Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Break in Brussels; the Wellcome Trust Releases Its Strategic Plan 2010 – 2020

Your Blogger-in-Chief is in Brussels for a couple of weeks getting to know his brand-new grand son and getting reacquainted with his four year old grand-daughter–and their parents. We seem to have brought some California weather with us, so we will take advantage of blue skies and sunny warmth to visit the 50s-historical Atomium and the new-historical Mini-Europe “theme park” right nearby, with the four year old as our guide.


A year ago in a post titled “History of Medicine Flagship Down By the Bows“, I noted with dismay that one of the premier supporters of the study of medical history, Britain’s Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine was to close. Now, from this side of the pond comes news that the Trust’s support of that study may not disappear entirely; rather it will be transmogrified into the support of a sort of “applied history”.

In perusing the Wellcome Trust Strategic Plan 2010 – 2020, I see that under three of its five main research “Challenges”–“Understanding the Brain”, “Combating Infectious Disease” and “Investigating Development, Ageing and Chronic Disease”, the Trust proposes to “support multidisciplinary research to bring broader historical, societal, ethical and cultural perspectives” on brain function and research, “develop activities to explore social, historical, political, anthropological and ethical perspectives” concerning infectious diseases, and “foster research to explore historical and social perspectives” on chronic diseases. All of this appears in a context of outreach to the public to build understanding of, and enhance trust in, science and medical research.

This to me does not sound like a bad thing.  Some (most?) historians will be uncomfortable with what I see as an attempt by the Trust’s board of directors to focus, by how it funds historical research, on the struggle to educate a larger public–and to bring medical history, in a very practical, “pragmatic” way, into a public dialog–about the role of medicine and medical research in society.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and Strategic Plan 2010 – 2020 only gives us a hint of its intent. But the next 9 years could see the flowering of a new, decidedly “applied” way of looking at the history of medicine.

The U. S. Navy’s “Phantom” World War II Hospitals in California, Part I

by Thomas L Snyder

One of Navy World War II Surgeon General VADM Ross McIntire’s biggest concerns was to create or find enough hospital beds to provide care for the huge influx of patients expected from the Pacific Theater. Because almost all previous war activity (and therefore patient care) involved the Atlantic area, the U. S. West Coast had a relative dearth of hospitals at the beginning of the war–San Diego Naval Hospital with a bed capacity of around 1400, Mare Island with about 650, and Bremerton, Washington, with 300 beds.(1)

I am in the National Archives in College Park, MD (Archives II) researching hospitals the Navy constructed or otherwise acquired for the care of patients returning from the Pacific. New construction in California alone included Naval Hospitals at Shoemaker (now Dublin), Treasure Island, Oakland, San Leandro, Long Beach, and Santa Margarita Ranch (became Camp Pendleton). In addition, the Navy, in a search for beds readily convertible for patient use, leased resort hotels in Santa Cruz (Hotel Casa del Rey), Corona (The Norconian), Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee Lodge), San Bernardino (Arrowhead Resort Hotel) and Boyes Springs (Sonoma Mission Inn). The Navy also took over former Army hospitals built by General Patton for his tank training facilities at Banning and Beaumont.

In this Part I of a three part series, I’ll briefly discuss the temporary hospitals constructed in northern California.

U. S. Naval Hospital, Treasure Island, California, 1944 (Source: NARA, College Park MD)

U. S. Naval Hospital Treasure Island

Located centrally in the San Francisco Bay, the Treasure Island facility, commissioned 4 April 1942 grew to an official bed capacity of 500, but was actually caring for 700 patients a year after its commissioning, and in 1944, capacity was 1326 officers and enlisted. Because it was readily accessible both by water and by road, the it functioned as an acute care facility, receiving the most ill and most seriously injured both from overseas and from around the Bay area. It was scheduled for decommissioning 1 March 1947.(2)

U. S. Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California

U. S. Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California (Photo source: NARA, College Park, MD)


Originally designated “U. S. Naval Hospital, Pleasanton, California”, this 2000 bed hospital sprung up in a vast area of flat land a few miles east of the Oakland Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally intended to care for people attached to the nearby Construction Battalion Personnel Depot and a Navy Personnel Center, the hospital had 1,000 beds when it was commissioned 1 October 1943. Less than a year later, it had 2,000 official beds, but was capable of caring for nearly 3,600.  Post-war demobilization struck quickly, and the hospital was decommissioned 30 June 1946.(3)

U. S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California with U. S. Naval Hospital, San Leandro on adjacent hills (Source: U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine And Surgery History Library)


U. S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California

Since the late 1930s, Navy Surgeon General McIntire had determined that the old Naval Hospital at Mare Island could not be enlarged enough to meet the navy’s future hospital needs in the San Francisco area. After a several month search for suitable properties, the site of the Oak Knoll Golf Club was decided upon, and the land purchased for the new permanent hospital. Wartime construction, however, was of a “temporary” type (I worked in one of these “temporary” structures doing Reserve duty in the 1980s). Commissioned 1 July 1942, the hospital ultimately grew to a bed capacity exceeding 6000.  The temporary structures served until a hospital of true permanent construction was opened in 1968. This structure served military personnel, their dependents and retirees until the Navy left the Bay area and closed the hospital in 1996.(4)  Coverage of the final chapter of U. S.  Naval Hospital, Oakland, California can be seen here.

U. S. Naval Hospital, San Leandro, California

Constructed specifically to care for “war neurosis” and “combat fatigue” cases, this hospital, built on rolling hills adjacent to the Oakland Naval Hospital, was commissioned with 500 beds 15 August 1944. Just over two years later, on 1 September 1946, the hospital was decommissioned, and its property subsumed by the nearby Oakland Naval Hospital.(5)

Next Time: U. S. Navy World War II Convalescent Hospitals in California Resort Hotels

(1) These numbers obtained from “HyperWar: History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II”  Chapter One “Facilities of the Medical Department of the Navy” authored by Joseph L Schwartz, Captain, Medical Corps, USN, Retired. This appears to be an official history, extensively footnoted, and transcribed for HTML by Patrick Clancy of the HyperWar Foundation. accessed 8 April 2011.
(2) NARA, College Park, MD (“Archives II”), RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 110-111, Files relating to NH48.
(3) Archives II, RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 120, Files relating to NH72.
(4) California State Military Museum website, Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields, Naval Regional Medical Center, Oakland. accessed 09 April 2011.
(5) Archives II, RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 121, Files related to NH75.
© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

Medical Alumni Military Affinity Groups–A “Best Practices” Inquiry

by Thomas L Snyder


I’m in Albany, NY this weekend to attend my medical school Alumni Weekend festivities (I’m on the Alumni Association Board of Directors). This morning I had a conversation with our Director about setting up an alumni military affinity group, and we are beginning a preliminary inquiry into the notion.

In a one hour Google search of the topic, I found that several undergraduate schools and a smattering of Graduate Schools of Business have established such groups (no medical schools popped up in the search). In general, their missions seem to revolve around connecting alumni veterans with each other and with their alma maters, connecting alumni with current students (military scholarship recipients in our case), and developing opportunities for giving to the school, either directly or by way of scholarships.

I’d be interested to know if you, dear reader, have any experience with an alumni affinity group, or any “best practices” recommendations concerning same. Please email me – – or send by comment below, your thoughts and suggestions.

©2011 Thomas L Snyder