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More on the Navy’s History and Heritage Command

My younger son is in town for a visit before he ships out to Maputo, Mozambique for a two year tour at our embassy there, so I won’t be writing this week.

However, you might find a podcast interview with the new Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, done by the redoubtable “CDR Salamander” to be of interest. The link delivers you to the CDR Salamander blog page; then just follow the prompts to the podcast under “Talking History”.

CDR Sala-mander’s Logo

Next week, I’ll start posting a short series on Sir William Osler’s thoughts on military medicine. Born and trained in Canada, Osler came to the US to teach at Penn late in the 19th century. He found fame as one of the “Founding Four” of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Beloved by many in the profession as the father of modern western medicine, Osler was a prodigious writer on medicine in  its scientific, philosophical and historical dimensions. I researched this topic for a paper I gave at the American Osler Society a couple of years ago. I’ll put up a distilled version of that paper.

Sir William Osler

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Easter – Spring Recess This Week. Upcoming: The Navy IG’s Report on the Naval History and Heritage Command

Gina and I are in DC to spend the Easter holiday with our sons and their families. I’ll return to active posting next week.

In January, I reported preliminary results of the Navy Inspector General’s inspection of the Naval History and Heritage Command. In that post, I repeated alarms raised by the newspaper Navy Times that conditions – both working and material – at the Command and its subsidiaries were less than ideal.

The IG’s report has now been released: 8 pages of Executive Summary, 64 pages of formal report with appendix. A brief perusal of the report suggests that a goodly part of it deals with arcane Naval administrative matters like the sexual harassment training program at the Command. For the rest,  I plan to digest the report in detail over the weekend and report the essence of material relating to historical and archival material under the Command’s purview next week.

In the nonce, best wishes of this holiday season.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

U S Naval Convalescent Hospitals Glenwood Springs, Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina Asbury Park, NJ

Following the precedent of earlier conflicts, the Navy Medical Department leased resort hotels during World War II. They were commissioned to operate for the benefit of sailors and Marines recovering from the physical and psychic wounds of war. Today I highlight two of them.

These are not definitive histories, but are notes taken from material in the “USNCH Glenwood Springs Colorado” and “USNCH Asheville, NC” files at the Historical Library of the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Both hospitals were commissioned in 1943

U S Naval Convalescent Hospital Glenwood Springs, Colo.

In  “Know Your Hospital” mimeographed newsletters from March and April 1944, LT (jg) William X Heelan, (HC)*, USN, described the facility thus: “[It] was formerly the Hotel Colorado and was built by a British syndicate of investors in 1893. It is a six-story edifice constructed of native matched red sandstone and pressed brick, with a slate roof, and contains 250 guest rooms.

Complements of Waymarking.com

 “[It] has several unique features which are extremely valuable for its function as a rehabilitation center. It has three natural hot water springs which have served as a spa to health seekers for over fifty years… The world’s largest warm mineral water swimming pool is in conjunction with the hospital. … The water is supplied by Yampah, the largest of the hot mineral water springs, flowing 3600 gallons per minute at a temperature of 127 degrees Fahrenheit.”

In describing the location, LT (jg) Heelan noted “In spite of its convenient location [by rail and automobile from Denver and Salt Lake City], Glenwood Springs is well isolated from the standpoint of military objectives. No military operations are conducted within a radius of well over 700 miles all line distance. It is off the route of all the flying lanes and the locality is well protected on all sides by the high and rugged Rocky Mountains of the Eastern Slope. Persons subjected to the shock of combat may here find relaxation and recuperation in the absence of nerve racking elements.”

It appears that the facilities once encompassed by the Hospital are now operated as two separate facilities, the Hotel Colorado and  Glenwood Hot Springs.

