ever found. The Registrar’s Office was responsible for the paper work in all deaths or missing in action cases, and it fell to us to prepare her effects for shipping home. When we received her footlocker, I was still not able to believe what had happened. What were we going to tell her parents? As it turned out, we didn’t have to worry. The parents of every casualty received the same cold form letter. For a long time a pall hung over our unit. Rachel was the first of us to go. We suddenly realized that our youth was not the protection we had believed it to be. I thought about Rachel for a long time. I still do.
The death of 2nd Sheridan in a plane crash is covered in further detail in The Mystery of Rachel H. Sheridan, the 32nd Station Hospital’s Lost Nurse. Havemeier’s recollections are somewhat inaccurate, since she did not disappear without a trace, nor while flying in a fighter-bomber.
MY LIFE TAKES A NEW TURN
In April of 1943, I received a phone call from a nurse named Sara Riley. I had known her for some time. I was in and out of the wards and got to see everyone. She told me that she wanted to see me. As an enlisted man, I couldn’t go to the officers’ quarters, so I said I’d get back to her. I was floored that she had called me. There were 275 men in our unit, after all! The next day I asked the Commanding Officer’s driver (a good buddy) if he would take me in a staff car to the nurses’ quarters where I arranged to pick up Sara. We drove around and engaged in small talk. The next time I saw her, we made arrangements to meet in Tlemcen. From there we walked up into the mountains. Sara talked about her work, and the difficulties the nurses had with the combat troops coming back from Tunisia to be reassigned, who were always asking for dates. The nurses were invited to their unit parties that turned out to be disasters. When the women objected to going the commanding officer issued an order that they were to attend. The nurses only felt safe with the men of the hospital unit. I was so surprised with my good fortune that I was content to just listen. The afternoon wore on and we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery in the hills. Toward supper time we walked back to the base.
From then on I would sometimes take a clipboard and go on the ward “on official business” in order to be able to see her. She would blow me a kiss when I passed through. Letters flew back and forth between us, courtesy of the base mailman. We felt like kids passing notes in school. There were strict regulations concerning fraternization, and I could have been court-martialed. I had been invited to dinner by a French family and discovered that they had a room and bath to rent. I had little cash, but they were content to rent it to me in exchange for foodstuffs like powdered eggs and sugar. After I had made the arrangements, I could hardly wait to tell Sara. The next night we had a double date at the “apartment”. There was a Telefunken record player, and I got some new Big Band records from the Red Cross people. We “danced the night away”. My buddy Ray Plzak and I made sure that these occasions were on the up and up, since we knew the nurses trusted us. (Only a few kisses between the dances). There were some nights when just some of the guys got together. We were able to get excellent wine from the French— not that I could tell the difference, but others could. Sometimes our French friends treated us to a good meal. We always had to be back at our hotel bed check at ten PM. We were warned not to be on the streets late at night.
I thought that I was falling in love, and for the first time. Throughout the war there was always the prohibition regarding dating between enlisted men and nurses, but there was a lot of camaraderie among us as we tried to outwit the system. Sara was two years older and much more sophisticated than I. The dust of Minnesota was still on my shoes. It was hard for me to believe that Sara had chosen me out of the 275 men in our unit.
I still have a love letter from Sarah in which she complains about our having to sneak around; she would like to see me every night. She closed with kisses XXX (“But these are not like the real thing”). It was here Sarah complained bitterly that we could not see each other in the open. We needed each other, but all I could do was “back off”, telling her she needed to meet someone else in the unit or we would be in deep trouble. I got a terrible hurt feeling in my stomach which later turned to a pleasant ache in a melancholy way. We were in the military and at war and there was no one with whom I could discuss my dilemma. I became aware that we needed to “cool it.” I did not sleep for a week or more.. Sara had a technique of kissing my eyelids with her warm lips which I will never forget. There were times we were close to having sex, but it never happened. I was the strong one at the time, but I often wished I would have followed through with what we had started.
Sara or Sarah Riley is a pseudonym that Havemeier used in writing his account. Nobody with that name was a member of the unit. It’s possible that Havemeier altered other personal details like her age, since the intended audience of the original website included members of his unit. I initially thought Havemeier might have changed her name to protect her good name for dating enlisted men, but he disclosed elsewhere the names of some nurses who did. More likely, it may have been to protect her privacy based on the level of detail he went into regarding their romance.
This picture was taken in Tlemcen, Algeria, where we operated our hospital for almost a year. It is dated 14 July 1943, Bastille Day. Picture shows two French military vehicles as the native population is watching. Note the military vehicle with white stars painted on top showing Americans presence. Our officers, nurses, and enlisted men marched in this parade.
In July we started to get casualties from Sicily, and the men coming back from Tunisia were required to have shots and physicals. We were able to issue them partial pay. They were bivouacked in tents about ten miles from us. The whole area from Tlemcen to Oran was overrun with men and materiel preparing for the landings in Italy.
GERMAN SURRENDER IN TUNISIA
On May 13 of 1943, the Germans in Tunisia had surrendered, and nearly a quarter of a million prisoners were taken. This did not spell the end of our duty in Tlemcen; there were still patients arriving, including prisoners of war. The Northwest African Air Force, with little opposition, had begun bombing raids on Sicily, destroying air and naval bases in advance of the landings that were to come. Italy’s air force had been decimated in the North African Campaign, and Hitler needed his planes in Russia.
