Monthly Archives: June 2012

In Naval History, People Arrive and People Depart

Last week, I was in Washington DC for a family visit. While there, I was witness to a significant “coming” and a significant “going” in Naval history.

Captain Henry J Hendrix II, USN

At the weekend, I attended the Naval Historical Foundation annual meeting. Introduced there was the new  (“interim”, or so he’s characterized on his LinkedIn page) Director  (as described on its website) of Naval History at the Naval History and Heritage Command,  Captain Henry J Hendrix II, USN. Captain Hendrix actually was appointed to his post in May. He told me he had a two-week in-brief by his predecessor, RADM Jay DeLoach before stepping in to the leadership role at the Navy’s flagship historical establishment. Captain Hendrix has Masters Degrees in National Security Affairs – Middle East (Naval Postgraduate School) and History (Harvard), and a PhD in War Studies (University of London). He’s an adjunct Assistant Professor at Georgetown, where he teaches a course in strategy, policy, technology and security in government. He’s written for the Naval Institute for more than 10 years, and recently, Captain Hendrix served on a board offering strategic advice to the Secretary of the Navy. All this seems good preparation to lead the organization that’s responsible for accessing, restoring and preserving an immense amount of documents, artifacts and (now) electronic records of historical importance to our Navy and Marine Corps.

Jan Herman

Also while in the DC, I attended a celebration for Jan Herman, who has retired after 33 years as Historian of the Navy Medical Department and editor-in-chief of its journal, Navy Medicine. Jan started his 42 years of federal service with a tour in the Air Force. He then joined the State Department as a public affairs writer and staff assistant.  After coming to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Jan curated the organization’s then-headquarters, the Old Naval Observatory located in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. During his tenure, Jan wrote several books including Battle Station Sick Bay: Navy Medicine in World War II; Frozen in Memory: U.S. Navy Medicine in the Korean WarNavy Medicine in Vietnam: From Dien Bien Phu to the Fall of Saigon; and The Lucky Few: The Story of USS Kirk. More recently, he has become a media magnate, having produced a six-part documentary Navy Medicine at War and The Lucky Few: the Story of the USS Kirk. Jan also oversaw the Navy Medical Department’s oral history project for more than 25 years. Despite his retirement from federal service, Jan insists that he will remain active in the history field. Right now he’s working on a novel about the Civil War and its aftermath.

On a personal note, this week I was installed as the first president of the newly chartered Rotary Club of Solano Sunset-Vallejo (California). I am humbled to have been elected to support our 30 mostly new Rotarians as they join 1.2 million other Rotarians throughout the world working to eliminate polio from the world through Rotary International’s “Polio Plus” program. In the 20+ years since Polio Plus was launched, the dread disease has been eliminated from every country in the world except Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rotarians throughout the world also work to support local charities, international scholarships (where Rotary is larger by far than , for instance, the Fullbright program) and a huge variety of other projects both local and international.


©2012 Thomas L Snyder

Medical Medal of Honor Awardees – Battle of Belleau Wood

This week we observe the Battle of Belleau Wood (6 June to 6 July 1918).  The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 5th Regiment, U S Marine Corps fought in this iconic World War I battle as part of the American Second Division. Their initial mission was to block a German advance toward the French capital along the Metz-Paris road. Once the German advance had been stopped, the Marines were directed to displace a determined German force from Bois de Belleau on the German salient. Fighting was extremely vigorous, with American forces crossing land covered by murderous German machine gun fire. The Wood changed hands 6 times in a month of brutal action. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels described the fighting thus:

The marines fought strictly according to American methods – a rush, a halt, a rush again, in four-wave formation, the rear waves taking over the work of those who had fallen before them, passing over the bodies of their dead comrades and plunging ahead, until they, too, should be torn to bits.  But behind those waves were more waves, and the attack went on.

“Men fell like flies,” the expression is that of an officer writing from the field.  Companies that had entered the battle 250 strong dwindled to 50 and 60, with a Sergeant in command; but the attack did not falter.  At 9.45 o’clock that night Bouresches was taken by Lieutenant James F. Robertson and twenty-odd men of his platoon; these soon were joined by two reinforcing platoons.”(1)

Two Naval medical department officers serving with Marines were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor during that month of intense action.