U S Naval Convalescent Hospital Asheville North Carolina

Medical Officer in Command W. A. Angwin wrote in his  November 1945 Historical Supplement to Fourth Quarterly Sanitary Report, Cumulative Report for the period of World War II: “At the time of the [lease], this property was under lease by the Asheville Holding Company to Appalachian Hall, Inc., operated by Doctors William Ray and Mark A. Griffin, as a mental and nervous sanitarium. The name ‘Appalachian Hall’ is proprietary to the Doctors Griffin.” He went on “The site is splendidly adapted for the particular purpose for which it is now used. … Being in a sparsely settled region, it is quiet and secluded, yet only two miles from the very center of the city [of Asheville]…

Historical Library, U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

“The local situation provided, and has continued to provide, physical surroundings for patients entirely different from the usual naval environment. This difference was capitalized. The hotel or club idea was made prominent. The patient entering this hospital receives the benefit of a complete change in his naval routine in much the same way that a person in civil life is benefited by a vacation that takes him away from his usual business or vocation.”

The Hospital building is now listed in the National Register of Historic Structures, and is operated as the Kenilworth Inn Apartments.

It is notable, I think, that such a premium was placed on quiet, sequestered and “peaceful” environs which would promote the healing of war injuries. Both facilities live on today, serving as retreats and domiciles.

* Congress established the Hospital Corps of the Navy in 1898, to consist of Pharmacists (with rank equivalent to Warrant Officer), hospital stewards and hospital apprentices. With war time expansion in sight, new regulations permitted members of the hospital corps to receive commissions as officers (not Warrant…) wearing the hospital corps caduceus. These officers were offered conversion to the Medical Service Corps when it was established in 1947. See http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/uniform_insignia.htm, accessed 2012Mar09.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

Society News; Society Loss; Society Fosters an “Unexpected” Panel Proposal; Society Dues-Donation Season

This blog is “sponsored” by the Society for the History of Navy Medicine. As such, it’s time for a Society advertisement. Here goes:

Today I received in the mail a packet with this note:

“From the Desk of Captain Charles Todd Creekman Jr., USN, (RET), Executive Director, Naval Historical Foundation, 7 Feb 2012
Dear Tom,
Here is your copy of the Pray journal. I’m delivering it to Jan Herman on 15 Feb, per our agreement. Thanks again for your Foundation’s generous donation to help acquire the journal! Best regards, Todd”

-and a copy of this letter:

Naval Historical Foundation
Preservation, Education and Commemoration of Naval History
7 February 2012
Office of the Medical Historian
Bureau of Medicine and surgery
2300 E St NW
Washington DC  20372
 
Dear Mr [Jan] Herman,
 
In accordance with the provisions of current OPNAV and SECNAV instructions governing acceptance of gifts, the Naval Historical Foundation hereby donates to the Office of the Medical Historian the journal of a Civil War naval surgeon, valued at $4,500.00. This hand-written, 154-page journal, authored by Acting Assistant Surgeon Ezra Pray, details is Navy appointment and service in the US Bark Fernandina from September 1861 through April 1862 when that ship was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron of the Union Navy.
We look forward to partnering with you to publicize the acquisition and donation of tis unique document in the midst of the national commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
Sincerely,
//s// Todd Creekman
Charles T. Creekman, Jr.
Captain, USN, (Ret.)
Executive Director

This journal will be available for review and perusal after the Historian Office completes its BRAC-required move from Foggy Bottom to Falls Church, VA, probably by mid-to late-2012.

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We were saddened to learn, by way of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery publication The Grog of the passing of Society member Vice Admiral James Zimble in December 2011. VADM Zimble, former Surgeon General of the Navy and, later, President of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, was an early member and supporter of the Society. We are sorry for his loss, and offer our sincere condolences to his family.

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A Society post to the listserv H-Sci-Med-Tech last month indicating a welcoming attitude from the American Historical Association concerning submissions on military history led to an inquiry from a scholar from Canada about proposing a panel on naval medicine. I circulated this inquiry to our membership. Society member John Beeler took the conn and the helm, and in very short order assembled the scholars and papers to form a panel on maritime health in the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society’s motto is “Community, Collaboration, Camaraderie”; this was Community and Collaboration made real. We wish for Professor Beeler, Dr Cori Convertito, Professor Harold Langley and (our newest member) Dr Matthew Neufeld every good wish in having their panel accepted!

