Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Years Best Wishes

Your blogger-in-chief once again urges our readers to make 2012 a Year of Public History: pull together your thoughts, your material and your PowerPoint slides; then go out and promote your talk(s) on the historic topic(s) of your choice to your local community. If you’ve not done this before, you’ll be amazed and gratified to learn how much interest there is “out there” for historical material – especially if it’s “local”, or has a “local” connection. People are continually interested in their place in history – in this case, literally. For 2012, the War of 1812, of course, offers a timely connection with the past. Local Civil War connections are relatively easy to develop, as well.

Year’s end is also the usual time for non-profits to make a pitch for your tax-deductible donations. The Society will be sending out its annual dues-donation notices early in January; but if you are in a particularly generous mood, we encourage you to remember us with an additional gift of money now. We’ve made it easy to do: just click the “Donate” button on the Society Membership and Donations Page. Thanks in advance!

The Society sends our sincere New Year best wishes.

Holiday Greetings

Happy Holidays!

Warm best wishes for the holidays from the Society for the History of Navy Medicine.

We hope you are able to take a short pause from your busy labors over the next week. It’s time to enjoy visits from friends and family, to partake of a bit of the wassail, and, perchance, to share a child’s excitement at the prospect of Santa’s visit.

This might also be the week when we can reflect on our accomplishments of the year nearly past, and on those near-misses, too. We can start to plan the mid-course corrections that will, we hope, bring even more accomplishment and contentment in the year to come.

I invite you to consider adding a “public historian” element to your endeavors in 2012. Put together that PowerPoint you’ve been thinking about (I find that just organizing the slides forces me to look at my sources in an active sort of way), then take your historical knowledge out into your community. There is no end of groups who are very interested in what you have to say: Rotary, Soroptimists and other service groups; church groups; local historical societies; junior college history or student activities organizations; veterans groups; public libraries; the list goes on. I guarantee you: once word gets out that you have “something to say”, the invitations will flow in. And it’s fun. You will be amazed at the stories people will bring to you, information quite relevant to your topic at hand.

Finally, if you have a few bucks in your pocket as the year comes to an end, please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Foundation for the History of Navy Medicine. The Foundation sponsors the Society’s Student Travel Grants Program to promote interest in research, study and publication in our narrow little corner of the world of history.

©2011 Thomas L Snyder

Society to Mount Luncheon Panel at AAHM Annual Meeting in Baltimore; Society Blogsite

Since the year following its 2006 founding, the Society for the History of Navy Medicine has sponsored a panel of scholars at national meetings. For our first three years, we mounted panels at annual meetings of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM – of which the Society is a constituent Society). Three years ago, we decided to diversify our outreach to include not only historians of medicine, but also the “creators” of naval medical history (as represented by the naval medical professionals who are members of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United State – AMSUS, in 2010), and the military historians (as represented by the Society of Military History or, as in 2011, the U S Naval Academy History Symposium).

For 2012, we return to our “roots” at AAHM. Because of the unique nature of our papers – personal stories of Navy medicine and surgery in Vietnam – Jole Shackleford, AAHM Program Chair, has offered us the unique venue of a luncheon panel. Our panel will be located at a Baltimore restaurant convenient to the conference site. This format allows us more flexibility than in the more formally academic panels of the regular meeting. So, we can enjoy a free ranging discussion between panelists and attendees without strict time constraints. Two of our three panelists – Bob Bramson and Jim Finnegan – are physicians who served in Vietnam, or who developed their experience in treating Vietnam veterans. Our third panelist – Jan Herman – is well known as the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery’s lead historian; Jan will speak about experiences and stories coming out of his Vietnam Oral History Project.

The AAHM conference will be at the Marriott Baltimore Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, 26 – 29 April 2012. The date and venue of our luncheon panel is TBA. Details on the annual Society meeting, traditionally held over dinner at a congenial dining site in conjunction with our panel,  will be announced later.


We have officially launched our new Blogsite. This replaces our old web site, which was becoming something of a burden to maintain and update. I think you’ll find the new site more attractive visually. It has the same features – and more- than the old site. For now, our email address will remain the same.

©2011 Thomas L Snyder

Pearl Harbor Day – An Observation at Norco, California

Today I had the singular honor to speak at a Pearl Harbor Day observation on the site of a World War II Navy Hospital in the Norconian resort in Norco, Riverside County, California. Organized by Kevin Bash, who has been arranging these observations for five years, it was an extraordinary event: a color guard of veterans from a nearby VA cemetery – all over 50 years old; a chorus from the local community college; a small Navy brass ensemble; a Marine Corps JROTC drill team; speakers telling the history of the site. The crowd was marked by three Pearl Harbor survivors, a widow of one and a daughter of another. Veterans from every foreign conflict since World War II were in attendance, as well as a good sized crowd of family and supporters. Below are the comments I made.

