Story by André Jamar

My experience as a Member of the U.S. Forces in 1944 and 1945

2nd Lt. – 77th Evacuation Hospital – First Army

The air-borne invasion into southern Holland on September 17, 1944 had not accomplished the entire mission but it had made possible the expansion of the Allied area beyond Nijmegen. The American First Army had continued its advance and on October 2 launched an attack north of Aachen, penetrated the Siegfried Line by October 6, then attacking southwest of Aachen, the pincers move around the city was begun. All along the line, probing attacks and continuous pressure persisted, but when and where the big push would come was not known.

The advanced party had been instructed to proceed to Verviers, Belgium and to set up the hospital in a school building, the Ecole Normale de l’Etat. This was a large brick building of recent construction, located on top of a hill overlooking the town. The Germans had used it as an induction station for foreign conscripts. There were several minor inadequacies in the building from the standpoint of its use as a hospital, but on the whole, it was very well adapted for this new purpose.

The most difficult feature which could not be overcome was the number of stairways which it was necessary to climb and descend with patients. One small elevator served the entire building, and this was not large enough to hold a litter so that it could be used only for supplies and other small loads. The classrooms were all of various sizes and all well suited for conversion into wards. Built in the shape of a square around a courtyard, the building contained a basement and first floor which extended about the four sides. In the two wings and back were second and third floors, topped by a garret.

In the front basement was a long hallway which was set up as a ward for ambulatory patients. Off this hall were a number of small rooms which were used as the morgue, PX and storage space. A large dining room and kitchen in the right wing were taken over as the patient’s mess. In the rear basement were two long rooms, one used by the Red Cross and the other as the chapel. The left wing the basement held the officers’ and nurses’ kitchen, dining room and recreation room. Along the inside the two latter rooms was a large air raid shelter.

On the first floor in the front, the administrative offices were set up, with headquarters located in the library of the school. In the left wing, a long narrow room extending the length of the building became the receiving section, and along the side toward the courtyard was the gymnasium of the school which was converted into a one hundred-bed ward for the most seriously ill surgical patients. On the right wing of the first floor along a wide hallway were four rooms which were occupied by the x-ray department, central supply and surgical headquarters. In the corner of this floor near surgical headquarters was a classroom of moderate size which was ideal as an operating room.

Along the back of the first floor was a series of small classrooms. The first of these was given over to the plaster room and workroom for the operating room. The other five were converted into wards, four for the orthopedic cases, and the last for neurosurgery. In the rear corner, opposite the receiving department and the gymnasium another large classroom was taken over as the minor surgery and nose and throat clinic. On the second floor, the front corner on the left was occupied by the dental department, sick-call room and the barber shop, while the right front corner was given to medical supply.

A number of large classrooms in the right and rear wings of this floor were made into surgical wards with the left rear corner room, the former physics laboratory, being occupied by the pharmacy and laboratory. The third floor had been the dormitories for the students and three large long rooms in each wing had been divided into a number of small cubicles, each just large enough to hold two cots. These three wards were for the medical service, with medical headquarters in the left rear corner room. Linen supply was in a small room at the right rear corner. The fourth floor rear was converted into quarters for the nurses, and the wings were used for storage of the desks, tables, chairs, beds and numerous other articles which had to be removed from the classrooms and dormitories. Small out buildings were taken over by the supply department and two tents were erected at the back of the building for the genitor-urinary section.

When the first convoys arrived, the advance party had had time to do very little other than set up one kitchen and make a survey of the building. As it was later in the evening the personnel unloaded with their personal equipment and went to temporary quarters, the officers and nurses were sent to the third floor wards and occupied the cubicles, while the enlisted men slept in the various classrooms for that night. The following day tents were erected in a field across from the hospital as quarters for the enlisted men and the unloading began. The cleaning out of the fourth floor began and the nurses moved into this section.