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The Society is funded by the Foundation for the History of Navy Medicine. It is through the generous gifts to the Foundation by Society members and others, that we can support such efforts as the gift of money to the Naval Historical Foundation mentioned above. The Society also sponsors a Graduate Student Travel Grant program which offers $750 grants to students whose papers are accepted for presentation at official Society-sponsored panels. We recently announced a Society Research Grant of $1500 to support work in the history of maritime medicine. Your gift to the Foundation, whether you’re a member or not, will be put to good use! Thank you.

Society for the History of Navy Medicine Announces a New Research Grant

The Society for the History of Navy Medicine announces a new annual grant of up to $1500 for research in the history of naval or maritime medicine. The grant is intended to support work being done by a student enrolled in a program leading to a degree above the baccalaureate level in history, medical history or the medical professions.

The grant may be used for travel to a research site; photocopying, photography or microfilming; borrowing or access fees; and similar research-related expenses. Society membership is encouraged but is not required.

Applications, consisting of a 1250 – 1750 word project description and a project budget, should be submitted electronically, no later than 15 April, to the Society Executive Director at historyofnavymedicine@gmail.com. All submissions, marked with an identifying number only, will be reviewed by a panel of eminent historians. We will announce the winning submission by 1 July.

–17 January 2012

©2012 The Society for the History of Navy Medicine

Captain James Bloom, MC, USN, Ret – Navalist@aol.com

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 navalist@aol.com and I will update the distribution list.

Enjoy!

CAPT James Bloom, Ret

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TODAY IN NAVAL HISTORY
                           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

Galveston, Texas

Your correspondent is attending the annual Congress of the Naval Order of the United States in this historic city. This year’s Congress theme is World War II in the Gulf of Mexico.

I didn’t know that Galveston is located on one of the coastal islands off the Texas mainland. It was and is a busy maritime port, founded by act of Mexican Congress in 1825. Our conference site is the 100 year old Hotel Galvez, named after the city’s namesake, the Spaniard Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, who served in several Spanish imperial roles in the area in the early and mid nineteenth century. Galveston was an important commercial port in the 19th century, and really came into its own as the Texas oil industry grew in the early 20th century.

Because of the large sea-based oil commerce along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, German naval authorities early in World War II targeted the region intensively with submarine activity. In the four months before the convoy system was reinstituted (from lessons learned in World War I) in the Gulf, innumerable ships carrying oil or refined oil products were sunk, with a loss of about 2000 lives. The number of ships sunk dropped precipitously thereafter, and German efforts in the Gulf were gradually abandoned.

The Naval Order of the United States was founded on 4 July 1890, with a mission of promoting research, study and promulgation of naval and maritime history. The organization has Commanderies throughout the United States. Your correspondent is proud to report that he was elected to serve the organization as Surgeon General for the next two years. In this role, he has the opportunity to write something about naval medical history for the Order’s quarterly publication. If any of our readers are interested in joining the Order (which is by invitation), please let me know by leaving a comment.

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

Society for the History of Navy Medicine–Fifth Annual Meeting a Success

The Society held its Fifth Annual Meeting and Papers Session in conjunction with the U S Naval Academy’s McMullen Naval Historical Symposium last week. The Society sponsored two panels:

Dr Beeler, Dr Convertito-Farrar, Mr Rath

Panel One, “The Health of Sailors” featured papers by Professor John Beeler, Dr Cori Convertito-Farrar and Mr Andrew Rath, with Commentary by Professor Chris McKee.

Both Professor Beeler’s and Dr Convertito-Farrar’s papers concerned Yellow Fever in the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries while Mr Rath discussed the impact of an Admiral’s suicide upon naval operations in the Pacific during the Crimean War.

