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.

Military Monday: Billy Hayes

I recently discovered that I have another relative buried at Arlington National Cemetery. My great-uncle Billy G. Hayes was interred there in 2002. He served in the Army. I’m still trying to flesh out the details of his service. A note on his FindaGrave record reads “CSM US ARMY; WORLD WAR II; KOREA; VIETNAM.” CSM apparently stands for Command Sergeant Major. On my next trip to Arlington, I plan to seek out his grave. My father and my maternal grandparents are all buried at Arlington as well.

In 2009, Billy’s brother, my great-uncle Ben Hayes, mentioned to me that he had purchased a brick in Billy’s honor for a war memorial in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where they grew up. Ben drove my sister and I by the memorial at the time, though we didn’t get a chance to see the brick itself.