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

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the Navy’s four “temporary” new constructions in northern California, which were part of Navy Surgeon General Ross McIntire’s program to provide hospital care for the casualties of war. But even these new beds were not enough to supply the needs for an expected million casualties if the expected invasion of the Japanese home islands took place.

War time hospitalization came under the oversight of the Federal Board of Hospitalization, an independent executive agency established in 1921 to coordinate the hospital programs of the military services, the public health service, Veterans Administration and Indian Health Service in order to avoid duplication of services and overbuilding of facilities.(1) Every proposal for new Navy beds went through this body, and there were inevitable bureaucratic delays in getting beds approved. In January 1943, the 12th Naval District Medical Officer wrote

We will undoubtedly need a number of places for convalescents.  If possible, I think M & S should get direct appropriations from Congress to take over hotels, call them hospitals, leave the entire management and staff with the exceptions of bell-boys, chambermaids, etc. as is.  We to pay the flat rate per man per day.  This will be cheaper and the contracts can be made much more easily and quickly.(2)

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Santa Cruz, California

12th Naval District medical authorities sought facilities that were “especially desirable … for convalescents and … also well suited for recreational purposes”. The Santa Cruz resort hotel Casa Del Rey fit the ticket, and could be made ready to receive 500 patients within 2 weeks of lease signing.

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Santa Cruz, CA (Hotel Casa Del Rey) (NARA College Park, MD)

Retired Medical Corps Captain Frederick E Porter was detailed to command the hospital, which he commissioned on 9 March 1943.  The hospital experienced its busiest year in 1944, when 8099 patients were received. In all, more than 18,000 men received convalescent services before the hospital was decommissioned 1 April 1946.(3) The old hotel then went on to serve as senior citizen housing in its later years. It sustained serious damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It has since been demolished.

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Yosemite National Park, California

The Navy leased the famed Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park in 1943. Commissioned on 25 June, “its purpose was the rehabilitation of sick and injured service men in order to restore them to duty or return them to civilian life in the best possible physical condition.” Despite its spectacular location, the isolation of the place wore heavily on patients’ morale so that the Secretary of the Navy specifically approved the sale of beer–the only Naval hospital to enjoy this amenity–with a subsequent

Sailors in the Ahwahnee Dining Room Galley c. 1944 (U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Library)

improvement in patient outlook. The hospital was at its busiest in the spring and summer of 1945, with a patient load averaging more than 750. It was decommissioned 15 December 1945.(4) Today, one may wait several months to get reservations in this famed hotel

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, California

The Navy commissioned this hospital on 23 May 1944, barely two weeks after signing its lease agreement . A day later, it received 500 ambulatory patients from nearby U. S. Naval Hospital, Corona, California. With “139 rooms and 10 bungalows, together with a

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, CA (Archives II, College Park, MD)

beautiful outdoor swimming pool, a built-in little theater seating 130 persons and other recreational facilities on…1700 acres of mountainous terrain”, if offered excellent convalescent facilities.  Up to the end of November 1945, the hospital had cared for nearly 5800 service personnel.(5) Today the facility and its grounds are owned by the Campus Crusade for Christ.

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Banning, California

Hastily constructed by the Army to serve trainees for overseas service as the 297th Army Field Hospital, the Navy took over the 92 buildings on 115 acres in the foothills southern California San Gorgonio Mountains in May 1944. Commissioned on 2 October

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Banning, CA (Archives II, College Park, MD)

with a bed capacity of 1,000, the facility cared for nearly 3,000 service members during its career. All variety of patients, including those with combat fatigue and combat psychosis were admitted. (6) Decommissioned 31 December 1945, the hospital was completely dismantled by the end of January 1946. Some of its buildings still exist as local homes.

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Beaumont, CA

This hospital, similarly taken over from Army ownership, opened the same day as the hospital at Banning. It consisted of 90 buildings, of which 34 were wards and the

U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Beaumont, CA (Archives II, College Park, MD)

remainder administrative and support spaces and quarters. The official hospital report noted that “they were “Army huttments”, wooden frame buildings with single faced bulkheads, wooden floors without covering, and unsealed. The roofs leaked occasionally, and patients had to walk a long way to mess.” The hospital cared only for “enlisted men who were general medical and surgical convalescents, and neuropsychiatric patients who were awaiting discharge.” (7) Decommissioned  31 December 1945, the hospital was completely dismantled by July 1946. One of its buildings now serves as a local hardware store.

Next time: U. S. Naval Hospitals in southern California, World War II

(1) United States Government Manual, 1945, First Edition, “Federal Board of Hospitalization”, found at, accessed 23 April 2011. This appears to be a direct transcription of the titled government document, transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancy of the Hyperwar Foundation.
(2) National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD (“Archives II”), Record Group 52, Records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Headquarters Records, Correspondence 1842-1945, Entry 15B, File NH70-7 – 7/A1-1, letter Inspector of Medical Activities, Pacific Coast, to assistant chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, RADM Luther Sheldon at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, 29 January 1943.
(3) Administrative History of U. S. Naval Special Hospital, Santa Cruz, California, 30 June 1946. This file is in the “Santa Cruz” folder in the History Library at the U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (“BuMrd”), 2300 E Street, NW, Washington, DC.
(4) “Supplement to Fourth Quarter Sanitary Report [undated: 1945?], Historical Data,” U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Library.
(5) “Historical Supplement to the Fourth Quarterly Sanitary Report, Cumulative Report for Period of World War II, 28 November 1945”, U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Library.
(6) Typewritten history of U. S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, Banning, CA, undated, no designated author, but presumed to be written by hospital Commanding Officer William H Short, Captain, Medical Corps, Retired, U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Library.
(7) from “The United States Navy Medical Department at War, 1941 – 1945, Volume II  Organization and Administration”, prepared by Administrative History Section, Administrative Division, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy Department, 1946,U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Library.
 © 2011 Thomas L Snyder
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  • Billy Roberts  On 25 Jan 2013 at 13:28

    I was a patient in the California Hospitals; Treasure Island, Oak Knoll and Santa Cruz confessant Hospital October 1945 to January 1946. I was a Gunners Mate 3/c on the WWII Destroyer, USS SIGSBEE DD502. [Blogger’s Note: This post is from Billy Roberts, host of a very interesting website honoring USS Sigsbee DD 502 You can find it at Thanks, Gunners Mate Roberts!]

    • sherrie  On 02 Feb 2013 at 23:41

      Hello Billy, would you have ever been in the company of a Corpsman named Art Ault? He was at the Arrowhead hospital after the war and had enlisted in the Navy and was attached to the Marines. It’s a long-shot but I thought I’d ask. Thanks, Sherrie

  • question  On 27 Jan 2013 at 09:34

    My Dad may have served at Yosemite Field Hospital during wwII . Would like to know, I could use help with where to look for info. Thanks in advance, Judy

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