Idaho historian Gayle E Alvarez tells us that because of concern about “coastal bombings” at the onset of U S involvement in World War II, civil authorities sought naval training facilities well inland.(1) I’ve already written about the Naval Hospital associated with the training facility at Sampson in upstate New York (September and December 2010). The other site, chosen by a panel of three senior naval officers (a venerable myth holds that Eleanor Roosevelt suggested the site after she flew over the area), was at the south end of Lake Pend Orielle (“pond array”) in northern Idaho.
Construction of the training base began in April 1942. A month later, President Roosevelt named the base after Civil War hero and the U S Navy’s first Admiral, David G Farragut. The base hospital, initially intended to care for recruits undergoing training, was commissioned 15 January 1943. Original construction provided for 44 wards of 46 beds (2024 patients) and several service buildings. Fourteen more wards and civilian care facilities came on line in the autumn of 1944. Late in the war, as training activity cut back, the hospital absorbed 1600 more beds in nearby Camp Bennion (previously a part of the Naval Training Center) to accommodate convalescents and neuropsychiatric patients transferred from other naval hospitals.
From the outset, the hospital had an active surgical service. Up though the first half of 1944, 400 beds accommodated recruits receiving hernia repair, pilonidal cyst excision surgery, removals of sites of infection and similar relatively minor operations. Starting in the latter half of 1944, surgical bed capacity expanded to over one thousand, and the patients were almost exclusively servicemen wounded or injured in theaters of war. One ward was dedicated exclusively to patients suffering from severe chest wounds. In all, surgeons at Farragut performed more than 10,800 separate operative procedures from opening until a month after VJ Day.
The historical review’s author was moved to comment “[s]tartling clinical pictures appeared in view of previous experience in traumatic surgery. One view gained was that of the magnificent task performed in the forward areas on the array of patients, who, judging by previous standards of treatment, should never have survived.”(2) He mentioned in particular patents suffering extensive boney damage who arrived in Farragut with minimal infection.
The medical service of the hospital demonstrated a similar shift from acute infections (pneumonias, streptococcal infections, measles and mumps) among recruits until mid 1944, when the patient population gradually changed to consist mostly of chronic cardiac, lung, neurological and other diseases. The hospital commander remarked that the death rate from pneumonia was markedly less that expected, especially after the introduction of sulfa and penicillin therapy.
Hospital authorities established a Hospital Corps School at Farragut. Initially commanded by the hospital commander, Captain Harry S Harding, Medical Corps, USN, it stood up on 4 January 1943. More than more than 17,000 Corpsmen passed through its portals before its 31 October 1945 decommissioning.
Both the Naval Training Station and the Hospital were decommissioned on 15 June 1946. In October, the Farragut College and Technical Institute opened its doors and utilized most of the Training Station’s buildings. This educational enterprise mainly served veterans learning new civilian skills. By 1949, these educational needs had been met, and the facility closed in May, leaving the structures once more empty. Today, Farragut State Park occupies most of the Training Station property and only a handful of the original 667 buildings still stand. Among these is the Training Station brig, which serves as a small museum.
(1) Alvarez, Gayle E, and Dennis Woolford, “Farragut Naval Training Station”, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
(2) “U S Naval Hospital, Farragut, Idaho-Historical Review”, typewritten,?1945. These notes are in the Historical Library, Office of the Historian, U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington, DC. This review bears no date of publication, but by taking clues from the text, I believe it was written in the last quarter of calendar 1945 or in the first half of 1946. While the document lists no author, the tone of some of the commentary leads me to attribute its authorship, or at least direct authority for authorship, to the hospital’s final Commanding Officer, Captain A C Smith, Medical Corps, U. S. Navy.
©2011 Thomas L Snyder