The first (6 June 1918) was LT(jg) Weedon E Osborne, Dental Corps, USN. His Medal of Honor Citation reads:

LT(jg) Weedon E Osborne, DC, USN

“For extraordinary heroism while attached to the Fifth Regiment, United States Marines, in actual conflict with the enemy and under fire during the advance on Bouresche, France, on 6 June 1918. In the hottest of the fighting when the Marines made their famous advance on Bouresche at the southern edge of Belleau Wood, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Osborne threw himself zealously into the work of rescuing the wounded. Extremely courageous in the performance of this perilous task, he was killed while carrying a wounded officer to a place of safety.”(2)

Medical Corps officer LT Orlando H Petty, US Naval Reserve Force, received the award for valorous service when his battle aid station was gassed on 11 June 1918. His citation says:

LT Orlando H Petty, MC, USNRF

“For extraordinary heroism while serving with the Fifth Regiment, United States Marines, in France during the attack in Bois de Belleau, 11 June 1918. While under heavy fire of high explosive and gas shells in the town of Lucy, where his dressing station was located, Lieutenant Petty attended to and evacuated the wounded under the most trying conditions. Having been knocked to the ground by an exploding gas shell which tore his mask, Lieutenant Petty discarded the mask and courageously continued his work. His dressing station being hit and demolished, he personally helped carry Captain Williams, wounded, through the shellfire to a place of safety.”(3)

Petty survived the war, but died young, in 1932.

Four other Navy medical department personnel received Medals of Honor for valor during World War I: Alexander G Lyle, LCDR, DC, USN; Joel T Boone, LT, MC, USN; David E Hayden, Hospital Apprentice 1st Class, USN; John H Balch, Pharmacist Mate First Class, USN.(4)


(1)  “ – a multimedia history of world war one”, Primary Documents – Josephus Daniels on the Battle of Belleau Wood, June 1918,, accessed 21 June 2012.
(2) Naval Historical Center [{U S} Naval History and Heritage Command], Online Library of Selected Images – People – United States: Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Weedon E. Osborne, USN (Dental Corps), 1892-1918,, accessed 21 June 2012. Both the citation and the image can be found on this site.
(3) [U S] Naval Historical and Heritage Command, Lieutenant Orlando H. Petty, Medical Corps, USNRF (1874-1932),, accessed 21 June 2012. Both the citation and the image are found on this page.
(4) [U S] Naval Historical and Heritage Command, Navy Medal of Honor, World War I, 1918 [sic],, accessed 21 June 2012. This list records Navy and Marine Corps Medal of Honor awardees for both 1917 and 1918

©Thomas L Snyder

Medical Care at the Battle of Midway, Part II: Combat Casualty Care Aboard a Sinking Ship; Rescue Ships and Medical Care

Last week, I commented that some lessons of previous wars have to be learned anew; the case I cited was that of flash burn prevention, relearned only after the Battle of Coral Sea. This week, we read how the chaos of ships under attack complicates the delivery of casualty care. We also learn a lesson or two about medical preparedness.

I mentioned last week that I depended on on-line sources for these postings; in particular, the Battle Reports of the Commanding Officer of USS Yorktown(1), sunk at Midway, and Commander Destroyer Squadron SIX (TF 17.4)(2). These reports, written just days after the events they portray, are as raw as they are economical in words.

The medical paragraph in the Yorktown report is especially informative:  the initial bombing attack on Yorktown resulted in the near-destruction of battle dressing station 5 in the wardroom annex. Personnel there “were badly shaken but were not otherwise injured… These personnel proceeded to the flight deck and hangar deck to assist wounded there.” In the following torpedo attack, battle dressing station number 4 was flooded and destroyed. I could find no comment about medical personnel injuries or deaths.

Shrapnel caused the vast majority of injuries among the 55 men who went on to require hospitalization. Many patients experienced severe penetrating shrapnel wounds; these cases required blood transfusions and plasma administrations, most if not all administered in the battle dressing stations. 60 men received minor wounds or rope burns from sliding down ropes into the water.