The Lake Norconian Resort - WW II U S Navy Hospital Corona

Naval Hospitals in Norco and the World 
I am humbled to be with you in this striking setting on this day of memory. Occasions like these give us time to pause – time to reflect on the valor manifested by so many who served, and were cared for, at the Naval Hospital that occupied the structures nearby us World War II. 
Planning for a large number of casualties from the war in the Pacific – one Naval medical authority mentioned an expectation of a million men wounded or killed in then anticipated invasion of the Japanese home islands – Navy Surgeon General Ross McIntire sought out “ready made” places for men to recover from the physical and emotional wounds of the war. For this purpose, he used an old idea: rent, lease or purchase hotels, especially hotels with spa facilities – ideal for the therapy of recovery. The Norconian was the first hotel thus secured, with the contract signed 2 days after the day of infamy we observe today. These elegant facilities were quickly converted to hospital use so that, by early 1943, with the arrival of a team of physicians from the Mayo Clinic, the hospital could receive casualties of war. In the autumn of 1943 hospital occupancy reached about 600 patients transferred from nearby Naval Hospitals. By 1944, that daily census averaged around 2000. 
Meanwhile, Navy medicine was ramping up all over the US and later, worldwide. Starting in 1939 with just 841 doctors, 255 dentists, 439 nurses and 4267 pharmacist mates, the Navy medical establishment grew to more than 14000 MDs, 7,000 dentists, nearly 11000 nurses and 132500 corpsmen at its peak on VJ day. Needless to say, the vast majority of health care professionals serving at the height of the war were reservists who were called up – or drafted – from every state in the Union. 
The first patients from Pearl Harbor – 197 sailors and Marines with serious burns or multiple broken bones – arrived at the Mare Island Naval Hospital in the San Francisco Bay on Christmas eve.  Mare Island introduced a unique burn treatment invented by a doctor called up from Salt Lake City. Using a “flit gun” invented in the ‘20s for bug spray, this doctor sprayed a mixture of soothing medicines and sulfa antibiotics on the mens’ burns; they noticed immediate, miraculous relief from the terrible pain that they’d experienced before. Doctors at the same hospital, using skilled Mare Island Naval Shipyard  machinists and the latest materials – plastics – developed revolutionary prosthetic limbs. 
The 21 Naval Hospitals existing at war’s beginning – one, at Cañacao in the Philippines was lost when the Japanese invaded, and its medical staff interned under very difficult conditions for the war’s duration – gradually were supplemented with 25 new permanent hospitals in places like Oakland, Long Beach, Santa Margarita Ranch and the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. 
Intentionally temporary hospitals sprung up to serve two new Naval Training Bases at Farragut Idaho, on scenic Lake Pondaray, and at Sampson New York, on the shore of the lovely Seneca Lake in rural upper New York State; a 2500 bed facility sprung from nowhere on a plain east of San Francisco in Shoemaker, now Dublin, California. Most of those hospitals disappeared soon after the war, but some, like the Naval Hospital Dublin, Ga, constructed in 1945, live today – in the case of Dublin, as a Veterans’ Administration Hospital. 
Convalescent hospitals were based in resort hotels like the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park. The sailors and Marines didn’t particularly like this magnificent location – it was too remote and there were no women about – and Naval authorities ultimately approved the consumption of near beer there, the only place in the entire Navy to officially permit alcohol. Other resort hotels that served hospital duty included places like the Sun Valley Resort, Idaho, the Arrowhead Springs Resort, and even multimillionaire statesman W Averill Harriman’s estate, the magnificent “Arden” on a peaceful rural New York state mountain top. The only Navy hospital commanded by a Rear Admiral, Arden served as a recuperation facility for Navy and Marine Corps officers only. The Navy even procured hospitals in Banning and Beaumont, CA. Built by General Patton when he was training his troops in desert warfare, these spartan facilities, while not particularly popular with their patients, served an invaluable rehabilitation role. 
Though they should not have been, Navy authorities were surprised by the rapid rise in the number of combat fatigue cases – we call it PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disease – patients who emerged from the fog of war. On the west coast, a hospital in the San Leandro hills overlooking San Francisco Bay sprung into existence just to care for these veterans. The Navy leased a 200 bed facility recently completed at the Napa State Hospital – and originally intended for TB patients – to care for patients suffering from severe combat-related mental disease as well. 
Overseas, the Navy procured permanent hospitals like the 19th century Royal Victoria Hospital in the UK, and former Japanese facilities on Pacific Islands like Kwajalein for Base Hospitals. Base Hospitals numbered 21 at war’s end. Where no suitable structures stood, the Navy put up 16 Mobile – later called Fleet – Hospitals in such exotic locations as Noumea on New Caladonia and on the island of Guam. 
Back at Norco, perhaps because of its Mayo Clinic staff, later supplemented by doctors from Stanford Medical School, the Naval Hospital, now called Naval Hospital, Corona, began a phase of specialization when in March 1944, Navy authorities designated it a rheumatic fever research center. The doctors at this center – specialists in heart and infectious diseases, using the latest treatment methods, including the then miraculous medicine penicillin, distinguished themselves and the Norco hospital with careful treatment of more than 10,000 patients. Norco’s physicians published many scientific articles in medical journals of the day. Thus knowledge of the advances developed right here behind us were spread throughout the world. 
As the incidence of rheumatic fever began to drop late in 1944, tuberculosis and polio were added to the Norco list of specializations. 
When the war ended, the patients at Norco, like all sailors and Marines, wanted to go home. Hospital census dropped quickly. And while the hospital grew again briefly during the Korean Conflict, its major work had been done. Decreasing patient census, and the Navy’s desire to concentrate on modern facilities, led to the hospital’s closure in October 1957. Today the place stands as a silent and somewhat melancholy monument to the good work that went on there. 
It was noble work. It was work that should remain in our memories for all time. We should see this as hallowed ground, where men and women struggled to heal the diseases and injuries of war. Our duty to their memory, today, is to live lives that are worthy of the work, the valor and the sacrifice they experienced then. 
Thank you very much.

