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:
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”.
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.