Yorktown survived the initial attacks. Severely wounded men were prepared for surgery, and the operating room activated. Within minutes, however, torpedoes hit the ship. All lights and communications went down, and the ship immediately developed a heavy list. When the Captain issued “abandon ship” orders, medical personnel immediately commenced evacuating the casualties. This process was made almost impossible because ladders leading from sick bay were damaged so that stretchers could not be used to lift patients out of the hold. Slippery decks and the ship’s list made it impossible to carry stretchers, so men were reduced to sliding them across the deck, or bodily man-handling casualties. Rescues below the main decks had to be carried out in pitch-black darkness, perhaps with the aid of flashlights only.

Lifeboats on the high side of the ship could not be launched, so wounded men were lowered over the side in straps from other ships, or onto life rafts, or into the water, and picked up later.

Destroyers Balch, Benham, Russell, Anderson, Morris, Hughes, Hammann (she sank quickly when two torpedos struck her as she lay along side Yorktown providing engineering support to salvage efforts) and Bidell provided rescue operations, and it fell to the medical departments aboard these small ships to care for about 2270 survivors. Claude M Lee, Jr, LT (jg), MC, USNR and his assistants aboard USS Balch cared for 544 survivors. “His all night occupation with the operative and surgical care of injured men, his forethought in providing adequate and special medical supplies and in training of personnel to handle this particular emergency” came in for special commendation from ComTaskFor17.4.

Few medical “lessons learned” find their way into these after action reports. The Destroyer Task Force commander did point out that “[t]horough instruction and stationing of officers and men for rescue work is essential”. It makes sense: once the fighting is done, or when a ship can no longer be fought, the combat work of officers and men is done. The emphasis now shifts to rescuing survivors, and this should be almost an “all hands” operation, with all hands trained to properly carry it out.

Another lesson is not stated in these reports, but I think this has significance in today’s naval activities. Big naval units (translate this “aircraft carriers” in the U S Navy) are the big targets, too. They are also well supplied with sophisticated medical and surgical personnel and equipment. But if one of these big targets is successfully attacked, use of these medical assets may be compromised or lost, and casualty care then falls to smaller rescue ships – destroyers- whose medical “kit” often consists of a senior hospital corpsman and one or two junior assistants. These ships need to have their medical staffs – and their medical equipment and supplies – beefed up significantly when combat is anticipated. I believe that the US propensity to depend upon helicopter evacuation of casualties can’t be depended upon in the chaos of naval battle because the airspace may be dangerous from enemy action, or too full and too confined around an aircraft carrier for orderly and rapid evacuation of something like 2500 or 3000 casualties.

We should learn and apply these lessons now, lest they have to be re-learned in future naval battles.

(1) Buckmaster, E. (Commanding Officer, USS Yorktown): Report of Action for June 4, 1942 and June 6, 1942, 18 June 1942,, accessed 7, 8, 15 June 2012.
(2) Sauer, E. P. (ComTaskFor17.4), Japanese Torpedo Plane Attack on U.S.S. Yorktown During Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942 — Report of, June 12, 1942,, accessed 7, 8, 15 June 2012.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

Medical Care at the Battle of Midway – Part I: Flash Burns

Calling California “home” has definite advantages, some of which become increasingly apparent as we move into summer (plenty warm, but low humidity…). On the other hand, one of the big disadvantages of left coast living is the physical impossibility of dropping in to the Archives for an afternoon of ad hoc research on a hot topic. One is left, then, with on-line sourcing, and this is particularly fraught in an area of interest so specialized as the history of maritime medicine.

Last week we observed the 70th anniversary of the stunning American naval victory over a larger Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. It occurred to me that it might be informative to look back at combat casualty care aboard ship in that battle early in the Pacific campaign. I hoped against hope that I might find a Medical Annex to Nimitz’s Battle of Midway Action Report on-line. In that, I was disappointed; but a report from the Commanding Officer of  USS Yorktown, containing a medical paragraph, is available, thanks to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Yorktown at Midway: Midway Photo Collection, U S National Archives found at

Flash Burns
Flash burn: a lesion caused by exposure to an extremely intense source of radiant energy or heat. Flash burn commonly occurs on the corneas of arc welders.
Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.

