March 2, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 2, 1943
No. 14

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

         In a few days I will undoubtedly be sending you another money order for $100. Money seems to collect around here, as there isn’t a great deal of use for it. About $75 comes in cash each month, and I can’t possibly spend it all, even if I wanted to.

         Today, also was the first time the nurses got their increase in pay. Next month they will be getting their back pay for the increase – for the last 3 months. As a consequence Lois also has a lot of dough on hand and will be sending money orders home to her folks likewise.

         I now have another ward, a medical ward also, and am kept fairly busy, tho’ nothing rushing. The weather has been kind of bum, what with the wind and sand blowing around pretty much for a few days. As a consequence we have been sticking pretty close to home – paying bridge or Russian Bank at night, working during the daytime. There are a couple of the officers who are on the sick list, colds and such, but most everyone is fine and the griping is less now that everyone is working.

         When we poured sand on our mud it did a lot of good, for although it did rain again, the sand absorbs the water and consequently there were not the nice slushy puddles for us to wade in. However, recently there have been a few little windstorms and they deposited most of the sand we had spread around the area – deposited the sand in most of our bunks, in our hair, etc.

         Dad, you asked about vitamin deficiency diseases. We have seen none that I know of in our patients, and as we do not handle natives, we have no actual first hand information. However, it isn’t hard to diagnose, at a distance, the many cases of rickets among the Arab kids that we see around the neighborhood – crooked bones galore, disfigured cripples, etc.

         Just had a nice shower and feel very good – probably will just sit around and play some more bridge as usual, however. I think I told you that we now have a shower set-up where we can get showers twice a week. The only trouble is that the water is frequently too hot or a bit too cool. But often it can be hit just right and then it feels almost like home – except, of course, it doesn’t last perfect like that and onecan not stay in it all weekend as one would like.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
March 5


The nurses got a raise!




Village children at school




In his journal on March 1, Philip Westdahl, MD, writes: “Took a walk over to the American cemetery this afternoon. There are now 126 graves – 3 rows of simple, clean, white crosses. One naturally sees those at home to whom each of those crosses means an empty chair at the table. Grave #124 covers the first and only patient to die in the 59th Evacuation Hospital so far – a Negro soldier with a compound fracture who died on February 23 as a result of a spinal anesthesia.”



March 5, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 5, 1943
No. 15

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

          Things have been pretty busy for me the last few days, as my second ward got filled up in a hurry and I was temporarily swamped. Have had a few interesting cases, including a meningococcus meningitis, a couple of peptic ulcers, some bronchopneumonias, a true lobar and a probably encephalitis. So, you can see that there has been plenty to keep me going these few days. Outside of working in the ward I have done nothing else except play bridge at night.

          We have had some pretty good meals lately – some nice chicken and some roast beef. Of course, we in Supply have continued to be in good with the non-coms of the Mess Supply Department, and as a consequence we have been able to have late evening snacks besides our usual three per day. One of our boys is quite a good amateur cook and he has kept Ken, George, Lois and me well satisfied around 10-11 P.M. We get such things as toasted roast beef sandwiches, toasted canned chicken sandwiches, fried chicken on the wing and leg, etc. Not bad, eh.

          Mess call!!

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
March 12


Some of the “Non-coms of the Mess Supply Department” who make sure that René, Lois, George Davis and Ken Fadley get their late evening snacks.



March 12, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 12, 1943
No. 16

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

       Tonight has been finally set aside for letter writing and I hope that it will actually turn into a letter writing night, instead of all good intentions going to h____ as they have in the past.

       I’m thrilled that the mail gets through as well as it has – of course, from time to time a letter shows up that was written a couple of months before, and ‘tis certainly most confusing. But the post offices certainly have a tremendous job and they have done it well, I believe. There is certainly nothing like the mail and mess calls to pep up a gang of men.

       I’m sorry to hear that Gram has been ill, but glad that she is on the mend again. I’ve had a ticklish cough for a while – in fact darn near everyone has – probably because of changing weather. One minute sunny and hot as the deuce inside the tents, and then the next minute raining cats and dogs and cold with a chilly wind. Yep, ‘tis a strange country alright.

       None of us are taking quinine as yet and I know of no ruling at the moment. We are instituting rather strict mosquito control, sleeping under individual netting, etc., but no medication as prophylactic is being used as yet.

       As to the Ghirardelli’s, ‘tis appreciated far more this way than it ever was back home. Besides that, Lois is a pretty good fudge maker. Oh oh, she is sitting beside me, using my typer on some other letters and she just made me admit that it is really more than pretty good. In fact, among the Supply crew she now has quite a reputation, so much so that one of our sergeants has called her on the phone asking for fudge for the 11 P.M. snack in their tent.