ALLIED LANDINGS BEGIN ON SICILY
On July 10, the landings began on Sicily. Within a week, we were receiving casualties. By July 21 the Italian units on the coast, and the naval forces guarding the ports had crumbled. General Patton’s Headquarters were set up in the palace of the old Norman kings, and from there he oversaw the campaign in the north. On July 24, western Sicily fell, and soon bombing attacks began on Rome. The first raid was the beginning of the end for Fascism. King Victor Emmanuel III replaced Mussolini with Marshal Badoglio. It was rumored that Badoglio favored making an offer of peace. Hitler considered withdrawing troops from the Russian front to bolster the Italian army, but was under too much pressure from the Russians. Troops were rushed from Germany and France instead, and fierce fighting ensued.
The Allies assumed that they were driving the Axis forces back, when in reality the Germans, deciding that Sicily was all but lost, attempted an orderly retreat from Sicily. The first troops to go were the Italians, whose General, Guzzoni, took the initiative to begin the evacuation. The German command vacillated until Kesselring gave the local commander permission to use his own judgment. Hitler could not bring himself to make the decision. The majority of the German forces- three divisions- crossed the Straits of Messina with all of their weapons and most of their supplies.
The Allied efforts to halt the evacuation were unsuccessful for many reasons: chief among them the reluctance to commit destroyers to the narrow straits where heavy artillery was evident on both sides. It was known that Italy was about to surrender, and the ships would be needed to invade the mainland. This was the first loss of Axis territory in the war. The Allied strategy now was decided upon. An invasion of the Italian mainland would hasten the surrender of Italy, force the Germans to replace Italian troops in other areas, and hinder the buildup of German troops in France. Churchill was determined to follow this course to prepare for “Operation Overlord”— D Day. Landings in Italy began on September 3, when the British came ashore in Reggio. The Italian armistice was signed on September 3, but news was withheld until September 8, nine hours before the Allied landing at Salerno.
WE LEAVE TLEMCEN
This picture was taken in the Staging Area in North Africa just before we left for Italy. Never saw anything like it— rain, mud and very cold. Everything we owned was wet. It was just about the most miserable spot we were ever in, but looking back on it, it seems like it was just a lot of fun and more memorable experiences with friends. Standing, left to right: S/Sgt. Williamson, M/Sgt. Tupala, T/Sgt. Plzak. Front: Sgt. Cristiano, Sgt. Havemeier and S/Sgt. Metcalf. We all stayed in this tent.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: William L. Williamson, Rudolph J. Tupala, Raymond F. Plzak, John J. Cristiano, Willard O. Havemeier, Earl S. Metcalf
READY FOR ITALY
In November we received orders to transfer our remaining patients to other hospitals and to “tear down” the hospital. Once again, we had no idea where we were headed. We would miss Tlemcen, but the anticipation of the unknown took over. Supplies had to be crated and sent by train to Oran. When we moved from Tlemcen, Algeria, on our way to Naples, Italy, we were bivouacked near Oran getting ready to board a British ship. This “staging area” was nothing but a sea of cold mud with lots of rain. Everything we owned was wet. This was about the most miserable spot we were ever in, but looking back it seems just a small part of our experiences. I am with our M/Sgt. Rudolph Tupala. That chair he is sitting on had to be burned for heat the last night we were there.
With “Tup” and me, we had S/Sgt. Williamson, T/Sgt. Plzak, Sgt. Cristiano, and S/Sgt Metcalf. Each one of us had two Army blankets, a rain coat, “low cut” oxfords with lace up leggings (at this time there were no combat boots in the military inventory), and a shelter half (a shelter half was half of a tent designed for two soldiers for shelter). Two of us would share our blankets and snuggle together to keep each other warm. We took a number 10 tin can, filled it half full with dirt, poured gasoline into it (which we siphoned from vehicles) and lit it for warming the tent. This burning caused a lot of smoke, and our faces and clothing became almost black from the soot.
[Map of Sicily and Italy omitted]
Our voyage on the British ship was typically British. We had to sleep on hammocks in the dining room where we were served mutton and little else. Our sleeping area was hot, and you could not get away from that mutton smell. Breakfast was ground up grain with water, no milk, no coffee, just some awful tasting stuff they called tea. Our troop ship tied up next to an overturned ship in Naples harbor, where we docked and walked off the side of this ship; this was in the last week of December, 1943. The Germans were still bombing this harbor day and night, and we were lucky to get in there and on our way before we were hit.
Strange as it may seem, Havemeier was correct that the 32nd Station Hospital disembarked onto a sunken ship. The Germans apparently scuttled ships before retreating as part of an effort to wreck the port. Although not obvious in the above photograph, engineers transformed some of the capsized vessels into piers!
This is the first place we stayed in Italy near Naples harbor. We ate along a high fence; the man in a (along the right near the top of this picture) was looking down at a lot of people who gathered at meal time begging for food with their tin cans. They would put their cans on long poles and lift them up to us. It was right on this wall where we ate our Christmas dinner, 1943. The Italian people at this time were having a very hard time because there was little food anywhere. Before the Germans left this harbor they torched the two remaining spaghetti factories in Naples. The Germans also mined the local post office with a time bomb which did not explode until almost 7 days after our troops arrived.
