The winds of war were gathering strength over Europe in the 30's and
40's. Adopting a program of preparedness, Surgeon General, Major James C.
Magee, requested the University of Oregon Medical School to prepare for
reactivation. They were to recruit and train sufficient staff capable of
caring for 1,500 battle casualties at any one time. It was to be known as
the 46th General Hospital. Its predecessor was Base Hospital No. 46. The
silken flag, which Base Hospital 46 carried to France in 1918, was going
to war again.
In June of 1940, Richard B. Dillehunt, M.D., then acting Dean of the
medical school, received authorization to form an affiliated unit of the
Medical Department of the U.S. Army. Dr. Dillehunt appointed Dr. J. Guy
Strohm, one of Portland's practicing urologists and Colonel in the Army
Medical Corps Reserve, as chairman of a committee to organize the unit's
reserve hospital. Colonel Strohm was assigned as its director and
Commanding Officer in the event of mobilization. At a symbolic and somber
ceremony, Dr. Thomas J. Joyce, one time C. O. of Base Hospital 46,
presented the flag of Base Hospital 46 to Colonel Strohm.
Faculty members responded generously when Colonel Strohm appealed for
volunteers to fill quotas of 105 registered nurses, three dieticians, two
physical therapists and five hundred enlisted men. Doctors and
administrative staff brought the total of volunteers to 700.
In June 1942, thirty nurses received orders to report for duty at Barnes
Army Hospital, Vancouver, Washington. When the Japanese invaded, war
casualties were being flown in from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. With a very
full schedule, Kay Fisher, a member of Good Samaritan Hospital,
anesthesia staff, called to say she just couldn't go. Colonel Strohm
Lady, this is the Army, you will report! and she did.
On July 15, 1942, Union Station was packed with wives, sweethearts,
family members and friends, as the unit left for Ft. Riley, Kansas.
Though days were filled with routine, on-the-job training, fox-holes, gas
chambers, day and night marches and retreat parades, memories include,
visits from Red Skelton and his wife and Gene Tierney,
hopping with the Air Force, brilliant sunsets and sunrises,
sunflowers, dainty prairie flowers and acres of cactus.
On August 11, 1943 it was time to move out. Loaded down with gas masks,
helmets, pistol belts and heavily loaded musette bags, they marched in
formation to board a train on its way to Camp Shanks, New York. Cameras
and civilian clothes were sent home. All they were allowed to carry were
A bag and
B bag and a bedroll. The nurse's blue and white
uniforms were replaced with the Official Dress Uniform, fatigues,
leggings, field shoes and seersucker duty uniforms. After an exhausting
week they were ready to leave American soil.
The liberty troop ship the Geo. W. Goethals carried the nurses out to
sea. Thirteen days later, escorted by a British aircraft carrier, they
sailed into the Mediterranean Sea. The ship landed in Oran, near the
western border of Algeria and Morocco, North Africa, where a field
hospital was constructed from scratch. The staging area, situated on a
cliff overlooking the sea, provided field cooked meals served in
individual mess kits. The nurses' helmets became washbasin, laundry tub,
footbath, and place to wash their hair. The daily routine included
calisthenics, drilling and lectures.
In November, the hospital was ready. The fall rains had started and snow
was on the distant hills. There were no heating facilities in the living
quarters, which housed four to five nurses in each tent. Electricity was
rationed, so one low voltage lamp hung in the center of the tent. The
day's fashion show included wool underwear worn under their fatigues,
heavy lined jackets, field shoes with wool socks, and wool caps and
gloves. By Christmas, 2,000 patients were under their care. By summer,
most patients were gone, so once again it was time to move on.
After the invasion of Normandy, the nurses moved to St. Maxine, France,
then on to Besancon, near the western front combat lines. Arriving with
enough supplies to care for 250 patients, the 46th General Hospital set
up in a former French infantry barracks located on a bluff over looking
the beautiful old city. Trains, each carrying 300-500 wounded, began
arriving. Within two weeks the 1500 bed-facility had overflowed its
capacity with 3,000 patients. Surgery and nursing personnel worked around
the clock. It was a bitterly cold winter but they barely had time to
Never did we hear a single person complain Ð ours was the
easiest role to play in the gruesome business of war.
In spring, when the front line moved east and schedules eased, Colonel
Strohm released the nurses for a little rest and relaxation. The nurses
received passes to Paris, Switzerland, the French Riviera and the British
Isles. VJ Day came on the 14th of August 1945 and by November 10, 1945,
after 27 long months, the nurses set foot once again on American soil.
Colonel Strohm's Nurses have met every fall, some traveling long
distances for the reunions. And many have made trips back to Besancon to
Those who are still with us are scattered to the four winds, but
the closeness remains, for memories lie cradled in our hearts.
We have changed over the years, but somehow we still remain the
same, for memories of our time together are frozen like snapshots in our
- Ruby Hills
The exhibit consists of historical images, newspaper clippings,
artifacts, an official dress uniform, fatigues and memorabilia. The
exhibit will remain on display until January, 2004.