       You mention listening to the opera and that reminds me that we have some pretty good radio programs over here also – re-broadcasts of Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, concerts, etc. Sometimes we have radio difficulty, but ordinarily it comes through pretty well.

       Since last writing, things have changed a bit around here. We have had to set up a Communicable Ward, and who was more qualified to run it but, yes, me. As a consequence I now have a regular medical ward and two isolation wards. It has been quite a stunt setting up an isolation ward in a tent, but we have managed pretty well. Have a few Liberty or is it now “V” measles cases, a couple of plain measles, a couple of mumps, a typhoid and a meningococcemia. 

       One of the most interesting cases was a soldier in his twenties who was well until getting off the ship, when he developed a headache, which persisted for 10 days, following which time he entered here showing nothing but a moderately sore throat. He had only a couple of tenths of a degree of fever, however, he soon refused to eat, became pretty unmanageable, getting up out of bed and doing things people should not do in polite society. Then, by golly, he became semi-comatose, would not swallow and wouldn’t answer at all. Spinal revealed 44 cells, mostly lymphs, and a positive Kahn.

       He plugged along the same all that day, getting feedings through a stomach tube, and then late that afternoon back came the report from the lab that his spinal Kahn was negative but that his blood Kahn was very strongly positive. Well, rather than wait for a second Kahn on the blood – since I thought the man probably wouldn’t be around much longer – I gave him some Mapharsen right then and there.

       The next morning there seemed to be improvement, and by that night, by golly, the guy was semi-conscious again, could see (oh yes, he had a facial paralysis the day the mapharsen was given) and responded somewhat to our talking. Yesterday he was even better. We took out the stomach tube and he took plenty by mouth. Today we could understand some of the things he was saying, he could move around sufficiently and, all in all, he seems to be on the mend. Cause and effect? You tell me!

       We’ve had two other strange cases. These two boys were on different wards and turned up with stories most suggestive of perinephric or subdiaphramatic abscesses, with right-upper-quadrant tenderness and palpable masses supposedly, and large livers. Stools completely negative and counts between 10,000 and 20,000. The first was given emetin for no very good reason. Result: cure. The second was operated on and nothing but a large, normal liver found. Got no better, emetin given. Result: cure.

       All three of these cases can’t be coincidences, or can they? As Bill Reilly said this morning, we have to give ourselves and the drugs a little credit once in a while. We’re certainly not curing these patients just by ward rounds – or maybe it’s the lack of rounds.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

My letter continues tomorrow…
March 13


When she’s not caring for patients or washing her clothes (as she’s seen doing here) Lois might be found making delicious fudge to share with various members of the 59th Evac.


Listen to what Gert Brazil had to say about the fudge that Lois made…




One of the two isolation wards that René is running (caring for patients with communicable diseases) in addition to his regular medical ward.



March 13, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 13, 1943
Continuation of
No. 16

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

       Last Sunday, Fran Trembley, Pat Barry, two friends of theirs and Lois and I went out for the afternoon. We went to a place where, by golly, there was a waterfall and a cave very much like the Oregon Caves, only smaller and not as safe to go in after venturing a very few feet. After bumping my head a couple of times we back out again. We wandered around the gardens at this place, enjoying the sunshine and then went out for dinner, having some very good roast beef.

       Some of the gang are ill at the moment. Sewell Brown has a bronchopneumonia and though he was pretty rotten yesterday, he is some better today and should do O.K. He had had a bum mild bronchitis for a couple of days before, and then suddenly got a chill and the works. Russell Klein is also ill today and is hospitalized. One of the girls, Chris Colletti, I just heard, developed pleurisy today. Otherwise everyone is doing O.K.

       Today one of our swellest fellows got orders that he is leaving permanently – Paul Stratte. It seems that, though the office has kept it a deep dark secret for several months, we are over a couple of medical officers, according to the new table that came out many months ago. No chance was given anyone to transfer out – and believe me there have been several, in fact, many, requests for just that – all requests have been turned down. Now, from higher headquarters came orders to detach, permanently, one of our Lts. Evidently, the Colonel really fought about it, for that considerably credit is given. Mattie selected Paul because he is the youngest and least experienced. But of all, except me, he wanted to leave least.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
March 24


Nurse Pat Barry, watching (hands on hips) as Ag Alkire and Ralph Cressman mug for the camera. Pat was one of the gang that went with Lois and René to visit a waterfall and garden — perhaps the Sultan’s Garden pictured below.