ITALY AND CASERTA
Soldier standing on alert at the railroad station in Caserta, Italy, apparently shortly after this area was taken from the German army. The sign on the pole says Caserta. It is in this town we operated our 32nd Station Hospital for almost two years in support of U.S. 5th Army operations.
The Caserta Royal Palace in December, 1943, from the highway outside our hospital gate. Major changes were made in this area in past years. When I visited this area in1998, I found that the highway no longer runs right up to the Palace; it makes a right turn about two blocks before the Palace. See the historical background immediately below.
The Royal Palace Complex was taken over by the U.S. 5th Army which made its headquarters here from 1943 to 1945; it is here where the German surrender was signed after Germany was defeated. The Royal Palace at Caserta was built during the reign of the Bourbon King, Charles III, King of Naples and Sicily, during the eighteenth century. Italy was not a unified country at this time. The palace was begun in 1752 by the Roman architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, and has over 1000 rooms. Charles wealthy father, Charles V of Spain, provided the money, since the royal family decided that the palace at Naples was too close to the sea, making it vulnerable to attack. This was a period of many wars. It was originally planned to make the palace more beautiful than Versailles; however, difficulties were encountered, and the palace was never fully completed. The construction was under the famous minister Tanucci. In 1772 the building was ready and King Ferdinand I came into residence. The money for building was exhausted, and the four towers planned for the corners of the building were never completed. The surrounding park is of massive scale, with fountains, statues and ornamental waterworks. Plans for a canal to the sea along the present highway to Naples were also abandoned. The massive park surrounded the palace and was exceptionally beautiful with its many statues, fountains and waterworks.
Background, upper left: The Royal Palace of Caserta, at the end of the tree-lined avenue, taken in 1944. Many more pictures of this great palace will follow; some I took in September, 1998, when my wife and I visited my old hospital area. I have outlined the buildings which housed the 32nd Station Hospital while we operated here from December, 1943, to September, 1945. There are two parking lots for military vehicles, one on the left and the other to the right of the highway (bordered by the large trees). Note that the vehicles are parked in straight rows, military style. Halfway up the picture on the right, I have marked the ends of two runways of Marcinese airport where bombers like B-17’s & B-24’s, British Spitfire fighter planes operated.
THE ROYAL PALACE AT CASERTA: INTERIOR
We had a B-17 crash into those trees right next to our hospital buildings. I was one of many men who helped clean up the crash scene; we found 17 bodies, some badly burned and torn to shreds. We did not have “body bags” as are available today for this purpose; we had only mattress covers to hold bodies, and no gloves for this job. The smell of burning flesh stayed with me for weeks after this. I still have the “work sheet” I used to list the deceased. Many times these aircraft flew very close overhead where we lived and worked. Those Spitfires made an awful racket when they came over our tent area, sometimes in early morning when many of us were still asleep.
OFF BASE ACTIVITIES
As I did in Tlemcen, North Africa, I rented two apartments (at different times) while I was on duty here with the 32nd Station Hospital. To have the chance to spend time off base away from all that was “military” was a great relief . As soon as I was sworn into the Army I was told to send all my civilian clothing home and was warned not to wear “civvies” again from then on while on active duty. When I was in my own apartment I could do without the uniform for short times, but I never ventured out on the street in civilian clothes. My friends and I had parties with recordings of big band music and some Ballentine beer, vodka, gin, cognac, and American liquor which helped with the good times. Military Officers were allowed one 5th of American whiskey per month. As soon as I learned about this, I contacted many officers and nurses and offered to buy their rations if they did not want them. I soon had a good supply of all kinds of drinking supplies in my Caserta apartment. This came in very handy if we needed something from other units. I traded booze for plywood from a local engineer battalion which we used to build desks, night tables, etc.; I also was able to trade liquor for wood burning stoves which we placed in some of our offices and wards. I was able to work up a great relationship with the boys running the control tower at Marcinese airport near us. For a bottle of Scotch I could get a ride on military aircraft almost anywhere. For a case of whiskey I think I could have gotten a B-17.
[Bill Mauldin cartoon omitted. It depicts an exhausted looking major or lieutenant colonel telling a general, who is sitting in a lackluster command post: “We could go to Naples, sir—I know a corporal with a nice apartment.”]
Caserta 1994 [sic, probably supposed to be 1944]: Left to right: Joan Taaffe, Bill Havemeier, Margaret McCormick, Raymond Plzak and Frances Rubin. Joan and Frances dated enlisted me along with Sara and me.
The above photo was most likely taken in 1944.
I must say that my military service was a “piece of cake” compared to what most soldiers endured in WWII. I always slept on white sheets and almost always had good food and good working conditions. I was never “in line of fire” of any kind; however, we suffered through heavy bombings while we were in Naples harbor and also in our unit, but, fortunately, no “direct hits” to any of us. My most serious exposure to danger was in North Africa when I had guard duty on the hospital perimeter armed with only a club; we had to ward off native intruders who were armed with long knives. Our unit was considered a non-combatant unit; we were not armed. I met many great people, and I felt that the members of the 32nd Station Hospital became my family. It was a great shock to me and to many others when our unit broke up and was sent home. To this day I still talk on the phone to about a dozen members; I have an address list with about 50 who still respond.