Panel Two, “From Guantanamo to Puerto Rico to Project X231”, highlighted scholarly work of Doctors Gerard Fitzgerald

Professor Langley (Commentator), Dr Fitzgerald, Dr Schiappacasse, Mr Moustafa

(Project X231–a World War II study of the effectiveness of ultraviolet lighting in reducing respiratory infections among troops) and Paola Schiappacasse (the history of a quarantine station in Puerto Rico utilizing primary written and archeological resources), and Mr Raed Moustafa (ethical dilemmas facing medical personnel at the U S detainee facility in Guantanamo, Cuba).

At the end of each panel, Society Executive Director Captain Tom Snyder presented the student (or recently student) authors, Mr Rath, Mr Moustafa, and Doctors Convertito-Farrar and Schiappacasse with the first-ever Society Graduate Student Travel Grant of $750 each.

Our panels, which faced rigorous competition from a large variety of outstanding–if more “traditional”–naval historical fare, were well attended. The Society garnered five new members at Annapolis, bringing our membership to 165 people from around the world.

We plan to publish most if not all of these papers in a Session “Proceedings”. This will appear in The Grog, a quarterly digest of naval medical history and heritage published electronically by the Office of Medical History at the U S Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. We will announce the publication here.

In the evening, a few authors and conference attendees gathered at a local Annapolis restaurant for the “Meeting” portion of our Annual Meeting and Papers Session. Over a pleasant meal, we discussed the panels-just-past, and plans for the Society’s panel at the April 26-29 2012 meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine in Baltimore. Mark your calendars now and plan to join us!

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

U S Naval Medical Corps Insignia–A Brief History, Part II

In an earlier post, I detailed this history up to the 1841 Uniform Regulations. Herewith, the story goes forward.

The 1841 Regulations made no specification for the standing collar decoration except to call for live oak to run around it:

(a)

In May 1847, the Navy Department once again called for a device specific to medical officers, a silver “MD” embroidered on shoulder strap; an epaulette with the same device was added; and three sprigs of live oak were to be placed in the blank area on the collar.(1) Rank devices accompanied the corps device.  Below, the insignia of a surgeon with more than 12 years’ service: 

(a).

 A new Navy Regulation in 1852 (2) abolished the gilt “MD” and instead called for “an olive sprig, one inch and a quarter long embroidered at the center” of the shoulder strap, shown here for a medical officer of less than 12 years’ service:    (b).  The same olive sprig was prescribed for the medical officer’s cap.

A November 1863 article in the Army and Navy Journal (3) reported the demise of the olive sprig. From thence, a fleet surgeon with more than 12 years’ service wore a silver eagle 2 inches long embroidered to the center of his shoulder strap,  (c)  ;

no corps device identified the shoulder straps of less senior surgeons; here, a shoulder strap for a surgeon with over 5 years, showing only a rank device, the spread oak leaf in silver:  (c).

Surgeons’ caps carried an “Oak leaf, 9/10 inch in length, embroidered in silver”.

General Order of the Navy Department No 90 of March 1869 (4) introduced a unique color placed between rank stripes on the sleeve to identify each corps; the medical corps received cobalt blue,  (d), here on the sleeve of a Medical Officer with the rank equivalent to Commander. This color scheme continued until 1883, when the color for medical officers was changed to dark maroon. The regulations (5) now specified this device to denote a medical corps officer: “a silver Maltese cross with a small maroon velvet Geneva cross in the center”. [Ed.: I have searched high and low for an image of this device, to no avail. Dear reader, if you come across one, please let me know how to procure it by leaving a comment below.]  

Finally, in 1897, the device by which we identify a medical corps officer, the spread oak leaf of dead gold with a silver acorn embroidered at the center, was prescribed.(6) The dark maroon color between rank stripes persisted:  (d).   Note that a collar device was also prescribed with the rank at the leading edge and the corps device just aft, worn on both sides of the standing collar.

