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

January 2, 1943

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Gram,

       Here we are, set up in our tents, functioning as a hospital for the last few days. Right now it isn’t bad at all despite the mud and slush that we have to slide through to get anywhere around here. However, we are lucky enough to be on relatively high ground and when it stops raining the water drains off pretty fast. We have rapidly realized that Africa is not just one big desert – probably one can find almost any kind of weather somweheres on this continent. We have had a few days typical of San Francisco foggy weather, though I didn’t think that S.F. has ever been quite as cold as we have had it here. In fact, surprisingly enough, we had a slight amount of snow fall here a few days ago.

       Fuel has been quite a problem, so we have to resort to clothes and more clothes to keep warm. There have been a lot of colds floating around because of this, but so far I have been pretty lucky, though Lois has had a bum cold for the last week. At that the gals are far better situated than we are. They are in an old girls’ school building and are at least plenty dry. However, the fuel problem applies to them as well and their building is almost constantly cold.

       I have been unofficially working in the Supply & Transportation Dept of the hospital, and as a consequence have been able to get down to see Lois more often than I would have had I just stuck around our hospital area all day. Now, however, since our hospital is getting into full swing, the amount of time we are able to be away from the area is naturally limited.

       Despite the conditions we are working under – which certainly are far from bad, it is good to be working. And though we would all naturally rather be back in S.F. it’s far better than sitting around on the east coast of the U.S. twiddling our thumbs as we did for so long.

       It’s been kind of fun trying to get things that we need in Supply because it has taxed my poor French. However, with the aid of a little dictionary and my pronunciation (which has probably been about the only decent thing I have remembered) I have been doing O.K. and am fast improving. So far, I’ve managed to get everything I have gone after.

       Water has been quite a problem here, just as has fuel. There is water, of course, but to get it out to our area is another thing and because of the fuel problem, hot water is difficult to get. We are unable to take baths or showers in our own area so we go down to town when possible to get showers. George Davis (the Supply Officer) and I have been so busy that it wasn’t until yesterday when we managed to get down for a shower ourselves. The girls have almost the same problem, though they have the facilities for showers in their place – they only have hot water for a couple of hours a day and, of course, the first one who jumps in gets showered and the others may be out of luck.

       We had quite a New Years’ Eve party down at the gals’ place. Besides our own bunch there were several officers from other outfits and with music supplied by victrola records and a radio, we did O.K.

       There naturally isn’t much to do around here but work – and after all that’s what we’re here for, but it is interesting to wander around a little in the daytime.

       Hope you all had a nice Xmas and New Years’ Day and that the New Year will be a Happier one for all.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 7


Enlisted men’s tents in Casablanca




59th Evac. Hospital Supply & Transportation Department




Gert Brazil & Lois McFarland in Casablanca



Entry from the personal journal of  Philip Westdahl, MD, about an event René didn’t/couldn’t write about to his family:

“December 31, 1942 3AM to 5AM – we undergo our first air-raid. I put on my helmet and clothes and lie beside by cot and pray that for the sake of Georgia and our baby, everything goes well – and it does! We see only 2 German bombers in the beam of our searchlights. The spray of red-hot tracer bullets is quite a sight – one nicks the tail of a bomber but she keeps going. We spend the afternoon digging a slit-trench! We expect another reception tonight – but the Germans disappoint us. Our first patients arrived today – mostly convalescents from the hospital in town.”



Hear what Gert Brazil had to say about the nurses’ experience of the air raid…



January 31, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 31, 1943

No. 7

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

       For all of us here it was Xmas four days ago. Mail and packages came in by the droves that day and it took the boys hours to separate it. They got to the 1st class mail separated pretty well by about 6 P.M. and as I was going to go down and take Lois to dinner in town I took the nurses’ 1st class mail down to them. When I walked into the building I felt just like Santa Claus, for I was mobbed when the gals saw the mail sack. They went through that like a bunch of hungry wolves.

       Gil Bishop went down there 2 hours later with the packages and he likewise had the same experience, only worse for he had several sacks of packages for them. After Lois and I came back from dinner we sat around and opened all the packages that she got and had quite a time reading all the letters both of us had gotten as I had read none of them up to that time. Then, when I got home to camp later that night I found the package that were there for me. Yes, ‘twas really a good Xmas!! You mention that we should get 7 packages between us and I believe that we have gotten them all.

       Oodles of thanks for the letters. It’s really a grand feeling to be getting mail over here, especially such nice, long newsy letters that you people get off. It’s an especially good feeling to know that a letter takes only a couple of weeks, or less, actually to get over here if everything goes right, and as a consequence when we get a letter saying everything is O.K. at home, we can feel pretty certain that even at the time we are reading that letter, everything is still O.K.

       I think I told you that Cy Johnson is now Capt., Elmer Chappell is now Major, and Larry Hunt is now 1st Lt. Since then, Bill Collie made Major, Gil Bishop to 1st Lt. Gil really deserves it, in fact, with the exception of Cy and Elmer, he deserved his promotion more than anyone. He’s really a swell kid and knows his stuff. He goes around with Helen Nelson, the dietician who, likewise, is a swell person. Gil was supposed to supervise the sorting of the mail the other day, but when they pulled out this official letter, bearing the news of his promotion, well, someone had to take over right away – for he was far from that mail tent in no time. That was the same night he and I played Santa Claus for the nurses, and we combined all that and made it a celebration night down there.