The above formation was held at our 32nd Station Hospital, Caserta, Italy, in 1944, during the terrible months our men fought at Anzio. We are awarding The Purple Heart to each one; 1st/Lt. Herman C. Needles, our registrar, has his back to the camera; I am to his left holding the clip board with the manes of the recipients; our Commander, Col. Harold Goss is pinning the medals. We had many of these Purple Heart formations.
This picture, taken in 1944, at Caserta, Italy, shows some of our nurses. They were: (front row), Capt. Margaret M. McCormick, 2nd Lt. Dorothy E. Racicot, 2nd Lt. Jane G. Neely, 2nd Lt. Mildred E. Truitt [a physical therapist], Capt. Helen W. Brammer (Chief Nurse), 2nd Lt. Emelda M. Dickson, and 1st Lt. Esther E. Work; (back row) 2nd Lt. Kathleen M. Cleary, 2nd Lt. Dorothy M. Wittman, 2nd Lt. Eleanor M. O’Leary, and 2nd Lt. Ruth F. Russell. In those days a cape was worn over the uniform.
Above is Ruby Milligan, one of our nurses. She had a great smile and loved to dance to swing music.
2nd/Lt Mary Gallagher, our head nurse in surgical services. In the lower picture she and I are having a conversation; I was a T/4 at this time. The buildings you see here were in deplorable condition when we took over in [January 1944]. They were initially built for Italian troops; next German troops took over. When the Allies won this area, British troops moved in and when they left, this complex was unoccupied for a brief time, long enough for vandals to strip all buildings of doors and windows. When we took over we used Army blankets to cover doors and windows. We used kerosene lamps for lighting because electricity was not operating. Fresh water, plumbing, sewers were services not available. Our maintenance staff was able to find a local Italian man who was familiar with sewer and water lines in the area and in a short time these services were in working order. For some time we had to use chlorine in Lister bags for our drinking water. Weather when we took over was cold and rainy. Until we had a ward full of about 40 patients, it was very uncomfortable. I had accumulated some American liquor by buying bottles of it from Officers and nurses who did not want their monthly ration. I made deals with a local engineer battalion to trade booze for plywood (which we used to build desks and night tables), and some wood stoves which we used in some wards and offices. All enlisted men lived in tents; we were able to keep warm enough with extra blankets.
This is Nurse Bosworth, who later married a man by name of Lafratta. She was a very good nurse and one of the friendliest of our staff. She married after the war and has been lost to us for several years.
Frances Rubin who was a joy to be around and was a nurse on E.N.T. ward. I lost contact with her after the war, but did learn she married a cantor.
I’m skeptical about the accuracy of the caption above. First, it seems to be a permanent structure and not tents. The 32nd Station Hospital didn’t arrive in Bouisseville, near Oran, until January 27, 1943, so the “Seasons Greetings” sign would be a little peculiar, if not necessarily impossible. I’ve seen very few interior photos of the 32nd Station Hospital facilities, so it’s difficult to determine where or when the picture was actually taken. Possible guesses are Camp Kilmer, New Jersey (December 1942/January 1943), the staging area near Bagnoli, Italy (December 1943/January 1944) or Caserta, Italy (December 1944/January 1945).
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Joan Taaffe, Willard O. Havemeier, Margaret M. McCormick, Raymond F. Plzak, Frances Rubin, Herman C. Needles, Harold L. Goss, Dorothy E. Racicot, Jane G. Neely, Mildred E. Truitt, Helen W. Brammer, Emelda M. Dickson, Esther E. Work, Kathleen M. Donahue (Cleary), Dorothy M. Wittman, Eleanor M. O’Leary, Ruth F. Russell, Ruby E. Milligan, Mary T. Gallagher, Ivy Bosworth
ANZIO AND MONTE CASSINO
After Naples fell on October 1, 1943, the Allies decided that the best way to proceed north was not on land, because of terrain was easily defensible by the Germans, but by going around the enemy with amphibious operations at Anzio and Nettuno, forty miles south of Rome. The battle for Anzio began on January 22,1944 and was to go on for four months. Living conditions for the troops at Anzio were deplorable. Men slept in deep pits, slit trenches or caves. Trenches often filled with underground water. The area was under constant bombardment from German long range artillery. The original landing of 40,000 Allied troops seemed virtually unopposed, yet four weeks later an allied force of 120,000 was fighting desperately against the forces of field Marshall Albert Kesselring, who was determined to stop any advance on Rome.
Prior to the Anzio landing, in a month and a half, the US Fifth Army suffered 16,000 casualties. The Anzio assault was designed to establish an Allied position well to the rear of the southern German line. By mid-February the Germans launched all all-out offensive on the beachhead. General Mark Clark, concerned that the Allied forces might be driven back at Anzio, determined to step up the pressure on Cassino.
