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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 77.4 (2003) 961-962

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Michael E. Shay. A Grateful Heart: The History of a World War I Field Hospital. Contributions in Military Studies, no. 212. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. xvii + 237 pp. Ill. $62.00 (0-313-31911-1).

The infantry division of the American Army in France in World War I had 28,000 men in four regiments. Each regiment had its own field hospital of 100-150 beds with six medical officers and eighty-three enlisted men; the hospital moved by truck and operated in tents or in expediently useful buildings, and could expand to 300-400 beds with additional personnel.

This is the story of one field hospital, the 103d Field Hospital Company of the 26th (Yankee) Division from New England. It landed in France in October 1917, was temporarily assigned to the base hospital from Johns Hopkins, and then moved to a training area in the Vosges Mountains. Here began familiarity with mud, lice, cold, and the jobs of sick call and wound care. Field hospitals were mobile, were sent to support the battle line—as was the 103d—and served in every capacity, from disease hospital to resuscitation center to acute care (with surgical reinforcement) to reserve and rest status. Their job was triage, stabilization, and evacuation to the base hospitals.

The 103d served during the second battle of the Marne, the last great German offensive. The battles of Soissons, Toul, Chateau-Thierry, and Belleau Wood found regiments of four U.S. divisions, including the 26th, as the major block of the German advance. In these actions the 103d treated (with surgical and female nurse augmentation) hundreds of patients and evacuated them to the rear. In September 1918, at St. Mihiel and Verdun, the American Expeditionary Force [End Page 961] (AEF) went on the offensive as an American army. The 103d moved, set up, moved again, served as a surgical hospital, as an infectious disease hospital, as a holding facility for evacuees—and kept moving to keep up with the troops. Logistical support could be a problem; timely transportation support frequently was. The mission was to support the troops in the rain, in the mud, at night, close enough to receive artillery fire, but always getting established in time to care for the wounded and sick. Sometimes the unit was hindered by contrary orders or a tangled chain of command, but it was usually well supported by line and medical superior staff and command. Usually working in tents, sometimes in portable huts, on occasion in an adaptable building, the 103d met every mission call—as did the three other field hospitals in the division. The "final push" at the Meuse-Argonne found the 103d managing U.S. and French casualties until the armistice of 11 November 1918. The members of the 103d served with distinction, caring for 6,500 patients in five battles. They came home in April 1919 and resumed their civilian pursuits.

There are contemporary memoir histories of hospital units in World War I written by and for unit members, but I am not aware of a previous modern history of a field hospital. This book, an homage to the author's grandfather (an enlisted member of the hospital) and to four other family members who served in the war, is very much a unit history—the story of an organization and how it functioned. The text is workmanlike and descriptive without much analysis; there are no heroic stories, no agonizing accounts of suffering or praise of surgical miracles. Some of the medical officers are mentioned and quoted. The devotion of the division to its commander, Major General Clarence R. Edwards, is frequently reported, as is the distaste of higher command for him. Each section has a good synoptic account of the war at that period. There are useful appendices on AEF medical organization; on the important diseases and their management; on the care of wounded, gassed, and "shell-shocked" patients; and on tentage and billets...


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