Picnic for Twelve — A Family Memoir

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I am happy to report that one of my clients has published Picnic for Twelve, a book about his parents and their growing family as they navigated The Great Depression and other events over the last century. If you are interested in the life of Irish-Americans during the 1900s, have Boston-area ancestors, or are just looking to read a cleverly written yarn, I highly recommend that you download the book for your Kindle or purchase a print copy.

I provided genealogical research support on the Driscoll and Sheehan families. This was a fun and challenging project to work on, as various members of the family moved around a lot, originating in or living in locations including New York City, Southern California, here in Maryland, and of course, Massachusetts and Ireland. Along the way, vital records unlocked most of the clues needed to solve a few family mysteries. As part of the project, I read an early version of the manuscript. The author is a former editor of the Boston Globe and a great storyteller — I highly recommend this book!

History of the 81st Field Hospital/276th General Hospital, Page 13

This is the final post in a series in which I’ve transcribed 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. Read from the beginning here.

HISTORY OF THE 276TH GENERAL HOSPITAL

On 18 November 1945 orders were received by the 81st Field Hospital Headquarters (at Crile General Hospital, Cleveland 9, Ohio) to the effect that this unit would be redesignated the 276th General Hospital and that the considerable reorganization involved would take place at the earliest practicable date. However, the official existence of the new unit was not reflected in the morning report until 11 December 1945. On this same date, Major John B Moring was named Commanding Officer of the new organization.

There was relatively little immediate change in the unit. Men eligible for discharge continued to be separated from the service; others, ineligible for discharge but likewise ineligible for overseas service, were to be trfd to other organizations.

60 enlisted men were awarded the Good Conduct Medal pursuant to GO #3, 276th General Hospital, dated 26 December 1945.

The additional personnel authorized by the new T/O were slow in arriving, and by 31 December 1945 there remained in the unit only six officers and fifteen enlisted men eligible for overseas service.

Captain Milton B. Smith was transferred to Crile Gen Hosp on 17 Dec 45 pursuant to 10/292 War Department Washington DC dtd 8 Dec 45, thus transferring the last Medical Officer from the outfit with a surgical background.

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 12

This is the twelfth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 12]

Four days later on 18 November 1945, orders dated the 14th were received directing that the 81st Field Hospital be redesignated as the 276th General Hospital and brought up to the revised T/O strength for general hospitals. The considerable reorganization involved was to be effected at the earliest practicable date, and with this change of status the back cover was affixed to the history of the 81st Field Hospital.

Captain Winston C. Hall, MC, was transferred to Crile General Hospital on 4 Nov 45 pursuant to 10/256 War Department Washington DC dtd 26 Oct 45.

[There is one more page in this document.]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 11

This is the eleventh in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 11]

Packing and crating was completed ahead of schedule and from last week in July until embarkation date, 9 August, a training program was in effect, consisting of classes and swimming, volleyball and other supervised sports.

Unit Returns to United States

On 9 August, the unit boarded USN Transport General George O Squier, bound for Manila, Philippine Islands. Only detail for the unit was dispensary assignment.

In the wake of continual suspense and excitement, beginning with loosing of the first atomic bomb on Japan, the entry of Russia into the war against Japan, and semi-official reports and rumors of peace, Japan finally surrendered unconditionally on 15 August and there was great jubilation aboard ship.

Even more enthusiastically received was official notification that the ship’s destination was changed and we were bound for the United States, our port, Norfolk, Virginia.

Administrative detail to facilitate possible furloughs, discharges, or other plans for the organization were completed on board ship and we docked at Norfolk on 20 August, proceeding to Camp Patrick Henry for further orders.

Groups were sent to appropriate reception stations from Camp Patrick Henry on 21 August with orders to reassemble as a unit at Camp Sibert, Alabama. Temporary duty was extended for a period of 15-days and the unit began reassembling 12 October. Those eligible for discharge were not returned from reception stations. The remainder of the unit completed assembling 23 October.

Move to Crile General Hospital

In mid-October movement orders were received directing that the 81st Field Hospital proceed to Crile General Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio. Further instructions directed that the remaining nurses and those enlisted men with an ASR Score above 59 be separated from the unit.

On 1 November 1945 the unit entrained at Camp Sibert, Alabama, and proceeded to Cril [sic] General Hospital. The operation had been well-planned and was accomplished with singular smoothness.

Upon arrival at Crile, the personnel of the 81st, with the exception of the Headquarters Section, were assigned to on-the-job training assignments in virtually all departments of the splendid general hospital. The experience of our men, abetted by the genuine consideration manifested by the administrators of Crile General Hospital, rendered the merger of personnel effective and harmonious.

A separate 81st Field Hospital Headquarters was set up by Major Moring and his staff. All administrative matters pertaining to the 81st were handled by this headquarters.

On 14 November 1945, Major Moring received orders transferring him to Wakeman General Hospital, Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Captain Naif L Simon, next ranking officer in the unit, assumed command 20 November 1945. However, the following day, Major Moring’s orders were rescinded and he resumed command of the 81st.

[Continue to Page 12]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 10

This is the tenth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 10]

A 250-bed hospital was set up and a typhus immunization team and insect extermination team sent through Allach Camp. In a period of 24-hours, 9400 typhus immunization were given. However, before any official admissions to the hospital were made, orders came to move to another site 15-miles away.

Unit B Moves to Goggingen

The contemplated site however proved unsatisfactory for a hospital and Seventh Army permission was grated for the unit to select its own site. A German military hospital in Goggingen, formerly a Catholic school and nun’s cloister, was selected. Fifty of the 211 German patients were evacuated immediately and the rest as soon as  they were transportable. A 100-bed hospital was set up to admit American GI’s from the Munich-Augsburg sector.

The average census was 80-bed patients, but a high of 92 was recorded. Many patients were treated in the dispensary. Unit B’s stay at this location was the only time that American GI’s were admitted as bed patients to the 81st Field Hospital during its stay in the ETO.

On 5 June, orders were received to evacuate all patients to other US Army hospitals in the region and close the hospital.

Headquarters Unit

After the units separated at Dieberg, Headquarters Unit made a number of moves setting up at points as nearly as possible equi-distant from the various units and at the same time in close proximity to Army Headquarters. This was thought more effective than setting up routinely adjacent to or with any of the operating hospital units.

All Units Move to France

On 11 June 1945 unit departed Schwetzinger, Germany, via train for staging area at St Victoret, France. After a three-day trip by converted boxcar, the unit arrived at the staging area, one of the first to reach the rocky dust-swept bowl off the Mediterranean Coast. The men were quartered in pyramidical tents while the nurses remained in Marseille where they were billeted with the 235th General Hospital.

For several weeks, the unit was at rest. During the month of June organizational strength remained static, despite changes, with a total of seven enlisted men lost and seven gained; two officers lost, two gained, and two nurses lost and gained.

Notable event during July was the accidental shooting and woulding [sic] of Lt Col Banks, Commanding Officer, resulting in his hospitalization. On 26 July, Major John B. Moring assumed command of the 81st Field Hospital and Lt Col Banks was released and transferred the following day. Lts Anne Y Williams and Betty J Snead were promoted to 1st Lt. In the last week of July, unit began packing and crating of equipment for overseas shipment. Except for addition of a Red Cross worker, no strength changes occurred, the unit gaining 12 enlisted men for an equal number lost, and five officers for five transferred out.

[Read Page 11 here.]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 9

This post contains details some may consider graphic.

This is the ninth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 9]

There was no building fit to establish a hospital in, much less to live in. Nor was the muddy, soggy terrain suitable for pitching tents. The unit had to scout around for a place to set up.

Several members of the unit went over to Dachau and obtained entrance to the notorious concentration camp. It was a place of unbelievable horror and a sight that no one can forget. Guided by one of the prisoners, we visited the gas chamber where prisoners marked for extermination were sent. Outside the building was a huge pile of naked dead bodies, grotesquely sprawled one upon the other. The bodies were scrawny, emaciated, like wax dummies of skeletons. Slightly to one side lay a number of SS troopers beaten to death in sadistic revenge by the liberated prisoners. A stench of death hung in the air. It was all macabrely unreal.

Stepping inside the building, one entered the reception room where incoming victims slated for extermination were told to undress in preparation for showers. Each person was given a bar of soap and a towel. Scarcely suspecting, they were told to enter the adjoining room which was marked “Shower-Bath” and a heavy steel door closed upon them.  There was nothing alarming about the room which was of ordinary size. A number of apparent shower jets protruded from the ceiling. When the 250 victims were crowded into this room and the heavy steel door shut and locked, the “shower” was turned on. In approximately two minutes, the entire 250 would be dead of asphyxiation.

Through a bin-like door that opened from the other side of the room, the bodies were shoveled into the crematorium. Here in a row stood four or five huge furnaces with square openings large enough for one or possibly two bodies to be thrown in. We could still see bones lying in the furnaces. Across the room, through an open door,  we could see the storeroom for bodies awaiting the fiery ovens. It was a most sickening sight. Piled high to the ceiling was another mass of grotesque naked skeleton-like bodies, horribly unreal in death. The stench emanating from the room was overpowering.

According to the inmate, perhaps a million people had been exterminated in Dachau’s gas chamber and crematorium —  the largest percentage being persons brought there solely for the purpose of extermination and never seeing the inside of the prison stockade.

Going out of the crematorium and around the building, we saw another open warehouseroom, loaded with another mass of dead bodies. Here the stench was even greater. The horrors of the camp were indescribable, but among the things we saw was a little garden-like enclosure where high-ranking military prisoners were made to kneel with bowed heads and were shot in the back of the neck, the long rows of kennels where huge-ferocious dogs were kept and set upon living prisoners hung just off of the ground, and the string of 50 boxcars on a siding just outside the camp crammed full of dead bodies. There were prisoners just arrived at Dachau who were awaiting entrance into the camp. For eight days they remained crammed inside the boxcars without food, water or sufficient air. A few that managed to break out and attempted to escape were shot and found with legs or arms hanging outside the cars.

It was arranged for the entire unit to visit Dachau and see the horrors of the camp. It was something that every GI should have a chance to see.

[Continue to Page 10]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 8

This is the eighth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 8]

…help with the Russian patients was a welcome addition. Our patients came from various DP Centers and were returned to their points of origin after treatment and care.

A 200-bed hospital was made ready for use. Our patients were almost exclusively Displaced Persons with the exception of a comparatively few GI’s who were admitted for injuries received in accidents and other ways; however, many more soldiers and DP’s were treated by our dispensary. As a matter of fact, our Receiving Office looked like a waiting list in a free clinic.

Extensive surgery was performed in our modern operating room. Sometimes we averaged four and five operations a day, working far into the night. Several Russian DP’s were brought to us as a result of attempting to kill fish and celebrating May Day with hand grenades, and had it not been for the skill and hard work of our surgeon and his able assistants, they would most likely have expired. The operating staff worked hard for three and a half continuous hours repairing a shattered body of one case.

May 8th news of the termination of hostilities in Europe. Everyone was very happy that half our mission had been accomplished and with renewed vigor turned back to their task of seeing the war through.

Unit A Joins Unit C at Heilbronn

On 12 May Unit A moved from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to join Unit C at Heilbronn. The work had been too heavy for one unit and the addition of a second was a great help.

With two units working together at Heilbronn, the work load was considerably eased. Two surgical services were maintained. The patients continued to be displaced persons from the same sources and the census was usually close to 200 patients. The dispensary treated many American GI’s daily.

On 9 June the hospital was turned over to a German medical staff by Unit A. Unit C had moved out several days earlier.

Unit B Moves to Allach

Meanwhile Unit B at Bad Mergentheim had received orders on 31 April to  move to Heidenheim but this was changed to Dachau before the move had been effected. While enroute to Dachau, orders were again changed and the new destination was Allach. The unit arrived at Allach which is 8 miles from Dachau on 4th May. The Allach camp was very similar to other extermination camps and there were 9400 inmates still present when the unit arrived.

Nearly all were suffering from typhus, tuberculosis, malnutrition, various skin diseases, and probably many allied diseases. Most of the prisoners, both men and women, were German, Hungarian and Polish Jews, brought there for the sole purpose of extermination at Dachau’s gas chamber and crematorium. Many of them never lived to be sent to Dachau. Starvation, disease and mistreatment took their toll before it was their turn to feed the fiery furnaces of the crematorium.

[Continue to Page 9]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 7

This is the seventh in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 7]

Early Monday morning, 30 April, an advance party of two officers and nine enlisted men left for Kaufburen, Germany, to make contact with the 54th Field Hospital, to which Unit A was to be attached as a fourth platoon to go into combat in support of a division. One officer and an ambulance returned to Weinsburg.

After many difficulties and after travelling 1500 miles, a total of six 2 1/2-ton trucks were secured from 132nd Evac Hospital to move our equipment and personnel. Authority to use these trucks was Seventh Army Advance Surgeon. On the whole, the organic transportation of field hospitals was found inadequate. We had six 6×6 trucks and one 10-ton tractor-trailer over and above the T/O & E and even so, vehicles were still insufficient in number to move the whole hospital at once. However, our excess transportation was used upon many occasions in helping move other field hospitals. In action, it proves most difficult to secure aid from QWC Trucking Companies since the field hospitals move as the line moves and when the line moves, unit with the greatest priority receive the QWC trucks.

On Thursday the advance party moved on from Kaufburen with the 54th Field Hospital Headquarters to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and secured five homes for living quarters. By Sunday evening, after much travail, all equipment and all personnel had been moved from Weinsburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Running water, electricity and central heating systems were available at our location. One ward and one squad tent were pitched to store equipment. One squad tent was pitched for mess. While Unit A was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the war ended and the 54th Field Hospital’s need for a fourth platoon no longer existed. No hospital was set up and the move had essentially proved to be nothing but a week’s vacation in the Bavarian Alps. No patients were treated.

Unit C Moves to Heilbrunn

An advance party of three officers and 18 enlisted men left Bad Mergentheim on 24 April. ON 25 April, the main body proceeded to the new area — a modern and very complete German hospital at Heilbrunn, (WS 0462) Germany.

The advance party labored under difficulties as the German occupants were being evacuated — German staff and German military patients under armed guard.

The hospital itself was found to be a very fine building built only a year before Germany went to war, and it’s equipment was complete in every detail. At first there was some difficulty due to lack of electric power, intermittent supply of water, and the fact that some of the facilities were out of order, but this was shortly remedied through assistance of AMG officials.

The problem of help in such a large plant was a big one, but we acquired a staff of German civilians for the kitchen, laundry and general cleaning, at which four Italian displaced persons also proved very useful.

Language difficulties were largely solved through the efforts of certain of our own personnel with the additional aid of a female interpreter, an American citizen, sent to us by the AMG Heilbronn. The arrival of a Russian nurse to [continued on Page 8]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 6

This is the sixth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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.

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[Page 6]

Unit A officially closed operation of its DP hospital at 2400 27 April when 33 patients were sent to Unit C which had left Bad Mergontheim and established a DP hospital at Heilbronn, Germany. Six other patients were discharged to duty.

Transfer of patients to Unit C was accomplished by six ambulances and one truck, pooling vehicles of the entire 81st.

All our equipment was packed and such things as tentage, tent poles, stoves, latrine equipment and other essential things which obviously would have to be part of any advance party were loaded on our van. In this way we could move at a moment’s notice by loading the equipment, and an advance party could move out immediately with the van which already had been loaded. It was found advisable to keep one night ward man on duty for each ward as a protection for equipment stored there.

When our function as a hospital at Weinsburg had ceased and with Unit C nearby in Heilbronn, it was agreed to have our reports and mail sent to Unit C at night and have them deliver both ours and their reports by their courier. Also any information or mail could be picked up by Unit C courier and delivered to us the following morning when he returned from headquarters. In this way, drivers, vehicles and gas could be conserved.

Unit C Move to Bad Mergentheim

Unit C departed from Dieberg for Bad Mergentheim and set up tents one-half mile east of the city. Personnel, mess, and supply tents were set up and we then awaited orders which did not come until we had been there almost a week. No hospital had been set up and no patients treated.

Unit B Moves to Bad Mergentheim

Advance party of Unit B left Hammelburg 19 April for Bad Mergentheim, south of Wurzburg. The remainder of the unit followed Saturday, 21 April, leaving five enlisted men and one officer in charge of Camp Hammelburg area until arrival of the Third Army. Bad Mergentheim was found to be a health resort town with fine sanitoriums and hotels. The unit moved into a previous sanitorium recently used for German soldiers. Taking over management of this hotel, Unit B permitted the staff of 14 girls (12 German and 2 Russian) and one civilian man to remain and work for their keep in the kitchen, dining room, laundry, etc. This staff efficiently operated the establishment without cost, being extremely grateful for a place to live and good food to eat.

On 29 April, we received our first patients — 9 displaced persons of various nationalities — from the 93d Evac Hospital and set up a 20-bed ward on the third floor. The following day orders came to dispose of them and we did so by transfer to Unit A.

From then on the unit was officially “at rest” awaiting further orders. Daily we played host to weary ambulance drivers, transporting patients (displaced persons and liberated PWX’s) from one hospital unit to another, in a vain effort to dispose of them. It became quite evident that the “PWX” and “Displaced Persons” hospital program of the army was in the throws of birth pains. With no set program yet established, there was much confusion, duplication and ineptitude. Patients were getting a merry-go-round, being shunted from one hospital to another, with whatever medical treatment they received hardly enough to compensate for the arduors and risks of the constant travelling.

On to Page 7

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing 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.

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[Page 5]

We found all our buildings dirty with personal belongings left behind by the former occupants. Within 24 hours, and with the help of DP labor, we had all our facilities in working order and ready for operation. We found it more convenient and practical to secure our rations, water and gasoline through local distribution points. Our supplies (Medical and General) and also all hospital laundry were taken care of by our own headquarters.

It was found by the officer in charge of the blood unit servicing our platoon to be impractical for them to deliver blood each morning as is customary to field hospitals operating under normal conditions. It was agreed that whenever the need for blood should arise we could obtain some, and also keep enough blood on hand for our anticipated needs. It was further agreed that we should return all unused blood three days before expiration date and exchange it for fresh blood. We were serviced by a blood dispensing unit presently attached to the 132d Evac Hospital at Neckarsulm, 10 miles from our location.

Due to the difficulty of obtaining large size x-ray film from Medical Depots, we experimented with captured German x-ray film. We worked in close liaison with the French dispensary located in the DP Center. We agreed that all DP patients must first pass through the French dispensary. If they required hospitalization or further dispensary treatment which could not be obtained at the French dispensary for lack of proper equipment and supplies, they were then admitted to our hospital, and if the patient was a member of the DP Center at Weinsburg, they they passed through the French dispensary also.

We received patients from the 93d, 95th and 132d Evac Hospitals as well as from the Weinsburg DP Camp. Our capacity was 100-beds but could have been expanded to 150-beds if necessary. We had our own electricity throughout the entire area generated by our own generators. Also telephone communication was established from the administrative building to the various wards through field phones. Aside from the water we got each day, all other water was obtained through the town water supply which was very irregular. However, ample water was obtained for hospital use and also for the washing machine, which was used for all personnel laundry. Our mess facilities were in a tent and we had three latrines in the field to supplement the ones in our living quarters and hospital buildings. This was done to combat the irregular water supply necessary for proper sanitary methods in maintaining building latrines.

We didn’t have much captured material along medical lines to use in the hospital, but made the maximum use of desks, lamps, chairs, typewriters and other office equipment. The dispensary handled emergency cases in addition to our personnel. The Dental Clinic did a lot of emergency work from the DP Center. We had a visitor in the person of Lt Col Elder who was Chief Sanitary Inspector in charge of DP Centers for the Seventh Army.

We used to the maximum all the DP labor here for miscellaneous duties in wards, washing, general labor and maintenance work. This proved very satisfactory and also helped carry the load as far as our mess was concerned. 90 patients passed through the hospital while Unit A was at Weinsburg.