The Abbey of Monte Cassino stood on high ground, overlooking Route 6, the main highway between Naples and Rome. The highway cut through a mountain gap directly below the monastery. To secure Cassino would mean breaking the German Gustav Line where their army had dug itself in across the Italian peninsula. It was also hoped that increasing military action around Cassino would help to alleviate pressure on Anzio. Both of these actions meant an overload of patients for the 32nd Station Hospital at Caserta. Patients from Anzio were taken by boat to Naples where there was a central hospital. The most serious were kept there. At Caserta we were not only receiving the wounded, but also the many men who had been victims of severe respiratory infections, hepatitis, and fungal diseases of the feet. The rain had been incessant, and the men were soaked to the skin and exhausted from lack of sleep. Uniforms were dirty and often in tatters. Pneumonia was endemic. Hepatitis patients were confined to bed for a six-week period. We were also taking care of routine problems for 5th Army Headquarters at the Caserta palace.
BOMBING OF MONTE CASSINO
[Photo missing from original website]
Monte Cassino Today. The Monastery Completely Rebuilt
There was indecision about Monte Cassino. This was the mother church of the Benedictine Order and a repository of medieval art. It was founded in 529. By the eighth century it had become a renowned center of learning, and by the eleventh century it was one of the wealthiest monasteries in Europe. The priceless art treasures that had been “liberated” by the Germans were stored there, awaiting shipment to Germany. Just before the battle, German trucks made frequent trips removing the stolen items. The reluctance to bomb the monastery was finally overcome when the Allies worried that the Germans were holding an impregnable position, and many men would be lost in a storming action.
Bombs began falling on Monte Cassino on February 15. Low flying planes on bombing runs flew over our hospital constantly. The noise was deafening. We had no idea where they were headed. There were 137 B-17s and 43 Mitchell and Marauders. It was later learned that he only people inside Monte Cassino were the monks and two thousand refugees. Although they had been warned to leave, they were afraid to expose themselves to the shelling that was going on. There were no Germans killed or wounded inside the monastery. The Germans moved up the mountain and established themselves in the rubble, where they would stay until May, when breakthroughs at Anzio threatened to cut off possible escape routes and they evacuated the site.
Casualties among the refugees in the bombing was closer to 230, not the 2,000 implied in Havemeier’s account.
Signs were posted on roads to Rome: “It is forbidden to leave road through town anywhere or stop your vehicle on this vital road. The roads are sealed off. The roads are full of mines and booby-traps.” It was not difficult for anyone in uniform to use a jeep to go on pass. Some soldiers drove a jeep onto the beach at Mondragone north of Naples, and they wee blown up by a mine. Warning signs were often ignored.
PERSONAL PROBLEMS BEGIN TO PILE UP
Sara and I were still having problems with meeting. Fraternization rules were stronger than ever. We had all received instructions in writing regarding this from the Commandant [sic]. By chance I had met two elderly Italian ladies who had a large house in town. I had given them spaghetti and other food items before I found out that they had an apartment to rent. Luck was with me for a second time. We still had to be on post by ten or eleven. We would spend the evenings playing records and dancing. Our landladies would cook for us. Again, it was a relief to get away from the hospital, if only for a few hours. We became really concerned when one of the doctors began shooting off his mouth at the Officers’ Club about enlisted men dating nurses. Another officer told him that if he didn’t shut up, he’d see that his wife would find out that he had a girlfriend.
My relationship with Sara was becoming serious. We realized that there were two obstacles to marriage: the differences in rank and religion. We had a terrific Roman Catholic chaplain, who was also our baseball coach. I didn’t tell Sara, but I went to see him, explained the situation, and told him that I wanted to leave the Lutheran Church and become a Catholic. He was very sympathetic, but reminded me that religion was not the major roadblock. There was no possibility of overcoming the military regulations. From then on, I had many sleepless nights. I began to realize the hopelessness of the situation. We never thought about the possibility of marriage when we were discharged, because we felt the war would go on forever. Our minds couldn’t focus on any future beyond Caserta. I had no idea of what I would do if the war did end. I had no money, and as a child of the Depression, this was a great concern. Sara was a nurse; she had a career to go back to. I had nothing. As far as I was concerned, the situation was hopeless. All this time we received very little news. No one knew exactly how the war was progressing.
The chaplain mentioned above was Captain William V. O’Connor.
A NEAR MISS
My buddy, Ray Plzak and I had gone together on the apartment, and several months later, he married a girl from the Womens’ Army Corps, and decided he and his wife wanted a private retreat. This necessitated my searching for another hideaway. I found one large second floor room with a bath down a flight of stairs. It had a nice balcony. Again I paid the rent in supplies from the PX. One night I was standing with some of the guys on the balcony. We heard planes overhead and suddenly the whole sky lit up. We knew the Germans were dropping flares, and that bombs would follow. Later I heard that the whole area from Naples to Caserta was alight that night. When we got back to the hospital we found that two bombs had been dropped on the hospital: one outside the gate and another next to ward eighteen where it knocked a hole in the wall. Neither bomb exploded, but the area was roped off to await the bomb disposal crew. There was always a danger of a delayed explosion, and this was on our minds.
For further details of the incident described above, see: The 32nd Station Hospital’s Close Call During a German Air Raid.
We had Irving Berlin appear in person just a short distance up the road from Caserta at Santa Maria. I have the complete program; in the beginning it states that the entire production is staged under the personal direction of Mr. Irving Berlin. Note the date, 24 April 1944; this was near the front lines. Rome was not liberated until 4 June 1944.