Unloading of the trucks proved to be a problem. There was only one narrow street to the hospital which ended in a blind alley and the front entrance was the only door suitable for carrying in the huge boxes and crates. The trucks pulled up to the front entrance and were unloaded one at a time. The heavy equipment had to be carried up the front steps, across the hall and out into the courtyard, going down another flight of steps. The equipment was stacked according to department and section and this difficult task occupied nearly two days for completion. The building had not been occupied as a school for several months. For a time the Germans had used it as an induction station for conscripts, and later, as the American troops advanced through Verviers the school had been used as a barracks during overnight stops. Dirt and debris had accumulated in every room, the desks and tables were stacked, the windows were opaque with dust and grime and much cleaning was needed to make it satisfactory for use as a hospital.

The double burden of setting up the hospital equipment, cleaning the building and grounds was much more work that the hospital personnel could accomplish in the short time allowed prior to opening the hospital. It was obvious that help would be needed both before and after the hospital opened. For this purpose Belgian civilians were hired. Because of my speaking French, I was in charge of the Belgian personnel.

The toilet facilities in the building, while not adequate according to American standards were much better than usually found in similar structures. The toilets were small and the drainage pipes so narrow that they clogged at the slightest overloading. All the toilets were finally put into working condition and by maintaining several plumbers on the job constantly they were kept that way. On the first floor near the administrative offices was one of the most attractive features of the building. This was a large shower room containing twenty-four showers. There was a more than adequate supply of hot water, the room had tiled walls, separate cubicles for each shower, plenty of light and it soon became one of the most popular spots in the school. The electricity for the hospital was furnished from two sources. The generator of the hospital furnished electricity to the essential points throughout the hospital such as the operating room the x-ray department and a few lights in each ward. The remainder of the power was obtained from the local supply lines but this was not dependable because of the frequent sabotage attempts on the lines between Verviers and Liege where the power originated.

Work of setting up the hospital now went forward rapidly. The classrooms were nearly all cleared and cleaned, and cots were being set up in all the wards. To increase the bed capacity of the hospital, cots were also placed the halls of the first floor near the orthopedic wards and on the second floor in all the halls. The medical service had started setting up cots in the cubicles in the third floor wards. All departments were rapidly approaching the state where patients could be admitted. The outside details had been hard at work.

As the one narrow street ended at the school building, some means had to be found as an outlet to prevent the numerous vehicles from having to turn in such a narrow space and to speed up the admission and evacuation of patients when the hospital opened. A road was marked out running around the side and then in the rear of the building through a small garden and down over a rather steep hill and then through a gate into one of the main streets. Gravel was located and purchased with some difficulty and after the road had been graded, trucks were borrowed from another unit and the gravel hauled in to complete the road. The enlisted men’s area was completely set up and a mess established near their quarters. A walk was constructed through the field into their area and another short road built into the motor pool.

Billets had been secured in the homes of the civilians near the hospital and the officers were moved into the homes. Capt. Franklin and Capt. Gale came into my parents’ home. Most of the civilians went to great trouble to provide comfortable quarters and a number of families moved into crowded rooms so that the officer might have the best room in the house.

The hospital was to open on October 12. On the afternoon of October 11 the setting up of the hospital was nearly completed. The men were established in their tents, the nurses on the fourth floor of the hospital and the officers had been moved to their billets. All were busy at work when planes were heard buzzing overhead about 3 pm. Suddenly there was the chatter of machine gun fire then an explosion followed by another and then the tinkling of falling glass. The first two planes came directly at the hospital with the leading plane’s machine guns wide open all the way. The second plane dropped two five-hundred-pound bombs which hit in the urology ward just back of the hospital. The other two planes dropped four more bombs on their runs and these hit in the town near the railroad station. All four planes made two more sweeps strafing the town and then flew off.

André Jamar (left) and Glenn Franklin (right)

Nearly everyone in the hospital recalled enough of their training to stay away from the windows and only a few were thoughtless enough to look out. Many of the people froze where they were when the raid started but began to moving rapidly after the bombs hit..