Regulations of 1913 (7) prescribed that Medical reserve officers should sport crimson between sleeve rank stripes, in contrast to the dark maroon required for regular medical corps officers. No Corps device was called for upon the sleeve.

At last, in 1919 (8), the maroon color was eliminated, and the corps device placed above the rank stripes on both sleeves. Collar devices were simplified (some say complicated) in that now, the rank device was to be worn on the right collar, and the corps device on the left. This is the scheme that is used up to today (sleeve on left, shoulder board on right in illustration below):

 (d).

Image Credits:
 
(a) Perrenot, Preston B, “United States Navy Grade Insignia, 1776-1852”, pdf, 2010. Available for purchase on line at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/27090993/UNITED-STATES-NAVY-GRADE-INSIGNIA-1776-1852
(b) National Archives and Records Administration (NARA 1), Records Group 45, Office of Naval Records and Library, Subject File, U. S. Navy, 1775-1910, O-1898. NU-Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Box No 358, File “No date NU-Uniforms, U.S. Navy, officers & men. Pictures, etc., collected together to show details of uniforms.”
(c) Ibid., O-1945, NU-Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Officers, and Men. Box No 359, File “Box#359/03”, 1862, Uniform for Officers of the United States Navy As Prescribed in the General Order of the Secretary of the Navy Dated July 31, 1862. 
(d) Perrenot, Preston C., “United States Navy Grade Insignia Since 1852”, pdf, 2010. Available for purchase on line at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/27091267/UNITED-STATES-NAVY-GRADE-INSIGNIA-SINCE-1852. I found one error is this publication:the medical corps device is shown the compiler’s illustration of the 1883-1897 insignia is the modern version–the spread gold oak leaf with silver acorn embroidered at its center–rather than the Maltese Cross with small maroon velvet Geneva cross at its center called for in Navy Uniform Regulations. The modern device was introduced in 1897. 
 
Text References:
 
(1)  Naval History and Heritage Command, Navy Department Library, RARE  VC 303 .E39 MSS Box 4, Published uniform regulations and changes to 1781-1942, File: William Edwards Collection    Resolutions, Regulations, and Circular Letters 1781 – 1889, page “1847”, REGULATION CHANGES AND MODIFICATIONS OF UNIFORM, Navy Department, May 27, 1847.
(2) ibid., page “1852”, REGULATION NAVY DEPARTMENT, September 24, 1852, UNIFORM OF SURGEONS AND PURSERS. 
(3) ibid., page “11 November 1863”, ARTICLE APPEARING IN THE ARMY AND NAVY JOURNAL DATED NOBEMBER 21, 1863, “CHANGES IN NAVY UNIFORMS”.
(4) ibid;, page “1869”, GENERAL ORDER No. 90  NAVY DEPARTMENT, Washington, March 11, 1869.
(5) National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA 1”), Records Group 45, Office of Naval Records and Library, Subject File, U. S. Navy, 1775-1910, 0-1945, NU- Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Officers, and Men. Box No 359, Volume, “Regulations Relating to the Uniform of the Officers of the United States Navy, Navy Department, January 22, 1883”, paragraph “Corps Devices”.
(6) ibid., Volume “Regulations Governing the Uniforms of Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Men of the Navy of the United States, with Plates, 1897 (with typewritten annotation ‘July 1, 1897’)”, p 14, paragraph “Corps Devices”.
(7) San Diego Navy Historical Foundation, Inc., “Uniform Regulations of the United States Navy, Together with Uniform Regulations Common to Both Navy and Marine Corps, Navy Department, [January 25] 1913, page 32, paragraph 72.  http://www.quarterdeck.org/uniforms/1913/Uniform%20Regulations%201913.pdf, accessed 7 Sep 2011.
(8)  Naval History and heritage Command, The Navy Department Library, “Insignias”, http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/uniform_insignia.htm, accessed 7 Sep 2011, section “Insignia of the Medical Corps”. Lt Kenneth Lankin, MC, USN (Lankin, Kenneth M, “The History of the Navy Medical Corps Insignia: A Case for Diagnosis”, MilMed 156, 11:615, 1991) gives the date for this change as 1918, and cites Tily, J. C., “The Uniforms of the United States Navy”, New York, A. S. Barnes and Company, 1964, p 174.
 

