Military Monday: The 81st Field Hospital (WWII)

My dad posing for a picture with concentration camp buildings in the distance.

This is the first in a series of posts in which I’m going to transcribe a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors. The document I have was typed using a typewriter. I’m unaware of any other copies in circulation (at least among the public) besides those in the possession of my family.

[Page 1]

Registry No. MD 84

HISTORY OF THE 81ST FIELD HOSPITAL

The 81st Field Hospital was activated at Camp Ellis, Illinois, on 21 September 1944. Initial strength of unit was 186 enlisted men assigned from Medical Training Regiment, Medical Group, Camp Ellis, and 5 officers, under the command of Major Gerald F Banks.

Administration of the unit began functioning and all eligible men were granted POM furloughs effective immediately. Equipment began to arrive and supply tent was put up for storage.

During the first two weeks of activation, several medical officers joined the organization and a training program to begin 9 October was drawn up by headquarters. An inspection by the Sixth Service Command Adjutant General to determine if the unit had sufficient qualified men to fill the T/O was adjudged satsifactory.

Not apparent in the inspection, but noticeable throughout our preparatory stages was the low morale due to the fact that most of the strength had been transferred from other branches of services and had little desire to become medical personnel. There was no groundwork for pride of service in this particular setup where large groups of men had been pushed around for weeks and months, being transferred from one company to another, poorly fed and poorly housed in the chaos and confusion of hasty activation of the Medical Training Regiment, never knowing in what barracks they might sleep tomorrow.

The medical training program began upon return of all personnel from furlough. The enlisted men in general felt then and feel even stronger now that they derived little benefit from training classes. Monotonous repetitious lectures were conductive to sleep and even men with sincere desire to learn found themselves dozing and their thoughts taking flight.

More practical was the field training. Several night problems gave the men their first familiarity with actual tent-pitching. In a two-day bivouac, a model 100-bed hospital unit was set-up and run staged.

An organizational change was made on 26 October, breaking the unit down into a three-platoon set-up. On the 8th of November, the unit left for Camp Lee, Virginia, via troop train. Here the organization moved out to a bivouac area at Swift Creek, 25-miles from Camp Lee, and set up a fully equipped hospital ready for operation. Three moves of station during the week’s bivouac showed satisfactory progress in the men’s field ability.

Packing and crating for port movement, and classes on basic and medical subjects continued until the 27th of November when 105 enlisted men began parallel training at Regional Hospital, Camp Lee. Here, in the next two weeks, most of the men made their first actual contact with a hospital.

On 16 December the unit departed for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where it completed final training for overseas movement. On 24 December we arrived at New York POE, boarded troop transport HMT Vollendam and were quartered aboard ship, awaiting sailing orders.

At dawn on the 26th of December, the transport hoisted anchor and sailed from New York.

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On to Page 2.

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21 thoughts on “Military Monday: The 81st Field Hospital (WWII)

  1. Tracy says:

    Very interesting. I was just looking at a list of all the places my grandpa was during his service in WWII. He also was at Camp Kilmer before departing for England out of New York City. Kilmer must have been a good jumping off point for points overseas.

  2. baysideresearch says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Tracy. My hope is these posts will be found by others whose ancestors served in these locations or even with the 81st!

  3. Ted Ford says:

    I am not blog conversant or computer smart, but my uncle Harry Mason was assigned to the 81st in North Africa and Italy campaigns. I am hoping this reaches the person who has his Dad’s notes of the 81st. If so, please contact me at email: eford79292@aol.com (while quite ill, my Aunt, Harry’s sister is also in Florida)

  4. Peg says:

    My father also served with the US ARMY 81 FIELD HOSP. They left Dec 1944 embarking for overseas. Major Gerald F Banks MC Commanding. I would be interested in exchanging pictures and infor with other ancestors.

    • baysideresearch says:

      Hi Peg! So great to hear from you. Was your uncle a doctor? If so, I have a book recommendation for you: “The World of Surgery 1945-1985 — Memoirs of One Participant” by James Hardy has chapters on the 81st and mentions many of the soldiers.

      • Peg says:

        My dad was a medic. I would love to exchange info and pictures of the fellows. My dad left a log and many pictures.

  5. Peg says:

    Just to clarify Major Banks was my fathers commanding officier.

    • baysideresearch says:

      Peg, it’s wonderful that you have so much to share! Unfortunately, the hospital history and that book reference are really all that I have. I was contacted by one other descendant of a member of the unit — I believe he had a roster. I’ll see if I can find his information for you.

  6. Peg says:

    Are you interested in pictures?

  7. Peg says:

    I have a picture of the entire unit taken Dec 1944 days before that left for overseas. I will see if I can get it posted or I could make a copy for you if you like.

  8. Peg says:

    Thankyou so much. I will take it to my daughters and see if she can scan and email it to you!

  9. Greg Moring says:

    My father gave me a copy of the same document. There’s a total of 10 pages. He was the commander after Lt. Col Banks was wounded and transferred. My father was Major John B. Moring. I would be very interested in any pictures of the unit!

  10. Ryan says:

    Hello all
    My grandfather served in the 81st, I also have this full document. I would be interested in exchanging information and would love to see any of the group photos. Sadly my grandpa just past away late Sunday evening, I had read this document before but decided this time to research a little. Luckily it led me here, thank you for sharing looking forward to hearing more.
    Ryan

  11. Ryan, so good to hear from you! I’m awaiting photos from Peg above and hope she’ll let me share them on here when they are available. If not, we’ll certainly email you! What was your grandfather’s name? I can look him up in a book that I found about the unit.

  12. Ryan says:

    Thank you so much for the quick response. My grandfathers name was Dwight Appelgate. I would appreciate any information you could find.
    Ryan

  13. Hi Ryan, I just looked in the book and didn’t see your grandfather’s name in the index, unfortunately. I will let you know when I see those photos and be sure to share them with you!

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