Curiously, Havemeier didn’t mention that Irving Berlin performed at the 32nd Station Hospital in person, not just nearby.
Sara and I continued to meet surreptitiously, and at times we were able to go to dances, as long as we were with a big group. We felt that we couldn’t all be court-martialed. We would spend time in the clubs set up by the military in town.
[Scan of a book describing the history of the Royal Palace of Caserta omitted]
This complex was taken over by the U.S. 5th Army which made its headquarters here from 1943 to 1945; and it is here where the Germans surrender was signed after Germany was defeated.
The Allied Force Headquarters was located at the palace from July 1944 onward. The surrender Havemeier mentioned being signed in Caserta dealt with only German forces in Italy and was signed just over a week prior to the capitulation of the rest of Nazi Germany.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: William V. O’Connor, Raymond F. Plzak
Some of my buddies. The man lying down was M/Sgt. Rudy Tupala, who was Sgt Major in headquarters; he was a great organizer in charge of about 15 men in the personnel department. The second man to his left was Tech/Sgt. Charles Ballard who was in charge of the Registrar’s office under 1st/Lt Needles where I worked as a clerk-typist.
This photo was taken at the Mediterranean beach known as Mondragone; our U.S. military cleared the area of many land mines and built the above beach house where we could change clothes and have soft drinks at a bar. Note the sign on the “smoke stack” S.S. MONDRAGONE, sort of a make believe ocean ship. Our hospital unit had a bus schedule for us to make this trip from Caserta, a distance of about 25 miles.
The above two pictures show the air raid shelters which were in use before we arrived. When we got here the entire complex had been vandalized and stripped from top to bottom. All windows and doors had been taken away and these shelters were filled with all kinds of waste material. Our maintenance people, with the help of an engineer unit closed down these shelters and destroyed those concrete entranceways.
Our janitor, an elderly Italian gentleman, standing in front of our headquarters; he let us know that he was wearing the suit he bought in New York city before the war.
The layout of our hospital complex at Caserta, Italy. We had about 12 buildings for patients with a total capacity of about 500 patients. In addition to what you see here, we had some huts and tents set up to accommodate female patients, especially Women’s Army Corps members, WACs, many of whom were employed as secretaries and clerks at 5th Army headquarters in the Palace. Our staff was trained to handle male patients, so when females arrived some major changes had to be made. Many Italian females were hired to help out.
One clarification: the 32nd Station Hospital had 1,000 beds during operations in Caserta, though its staffing was that of a 500 bed station hospital.
Above: The author and my wife Catherine at the entrance gate of the 32nd Station Hospital, when we visited this hospital area in 1998. When we operated here it was necessary to have round the clock guards at both entrance and exit gates to keep out intruders. The walls around the perimeter were topped off with barbed wire. In spite of these precautions we had outsiders gain access to some of our equipment and supplies. At one time we lost a whole truck load of bed sheets to thieves. We had to post our own men as guards at the entrance and exit gates to keep out unauthorized persons. Later, we had Military Police take over this job which released our own men to handle hospital duties.
Here I am in 1998 visiting the old hospital complex. The entire area is fenced in and controlled by the Italian Army. We could not find anyone who would help us see the inside, which I really would have liked to have seen If we go again, I’ll try to arrange a visit.
Enlargement of sign on the outside of one of the hospital buildings at the 32nd Station Hospital. Barbed wire is strung on top of the wall.
THE PALACE IN CASERTA
The Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy, which was a beehive of activity while it served as headquarters for the U.S. Fifth Army under the Command of Lt. General Mark Clark. Clark did not actually have his office inside this Palace building electing to house himself in a lavishly appointed mobile home which was parked outside the Palace; so was it written by some historians after the war.
Willis Truhlicka now lives in Harlingen, Texas. He worked in personnel section at headquarters. He was a wise money saver; when he became a civilian after the war he acquired several farms and to this day is busy managing them.. He and his wife, Shirley, had several children and have been blessed with many grand children. Willis was a solid partner on our staff and had many friends in the unit. We still are in contact with each other to this day.
There is only one World War II-era photo on this page on the original website.
The above two shots of the Royal Palace at Caserta, Italy, were taken in 1945. The lower picture shows Sgt. Willis Truhlicha who worked in our personnel office. When we arrived here to set up our 32nd Station Hospital in December, 1943, there was very little local civilian law enforcement; most able bodied men were in the Italian army. U.S. Army military police kept things in order and almost all U.S. military members ” had the run of this place.” I recall going through this large palace building, room to room, from top to bottom. When I visited this complex in 1998, the Palace was a tourist attraction, and only the first floor was available for sight seeing.
Some typical Italian wartime kids. They seemed happy in spite of their dress. This was near Naples. I was there and could see that the Italian children took a “terrible beating”: lack of food and clothing, a warm place to live, many in broken homes. We were not allowed to give any food to these people, but we tried our best to help them Even if civilians at this time had some money, there was nothing in the stores for them to buy. Some small towns were completely destroyed by military activities. I know of one town, San Pedro, near Cassino, that was completely wiped off the map. Almost all Italian males had been taken into the Italian military, and when Italy capitulated in September, 1943, the German military authorities took most of the Italian soldiers as prisoners. Many were murdered or shipped to other countries; many were sent to concentration camps in Germany; a great many were sent to the Russian Front. Very few returned to their families. I noticed when we were there in 1998 that there was a dearth of men of my age in the towns.
