June 5, 1942 – Meet a member of a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René today.

A good time to get to know one of his colleagues in the 59th Evac. Unit…

Roy Cohn, MD

Roy Cohn was born in 1910 in Portland, Oregon and was raised in Southern California. He came to Stanford as an undergraduate in the mid-1920s, and received his bachelor’s degree in 1929. He graduated from Stanford Medical School (which was then located in San Francisco) in 1933.

After serving as chief resident in general surgery at Massachusetts General in Boston, Dr. Cohn returned to Stanford to join the medical faculty in 1938. He went to India as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in 1939-41, helping to establish a major hospital in Bombay.

Back at San Francisco in 1942, he joined the 59th Evacuation Hospital along with his colleagues at Stanford. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his valor during the war.

After World War II, he again returned to Stanford, where he published extensively and was highly regarded as a surgical innovator, teacher and mentor. In 1960, Dr. Cohn performed one of the first kidney transplants in the United States, and the first kidney transplant West of the Mississippi. He also developed the kidney transplant program at Stanford and in 1964 co-authored a landmark paper in the field of transplantation surgery. In addition to Dr. Cohn’s pioneering work with kidneys, he also developed an innovative method for closing holes in the heart.

As the science of transplantation advanced, Dr. Cohn and heart-transplant surgeon Dr. Norman Shumway recognized the need for the government and medical community to rethink the criteria for harvesting healthy organs. They urged that the definition of death be based on the cessation of brain activity rather than on the absence of a heartbeat — a change that helped make heart transplant and other organ transplant surgeries available to save the lives of thousands of people around the world each year.

In 1974, he was honored with an endowed professorship, the Walter Clifford Chidester and Elsa Rooney Chidester Professorship in Surgery. The Roy B. Cohn Bioskills Laboratory in Human Anatomy at Stanford University is named in his honor. He retired in 1989 but remained active for several years.

Dr. Cohn passed away in 1999.

June 9, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 9, 1942
Tuesday night

Ft. Ord, California

Dear Folksies,

       Thanks for coming down last weekend. Sunday was really a swell day and I hope that the lengthiness of the trip was worth it to you.

       This morning was routine, but this afternoon we had a demonstration of various gases, getting whiffs of all of them, and then staying in a gas chamber for about five minutes with masks on. The gas was “tear gas” and we found out that our masks were most effective. After coming out of the gas chamber we took off our masks and went through the gas chamber from front to back door, in a hurry, without masks. For an observer it certainly must have looked funny to see 35 officers coming out of that building crying profusely.

       Our enlisted men also went through the chamber same as we did. The nurses went through with masks, but not without them.

                    Loads of love,


Watch for my next letter
June 16

René’s parents: Alma Kahn Bine and René Bine, Sr., M.D.

June 13, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit



Lois McFarland – a nurse in René’s unit

June 16, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 16, 1942
Tuesday night

Ft. Ord, California

Dear Folksies,

       I think, perhaps, that one of the reasons for not having written sooner was that in the last week I have done so much typing for lectures, etc. that typing for letter writing appeared to be too much of a self-inflicted drudgery for the time being.

       I have lost complete track of the number of pages of material I have typed in the last week and a half. My little Remington has been getting a work-out, not to mention the work-out my fingers have gotten. The trouble is that when Drew, Blasdel and Kuzell were with us, the typing load wasn’t so bad, but now the only men that type decent enough and fast enough to get the things done are Ed Welles, Marv Kahn, Frank Gerbode and myself. Actually, Ed and I have done practically all of it.

       This week I am one of the platoon leaders and consequently am being kept busy with the men, besides the extra lectures foisted on me due to the absence of some of the gang. Tomorrow we take the men swimming at the Del Monte pool for one hour. This is part of our amphibious training and is going to be a weekly affair from now on.

       Saturday afternoon we had a volleyball game and had 3 casualties. (1) The Col. broke his glasses, probably as a result of a collision with Sewell Brown. (2) Mattie sprained his thumb, as a result of a collision at the very top of the net with Sewell’s hand, which was smashing down on the ball. (3) Sewell sprained his thumb, as a result of a collision, again at the top of the net, but this time, not with Mattie’s thumb, but with Oscie Carlson’s head. Oscie had just had a super Army haircut and consequently had no padding at all left on his head, so poor Sewell’s finger suffered.

       Saturday P.M., around 2 P.M. I went over to the Red Cross Recreation Room at the Station Hospital as Yehudi was to play there for the patients first and then at 4 he was to play in the theater. At 1:55 P.M. Yehudi’s car arrived, with Nola at the wheel, the pianist and his wife, and two Los Gatos-ites accompanying them. From then until 6:45 P.M. I was with them, sitting with Nola at both performances, having quite a little time to talk to both between the two performances and also after the second one.

       Yehudi played wonderfully and was most informal at both performances. Nola said that at lunch, on the sand dunes a short way north of Ord, Yehudi and the accompanist had argued as to what to play, each answering to the other’s suggestion, “I don’t think I can play that one, I don’t know it well enough.” The only thing that they played in both performances was the “Star Spangled Banner.” The whole rest of the programs were different.

       At the Station Hospital, they played shorter and somewhat lighter pieces, plus Ave Maria. Yehudi asked the audience if there were any requests and some of the answers were really funny. One woman asked if Yehudi had the music to something she named by “Tetrazzini.” God knows I don’t know much about music, but I try not to show my ignorance that way, at least!

                    Loads of love,


Watch for my next letter
June 28

Yehudi Menuhin, a child prodigy on the violin who became a world famous violinist and conductor, was a childhood friend of René Jr.

Yehudi Menuhin’s photo greeting to René in 1930

René and Yehudi in 1932

June 18, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit


Five days after they met at the Officers’ Club dance, René and Lois went on their first date — a double with Roy Cohn and his date.

June 23, 1942 – Meet a member of a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

Next letter from René coming on June 28.

A good time to get to know one of his colleagues in the 59th Evac. Unit, who became a world-famous cardiovascular surgeon…

Frank Gerbode, MD

Born in Placerville, CA in 1907, Frank Gerbode grew up in Sacramento. In 1932, he graduated from Stanford University and received his MD from Stanford Medical School in 1938. By 1942, he was a practicing general and thoracic surgeon on the Stanford Service at San Francisco General Hospital. As a result of his experience, when he joined the 59th Evacuation Hospital Unit he received a commission as a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

During the war, Dr. Gerbode distinguished himself for his surgical service as well as his logistic leadership in the functioning of the 59th Evacuation Hospital. Before the war ended he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

After World War II, Dr. Gerbode returned to San Francisco, where he practiced surgery and was became avid researcher. In 1954, using a heart-lung machine he designed with Dr. John Osborn, Dr. Gerbode performed the first open heart surgical correction of an atrial septal defect West of the Mississippi. Another open heart surgical procedure he performed was televised live in 1958 from Stanford Hospital, which was in San Francisco at the time.

Committed to research, Dr. Gerbode was founder and became the first president of the Institutes of Medical Sciences (now the California Pacific Medical Research Institute) an independent group of specialized research institutes. He also became chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center, in San Francisco, a position he held until 1979.

In addition to surgery and research, Dr. Gerbode was committed to teaching the next generation of surgeons from around the world. Between the mid 1950s and the mid 1970s, nearly 200 fellows trained at Dr. Gerbode’s Cardiovascular Fellowship Program at Pacific Presbyterian, now California Pacific Medical Center.

Dr. Gerbode passed away on December 6, 1984.

Frank Gerbode, MD

Dr. Gerbode

June 28, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

June 28, 1942

Ft. Ord, California

Dear Folksies,

       This week has been a rather busy one, particularly for the four of us who were platoon leaders. I may as well go back to the beginning of the week and proceed in chronological order.

       First, thanks loads for the swell week-end. Our excursion to San Rafael was really fun, and certainly much better than walking on Lake Street or out to the beach.

       Monday, the platoon leaders were kept busy from A.M. to dinner with our platoons. We drilled and lectured all day long.

       Tuesday was the big day! Everybody had an early lunch and it was planned that we would all move out by trucks at 12:15 P.M. to the area selected for our hospital site, about 3 to 4 miles back of the main garrison. The 1st Medical Regiment had gone out earlier in the A.M. and were supposed to have Battalion Aid Stations, Collecting and Clearing Stations, and were supposed to ship us patients, the first to arrive at about 1:30 P.M.

       Things were a little slow in starting, so Mattie, Ed Welles and I went out in advance of the others in a jeep. On the way out to the selected site, we were stopped by a sentry on the road who told us we couldn’t go in that area as one of the Artillery units was firing there. Mattie finally talked the sentry into letting us through to a certain point where we could get in touch with the Range Officer, as we had definitely been assigned that area for the two days.

       When we got to the site out tents were to be pitched on, we found the Artillery had a telephone exchange set up right on the spot. We got in touch with the Range Officer and straightened things out. As it happened, the Range Officer was a friend of Ed’s from high school. Ed and I set up what equipment we had brought out ourselves and then waited. The rest of our trucks had some difficulty getting through the same sentries until Mattie and the Range Officer went back and cleared up the details. As a consequence of the delay, however, our tents were not set up at the scheduled time. Our tent was the first one up, but even at that, Ed and I had to handle about six patients out in front of the tent before it was up, as the 1st Medics’ ambulances started coming.

       At the beginning, things in our tent functioned fairly smoothly, then suddenly we had 8 ambulances at our front door and we had one side of the tent full of ambulatory patients and the other side full of litter patients and the ambulances were still pulling up outside.

       What happened was that, since the 1st Medics had been functioning since 8 A.M. themselves, they had a Clearing Station that was full of patients and another Clearing Station that was getting patients at a normal rate. Consequently, when they got word that we were set up and ready to operate, they completely evacuated the one Clearing Station to us so that they could more elsewhere, and thus the deluge we received.

       The ambulatory patients were stringing out the front door when Col. B. arrived in our tent, and Ed and I breathed a sigh of relief when he gave us permission to split the personnel of the tent and move the ambulatory section of the Receiving Tent into the tent next door, which was only partly being used. Ed took charge of the Ambulatory section and I ran the Litter section. From the time we separated until the time the whole exercise was over we were never again bogged down and were able to operate pretty well.

       We did, however, make note of many, many features that we knew would have to be remedied if we were to actually handle sick patients. In these so-called “dry-runs” all we have been really doing, of course, is the paperwork that is connected with all the procedures. Naturally, in time of actual combat, our paperwork has to be a minimum and the actual handling of patients the most important thing.

       In the 3 hours of operation we ran approximately 130 patients through our tents. Of course, that number was not evacuated through our Evacuation Tent until about an hour or two after that.

       Our tents were set up under trees, trees that made pretty good camouflage. The only difficulty was that setting them up so that they were camouflaged, they were too close together and I know that I for one was always tripping over the tent pegs, trying to go between some of the tents that were especially close together. How the litter bearers managed to get around from tent to tent, with their patients, is still a mystery to me and the others.

       The first wave of patients ended at about 5:15 P.M. We all ate in two shifts and then waited around for more patients. The first patients had to be used over again, consequently there was a lag between the time we evacuated them out our back door until the time they started coming through from the 1st Medics again. Consequently, we didn’t start getting the second batch until 8 P.M. The only lights we had in the tents were kerosene lamps and a few shaded flashlites, but they worked out fairly well. No lights were used between the tents and yet the litter bearers got around very well. Our last patients were through our tent at 3 A.M. and then we had some ham and cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, then turned in at around 3:45 A.M.

       There had been 15 of the nurses with us on this maneuver and they left by truck and came back to their barracks at 3 A.M., sleeping till noon, while the rest of us were up again at 6:45 A.M. , had breakfast in the field, stayed around while the men packed up our equipment, took down the tents, policed the area, and finally left the camp site at about 10 A.M. We got back, took showers, had lunch, and then all collapsed for a couple of hours more sleep.

       Friday A.M. took the men swimming at Del Monte. Then in the P.M. while they were getting lectures from some of the other officers, we platoon leaders went over again to Del Monte and played badminton and swam some more. Even the Col. came over with us.

       Yesterday afternoon, read and slept after the Station Hospital Conference, which was a good one for a change. Serbu presented some unusual surgical cases and it was really interesting: a strange rupture of an abdominal aneurism, undiagnosed until autopsy; some elbow fractures; and attempted suicide by slashing of wrists; and a bullet wound in the chest.

       As to the jaundice cases: At the present moment there are 385 cases of jaundice in the hospital here. There have been no deaths here at Ord, but as far as I know there have definitely been two deaths at Letterman and supposedly 5 at Hoff General Hospital in Santa Barbara. I have seen no official reports but will see if I can find some.

                    Loads of love,


Watch for my next letter
July 9

Bivouac Area Ft. Ord

Nurses – Miss Gates & Miss Nelson