Russell Klein, pictured above, is sick in the hospital, along with Sewell Brown and nurse Chris Colletti.




Paul Stratte, who René calls “one of our swellest fellows” got orders to leave the 59th Evac. Unit permanently. Paul is pictured at the left, with Gert, Lois and René.



March 24, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 24, 1943
No. 17

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

      Since my last letter, I have been kept awfully busy and consequently have ended up in the evening pretty tired and unable to sit down and pound out any letters to you. The one day when I did have some time and could have written a little, all typers were in use getting out reports, and even mine was in use up in X-ray as I had loaned it to them when theirs went on the fritz. By the way, that bloomin’ little old 15-odd-year-old typer is still in damn good condition and the boys up there like it better than the relatively new one that they had been using before.

       Since my last writing I have received several letters and the more I get the more ashamed I get that I have been so lax in all the answering. Sorry to hear that Gram is on the fritz again, though from her letter I take it that she improved this time relatively rapidly. Sounds interesting that you are thinking of planting vegetables in place of the lawn – a good idea. Why don’t you just put up signs for the birds to keep out and I’m sure they will be very good about it.

       There have been more changes around here. Paul, as I told you, left, and when he got to where he was sent they phoned back that they didn’t need him and were sending him back to us. But apparently somebody else there decided to keep him or use him elsewhere, as we have not seen or heard from him since that phone call. All were pretty sad to see him leave us, as he is one hell of a swell fellow.

       A few days after Paul left, several of our men were yanked out and we thus got rid of some of the least desirable of them, but also some of our good men besides. Then came the shock that Pete Joseph and Ed Blasdel were chosen to leave also, and we all thought that was the beginning of the end for the Unit, but the orders were taken back and then a volunteer was asked for – either a Captain or a Lieutenant. For the Captain it would mean no promotion and not so much medical work, but for a Lieutenant it would mean a Captaincey. Oscar Carlson took it. Another fellow we were all sorry to see leave. A third officer has also been transferred. That was Larry Hunt, who was Detachment Commander. Sid Shapiro, of whom I have spoken before, is now Detachment Commander. Gil Bishop is no longer Ass’t Adjutant, but is Adjutant. Ed Cane is Evacuation Officer and may not be with us long, as it is likely he will be transferred.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

My letter continues tomorrow…
March 25


A few days after Paul Stratte left the 59th, René feared that it was “the beginning of the end for the Unit” when Pete Joseph (shown above) and Ed Blasdel (below at the beach) were also chosen to leave. But their orders were “taken back and then a volunteer was asked for.”





Which doctor volunteered to leave the unit? Oscar Carlson – “another fellow we were all sorry to see leave,” René relates.



In his journal on March 15 Philip Westdahl, MD wrote: “This morning we all dashed out of our wards because of the roar of a plane which sounded like a power-dive – it ended in a distant dull thud! Overhead, a small white dot in the blue sky told us that the pilot had baled out. He landed safely – we talked to him and the only complaint he had was of the cold up there in the clouds.”



March 25, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 25, 1943
Continuation of
No. 17

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

       I have been kept darn busy during the last week or 10 days. Yes, I’ve got many more patients than I had in Ward 16 at the County. Mostly mumps and Victory Measles; a few true measles, a couple of meningococcemias (without meningitis), a couple of meningococcic meningitises, a typhoid and a Shiga dysentery. I’m wondering how much mumps and measles there is back in the U.S. because most of the cases we are getting are coming from there, having been able to trace definite contacts back to cases left in the U.S.

       As to therapy, sulfadiazine has been doing the trick nicely in the meningitis boys and also in the meningococcemias.

       As to the soldier I mentioned in my last letter – the one who got better on marpharsen – well, he up and fooled me and went very sour after a couple of good days and on post nothing specific was found except brain edema. Whether it was actually luetic or just a virus encephalitis, is pretty hard to determine here.

       I have been so busy that I had to give up one of my wards – i.e. the medical one, and am now strictly an Isolationist. Poor Eleanor Larsen has been taking a ribbing, as she was the first nurse to work in Isolation and darned if she didn’t come down with German Measles a couple of days ago. She is doing fine, of course. Sewell Brown is still ill, but doing well. The rest of the boys are back on their feet again, also, as is Chris Colletti.

       Time out – one of our boys just brought me in a nice canned-chicken sandwich on toast.