Biographical information for personnel mentioned above: Willis J. Truhlicka
Rome fell on June [4, 1944]: on the sixth the Normandy invasion overshadowed the Roman victory The newsmen threw away their Roman copy and concentrated instead on Operation Overlord: the landings on the Normandy Beaches.
After the fall of Rome the battle casualties were sent to hospitals farther north, but we were still kept busy with other types of medical problems, and with personnel coming through Caserta on their way to other deployments. We also took care of the military at headquarters in the palace and at the nearby airbase. We still had little idea of what was going on elsewhere in the combat theatres. As the Allies moved north I was able to visit some of the cities we had occupied. I went to Rome several times on Army trucks. I even got chance to attend a Papal Audience. The Pope even blessed some religious items I had bought for Catholic friends back home. Luckily I had an aisle seat, and he turned to me as he passed. Rome was in fairly good shape, except for the railroad yards, German headquarters, and one of the aqueducts outside the city limits. Rome was full of soldiers doing the tourist bit.
R AND R IN SORRENTO
In July 1944, I had R and R in Sorrento. I spent my leave with a Ruth Anderson, a nurse from Wisconsin who was off at the same time. She had worked on some sensitive matters at Fort Detrick, Maryland before joining our unit. I never told Sara. I felt guilty, but I was also glad to have someone to be with. To avoid court martial for dating an officer, I had to make arrangements to meet in Sorrento. There were other Army men and nurses at the Hotel Sorrento where we stayed. The local people were very happy to have American dollars. We were impressed by the fact that there were very few Italian men in Sorrento. They had all been taken away by the Germans. Many went to the Russian front. Others went to concentration camps. The area was beautiful— like nothing I had ever dreamed of. Even though the war was at its height, we really partied for the three days that we were there. Ruth taught me to do the tango. We drank wine and danced, although the food was nothing to write home about. There was an elevator from the upper floors down to the beach. Once on the bay we were able to take a boat to Capri, where we saw the Blue Grotto. We also visited Pompeii. We were still wary of the Italians; after all, they had recently been our enemies, but we enjoyed our stay.
Ruth and I met after the war one or two times, and I met her family. For some time we wrote to each other. Eventually we lost touch. I remember her as a kind, fun loving companion; very bright and compassionate. Once again, Bill missed the boat.
Like Sarah Riley, “Ruth Anderson” is a pseudonym. No nurse by that name ever served with the unit.
After the fall of Rome the battle casualties were sent to hospitals farther north, but we were still kept busy with other types of medical problems, and with personnel coming through Caserta on their way to other deployments. We also took care of the military at headquarters in the palace and at the nearby airbase. We still had little idea of what was going on elsewhere in the combat theatres. As the Allies moved north I was able to visit some of the cities we had occupied. I went to Rome several times on Army trucks. I even got a chance to attend a Papal Audience.
MORE OF ITALY
FLORENCE AND PISA
Later, I would visit Florence and Pisa, where I was able to climb to the top of the Leaning Tower. Livorno fell to the Allies on July 19, 1944, providing an important port for unloading supplies. Field Marshall Kesselring declared Florence an open city on June 23. The Allies agreed. However, the German 1st Parachute Division placed dynamite charges on five of the bridges across the Arno River, resulting in the destruction of these historical treasures, dating as far back as 1220. Fortunately, the Ponte Vecchio with its quaint stores was spared, and I was able to see it when I visited Florence some time later. Below: [Dr. Philip Opper] and the Leaning Tower and the Tower in 1999. In 1944, I was able to climb to the top of the tower. In 1999 it was closed to visitors. Repairs were being made.
The evacuation of Florence began on August 11 as the Germans retreated to the north. In June Allied bombings had been stepped up in Northern Italy, Austria and Bavaria. The Germans were almost completely restricted to a ground-based defense. Pisa was liberated in September. The drive to Bologna slowed to a halt in October because of torrential rains and mud-clogged supply lines. Casualties had been heavy and the troops were exhausted. The main concern now was to keep the Germans pinned down. By the end of December heavy snows in the Apennine Mountains limited action to skirmishing and artillery attacks. The Allies, however, were much better prepared for the winter than they had been at Cassino and there was an opportunity to send men to rest centers. The winter was an opportunity for retraining and integrating new troops into the units.
In this section (which was originally out of order a bit earlier on the site), Havemeier wrote 1943 three times, but it must have been 1944. The 32nd Station Hospital didn’t get to Caserta until January 1944. Furthermore, it could not be other Christmases, because the nurses hadn’t joined the unit yet in 1942, the unit was in staging in 1943, and the unit was inactivated prior to Christmas 1945.
On the back of this picture is written “Xmas 1944, patients ward”. This was at our complex at Caserta, Italy. Note the wood stove in the middle; we had no plumbing or electricity when we arrived here. Water was hauled into the area with tank trucks. Enlisted personnel classified as ward men carried water to the wards and also arranged to heat the water, when needed, at the mess hall. The duties of a ward man were to keep the wards clean and provide disposal of the many items used to treat patients. In addition, these men had to deliver all the food from the mess hall to the litter patients. In addition, these ward men were required to assist the nurses and doctors in taking care of the needs of all bed patients (administer medications as directed by the ward officer; bathe bed patients, help them at meal time, change bed linen, assist patients to our labs).
Nurse Ann Barone decorating a makeshift tree for Christmas. The note on the back states, “Patients’ ward, Caserta, Italy, 1944”. We started to get very busy here when on January 22, 1944, the invasion of Anzio was started. We received many battle casualties and a great number of men with upper respiratory infections.
ARMISTICE WITH GERMANY SIGNED AT CASERTA
On April 21, 1945, even though the Germans had reinforced the defenses of Bologna during the winter, the Allies took the city, and German units began crossing the River Po. Several of their divisions were cut off before reaching the river. Practically all of their equipment— tanks, trucks and artillery were left behind. From then on, the Allies faced little or no opposition. On April 26 the Germans left Milan, which had sustained heavy bomb damage. It was in Milan that the Italian partisans executed Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci. The Italian Campaign was ending. On May 2, fighting ceased. The Germans had signed the unconditional surrender in Italy at Caserta on April 29, 1945. May 8 marked the German surrender in Europe. We had very little news of what was going on. We found out the details when we read about it in “Stars and Stripes”, the military newspaper.
FINAL DAYS IN ITALY
In August we began packing up the hospital. Boxes were sent to Naples to be loaded on ships. I spent a week in Switzerland on R and R, and on my return was sent to a staging area in Naples. When I came back, Sara had already been sent to a different staging area. I frantically tried to find her, but was unable to.
Word came down that we were going to the Pacific Theatre of Operations by way of the Cape of Good Hope. While I was in Switzerland news had come of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, but this meant little to us. Waiting in Naples, we received word of the Japanese surrender on August 14. All of our equipment and personal effects (which, incidentally, I was later to learn, were lost) had already been shipped out on the way to the Pacific. A week later we boarded a converted cargo ship; it was then that we learned that we were going home. I had been separated from my friend, Bud Needles, when he was assigned to Bari, on the Adriatic, but to my surprise, there he was on the same ship! By September most of the Fifth Army units had left Italy. On September 9, Headquarters was closed.
During the trip home I began to wonder what I was going to do next. I figured that I’d better head for Minnesota and look for some kind of job. Needles told me that he and his wife already had an apartment in Philadelphia, and that he was going to college. I was really impressed. He suggested that I do the same, and told me about the GI Bill. This was news to me, but it sounded like a possible alternative. He invited me to stay with him until I got settled. When we got to the States, we went to a military separation center near Boston, where I received my back pay and had my personnel file brought up to date. From there I went by train to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where I was discharged. Another train took me back to Minnesota.
The separation center mentioned above was located at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.
LEAVING HOME AGAIN
After two weeks at home, I decided to take the money I had saved and go to Philadelphia. When I got there, I rented a room. Later I moved in with Needles and his wife, applied to three local colleges and was accepted at Temple University, although I had to wait a year to get in. During that year, I took English and math courses so that I would be prepared for college, and worked at an assortment of jobs, including teaching people to drive. The government gave me twenty dollars a week for fifty-two weeks. When I started Temple I received seventy-five dollars per month as along as I kept up my grades. I graduated with a BS in Business.
In February of 1946 I sent Sara a birthday card, assuming that she was now at home. She replied and we corresponded. Before too long, she married, and we were reduced to sending each other Christmas cards every year. After some years, the Thirty-Second Station Hospital began having reunions, but Sara never came. Sara died in 1986. I remember her every night in my prayers.
A year after my discharge, I joined the US Army Reserve and eventually retired with thirty-six years total service as a Chief Warrant Officer (CW-4). In 1953, I married Seonaid Grant, a native of Scotland, who had spent the war years on an island off the coast of Scotland with other children who had been evacuated because of the bombing of Britain. I had a career in the insurance business, and believe it or not, bought a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
After retiring, I took courses in the Computer Science Department of Millersville University where at present, I have been employed part time for the past twenty years. I work out every morning at the school gym before going to work. My wife died in 1993, and I remarried two years later. Catherine, my present wife, and I now live in a suburb of Lancaster. Catherine is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has four children and four grandchildren. We enjoy spending our spare time traveling, especially to Italy, and visiting with the family.
The years I spent with the 32nd Station Hospital are irreplaceable years; the impression they made on me will never go away. Being part of that close-knit group was like living in a story-book world where the past and future were both far removed. We were all changed forever and were reluctant at the last to say goodbye. Very few picked up where they left off.
- Nursing Report 1943
- Medical Report 1943
- Medical Report 1944
- Nurse Roster 1943
- Nurse Roster 1944
- Officer Roster 1944
These documents were originally included on the Havemeier’s site in text form or low resolution scans; they are replaced here with high resolution scans made at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The 1944 report is expanded from what Havemeier posted.
WIllard O. Havemeier died on March 17, 2009. After Lutheran services in Lititz, PA he was buried with full military honors at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville, Pennsylvania.
Last updated October 20, 2020