©2011 Thomas L Snyder

Captain James Bloom, MC, USN, Ret –

For what likely was most of his career, Captain Jim Bloom has been regularly releasing one page digest vignettes of events in naval history to a growing body of readers. Occasionally these cover medical topics, but I’m highlighting Jim’s work here because he is a brother medical officer. Jim – just recently retired – tells me that he still has a comfortable inventory. I quote his announcement of the 20th year of this work, and below that, a recent post. I’m sure Jim would love to add you to his distribution list if you send him your email address.

Honored Naval History Readers,With the release of today’s naval history vignette on Surgeon Longshaw from the Civil War the “Today in Naval History” offerings begin their 20th year of publication.  It has been both a privilege and a joy to discover, research, write, and release these stories.  Each is intentionally limited to one page in length and is bibliographically referenced.  For the last 19 years they have been released six times monthly, a frequency that maintains interest without overwhelming readers.  If you get half the enjoyment out of reading them that I do preparing them, I have been successful.

Over these years many readers have transitioned between duty stations, and even into retirement.  Now would be a good time to remind all readers that you can continue to receive these stories as you move through or out of the Navy, as long as you keep CAPT Bloom updated with your current e-mail address—military or civilian.  My ability to track e-mail addresses is feeble at best.

I would also like to publically thank the many readers who reply to the stories with comments, anecdotes, and corrections!  I appreciate your comments and they are often written into future editions!

If you are PCS’ing to a new e-mail server, or ending your Naval service, or you know someone who has dropped off the mailing list due to an e-mail change, simply e-mail the new information to CAPT Bloom at and I will update the distribution list.


CAPT James Bloom, Ret

                           16 NOVEMBER 1863
                      ASSISTANT SURGEON LONGSHAW
Civil War Charleston’s harbor was particularly well defended by forts at its entrance.  On the north, Sullivan’s Island boasted six fortifications, including the masonry Fort Moultrie.  To the south, Morris and James Islands boasted six more, and squarely athwart the entrance stood the formidable Fort Sumter.  These met RADM John A. Dahlgren’s Union attack in July 1863 with firm resistance, rough-handling his “invincible” monitors.  Unable to penetrate these defenses Dahlgren besieged “Brave Charleston.”  The resulting stand-off lasted 567 days during which Union guns continuously worked over these protective batteries.
Four months into this siege, on the evening of November 15th, Fort Moultrie opened a bombardment of Union Army positions at Point Cummings on the opposite side of the channel.  Union BGEN Quincy A. Gillmore asked Dahlgren for assistance, and the monitors LEHIGH andNAHANT were sent toward Sullivan’s Island.  In the darkness however LEHIGH grounded within easy range of Moultrie’s guns.  Such relentless direct fire would slowly pound even her armored bulwarks to pieces.  Her skipper, CDR Andrew Bryson, worked his crew feverishly but by morning she was still fast.
The coming of the dawn brought a renewed barrage by the enemy.  A desperate Bryson requested volunteers for what would surely be a suicidal mission through intense enemy fire–that of rowing a hawser out to NAHANT in a longboat.  Without hesitation LEHIGH’smedical officer, Assistant Surgeon William Longshaw, Jr., stepped forward.  He and five volunteers, Landsmen Frank S. Gile and William Williams, gunner’s mate George W. Leland, coxswain Thomas Irving and seaman Horatio N. Young, piled into the longboat.  Towing a line married to the hawser they set off for NAHANT.  As expected Confederate guns sprang to this new target with fervor, and as the boat rowed onward a lucky enemy shot cut the leader line.  Back to LEHIGH the doctor rowed, where a new line was secured.  Again as Longshaw and his party braved a hail of shot and shell an accurate Confederate shot away this second leader.  Unbelievably Longshaw and his men returned for a third attempt.  Amid a storm of metal their efforts succeeded this time without a casualty.  NAHANT and the tide saved the stranded monitor from destruction or capture.
When Dahlgren learned of Longshaw’s bravery he ordered a commendation, “to be read on every quarterdeck of the fleet.”  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles further acknowledged in an official commendation, “the gallant conduct of Doctor Longshaw.”  Longshaw’s five assistants were awarded the Medal of Honor (officers were ineligible at that time); Leland and Irving also received meritorious promotions to Acting Master’s Mates.
Watch for more “Today in Naval History”  22 NOV 11
CAPT James Bloom, Ret
©2011 The Society for the History of Navy Medicine