Pearl Harbor Day – Navy Medicine on the Day of the Attack

“Men of the Navy Medical Department at Pearl Harbor were just as surprised as other Americans when the Japanese attacked on the morning of 7 December 1941…” Thus begins the narrative of “Pearl Harbor Navy Medical Activities”, a report from the Naval History and Heritage Command.(1)

The attack began at about 0745, and the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor had all treatment facilities and operating room set up and ready by 0815. In the first three hours, about 250 patients – the most seriously wounded or burned – were admitted. By the end of the day, 546 patients were admitted, and 200 ambulatory patients had been treated and returned to their duty stations.(2)

The hospital ship Solace, undamaged in the attack, began to receive casualties by 0825, and boats from the ship were soon picking injured sailors out of the oily and sometimes burning waters of Pearl Harbor soon thereafter, often at great risk to their crews. 132 patients were admitted aboard this ship and 80 men given first aid and returned to duty.

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

U. S. Mobile Base Hospital No 2 had arrived at the Navy base crates just 12 days before the attack. But its personnel were able to break out needed equipment and supplies to care for 110 patients that day.

The USS Argonne also set up to care for casualties, and later, with the help of medical personnel from other ships in the harbor, set up a sort of receiving and clearing station at the dock where she was moored. This open and uncovered area soon had about 150 cots set up for the injured and wounded. Under the direction of the Base Force Surgeon, these patients were moved to the Navy Yard Officers’ Club, a more protected place. By 1030, a functioning “field hospital” was operating there, stocked with necessary materials for the care of the wounded, injured and burned. The dock-side clearing station continued its work, however, sending the most seriously injured patients to the hospital; less severe casualties went to the Officers’ Club “Field Hospital” and to the Mobile Base Hospital.

In addition to these naval hospital and hospital-type facilities, a few patients were sent to the Aeia Plantation Hospital and the Kaneohe Territorial Hospital for the Insane. These men were later returned to duty, or transferred to the Naval Hospital.

About 60% of casualties that day were burn cases, some from burning fuel oil; many more, however, were “flash burns” caused by exploding bombs or gas fires. Traumatic amputations and compound fractures were frequently seen as well. Altogether, nearly 1000 men were admitted or cared for at Naval hospitals and organized facilities in one 24 hour period.

Many heroes that day were made…

(1) http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-5.htm, accessed 7 December 2012.
(2) “The History of the Medical Department of the United States navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictorial Volume” (Navmed P-5031), United States Government Printing Office, 1953, Volume 1, pp 63-66.
 
©2012 Thomas L Snyder, MD
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