March 17, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René on March 17, 1945. Here’s an excerpt from the journal of Dr. Philip Westdahl, describing the 59th’s move from Epinal to St. Avold, France.




On March 17, we finally left Epinal and headed north to take part in the push of the 7th Army into Germany. After 2 months of inactivity it was a great boost to our spirits to feel that we were to be back in the fold once more. None of us regretted leaving Epinal. For me, Epinal spelled retreat and delay in the war’s ending.

Our route north took us through Nancy and into the French province of Lorraine. It must have been quite a sight to see our truck moving along the highway. From time to time during our previous moves, we had acquired various odds and ends of furniture to add to the comfort of living. When the day of departure arrived, we would all do our best to load our odds and ends on our truck to the extent of its capacity. Consequently it was a common sight to see a truckload of officers sitting in overstuffed red cushioned chairs rolling along the road.

Our destination was a small Lorrainian town named St. Avold, about 20 miles south of the German border city of Saarbrucken. We set up our tents on a knoll overlooking the town. The engineers had previously constructed roads according to our ground plan, and we lost no time in starting to work.

On the night of March 17, we received our first casualties from the troops fighting for Saarbrucken.

 

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Watch for René’s next letter on
March 21, 1945


The tents at St. Avold, France.



March 21, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 21, 1945
St. Avold, France

No. 22

Dear Folksies,        

            It’s good to be working again!  We’ve been plenty busy, are tenting it once again and enjoying it.  Of course, we are still forced to keep our long woolens on for, even with our oil-burning stoves, things are a bit cool.  The first nite in the surgery tent was really a dilly!  Around 3 A.M. it really got frosty inside and everyone was working like mad primarily to keep warm.

            The “Gang-Greene” is once again functioning as usual, that is, missing or at least getting to meals late. The only meals we’ve gotten to on time are those that are served before we go on shift, that is, breakfast. Why does it always happen to us? And, of course, too, we never get off at the supposed 8 P.M. shift time. A couple of nites ago Mattie stuck us with a longie and had to start it at 7:30 P.M. We could have throttled him, but actually we were so glad to be working again that it didn’t bother us as much as it would have a few months ago, when we were on the tail end of our working period.

            At present Helen Baker (one of our anesthetists) is on leave in England. She has some relatives there and when the unit became eligible for someone to go to England on that 7-day leave business, she was given the opportunity. Gert Brazil is on her 2-dayer in Paris, and as a consequence, we are a bit short on anesthetists at the moment. Schmitty, having little dental work as yet is filling in for Helen. (Gert is still in the learning stage.)

            Have two new officers, Capt. Baldwin and Capt. Stokes. The former is a Medical Officer who, however, used to give a lot of anesthesias before coming into the Army. He has been, before coming to us, Medical officer for some Ack-Ack outfit. Stokes came from some General Hospital in England, I believe, and he is a surgeon. They both just joined us a few days ago, so don’t know more than that about them.

            I’m living with Gil Bishop and Jack Dunlap and we happen to be lucky in that there are only three in our tent, whereas most of the others have four.  It gives us enough room for a decent table, on which I am now typing.  Gil, coming up in the command car with a trailer, managed to cart along quite a bit of extra stuff that has served to make the tent more comfortable and convenient.

            We’re on quite a little rise and we hope that when it starts raining, if it does, and it probably will, that we won’t be washed down into the flats.  The engineer did a nice job of putting in a couple of main roads, blasting a sump pit, and a few other things. Will be taking some pictures when the sun deigns to come out.

            We’ve been getting nothing but the big stuff since we opened up, the little stuff being sent to some other gang —  I think to the bunch I was with in August.  Since we’ve been opened and until this morning, we’ve been so busy that we haven’t had much time to find out things and the only thing that awakens us at night is the cold.  The noise that has been almost constant day and night hasn’t phased us a bit.