       As you no doubt already know from radio broadcasts, which we likewise heard in the wee hours one morning a few days ago, F.D.R. and Churchill were around this neck of the woods. In fact F.D.R. passed by our area twice in one day. I wasn’t around here when he came by in the morning and consequently Davis and I pooh-poohed the Padre and other notorious exaggerators when they told their stories about having seen F.D.R. going whizzing by here. Around dinner-time, however, we had a warning of things to come because of M.P.s around, etc., and almost everyone stood by the road and waited just inside our barbed-wire fence.

       Sure enough, they both came by in the same car with Hopkins and all, and we got a good look as they slowed down just by the front of the hospital. F.D.R. waved at us as we saluted him, and it really was a wonderful feeling. Golly, how that man gets around!!

       ‘Tis truly amazing. Just as amazing, of course, is the wonderful system of secrecy that the F.B.I. and the MPs have when something like that is going on. For, except for the relatively few people around who actually saw the President, no one seemed to know anything about his being here until the newspapers came out with the news when it was announced that he was back safely in the U.S. Yes, it really gave everyone quite a thrill to know that F.D.R. was over here.

       Had another interesting experience last Sunday. Davis, the Col., and I took a nice ride out in the jeep, taking along with us my camera and the Col.’s camera. We wandered through the town, showing the Col. some of the queer Arabian sites that George and I had discovered in some of our previous wanderings – intentional and unintentional both. Then we went out to the airport, went through some of the planes there, talked with many men, and in general found out a lot of interesting things.

       We met some of the men who were flying the British Spitfire planes – American aviators who had been in England for months before they came over here. As it turned out they were apparently here as protection for the President. Anyway, we got talking to them and the Col. induced them to go up and take his camera and take pictures of our hospital area. There was a Major Avery and a Capt. Hill and a Capt. Fleming. All three are young fellows, the Major being only 26. Capt. Hill has the distinction of being the first American pilot to knock down a Nazi plane in this war – this episode having occurred over England sometime last June or July.

       Well, Major Avery went up in his plane and flew out to our camp area while we stayed at the airport. He flew over the Hospital area and pointed it out to Capt. Hill as Hill, who was already in the air, was the best photographer of the two. Hill was going to land and get the Col’s camera and then go up with it and snap pictures of the hospital from the air. Just from the looks of Avery, George and I had a hunch what was going to happen, and sure enough, when we returned later to the camp, we found out that Avery had swooped down close very the camp and then roared off and up. In fact, he was so close that Major Collie was all for running and shutting off the generator for fear that our power line, which is only about 16 or 17 ft. off the ground, was going to be taken along by the plane. Yes, Avery gave the boys and girls quite a thrill!

       When Avery and Hill landed, we gave Hill the Col’s camera and he went aloft again. Avery joined us and we went out to the area to be there when Hill was snapping the pictures. He likewise pulled a few shenanigans and gave the gang something to talk about. The pictures he took turned out nicely.

       George and I drove Avery back to the airport and had quite a chat with him and the rest of his gang. They are a swell bunch. We invited the three of them to join us at the Nurses’ Quarters that night as the nurses were having an Open House. The fellows hadn’t had any chance for any fun around here and as they had been up further front for a while, they were just looking for a good time. Well, we managed to give them a pretty good time that night. We even had some champagne for them.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

My letter continues tomorrow…
February 1


Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Casablanca



In his journal on January 27, Philip Westdahl, MD, writes: “We listen to a British broadcast explaining why the president was in Casablanca. Thus far all we know is that the conference reached a decision on the allied plan of offensive for 1943. We hope for bigger hidden meanings. We are present where history is in the making.”




Casablanca barber – perhaps one of the “Arabian sights” René and George showed the Colonel






Aerial photographs of the 59th Evacuation Hospital in Casablanca



February 27, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

February 27, 1943

No. 11

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

            There is nothing particularly new today except that Lois got all the mail in the family for today, receiving three from her mother and one from you, Mom. The latter was the one in which you tell all about meeting the nurse whom we knew at Pickett. Got quite a laugh out of it because, though that nurse was nice, she was sort of a flighty, talkative person who seemed to flit here and there and never quite knew what she was doing.

            Really the only purpose of this letter is to enclose some pictures for you. And this reminds me – film is hard to get here, consequently if you can beg, borrow or steal some 127 film ‘twill be greatly appreciated.


February 27, 1942

No. 12

             This letter isn’t a letter but is only for the purpose of sending you a money order for $100. I am sending another $100 but that will be in #13 for the purpose of safety, rather than having the two together. Of course, another motive I have in doing that is so that when you see #13, you will not be so sore at me for having written too infrequently – i.e. it will seem as if I have actually written more than I have. Eh! You don’t like it, eh!!!

                                                                                                                                   Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
March 2


Roy Cohn, MD chopping wood




Lois — perhaps with some of the wood Roy chopped




Bert Halter and his laundry.



In his journal on February 27, Philip Westdahl, MD, writes: “GREAT DAY!! I AM THE FATHER OF A BABY GIRL! The news came via 5 letters from other officers’ wives to their husbands; it reached my ears in the middle of excising a pilondial sinus — that is, I think that’s what it was — I don’t remember anything about the operation from that point on!”



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 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 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.