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WORLD WAR II

(1939 - 1945)

Prior to United States entry into World War II, a request for Pennsylvania Hospital to sponsor the 52nd Evacuation Hospital came from the U. S. Surgeon General as part of the War Department's Protective Mobilization Plan.

Dr. Charles Mitchell, the commanding officer of the World War I unit at its dissolution in 1918, was recommended by the Medical Staff to organize the new group. Helen G. McClelland, R.N., D.S.C., R.R.C., decorated for her role in the unit's World War I service and successor to Miss Dunlop in 1933 as the hospital's director of nurses, was named to organize the nursing component. In the beginning, there were 47 medical officers, 52 nurse officers and 300 enlisted men. Some medical personnel from other Philadelphia hospitals were part of the group and, as was the case in World War I, the first commanding officer was a member of the regular Army medical corps. In addition, other personnel would eventually leave the hospital, singly or in groups, to serve in every branch of the armed forces and in every theater of the war.

Within two weeks of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pennsylvania Hospital unit was called to duty. They were in the first convoy to sail for the Pacific theater of war. The 52nd Evacuation Hospital left with a large contingent from the hospital staff. Their destination was a small village on the island of New Caledonia. They established a hospital in thatched roof and bamboo-framed huts totally constructed by hospital personnel with local civilian help. Hampered by obsolete equipment and lack of vital materials, the 52nd still treated over 6,000 inpatients and a larger number of outpatients during a six-month period. In the fall of 1942, a forward unit was established in Normea. Within a few weeks, the small staff took care of 2,000 patients. Some of the 52nd's medical officers were sent out to Guadalcanal to assist overworked staff in field hospitals while most of the nurses saw duty at various times on the U. S. Navy Hospital Ship Solace. The unit went on to serve in various locations in the Pacific, including Woodlask Island (off of New Guinea), Finschafer, New Guinea and the Phillippines.

At home, the war caused familiar problems. In the 193rd annual report of the hospital, administrator John N. Hatfield reported:

I wish it were possible to render this report without reference to war and its effect upon the conduct of the hospital ... the works ... have seared deeper and deeper into the organization fabric with the resultant scars becoming larger and larger.

He spoke of the "overworked and undermanned" operating staff and the closure of wards for periods of "several months." But for a huge corps of active volunteers, he wrote, it would have been necessary to close some of the wards until the war was over.

The physical deterioration of the hospital's buildings, built in 1755, required repair. The costs were staggering, with the hospital's traditional philosophy of free care in conflict with its financial resources. In 1944, of 301 beds, fewer than 20% were for paying patients. Despite severe obstacles, the hospital prepared for its returning staff, managing to make basic improvements. Additional buildings were furnished and fitted to provide offices for medical staff and new facilities for nursing students. An eager staff of doctors and nurses rejoined the hospital.

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