            Had a mighty interesting time one night — the night I spent with Bill Reiss, as I was up to his spot on PX business for Fadley.  Bill is in a radar gang and I got to see their center where they can follow the planes over the map – moving miniatures along as the planes are known to move from area to area.  The place looked something like a stock-exchange plus this big central, flat map.  I was there some time after the big show started and things were really as wild as a stock-exchange on its busiest day.  Some time I’ll be able to tell you more about it all.

            Ann Dunn darn near went wild with joy yesterday, for she got a cable from her Mom that her brother was safe – they had had a letter from him from a prison camp! Gee, everyone was so happy for her. Ann was a good friend of Lois’ from Fort Ord.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
March 24, 1945

René took photographs of how their special surgery tent was put up at St. Avold, France and added captions to each one.




First step – smoothing terrain so flooring can be level.




Second step – Ridge poles hooked together at metal ends.




Third step – sections put together.




Fourth – Ready to have canvas sections fitted and laced together over supports.




Surgery tent going up – one side lifted at a time.



March 24, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 24, 1945
St. Avold, France

No. 23

Dear Folksies,        

            I can see that this is going to be some letter. I’m trying to type this in our tent and it is 7 P.M., and it looks as if Bish, Jack & Roy are contemplating consuming most of what is left of the last liquor ration, since there’s nutting doing. Tonight was the night that the “Gang-Greene” was supposed to go on nites but…

            We have had some wonderful weather the last few days and today managed to get a start on the season’s sun-tan while waiting in line for a haircut. However, the nites are still considerably on the chilly side.

            Yesterday morn, Bish, when he finally got up, had to toss Jack’s and my shoes back to us, for – Bish had awakened and yelled at us, “Hey you guys, aren’t you going to get up! It’s time to get up! Time for breakfast! “ And then, in a lower tone, “My watch has stopped. What time is it?” Well, it was only 6 A.M. !!! Nuts!

            Several of the gang have wandered around a bit and quite a few got into Saarbrucken the day after it fell. The stories they brought back about its being a complete wreck were, in a way, good to hear. Don’t have anything against the city, of course, but when we remember the wrecks that were Bizerte, Formia, Cassino, and other spots, it’s good to know that all that has at last come home to roost in Germany itself. The boys say that Bizerte was nothing compared to this town. Had I not been on duty, I probably would have accompanied some of them there, but may get there some other time.

            Some more of the bunch have been getting to Paris of late – Paul and Kuzell went together and now Bell and Hodgson are there with a group of the men. However, the latter were lucky enough to go by train. In this weather, however, going by truck wouldn’t be bad – I’d rather go that way anytime, but the train deal is, of course, the cleanest and easiest.

            Yesterday was cosmopolitan day as far as letters received was concerned. One from George in Marseille, one from Claudine in Paris and one from Jacqueline in London.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
March 29, 1945


Ambulances bringing patients to Receiving.




Officers’ and Nurses’ Mess Tent with Officers’ Area in back.




Road between Surgery and Red Cross Tent. Supply in background.



March 26, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

This excerpt from the journal of Dr. Philip Westdahl tells the story about the unit’s short stay at St. Avold, which René couldn’t tell his parents due to censorship rules…




We worked day and night for six days before the breakthrough into Germany and our casualties became light. The casualties consisted for the most part of mine and shell fragment injuries resulting in multiple and frequently mutilating wounds. Being the first Evac. Hospital in the chain of evacuation from the front, we received the most severely wounded men, while others were sent further back. Consequently we had a good many chest and abdominal wounds.

Every night during our stay in St. Avold we could hear the continuous pounding of the artillery and see the sudden quick flash from the muzzle of guns that momentarily lighted the sky on the horizon. Now and then a German plane would come over, but only for observation. Air raids were almost a thing of the past. However, we operated under blackout conditions to be on the safe side. During the day, of course, our huge red cross identified us as a hospital. 

On March 26, we were on the move again, this time into Germany.

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Watch for René’s next letter on
March 29, 1945


René’s caption for this photo reads: “Generators mounted on trucks next to x-ray tent and supplying power to whole camp. Town of St. Avold in the background.”




René’s caption for this photo reads: “The convoy lines up at St. Avold before leaving for first German set-up.”