Base Hospital 49

A Visit to the University of Nebraska Hospital Overseas
Incidents of Hospital Work at Allereye
Return of the Unit to Nebraska
Best Record for Saving Life in A. E. F
Nurses' Flag of Base Hospital 49

Enlisted Personnel
Nursing Personnel

On December 7, 1918, I was upon a French railway express train en route from Paris, by way of Dijon, for the American hospital center at Allereye and particularly for Base Hospital 49, the Nebraska representative among the hospital units in Europe. Allereye is a little French village of perhaps 400 people, about 150 miles southeast of Paris and 40 miles from the frontier of Switzerland. Upon the slightly rolling, partly wooded, plain adjoining the village the U. S. army engineers had laid out a great hospital center covering about eighty acres of ground. Ten hospital units were in this center, seven of them regular army hospitals, one from the University of Minnesota, one from the University of Cincinnati and one from the University of Nebraska. Special railroad tracks had been made running through the heart of the camp. Twenty thousand beds were included in the plans for this center.

It was July, 1918, when this was done. The air was filled with rumors of a great movement by the American army against the German lines. The various hospital units were hurried to this center. Doctors, hospital attendants and nurses worked night and day making drainage ditches, building hospital huts, installing beds and laboratories, setting in order all the appliances and instruments for modern hospital work. No one knew how soon the camp would be flooded with the trainloads of broken and maimed American boys from the battle front.

It was August 7th when the men of Nebraska base hospital arrived at Allereye. The first wounded men arrived August 26. A great concentration of American divisions was already forward. This was the preparation for the St. Mihiel drive, which took place September 12-14. On September 14 the nurses, 100 in number, belonging to the Nebraska unit, arrived at Allereye. It had been estimated that it might cost 60,000 in killed and wounded to capture the St. Mihiel salient. But the American artillery so thoroughly deluged the German trenches with shell fire that the actual losses to the American army were less than one-fourth the estimates.

Meanwhile the great attack in the Argonne Forest and along the Meuse north of Verdun went forward. Here the losses were greater than expected. The Allereye hospital center was so situated that it received more wounded men during the Argonne battle than any other of the American hospitals. Altogether there were received here over 40,000 casualties. Of these 4,844 were cared for in the Nebraska unit, the highest number of cases at any one time being 1.934. As the unit was intended to furnish beds for 1,000 patients, the extent of its overcrowding may be surmised.

The day I arrived at Allereye there were about 1,100 cases in the hospital. It was three weeks after the last trainload of wounded had reached the center. The next morning was Sunday. At the invitation of Major Stokes I accompanied him on a four hours inspection of all the wards in the Nebraska unit. The memories of that morning will always be among the most vivid of the war. In scores of cases I saw the wounds dressed. Many of these men were so torn with frightful lacerating projectiles that it seemed impossible for them to survive. Yet nearly all of them were hopeful and clear-eyed. Almost all made recovery.

The ingenious devices of the surgeons to hold together a shattered human being while nature restored the broken bones, recreated the tissues and knit together the mangled flesh, commanded my continuous admiration. A soldier's arm had been broken by a shell in two or three places, both legs were shattered, several ribs fractured, much of his flesh reduced to pulp. Yet there he was, three weeks after he had been picked up at the front, swinging in a kind of cat's cradle which took all the weight from the broken bones and tissues, smiling and smoking a cigarette while the nurse carefully and tenderly removed the old dressings and supplied new ones. It was the aim of the Nebraska surgeons to save the limb if possible. In dozens of cases men went out of the Nebraska hospital, homeward, on two legs, where a first examination seemed to indicate amputation necessary. I remember one man in particular who had fought a month's battle inside the hospital to save his leg. His skin was clear, his eye bright and his voice cheerful. He had won the victory with the help of the hospital.

Along the line of the Meuse a month before I had seen the waste and the wreck of war, dead soldiers and horses scattered over the field, broken trucks and caissons, wounded men in ambulances going to the rear. Here was the salvage station. The men and women of the hospital corps constituted the redemption arm of the military service. No heroism or sacrifice of war times seemed to me so worthy of highest praise as that of the hospital corps.

Colonel J. H. Ford, commander of the Allereye center, said to me when I called upon him Monday: "The people of Nebraska may justly be proud of Base Hospital Unit 49. The official report just out shows that it has the lowest percentage of mortality of any hospital unit in the American army."

Sunday afternoon, December 8, we had a Nebraska rally in the Red Cross hall. Major Stokes presided. Most of what was said was about Nebraska. No one can know without experience how far away home seems in a foreign land, particularly when you are under orders and do not know how long the homeward bound order may be delayed. So a tender sentiment pervaded the meeting and the handclasps were warm, for the hearts were full.

The O. P. L. Club

I was invited to a smoker held by the O. P. L. Club. I had no more idea what the O. P. L. Club was than a rabbit with its eyes shut, but I found out. It was a live wire organization. Translated its initials meant "Order of Permanent Lieutenants,' and it held frequent celebrations over the significance of its name. All the members were young doctors having the rank of lieutenant. Most of them had hoped to become captains or majors or something while in the military service. All of them had bumped up against headquarters and realized there were no further prospects for their ambitions. So they organized the order of the O. P. L. They had a class song. It was a mile long, but two stanzas will suffice:

Oh, we went in as lootenants in the A-ar-my,
And we'll go out as lootenants from the A-ar-my.
Majors they wanted to make us all.
But we refused to heed the call,
For all we wanted was just to work, that's all.
That's all, etc.

So we are simply members of the O. P. L.
Just flunkeys and ward-surgeons at the 'ospitell,
We play about, we sing and shout,
'We carry the pan and duck about.
And we all rejoice 'cause we like it here so well.
Like Hell, etc.

The badge of the O. P. L. was a lead cross made from bullets cut from the quivering flesh of American boys shot down at the front and brought to Base Hospital 49. It was fastened by a ribbon to the coat. Just how many members of the O. P. L. are now wearing this decoration in America I am unable to state. Here is the complete roster of the O. P. L. at the time I was at Allereye:

Fred W. Webster
Geo. W. Covey
Robt. Panter
J. E. M. Thomson
E. W. Park
H. E. Flansburg
John S. Simms
Geo. M. Boehler
J. W. MacDonald
F. W. Campbell
E. Delaney
Miles J. Breuer
W. R. Peters
Sanford R. Gifford
Theodore Shaffer
E. W. Buckley
W. L. Sucha
A. Greenberg

The class song, class yell and other material relating to the O. P. L. are treasured relics in the State Historical Society rooms. There was a nurses' dinner and reception in the evening to the commanding officer, staff and the Nebraska visitor. One of the finest experiences a man ever gets in this life is in observation of the army hospital nurse. (War and fighting death in the hospital transform a woman. Handling the broken flesh of soldiers stirs depths in her nature never revealed in the ordinary walks. So I shall never think of the Nebraska women I saw in Base Hospital 49 in any other way than with a kind of mediaeval reverence, such as the old painters put into the pictures of the women they painted upon the cathedral walls of Europe.

On the third day of my visit I said good bye to Allereye. I had bunked with Captain (Dean) Tancock and Major Hull. I had been presented the freedom of their apartments by Captain Rowe and Captain Potts. I had shaken hands with every high private I met. In the camp; for everyone had "Nebraska" in his heart and on his lips. Tender and strong are the cords which bind us to our home. The farther we wander the closer they bind us together. And, as I write, these memories of the "Little Nebraska" at Allereye seem among the best inspirations of a Nebraska lifetime.

Many of Base Hospital 49 are at home. Soon all will be. Off come the Khaki uniforms and Red Cross costumes. Back into the busy ranks of civil life.

Historians were appointed overseas for Base Hospital 49. They have a theme worthy of their best efforts. For in the history of Nebraska in the World War no chapter will be of more enduring interest than the story of the service of Base Hospital 49.

Base Hospital 49
A. P. O. 785, American E. F.,
15 January, 1919

Mr. Addison E. Sheldon,
State Historical Society
Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dear Sir: Herewith enclosed you will find a list of Base Hospital No. 49 personnel, with the names of their home cities, as per your request of December 20, 1918, written from Paris.

A. C. Stokes, Major M. C.

Nebraska AHGP

Source: Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days, Volume I, Number 1, Published Monthly by the Nebraska Historical Society, February 1918.

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