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August 7, 1943

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 7, 1943

Palermo, Sicily

           We move into the partially destroyed buildings of the University of Palermo medical school. This is truly a beautiful set-up and as we wander through the various laboratories (anatomy, pathology, embryology), the amphitheaters for lectures and even the old professors’ offices, it is as though we had returned to our medical school days. It is truly good to be back in this atmosphere, sleeping amongst the old pathological specimens. We almost feel as though we were men of science again rather than military robots.

            We learn that the Univ. of Palermo medical school is over a century old, and is the largest in Sicily. Many of the wonderful pathological specimens date back only 70 years, however, the present school is a beautifully equipped new building only three years old. The clinic and hospital buildings are also new and well equipped and all form a group near the medical school resembling a beautiful campus. Many of the buildings were bombed by our Fortresses in March 1943, but other than one or two direct hits, most of the damage amounted to shattered windows.

            We were naturally very curious and looked through all of the old professors’ desk drawers. It seemed quite sacrilegious and we had a feeling of sorrow and regret as we looked over collections of apparently treasured notes, slides and specimens. This war has changed and destroyed many lives and it comes a little closer to home when we see how completely the dreams of this old medical professor must have been shattered.

            We really must admire the type of work that must have gone on in this medical center. Beautiful collections of slides and photographs of rare and interesting cases, beautiful hand painted anatomy charts, all these things are as fine if not finer than anything we have seen in our own schools at home. And the buildings are absolutely the last word in beautifully arranged and equipped modern laboratories; truly the envy of all of us who spent 4 years of our lives in the humble surroundings of Stanford medical school.

            The two largest buildings of the regular hospital have been taken over by the 91st Evac. Hosp. The clinic buildings, however, are still available and also modern and well arranged. We hope to be able to establish ourselves in these, using the school buildings for living quarters. We estimate the capacity of about 1000 beds. The orthopedic clinic has about 4 beautiful, tiled operating rooms and all in all we certainly have a potentially ideal spot. The final word, however, lies with Col. Bolibaugh, who has not as yet arrived in Palermo with our equipment and the remainder of our officers and men.

            One of the most amusing incidents upon our arrival here was to see some of the enlisted men giving each other baths on the marble dissecting tables in the anatomy room before we told them what they had been used for.


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