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

Navy Innovations in Burn Care C. 1942.

On Christmas Day, 1942, the U S Naval Hospital at Mare Island, California, received 179 patients, the first casualties to arrive after the Japanese attack on Naval and Army facilities in Hawaii.(1)

Evolution of Burn Therapy

Humans have suffered from burns since the discovery of fire. The earliest western description of topical burn therapy is found in the Ebers Papyrus (~1500 BCE). This detailed the sequential application of black mud, boiled cow dung, and other similarly disgusting substances.(3) To Hippocrates is attributed the avoidance of infection by simple cleansing of burn wounds with clear water or wine. Rhazes (9th C) popularized “white ointment” made of white lead, rose oil and wax, while Avicenna at about the same time recommended cooling burn wounds (to relieve pain) with ice water. The French barber-surgeon Ambroise Pare’ (1582) noted that onions or onion juice applied to burns prevented the formation of blisters; this treatment was used in the Russian army into World War II. (4) Various applications continued to be advocated up through the early 20th Century. While World War I surgeons continued the use of a variety of ointments, often paraffin-based, they also struggled to prevent infection, which had become the scourge of burn patients. The use of tannic acid applications became fashionable in the 1930s.(3)

Navy Innovation

In the Pearl Harbor action, 60% of patients admitted had clinically significant burns. These patients were treated in a variety of ways, including the tannic acid method. Navy medical officers at Pearl Harbor used silver nitrate, gentian violet and sulfanilimide in mineral oil to fight infection.(5)

Flit Gun Treatment

Flit Gun

When the Pearl Harbor casualties arrived at Mare Island, they received the “Flit gun” treatment, an innovation developed by Dr Ralph Pendleton in his Salt Lake City practice before he was drafted into the Navy. Consisting of a mixture of melted paraffin, petrolatum jelly, castor oil, sulfanilimide, and traces of camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil, the treatment was sprayed onto the patients’ burns by use of a flit gun, a common device for spraying insecticide. The patients loved the treatment because it gave them immediate relief from their pain, and, because no dressing was required, they didn’t have to suffer the painful removal of gauze dressings “stuck” to their burns.(2)

“Flit” was a mineral oil-based insecticide manufactured by Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The insecticide was delivered by use of the Flit Gun, and was popularized in advertisements created by the then-unknown cartoonist Dr Seuss. The ads, which highlighted the phrase “Quick, Henry, the Flit!”, ran from 1928 until 1945.

(1) A. L. Clifton, Captain, Medical Corps, U. S. Navy, Commanding Officer, U. S. Naval Hospital, Mare Island, Cal. to Rear Admiral Ross T. McIntire, Navy Surgeon General, December 29, 1941, in National Archives I, Record Group 52 (Records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery), Entry 15A, Box 122 File NH15 (A1-1 to L9-3) 1936 – 1941.
(2) “Medicine: Burns at Mare Island”, Time Magazine, November 16, 1942, found on line at  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,932877-1,00.html, accessed 10 June 2011.
(3) Fernandez, Roberto J., “The Historical Evolution of Burn Surgery”, submitted for the 2010 Howard A Graney Competition for Undergraduate Writing in the History of Surgery,
 http://www.dmu.edu/departments/academic/Surgery/fund/Fernandez%20Historical%20Evolution%20of%20Burn%20Surgery.pdf, accessed 11 June 2011.
(4) Hauben, D J, and D Mahler, “On the history of the treatment of burns”, Burns 7,  No. 6, pp 383-388 (1981).
(5) “The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictoral Volume” (Navmed P-5031, Volume I, p 64. Washington, GPO, 1953.

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder