Your editor is traveling in upstate New York this week. On my itinerary: the site of the WW II Naval Hospital at Sampson, NY.
Naval Hospital Sampson was established to support a huge Naval Training Center that sprung into existence on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, which lies roughly in the center of a handful of lakes
lying just to the south of Rochester and Syracuse. This training center, like its partner in Farragut Idaho, came into being, some historians have it, because Navy officials and President Roosevelt wished to have facilities located away from our coastlines in event of invasion.
Construction on the 2500 acre site began in May 1942 and took just 270 days. The first recruits arrived as construction entered its final stages. The Training Center, designed to train 2000 recruits at a time indoctrinated more than 400,000 recruits in the Navy way during its roughly two year existence.
Work clearing the site for the 1500 bed hospital began in June 1942, and the hospital saw its first admissions–sick corpsmen–in January 1943; it was officially commissioned by Captain Claude W Carr, MC, USN, on 27 February 1943. Included in its medical staff was orthopedist Lt Commander Mal Stevens, former football coach at Yale and New York University.
The hospital was well utilized from its opening, but the patient census reached a peak of around 2100 at the end of August 1945. The hospital medical service cared for large numbers of infectious diseases among trainees, the new antibiotic penicillin being used to cure several hundred cases of pneumonia. The surgical service was a busy one: Navy surgeons performed more than 1800 operations in 1943, and as many in the first 8 months of 1945. Hernia repair was the most common surgical procedure performed, with appendicitis being the most common acute surgical condition.
In early 1945, with the end of the war in sight, training center activity began to slow, and the number of recruits admitted decreased. The hospital was now caring for an increasing number of war injured patients, and, beginning in January 1945, tuberculosis patients. The Tuberculosis Service peaked out at around 1000 patients, and the Tuberculosis Service boasted a staff of nine TB specialists including chest surgeons, bronchoscopists and internists.
With the end of the war, most patients wanted to move to hospitals closer to home. This exodus resulted in hospital closure on 1 July 1946. It experienced a brief renaissance during the Korean conflict, but then closed forever.
With the support of several veterans’ groups, the site of the former hospital will become the site of the Sampson Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, which will offer a final and peaceful resting place overlooking the lovely eastern shore of Seneca Lake.
Updated 24 December 2011
©2011 Thomas L Snyder