A truism that bears perpetual repetition is that we often must re-learn the lessons of previous wars early in a new one. One of the lessons re-learned early in World War II was the importance of wearing garments to protect against flash burns resulting from exposure to exploding ordnance. We discover that in the early part of the war in the Pacific, flash burn was common. For victims of bombing during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the “lack of clothing was responsible for … a large number of flash burns” according to a sanitary report from USS Helena (CL-50) (1). Albert E Cowdery, in his book about military medicine in World War II, comments that at the Battle of Coral Sea 5 months later, “[a]s usual in the early days of the war, two-thirds of the patients were burned more or less severely, for men had not yet learned the value of going into combat fully clothed against the flash of exploding ordnance.”(2)

By Midway a month later in June, however, the lesson had apparently sunk in. The Commanding Officer of USS Yorktown (CV-5) makes specific note that medical personnel prepared for the upcoming Japanese air attack by lying down, pulling the hoods of their flash proof clothing over their heads and covering their faces with their arms. Further, only one patient with serious burns was among the 55 rescued from Yorktown who required hospitalization; this suggests that the rest of the crew had taken similar care to wear flash proof clothing.(3)

I find it interesting that the Manuals of Standard Practice promulgated for use by military physicians (and endorsed by the Surgeons General of both the Army and Navy) by the National Research Council in 1942(4) made no mention whatever of flash burn, nor did Trueta’s contemporaneous “Principles and Practice of War Surgery”.(5) The Navy’s medical history of World War II makes no mention whatever of casualties at Midway, say nothing about flash burn prevention.(6) Even the most modern combat surgery textbook, “War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq – A Series of Cases, 2003-2007″(7) fails to mention this potential source of mass casualties in a combat situation. How can we learn from the past if the topic isn’t even mentioned in contemporaneous manuals?

Next Week: On the challenges of casualty care aboard ships in combat.

(1) “Pearl Harbor Navy Medical Activities”, page on website of Naval History and Heritage Command, accessed 7 June 2012,
(2) Cowdrey, Albert E., “Fighting for Life – American Military Medicine in World War II”, (New York, The Free Press [Macmillan], 1994) (electronic version) p 72 of 497.
(3) Battle of Midway: 4-7 June 1942, Online Action Reports: Commanding Officer, USS Yorktown, of 18 June 1942, from Naval History and Heritage Command (Naval Historical Center) Selected Naval Documents,, accessed 7 June 2012.
(4) National Research Council “Military Surgical Manuals”, Philadelphia, W. B. Saunders Company, 1942. I consulted reprints, issued in 1943, of Manual I “Manual of Standard Practice of Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery”, Manual II,”Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology” and Manual V, “Burns, Shock, Wound healing, and Vascular Injuries”.
(5) Trueta, M.D. K., “The Principles and Practice of War Surgery With Reference to the Biological Method of the Treatment of War Wounds and Fractures”, St. Louis, The C. V. Mosby Company, 1943.
(6) “The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictorial Volume Navmed P-5031 Volume 1”, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1953, p. 66.
(7) Nessen, DO, Shawn Christian, Dave Edmond Lounsbury, MD, and Stephen P Hetz, MD, Editors, “War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq – A Series of Cases, 2003-2007”, Washington, Office of the Surgeon General, United States Army, and Borden Institute, 2008.
©2012 Thomas L Snyder

U S Naval Convalescent Hospital, Harriman, New York 1942 – 1945

“Arden”, the 100,000 square foot mansion built by railroad magnate E H Harriman, was recently in the news, when a Beijing-based non-profit, the Research Center for Natural Conservation, purchased the mansion and surrounding land from the Open Space Institute.(1)

"Arden", the E H / W Averell Harriman Estate

Source: James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York

Harriman, a renowned late nineteenth century railroad magnate, started purchasing land in the Ramapo Mountains of eastern Orange (NY) County in 1885. The estate property had grown to around 20,000 acres by the beginning of the 20th century. The noted New York Beaux-Arts architectural firm Carrère and Hastings designed the mansion(2), constructed entirely of American-made and American-sourced materials. They completed their work in the summer of 1909.(3) Harriman died in September of the same year.

Harriman’s son, statesman and diplomat W. Averell Harriman, offered Arden to the Navy for use by the medical department on 6 August 1942. The Navy commissioned the hospital on 16 November and opened it for patients 10 February 1943, with Admiral Charles M Oman, Medical Corps, U S Navy, Retired,  in command.(4) Oman remained the only Admiral to command any of the navy’s 99 commissioned hospitals during World War II. Designated “solely for male officer patients … many [of whom] have been wounded in the various theatres of war… [or] need a convalescent period following fractures and post-operative treatment”, the hospital featured a laboratory, pharmacy, operating room and physical therapy. Its 29 bedrooms provided accommodation for 80 officers.(5)

The 1944 article in the Hospital Corps Quarterly, cited (5) above, describes being hospitalized here: “A patient who has made his way from the steaming jungles of Guadalcanal, from the frigid shores of Iceland, or the burning sands of Africa, who views for the first time the gray towers as he rides through the last [pass in the Ramapo Mountains, naturally begins to wonder what new form of hospital this is.” “Lacking is the usual rushing about of white-clad hospital staff and breath-taking speed of medical men to classify and assign the new patient. The hospital hall with its inviting fire-place, loaded book-cases and beautiful paintings on the walnut-paneled walls makes one think he has wandered into a private palatial home for a week-end party.” Later, “A soft chime rings through the hall summoning the household to the dining room, which is reached by white marble stairs thickly carpeted with plum-colored carpets. The guest arrives at the scene of his first ‘treatment’ – a delicious meal in a tranquil atmosphere of flickering candle light and gay flower clusters on inviting snow-white tables…” “After dinner, the gold room, game room and book-lined lobby attract the patients who choose the entertainments appealing to their fancy. A television receiver (6) draws its quota of devotees. The pool tables, bowling alley, ping pong and library attract others. Motion pictures are shown twice a week.” The article closes, “Nature, the elements and man, have all united to create this quiet haven for convalescent patients; many have returned to active duty with restored health and pleasant recollections of the new war-type hospital”.

The Navy disestablished the hospital 1 November 1945, and in 1950, Harriman donated Arden to Columbia University, during the university presidency of General Dwight D Eisenhower. Columbia operated it as a Conference Center for its business school until July 2005. (7)  In  April 2007, the Open Space Institute, a land conservancy group, purchased the mansion and 450 acres of surrounding land for nearly $4.5 million. The property, entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 by Columbia (see citation 3), remained in OSI hands, unused, at an annual cost of about $3-400,000. OSI’s original intent was to sell the property to New York State, but the plan was overtaken by the economic events. Finally, the Beijing-based charity, Research Center for Natural Conservation – associated with SouFun Holdings, a large Chinese real estate firm, purchased the property for $6.5 million late in 2011. While the charity has not publicly declared its plans for Arden, people associated with the deal opined that the Research Center will continue its use as a conference center.(8)

(1) Daniel Edwar Rosen, “Guilded Age Mansion Changes Hands in Upstate New York for $6.5 million”, The New York Observer, 11/02/11. Accessed on line at, 1 June 2012.
(2)  Carrère and Hastings was a famous Beaux-Arts firm that designed many important buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prominent among the architects’ heritage are the New York Public Library, both the Russell Senate and Cannon House Office Buildings in Washington DC and Nemours, the Alfred I DuPont mansion in Wilmington DE. Source: Wikipedia (of course),, accessed 1 June 2012.
(3) United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Placws Inventory-Nomination Form, “Arden (E. H. harriman Estate)”, prepared by Richard Greenwood, Historian, Landmark Review Taskforce, 12/17/1975. Accessed on line,, 1 June 2012.
(4) Untitled, undated typewritten document in “Harriman” file located in the collection of the Historical Office of the U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, presently being moved to 1700 Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA..
(5) Doty, Francis, Lt(jg), USN and J. L. Heckendorn, PhM2c, USNR, “Naval Convalescent Hospital Harriman, New York”, Hospital Corps Quarterly, Volume 17, Number 5, September 1944. This is in file “Harriman” in the collection of the Historical Office, U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
(6) Television in 1944! According to several on line sources, New York City had three operating commercial TV stations during World War II. While news broadcasts were curtailed through much of the war, sports programming -namely baseball – continued.
(7) Castro, Brian, “Fate of Arden center after closing up in air”, Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), June 16, 2005. Copy of article provided by James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York.
(8) Nani, James, “Harriman mansion sold to nonprofit; Historic home may become conference site”, Times Herald-Record, 11/08/11 on line ( – harriman mansion sold to nonprofit). Hard copy of article provided by James A Nelson, Town Historian, Town of Monroe, New York.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder