Monthly Archives: November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Your blogger is in the DC area where he and Gina will celebrate, with thanks, the presence of his two sons and their families, both in the US together for the first time in more than eight years.

This year we all, I think, have much to be thankful for. What the future holds – with economic uncertainty, governmental gridlock and, in the US, automatic “sequestration” of Defense Department funding – is less than promising. Some claim that the US Navy may be reduced to its smallest fleet since 1915. What impact will the funding reductions have on the Navy Medical Department? Will the cuts require force reductions that leave a medical establishment too small to properly serve our sailors and Marines? Democracies seem to go through cycles like this – not to our great benefit.

On another note, may I recommend for your more serious holiday reading a simply superb history: Sir Max Hastings’s “Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945“. I find his descriptions, based on experiences of those who were there – of incredible courage and individual “small” heroism shown at every level of that most mammoth and horrible of human efforts – to be humbling in the extreme. Hasting also is unsparing in his criticism of craven colonial callousness or of incompetent military leadership.

As I say, not “joyful” reading, but important.

(c)2011 Thomas L Snyder

Naval Hospital Corona; Y’ Gotta Love Archivists

Kevin Bash is a mover and shaker behind efforts to restore the Lake Norconian Club, a 1920s-era southern California resort. Popular with movie stars in its hayday, the resort fell on hard times during the Great Depression. With war looming, and eager to find resort facilities for rehabilitation of injured sailors and Marines, Navy Surgeon General Ross McIntire jumped at the opportunity to secure the place for Navy use. The contract was signed the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now, Kevin and his Foundation sponsor an annual Pearl Harbor observation at the old resort, and this year, Kevin asked your blogger to speak at the event. The topic: the Navy’s hospitals in World War II.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that when I agreed to take this project on – just 2 weeks ago – I didn’t realize that the U S Navy had nearly 100 active hospitals at the height of the war! So, how to research 100 hospitals in a couple of weeks! Using as my source the 1953 Navmed P-5031 (Volume 1) – The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II – I went to the internet. And this is where the “I Love Archivists” comes in:

One “class” of hospitals that the Navy stood up was that of “Convalescent”, or later, “Special” Hospital. These were typically located – like the Norconian (though this was never designated “Convalescent) – in resorts and spas, or places that had facilities for physical training and rehabilitation. Enter U S Naval Special Hospital, Springfield Mass. To my pleasant surprise, this hospital was located in the facilities of Springfield College. An inquiry to Springfield College librarian Rachael Naismith led to College Archivist Jeff Monseau. In short order, Jeff found several documents including this headline from the College Bulletin:   Special Hospital Springfield MA Closes

In another file that Jeff sent, a comparison of images from a 1945 hospital brochure and a virtual campus map accessed online today, shows that the building designated then as “main hospital ward building ” stands on today’s campus as “Alumni Hall”.  Alumni Hall, formerly Main Hospital Ward Building

History lives; yet I suspect that almost no one realizes that the dormitory of today once provided shelter for the rehabilitation of some of our nation’s war wounded.

I Love Archivists – for helping to make possible this kind of connection between past and present.

News of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The NYT article below was sent by Mike Rhode, archivist at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Historical Office. A link to the article in the Times follows the article.

As Mike pointed out, the last few paragraphs are of particular interest to us in the history of maritime medicine community. It hints of a sad commentary.

At Long Last, a Glimpse of a Shipbuilding Past
The site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has hosted Lenape Indians and
Riveting Rosies, Hollywood royalty and lecherous seafarers, Brooklynites
and Breuckelenites.

On Thursday, in the long shadow of a rusted, deserted machine shop on
the Navy Yard's 300-acre grounds, a four-story center, dedicated to the
site's forebears and present occupants, will celebrate its opening with
an event for invited guests. It will open to the public the next day -
Veterans Day.

The museum, called the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at Building 92 and
built with more than $25 million in public money, has been billed as a
bridge between the once heavily fortified naval hub and the surrounding
neighborhoods that have seen generations pass without a glimpse behind
the gates.

"People have been here their whole lives and never been inside the navy
yards," said Andrew H. Kimball, the president and chief executive of the
Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. "It's just a cool story."

From 1801 to 1966, the yard functioned as one of the Navy's flagship
shipbuilding facilities. The new center's layout highlights this
history, as well as the vessels the yard produced.

An anchor from the amphibious assault ship Austin, launched from
Brooklyn in 1964, sits on the ground floor, with its chain extending to
the ceiling and its weight chiseled into its steel: 22,500 pounds.
Benches from the battleship North Carolina line the second level near a
detailed model of the battleship Maine, whose explosion in Havana Harbor
in 1898 hastened a war with Spain. And in the World War II section,
visitors can inspect a mangled pipe from the battleship Arizona, a ship
dedicated on March 16, 1914, by the assistant secretary of the Navy,
Franklin D. Roosevelt. The piece was recovered from Pearl Harbor, where
the ship was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941. Most of the wreckage still lies at
the bottom of the Hawaiian waters.

Many of the center's tokens, though, have little to do with building
ships. At the front of the timeline, a copy of a 1637 deed of sale for
the land, from the Lenape Indians to the Dutch, adorns the wall.
Upstairs, World War II-era warnings about sexually transmitted diseases
are emblazoned on gurneys. A few feet away in the gallery, a stone
liquor jug with a broken handle, the detritus of a 19th-century evening
in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, stands inside a clear case.

"It was the Barbary Coast of New York," Daniella Romano, the curator of
the center, said of the streets outside the yard. "Brothels, gambling
houses and brawling."

More modern touches include video interviews with laborers from the
yard, like the women who worked industrial jobs during World War II in
the tradition of Rosie the Riveter, speaking of their attempts to lobby
bosses for the same $1.14 hourly wage that men received. "Eventually,"
one woman said, as images of the factory cycled across the screen, "we
got the $1.14."

One gallery is dedicated to the present occupants of the yard - artists
and electronics distributors, a medical laboratory and a sugar
manufacturer. A computer-guided military parachute, designed by a yard
tenant, is among the items on display.

Then there is the intersection of past and present: an animatronic
pigeon, taken from the movie set of "The Producers" - which was shot at
Steiner Studios, inside the yard - and displayed beside an information
box on homing pigeons, which were used around the turn of the 20th
century as a means of communication between ships.

Robert Hammond, 85, also embodies that intersection. During World War
II, as one of the first black nurses at the site's naval hospital, Mr.
Hammond was initially banished to work in a kitchen because a supervisor
did not want to integrate the nursing corps. Some officers, he said,
were concerned that he might menace the white female members of the
nursing staff.

With the center's opening, Mr. Hammond said he finally had a reason to
return to the place he left behind in 1945, after one year of service.

"I have never been back to that yard," Mr. Hammond said as he prepared
to travel from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "But I've got the
adrenaline going in my old bones."

©2011 Thomas L Snyder

Sabbatical in Washington DC; Naval Hospital Corona

Your correspondent was on the road last week–in DC–to cheer his younger son Jason in his eighth Marine Corps Marathon, and to enjoy Hallowe’en with our four year old grand daughter recently come to DC when our older son and his family returned from 6 years in Brussels. Both sons / families in the US at the same time! We don’t expect this to happen again for several years, as they are both married to Foreign Service officers who rotate out to U S Embassies on a roughly two year schedule.


I’ve been invited to speak at a Pearl Harbor event–7 December–at the former Naval Hospital in Norco, California.

Naval Hospital, Corona, California, undated (U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Historical Office Collection)

The Norconian, a resort popular with movie stars in the 1920s, had fallen on hard times as the Great Depression dragged on. Navy Surgeon General Ross McIntire, eager to find additional beds for casualties from the expected war in the Pacific, hit upon the idea of leasing or purchasing hotels for this use. The Norconian was the first of these to be purchased–on 9 December 1941– and converted, quickly, to hospital use. Originally designated as U S Naval Hospital Norco and renamed U S Naval Hospital Corona, the facility received its first staff of Naval Reserve physicians from the Mayo Clinic by the time the first patients arrived in April 1942. By the time the second contingent of Mayo doctors arrived in June, just 18 patients occupied the huge and luxurious hotel. When this Mayo group began to break up in March 1944, the patient census stood at around 2,000. [1]

Originally designated a convalescent hospital, taking advantage of the Norconian‘s spa facilities, NH Corona received the bulk of its early patients from Naval Hospitals at San Diego, later, Long Beach. [Coventry, cited above]. Later, the hospital received more direct admissions, especially after it was designated the Navy’s western poliomyelitis treatment center in February 1944, and as rheumatic fever research and treatment center in April 1944. In March 1945, the hospital’s specialty portfolio expanded to include designation as a tuberculosis treatment center, and in October, a regional center for the management of patients with abnormalities of bladder function as a result of spinal injuries. [2] On VJ Day, the hospital patient census stood at more than 3600. [3]

At war’s end, the Navy, responding to patients’ desires to be moved near their homes, quickly demobilized patients. Despite its designation as a TB and polio treatment facility, the hospital’s census was down to around 500 by 1947. By January 1949, only 150 patients remained, and the facility closed its doors to patients on 1 November.

The Korean Conflict brought about a brief reprieve as the hospital reopened to care for casualties near the end of 1951. [4] Budget cuts and reductions in force led to the final closure of NH Corona in October 1957. [5]


[1] “Mayo Naval Medical Units in World War Two – Reminiscences of Mark B Coventry, M.D., May 1970” by permission of Mayo Historical Unit, Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minnesota

[2] “Historical Supplement to Fourth Quarterly Sanitary Report – Cumulative Report for Period of World War II, U S Naval Hospital Corona, California”  [undated, but after October 1945], U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery History Office Library, file “N H Corona”.

[3] “The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictorial Volume” ; Navmed P-5031, Volume I. Washington, DC, GPO, 1953, p 1.

[4] Bash, Kevin, and Brigitte Jouxel, Images of America – The Navy in Norco”, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

[5] “Corona, M. I. Hospitals Told to Stop Accepting Patients”, Vallejo Times-Herald, Friday August 16, 1957.

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder