September 28, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 28, 1944
Rioz, France

No. 53 (continued)

Dear Folksies,

           Our “Planning Commission” of Gerbode Inc. picked out a decent enough area alright, but their fatal mistake was to fix the Mess Dept. and a couple of other spots that need vehicles coming to them, up on the top of the area, so that the water-truck and other vehicles that have to deliver things around the area do a very efficient job of churning up the ground throughout the area, so that after a very short period of time there were deep muddy furrows where once there were streets. Finally got wise and roped off most of the place, so that vehicles had to go around to get where they want to go, so as not to make the other places worse. But the damage had already been done! We now have some boards across various spots – lines of traffic – but those boards are getting so slick that one of these times when someone attempts a crossing they are going to wish that they had walked in the mud and only gotten the mud up to their knees, instead of immersing their nether parts init when they slip off the board entirely….oh, wel….

            The places that have no vehicles over them are not so bad, but even in front of our own tent – in the doorway – we have had to put boards down so that we don’t put one foot down and land not only inside the tent, but clear through and out the other end of it before lighting. AT least we are able to change our clothes when they get wet and are able to dry our shoes out from time to time. The poor guys who are doing the fighting are the boys who really have it tough.

            Finally wrote, a couple of days ago to Lilice, Jeanne, etc. Hope I get an answer soon and perhaps some of them might even be nearby at some time or another.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for the rest of this letter
September 29, 1944


Rene has been “plenty busy anesthetizing for the team of Armanini & Russell” — George Armanini (above) and Carroll Russell (below)





Fren Trembley (above) is being promoted to First Lieutenant and Doris Clarke (below) is being promoted to Captain.




August 13, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 13, 1944
“Somewhere”

No. 40

Dear Folksies,

            I head this letter as “somewhere” because that is actually just about what describes our situation — we know not where we are, though we have been officially told tonight that we can write saying that we are “Somewhere In Southern France.”  Of course, by the time this letter makes the return trip, we will have been in Southern France for a while and will have been well established there, we hope, by the time you get this letter.

            As I’ve told you, its just Roy, Chuck, Paul and myself representing our gang. Where and when they will join us, we know not. We all certainly hope this will be the last big show on this part of the globe. We, the officers, have continued to eat well, plenty of meat (roast-beef, lamb and pork), a good deal of the so-called “compote” beaucoup soup and tea. We’ve gotten pretty used to having the sweat pour off of us and by pouring salt on any and everything we eat, besides taking an occasional salt tablet, we think we have been able to maintain our chloride balance.

            It’s been rather hard sleeping at night, and some have slept on deck, while we were at a standstill at harbor. But being underway, well, everyone will have to do their sweating at night below decks.

            Thanks, Gram, again, for the field glasses, as in the Sicilian business, they have been in great demand these days. We’ve been able to pick out friends at considerable distance.

            Had an interesting talk last night with a French Captain George Blanchard, who is acting as liaison officer. He tells me that Jean-Pierre Aumont (our Hollywood representative of the family) is acting in a similar capacity on this deal on one of the American outfits. Perhaps I’ll get to meet him! The captain is originally from Bordeaux, but studied some in Paris, and while there, he had heard Jacqueline play in concert several times.

          It will certainly be wonderful if I can locate cousin Jeanne and David after a while. But I imagine that will be a terrific job for some time to come. But I shall certainly hope and will investigate when the opportunity arises.

          The British aboard the ship have certainly been swell to us. We’ve made particular friends (that is, our group) with the radio officer and a young naval lieutenant from South Africa. The latter, in particular, has been most generous, has loaned us his personal books to read, has joined in and also supplied the makings for evening snacks, and, in general, been quite a guy. He’s only about 24 and loves to tell us of how much more like the U.S. South Africa is than it is like England.

          We’ve all had quite a laugh over the little booklets the Army puts out before any of these invasions – booklets describing the country we are approaching – for, according to every one we have had to date, the country can be compared very closely to California, with only slight variations on the theme. For instance, this time, they say that Southern France is like California in land and climate, except they don’t have good irrigation.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
August 15, 1944


Bill Simpson, Chuck Schwartz and Bill Bradley on the LST with René, who undoubtedly took this photograph.




René hears news of Jean-Pierre Aumont, who he describes as “our Hollywood representative of the family.” His real name is Jean-Pierre Philippe Salomons.



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August 15, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 15, 1944
Near St. Tropez, France

No. 41

Dear Folksies,

          Our landing here turned out to be, instead of a grim and determined ordeal, a tiring but swell experience.  In fact, on looking back it was really lots of fun.  (Perhaps that’s a bad viewpoint to take for, one could, and probably will, use such experiences for dramatic and hair-raising cocktail material when one finally gets home.)

            We awoke a couple of hours before dawn on the big day and what we could see in the fog was an amazing sight — all kinds of ships — every description from tremendous to tiny.  It wasn’t long before the big boys let loose — what a racket!!

            The whole operation was a masterpiece of organization. Things went off in much better fashion than any previous invasion.

            We were on land ourselves in no time — just a few hours after the first men.  How close seems appalling when one thinks back about it. We got off our big ship and onto a smaller one, musette bag, gas mask, medical kit, and sleeping bag (with 2 extra clothes) on our backs!!  We were landed about 50 feet off shore and waded up to our necks from the boat to the sandy shores.

             Roy and I then went back for the two bloomin’ anesthesia machines (50 lbs each) — luckily they were in crates and we were able to float them in.  Roy and I think we deserve some sort of extra medal for packing those darn things all the way like that. The gang we’re attached to should have arranged for bringing them.

            After we were on solid ground (having plunked into holes in the sand in the water on the way in) we were a funny looking bunch, pants sagging below the knees where they had beaucoup water ballooning them out as they went into our boots. Our boots are waterproof alright, but that doesn’t do any good when water goes above the belt and then down that way into the boots.        

           We hiked a ways in our salty, soggy stuff and then stopped while someone tried to locate where we were supposed to go to meet the main body of the hospital gang (only the “attached group” was with us). 

          While waiting we disrobed and tried to dry our stuff out in some Frenchman’s backyard. While so doing, standing in our undies (along with a very nice Hdq. Lt. Colonel we had met on the ship) along came a couple of generals and it made quite a picture — our saluting them while almost au-naturel along the side of the road.  ‘Twas was really funny!

          After we were finally given a faint idea as to where to go, we started off with our big loads to go about a mile and a half. Roy and I and our 3 boys got there first, despite the fact that we went two extra miles forward in our search.

            We continued tramping up and down the road, as the M.P.s didn’t seem to know exactly where the area was, and actually we had gone by it before a sign was put on the road to show the turn off to the area. We finally back-tracked and found the rest of our “attached gang” just coming up the road. They had gotten a direct ride, whereas we walked a good bit of the way — getting an occasional short ride.

              So, for a day we camped on the side of a hill very recently vacated by the Germans.  We got some nice wicker furniture from one of their command posts, found some Frenchmen with some good “vin rouge,” and made ourselves fairly comfortable. In fact, imagine playing bridge on a French hillside, while drinking wine, on the evening of D-Day!  That’s what we did all right.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for the conclusion of this letter
August 18, 1944


Operation Dragoon — D-Day August 15, 1944: St. Maxime from the LCI on which René is sailing.



René notes the barrage balloon in the upper right of the frame. A barrage balloon is a large  “kite” balloon used to defend the ships below by raising cables that pose a collision risk to attacking aircraft, thus making their approach more difficult and reducing the likelihood that they will hit their target.




(Left to right) Enlisted men Clint Green, Bill Kioski and Chuck Davis drying off after their wet landing. As René described it: “We were landed about 50 feet off shore and waded up to our necks from the boat to the sandy shores.”




More drying off…



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August 18, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 18, 1944
Southern France

No. 41 (conclusion)

Dear Folksies,

          I’m sitting in our tent in a dustless field, between two small vineyards containing rather luscious red and green grapes. The owner of our present area, and very happy to have us here, is a French physician who has been enjoying himself making rounds in our wards and in surgery most of the day.

          Have just finished a rather strenuous 24 hours working steadily from 10 P.M. to 2:30 A.M. last night and from 8:00 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. today. Last night I was giving anesthetics for most everyone and today only for Roy or Chuck. In fact, gave an intra-tracheal for Roy on a lung case today – the first I have given and ‘twas most successful.

          I am anesthetist for our surgical team attached to this other Evac.  And ‘tho I’m not at all keen on anesthesia, it has been more than worth it to come on this deal. We got some pretty good cases today and we actually did one-quarter of the cases done today.

         We have realized the glaring differences between us and this outfit, which incidentally was the first Evac. Hospital set up and taking patients in Southern France — beating the others by 24 hours. They have a great deal less equipment than we do, and have a Colonel who is not regular Army, and who considers himself and staff primarily as doctors rather than Army puppets.

         Another difference is that each department works together and there are not a whole bunch of potential bosses, all wanting their stuff done first or changing the ideas or orders of others as has happened in our unit. This place was set up and functioning in a matter of a few hours and they are a little more than half as large as we are. The big difference in surgery, the reason they handle so many patients in such a short time – is the fact that, except for belly cases, brain cases or a big chest case, they drape with nothing but a few hand towels and their cleaning of the patient before draping is considerably less than we are used to. But, of course, we’ve never had to rush like they do. It certainly isn’t that they’re better or faster surgeons, for they are not, but the time saved in lack of extensive drapes and super-cleaning of the areas not close to the wound, accounts for the rapid turnover they have in their surgery.

         The men in this outfit are very nice, particularly their Chief of Surgery, Lt. Col. Frank Patterson. The average age is coincidentally older than in our gang, but despite that, we have 11 men who are members of the American Board of Surgery, while they have but 3 – that’s the way with most all these outfits. Ours is younger and better trained as a group.

         Today’s another day, 7:15 A.M. – have already worked 2-1/2 hours this morning and just finished eating. We’re waiting for this operating room to be cleaned up, following the accumulation from the night’s work. This gang really gets the work to do! We’re enjoying it and Roy’s even champing at the bit because we have to wait this half an hour more.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
August 20, 1944


René, Roy Cohn, Paul Stratte and Chuck Schwartz are working in surgery with the first Evac. Hospital that to be set up and taking care of patients in Southern France.




Above: Clint Green, Bill Kioski and Chuck Davis on D-Day
Below: Clint Green, Chuck Davis and Bill Kioski — once they have had a chance to dry off and get dressed.




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August 20, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 20, 1944
Southern France

No. 42

Dear Folksies,

            ‘Tis Sunday and looks as if it is going to be a day of rest alright for us – which means that in a very short while we will probably start out for a hike around the country-side or perhaps find George Davis, who we understand is only a matter of a few miles from us.

           We’ve done a lot of work in the last 48 hours – mostly on Germans, thank goodness, and actually we’ve done 1/8 of the total amount of surgery done in this hospital. And, note they started working 12 hours before they asked us to start. We’ve done 27 cases, have been working 33 out of the 48 hours. And, in that bunch, we’ve had 3 chest wounds, 3 bellys (one with lacerated liver, perforated duodenum, 7 perforations of small bowel and 3 larger perforations of transverse colon) 2 femurs and one amputation.

           Roy really cracks the whip – has a case all ready for the table while Chuck is serving up the last one. The longest case we had was 2 hours – most are 15 to 30 minutes in the actual doing. It’s been lots of fun.

           The 59th could do the work just as rapidly and more rapidly if they could ever forget their idea of drapes and everything to perfection – and if they had Roy driving them – but I doubt if they’ll do it with Mattie, as he isn’t the speed demon Roy is. Probably that is more the reason for the 59th being behind so far all this time – possibly more the reason than the Old Man. It’s sort of a vicious circle. In the time we’ve acted more as a station hospital, so maybe the higher-ups feel they should keep us back, as we’d never be able to handle the cases in a forward area. But maybe we shall soon see what they can do if they have to.

           Last night Helen Nelson, who had transferred to this unit from ours, arrived with the rest of the gals of the unit. The Col. of this outfit is giving her a free hand, as apparently he has been dissatisfied with his mess officer and requested a dietician primarily to give variety in the Officers’ and Nurses’ mess. Helen is thrilled so far, and seems to like the gals of this outfit.

           Helen came with news of more transfers from the 59th, including Chaplain Daib to an engineering outfit. After the Old Man and Daib locked horns a few times, the Old Man had turned against him and both got bitter against each other. So, they mutually agreed on only one thing – Daib’s leaving.

           The four of us (Roy, Chuck, Paul and I) are in a pyramidical tent together. And with the paucity of baggage we brought with us, we have oodles of room – however we have to do frequent washing, as we brought so little stuff to change into while washing one set of clothing.

             What a difference between Italy & France! This is civilization again!! People are spotless, towns and buildings are clean. The first nite we had beds of pine needles – and the whole atmosphere just cannot compare with Italy.

            Have talked to a couple of young Frenchmen – both in the area and the patients we’ve gotten – civilian patriots, fighters, etc. They’ve had very very little food – everything rationed and though certain things are listed on the ration tickets, they were unavailable anyway. Apparently, the bigger places were cleared out by the Germans some time ago, so goodness knows where Jeanne or David might be found when their town is taken. Incidentally, my French has at least been understandable, I’ve found, though my vocabulary is limited.

           Quite a storm the other night, but luckily we were under tents shortly before and our things (our few things) did not get wet.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
August 21, 1944


René tells his parents that they have done a lot of surgery in the last 48 hours — “mostly on Germans, thank goodness.”



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August 21, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 21, 1944
Southern France

No. 43

Dear Folksies,

        We continued very un-busy yesterday – Roy and Chuck went foraging in the nearby country-side, while Paul and I hitched a ride and went to a town some miles away to see if we could find George Davis and maybe bum a vehicle off of him. But we found he had not yet arrived, so after wandering around a little we got a ride back with our friend Bert Borem, a 2nd Lt. who runs the laundry outfit, which did some of our laundry (i.e. hospital laundry) in Sicily and is now doing it for this outfit.

         When we got back from our jaunt, we relaxed again and soon found ourselves fast asleep – no we didn’t sleep through meals!

          Last night the American Red Cross gals in this outfit dished out coca-colas, 2 apiece, but we managed to get 3 apiece. They had gotten them on the ship they came over on – a hospital ship. Boy, the cokes really tasted good!

          We had an interesting experience last night — never a dull moment in this outfit.  We saw a Piper-Cub pilot circle high above the hospital just at dark — apparently unable to land at a field some distance from here because of other activity nearby — fireworks.  So Chuck Schwartz and I got the idea that the poor guy could land in the rather narrow, but 100-yard-long area between the officers’ and nurses’ area.  We got everybody out with flashlights to mark the borders of this “field,” pulled up some posts that were in the way, and guided the plane in.  He over-shot a bit and clipped a wire we had over-looked, put on his brakes, spun around, and stepped out un-scathed.  He had a crack in his propeller and a dent in the plane, but otherwise O.K., and very happy to be on the ground. Never a dull moment!!

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
August 23, 1944


René tells his parents about “an interesting experience last night” – involving a Piper Cub — maybe like the one pictured above.




René and Paul Stratte (pictured above) hitch a ride to town to see if they could find George Davis (pictured below) and “maybe bum a vehicle off of him.”




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August 23, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

August 23, 1944
Southern France

No. 44

Dear Folksies,

            Am sitting on a little rise in ground slightly above the new location for the hospital. As yet, no business, though our team was complimented by being the only outside team to be in the forward echelon.

             Had a nice ride through the countryside in the late afternoon and evening, and it certainly was a pleasure to be touring this country instead of Africa, Italy, etc.  It’s amazing how nice it is here, how peaceful the countryside appears and how clean and typically French the small towns are. Towns further from the coast apparently were not cleared like those right along the coast, and the people sit around the town square, doing their knitting, etc.

            Stopped in one town and everything seemed normal except for the scattered armed partisans and an occasional French girl with the American Invasion arm-band flag adorning her dress sleeve.

            Another sight for sore eyes has been the fields of true grass — lawns that have even better grass than the Merced Golf Club.  Which reminds me, one of the very first spots we saw was a very nice golf course.  If only we had clubs, and, of course, the time!

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
August 24, 1944


Various types of “invasion arm-band flags” were worn by paratroopers during World War II to identify them as American forces. Because paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines they risked being mistaken for enemy soldiers by the main U.S. assault forces approaching over land. René says that while he was in a French town near where he was stationed, he saw “an occasional French girl with the American Invasion arm-band flag adorning her dress sleeve.” So, evidently some of the paratroopers gave their armbands to French girls.



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