When I began researching the men and women who served with my grandfather in the 32nd Station Hospital, I had no idea what I would find. I didn’t predict that the project would snowball into one that told the stories of 135 members of the unit (as of April 2019), including every known officer who was a member of the unit from December 1942 through March 1945.
What I learned continues to impress me. Members of the 32nd Station Hospital came from all over the country, but appeared to be especially concentrated from New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. Some were born in the United States, the members of families who had immigrated from such diverse places as Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, Japan, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, and Mexico. A few were immigrants themselves, originally from Canada, Ireland, and even Germany. A significant number were Jewish, including many of the doctors and almost all of the dentists. A quirk of military necessity meant that the unit had three pediatricians at the same time from 1942 through August 1944 (and two thereafter).
I also learned that many members of the unit were truly amazing individuals, like Dr. Louis Linn, the psychiatrist who continued to practice right up until his death at age 95. Or Dr. Richard Kainuma, who served in the predominantly Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion before joining the 32nd Station Hospital. Then there’s Neta Zinn (Purks), the nurse who survived the sinking of a hospital ship prior to her service in the 32nd Station Hospital and who, during the Korean War, was a member of the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (the basis for the novel, film, and television show M*A*S*H). Though her name was not Houlihan, the hospital did have a nurse with that name, who as a civilian nurse responded when Worcester, Massachusetts was devastated by a tornado. There’s also Mildred Truitt, the physical therapist who continued to volunteer helping breast cancer survivors for years after her retirement. Or Mary Wood (Traub), who spent years keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.
The enlisted men of the 32nd Station Hospital are underrepresented on this site thus far, but without the efforts of Willard Havemeier, who created the first website about the 32nd Station Hospital, my own project may never have come to fruition. Dwight McNelly’s exceptional collection of photographs (and unpublished manuscripts), now archived at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, also proved quite helpful for this project. Finally, Don Sudlow, who made drawings of his comrades during his spare time (which, when gifted to them, proved to be among the most prized souvenirs of their wartime service) also provided a major impetus to this project. The very first biographical research I did for what ended up being expanded into this Personnel section of the website occurred because I wanted to learn more about the artist who created the artwork that I’d worked to restore.
There are so many others whose stories, despite my best efforts, will never receive the recognition they deserve.
Research Starting Points
When I started my research, all I had were three officer rosters (December 31, 1943, May 1, 1944, and December 31, 1944) that I obtained from the surviving unit reports in the National Archives. These rosters listed name (last, first, middle initial), service number, rank, organization (i.e. Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Administrative Corps, etc.) and duty. In addition, I soon found a list of survivors as of 1994 compiled by Willard Havemeier in the Dwight McNelly collection at the Pritzker and eventually received a copy (sent to me by the daughter of Hank Knitter) of an especially comprehensive list of unit members, living and dead, compiled for the unit’s 1982 reunion.
The course of this project somewhat resembles a branching tree. At the time of this writing in April 2019, I have successfully made contact with the relatives of approximately 60 different 32nd Station Hospital families (and two found me via this website); the site already features content contributed by over 20. Frequently, as I contact a new family, I obtain a document or photograph that leads me to be able to identify another member of the unit and in turn, contact their relatives.
Items in the Dr. William A. Carey, Jr. and Ina Bean Carey Collection proved especially valuable. These included lists with names of some of the 32nd Station Hospital’s officers, nurses, and N.C.O.s as of November and December 1942, a signed program from the unit’s 1943 Thanksgiving celebration, and a list of 32nd Station Hospital survivors compiled in 1981 prior to the unit reunion the following year. A postwar nurses’ reunion photo from the Ruby Milligan (Hills) Collection accompanied by a list of names of attendees also proved useful.
After this article was initially published, I received a photo of an organizational chart from the collection of Dr. Gayland L. Hagelshaw, who commanded the unit from May 23, 1943 until June 23, 1943. This chart was different from the other documents in that it only listed ranks and last names (and only male officers, not nurses). Since there were no first names, middle initials, or service numbers, I had to cross-reference the names with other lists. One interesting aspect of the chart was that, unlike the rosters, which listed one assignment, the chart listed as many as four duties for a single officer, and sometimes the assigned wards in the case of the unit’s doctors. This chart also made it possible to finally learn the assignments of some of the doctors who transferred out of the unit prior to December 31, 1943.
There appears to be no extant rosters of the 32nd’s enlisted personnel, but I plan to build as comprehensive a list as possible with names gleaned from various documents and photographs, those mentioned on Willard Havemeier’s website, and the 1981, 1982, and 1994 survivor lists.
I performed most of the research based on the rosters and documents with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com. The greatest challenge in building a list of biographies is in matching a name on a roster to other records, especially when the name is fairly common. It is rare to find documents that include an individual’s full name, date of birth, address or place of birth, and service number, a combination that makes it possible to match with absolute certainty a name on the 32nd Station Hospital roster to biographical information found in other sources. In some cases, I found an abundance of documents on a given individual; in others, documents were nowhere to be found (or worse, incomplete or contradictory).
In some cases, I was able to confirm likely matches with a newspaper story or obituary that specifically mentioned service in the 32nd Station Hospital. In others, I was able to reach family members who could provide details (or recognize someone in a photograph) that confirmed a match. Still, in some cases I had no choice but to declare a match “possibly,” “likely,” “probably, and “almost certainly” (in increasing order of confidence). More frequently than I’d like (but not as often as I expected) I found no match at all, especially in the case of more common names. I had been especially pessimistic about learning the nurses’ stories thanks to postwar name changes, but successfully learned most of them (to varying degrees).
One additional challenge I faced was deciding what to do with the material I uncovered. As an amateur historian, I was unprepared for various ethical concerns about what to publish and what to withhold. Examples include individuals’ medical histories, marriages that ended in divorce, and statements that were implicitly or explicitly derogatory about an individual’s character.
One of the goals of the project was to preserve the memory of the men and women my grandfather served with. Given that I use materials entrusted to me by the children and grandchildren of 32nd Station Hospital members, I acknowledge a sense of obligation to them in how I use the material. As a result, I feel conflicted about whether these editorial decisions constitute lies by omission, since a historian with more emotional distance might make different decisions.
In terms of medical histories, for privacy reasons I have generally alluded only to health problems, even when a person’s cause of death was specifically disclosed to me. One exception was Colonel Theodore Burstein, who, as the unit’s commanding officer, was somewhat a more public figure and whose departure from the unit due to heart attack was already disclosed in at least a half dozen sources.
In terms of marriages that ended in divorce, I approached each on a case-by-case basis. Even today, this can be a sensitive topic and might be something the individual would not have wanted disclosed. Generally, I tried to take the approach about whether I could adequately tell the individual’s story without it. When prior marriages resulted in children, for instance, they could not really be considered something secret and I typically disclosed them in the individual’s biography.
In terms of derogatory information about members of the unit, I also struggled with what to disclose. One example was what to write about Colonel Goss’s leadership style, which was controversial to say the least. I’ve disclosed more information about him for two reasons. First, as the unit’s commanding officer, his leadership is inexorably linked to the story of the unit. Second, because he was a more public figure, multiple assessments (both positive and negative) existed, which I felt made it possible to present the controversy in a fair way.
On the other hand, I generally erred on the side of withholding negative information in mini-biographies about the other members of the unit. As an example, I discovered newspaper articles about one of the unit’s doctors who settled at least two malpractice suits decades after the war. Since this doctor had no known living family members, concerns about embarrassing his loved ones did not enter into my decision (something has potentially influenced me in other cases). On the one hand, I suspected the lawsuits were probably justified, given that the doctor had been stripped of privileges at a hospital even before the incidents in question occurred. However, the news articles did not convey the doctor’s side of the story, nor did the act of settling a lawsuit prove he was indeed at fault, as this is a common legal strategy. Since I could not fairly cover this topic in the space of a mini-biography, I decided to withhold this information.
Additional difficulties pertain to how I should present material from scrapbooks and written accounts that in modern sensibilities would be cringeworthy in their racism, misogyny, or homophobia. An example would be postcards in my grandfather’s collection that depicted residents of North Africa with dark skin and large, bright red lips. (Interestingly, a pre-printed message on the cards proclaimed that they were approved by the base censor.)
On the one hand, withholding this information is arguably tantamount to pretending that these issues didn’t exist, and risks perpetuating the myth that members of the “Greatest Generation” were saints. Although the 32nd Station Hospital treated African American patients, no members of the unit itself were black. This was due not only to systematic racism on a national level that placed severe barriers for black Americans to become nurses or doctors in the first place, but also the fact that the U.S. military was segregated until after the end World War II.
The decades after World War II saw rapid evolution of mainstream attitudes about race, gender, and sexual orientation. As the controversies of recent years have proved, the process is still ongoing. Future articles may touch upon these matters as they pertain to the 32nd Station Hospital’s story, when I’m confident that I can present the information with proper context and fairness.
List of 32nd Station Hospital Personnel Articles
Commanding Officers of the 32nd Station Hospital
Administrative Officers of the 32nd Station Hospital
Doctors of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part I (Surgical Service)
Doctors of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part II (Medical Service)
Doctors of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part III (Dispensary and Out-Patient, Radiology, and Unknown Assignment)
Dentists of the 32nd Station Hospital
Laboratory, Chaplain, Dietetic, and Physical Therapy Officers of the 32nd Station Hospital
Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part I (Last Names A–G)
Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part II (Last Names H–M)
Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part III (Last Names N–S)
Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part IV (Last Names T–Z)
Enlisted Men of the 32nd Station Hospital
Robert Silverman’s Story
The Mystery of Rachel Sheridan, the 32nd Station Hospital’s Lost Nurse
If you can help expand this section of the site, please contact me.
Last updated July 11, 2019