       We had a party the other night and it was a pretty good one. It was given out at what used to be a good restaurant with dance floor and outdoor gardens, etc. ‘Twas really pretty nice and we had a band from one of the outfits around here, plenty of sandwiches and plenty of champagne. On the way back, George Davis, Liz Liss, Lois and I in a jeep — Lois got tired of the plain scenery of the road, so George satisfied her by taking her up three-foot banks on either side of the road, just to see what was on the other side. Those darn things will climb anything. Finally had to throttle Lois, as she kept up just like, “Do it again Daddy!”

       The nurses gave a party last Wednesday (a week ago) that was also quite a success. It was given at a place closer in town — an eating place used by some of the Army outfits now, and they had another band and a good dance floor besides “Carmen Miranda.” Well, actually you must understand that Carmen herself was not here, but our Corporal Sateja, who attends to all the pay vouchers for the unit, is an old hand at the circus, having been born and raised in a circus. Anyway, he has perfected a Carmen Miranda act that is a wow. In fact, his act was put on in town at the same time Martha Raye was on, and it was quite a hit. The other night, however, was the first time most of the officers and nurses had seen it, and it really was a hit.

       Next week we are having a small dinner party that ought to turn out to be real fun. It is a “Promotion Party” given by George for himself. As of day before yesterday, it is Captain Davis. There are only going to be 16 at the party, including the Colonel, Roy Cohn and us. Lois is making the invites and Roy and Lois are making up poetry for after dinner speeches.

       Food has been pretty good of late and we have had quite a little chicken, both fresh and canned, mostly fresh – some roast beef, ham, etc. So really, as far as the 59th is concerned, and others around us, hardships there are none.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
March 29


Sewell Brown is still ill, but “doing well.”




Corporal Charles (Chuck) Sateja – served in an administrative role in the 59th Evac Hospital, but also entertained the troops as Carmen Miranda. After the war he worked as a trapeze artist “The Great Sateja,” and later as a circus clown with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.



March 29, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

March 29, 1943
No. 18

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

       I am taking the afternoon off and am over in the recreation tent, rather warm, but nevertheless not too uncomfortable. Lois is here doing the same – i.e. writing an occasional letter. Reasons for the afternoons off: For about the last week Lois was running a 100.8 degree temp along with somewhat of a cough, tiredness and her submax gland somewhat enlarged again. She felt punk and Reilly had her chest x-rayed – negative – and then had her in the other hospital for sinus films and observations. Films negative and as soon as she got there – actually in the same room she was in when first here – she developed a normal temperature. Came back today and feels fine.

        Sewell Brown is still there, but is fast improving – although strength and all coming back just about like mine did almost a year and a half ago.

        Yesterday I stayed in bed all day myself and woke up unable to utter an intelligible sound. Yep, a goofy laryngitis, probably contracted from some of our measles cases that have been complicated by a similar lack-of-talk-itis.

        Anyhoo, my wards were split up between Kuzell, Drew, Hodgson and Bryner and I had them bring some of the paper work over to me so I did that while remaining speechless in bed. I really had excellent care. Ken and George wouldn’t let me up at all (despite inability to get the mercury in the thermometer up above 98.4.) They brought me my lunch, which consisted of chicken. My ward boy brought me a 2 quart can of orange juice.

         And then at dinner, they found that they and the rest had beans and carrots, so they decided I wouldn’t like that, so they snooped around our Supply Section, and darned if the electricians weren’t face deep in chicken grease. So Ken proceeded to ball them out and have them bring some chicken (nicely fried) up to me. In the meantime, one of the boys who runs the Mess Supply had been down and said he would bring me a little more juice. He did, only we have had to store it in a crate, for he brung orange juice, pineapple juice, peaches, and pineapple and strawberry jam. As a result, with all that marvelous care, I am able to be up and around a bit today, tho’ I am using this typer to express most of the things I wish to, instead of straining those vocal cords.

        Nothing else particularly of note here. I have been seeing so many rashes that at night I seem to go to bed with spots before my eyes – pinkish red, maculo-papular spots, and also reddish spots with little white centers.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

My letter continues tomorrow…
March 30


Lois had been running a fever along with a cough and other symptoms. She had a chest x-ray, but fortunately it was negative, and she’s feeling fine now.




While René was in bed with larygitis, his wards were split up among Bill Kuzell (above, left), Serge Bryner (above right), Bill Hodgson (below) and Bill Drew.




In his journal on March 26, 1943, Philip Westdahl, MD, wrote, “Quite a bit of excitement and curiosity here today! About 45 German and Italian prisoners arrived. They are being quartered in 4 of our regular ward tents, in one end of the hospital area. There are 2 guards to each tent. Most of them appear to be young boys averaging 20 yrs. Most of the wounds are gun-shots of extremities.