Between August 1 and August 15, René doesn’t write any letters to his parents.

Fortunately, we can follow the activities of the 59th Evac. Hospital through the entries in the journal kept by Philip Westdahl and photographs from René’s albums.
Below is Dr. Westdahl’s journal entry for August 11, 1943



Palermo, Sicily

            I work on the surgical ward of the 91st Evac. Hosp in order to help out while our own hospital is being set up. They have done a lot of good work. By far the majority of their cases are malaria. The only primary surgical cases are those occurring in the vicinity from air raids, accidents, etc. Appendicies, fractures and other cases are only allowed to be kept 7 to 10 days. All patients are evacuated to Africa as soon as their condition permits. Most wounds from the front are being evacuated straight to Africa by train and ship from Palermo.

            We are now ready to function ourselves and during the past 2 days have received 350-400 patients, all but 50 of whom are malaria.

            Our actual set up is truly more than we could ever hope for. We are in beautiful new buildings, which are perfect except for portions that have been destroyed by bombs. The floors are all cement tile and the walls are beautifully tiled. The surgery has complete equipment, including sterilizers, overhead lamps and all the modern equipment of any new hospital at home. There must be some 10 buildings in the group comprising the medical center, and in every one the equipment is the last word in completeness. The offices are spacious and luxuriously furnished.

            It is sickening, however, to see the destruction caused by a few direct bomb hits. Beautiful x-ray units and laboratories ruined. An entire wing of beautiful wards lying in a mass of rubble. When this, which seems so much to us here and now, is multiplied by infinity, one shudders to think of the waste and needless destruction of property and life caused by war.

          Some of the buildings are still occupied by Italian civilian patients. We have had to move them out of a few of the building we are occupying, but they are able to find facilities in other buildings. I understand that many patients were killed by our Fortress raid. Imagine what propaganda we would pour forth back in the States if the Axis had bombed one of our civilian hospitals. We are not beyond reproach. There may be some reasonable explanation to justify such action, but as yet I have not found it.

            From what little contact I have had with the Sicilians of Palermo, they appear quite friendly, smiling and nodding as we pass them. I’m sure they must be a little bitter about our bombing and destruction of their homes and non-military targets, but I have the impression that they are somewhat happy to be relieved of the German occupation and that they hope to see the Nazis defeated.

            We have a large group of Italian prisoners of war working about the grounds and buildings, cleaning up the rubble. They hardly need guards, work fairly willingly and hard, and do not seem too unhappy. A good many of the civilians who had left their homes because of air raids are beginning to return. The great majority of buildings were untouched in town and others have shattered windows, but are livable.

            The people seem to be fairly well fed and clothed. Those who are not were in a similar state before the war.

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Watch for René’s next letter on
August 16

Bombed hospital building being used by the 59th Evac. Unit as medical and surgical wards

Ruins of a church in Palermo

Dr. Chuck Schwartz with one of the local people that Dr. Westdahl describes as “fairly well fed and clothed.”
(Photograph courtesy Stanford Medical History Center – Roy Barnett Cohn Papers)