The raid had not been over more than a few minutes before the wounded were in the operating room and receiving surgical care.

The damage done by the bombing was of such extent that the opening of the hospital had to be delayed for two days. The urology ward and office tents were completely wrecked. The two bombs had hit directly on the ward tent and the cots, blankets, chairs, linens and other material had to be replaced. About eighty per cent of the windows in the hospital had been broken. In the pharmacy and laboratory, numerous test-tubes and similar articles had been broken. The falling plaster and glass had littered every hallway and ward and numerous pieces of glass hung precariously the window frames and had to be removed piece by piece. The task of cleaning up the building which had just been finished was now started all over although this time it was somewhat easier. The replacement of glass in the windows constituted the biggest problem.

 The hospital would be unable to function until adequate blackout had been attained and in addition the cold nights made covering the windows necessary. The civilian workers rapidly placed plywood in the windows to serve temporarily. As each classroom and hall had windows making up nearly all of one wall this was a huge undertaking in itself. The cleaning of the building again went forward rapidly and at midnight on October 13 the hospital opened. During this night an air-raid alert was sounded and as everyone was jittery from the previous bombing the shelter was soon filled. No planes came over, however.

The mission of the hospital at this time was that of a holding unit.  Patients were sent to the 77th from all the field and evacuation hospitals of the First Army. The patients were held until they were able to be transported and during this period of hospitalization they were examined, any needed treatments or operations carried out and in general prepared for the trip by train to the rear echelon general hospitals. The hospital trains were loaded by the 77th with the 9th Field Hospital taking a smaller proportion of the patients. As each train had a capacity of around 300 patients it was at times necessary to wait for several days before this number of patients was ready for evacuation. At other times, two or three trains were loaded in one day so rapid was the rate of admission and evacuation.

These trains went to Paris and the patients to the general hospitals in the vicinity of Paris. Patients who would be ready for duty in a few days were evacuated to general hospitals in Liège. A small number were sent directly to duty from the 77th. The mission of the hospital was actually a combination of triage, holding and evacuation as after the examination of each patient it was noted whether his illness or injury was of such seriousness that he should be sent to a general hospital in France, in England or the Zone of the Interior. For a few of the seriously injured evacuation by plane was available.

During the first three weeks of this set-up the number of patients admitted each day was not great so that only five trains were loaded during this period. The medical service had the majority of admissions for the weather was cold and rainy and the number of respiratory infections rose accordingly. The fighting that was going on was very important but the number of troops involved was not large and the casualties were not heavy. Even so there were admitted enough patients to keep everyone reasonably busy particularly as the building was being repaired at the same time.

On October 10, Aachen was almost completely surrounded by units of the First Army and a demand for unconditional surrender of the city had been refused by the Germans who immediately began counter-attacks to try to break the encirclement. On October 13 the American units entered the outskirts of Aachen and after repeated artillery barrages, aerial bombardment and severe street fighting the capture was completed on October 21. This city of 160,000 was the first large town taken in Germany and it was almost completely destroyed by the shelling and bombing.

During the time of the aerial bombing of Aachen, the planes passed over Verviers and as the weather was usually clear during some part of each morning or afternoon, the planes with the vapor trails stringing out for miles behind each flight made a beautiful picture. This was enhanced by the realization that this mighty show of air power was all Allied and during the daylight hours was entirely American.

 As these planes went in for their bombing runs, they were still visible and the vapor trails were punctuated by the dots of anti-aircraft shells bursting. At times the little black dots were so thick that it seemed impossible that any plane could fly through such a concentration of shells. Some of the planes were undoubtedly hit but none were seen shot downs.

 The number of planes going over on some of these raids rivaled that which were seen in England as D-Day approached. At times as many as 500 of the four-engine bombers were in view at one time and the parade of planes would take an hour to fly over.  At night the Royal Air Force bombers passed overhead and as they were usually strung out for miles instead of being in close formation as the American bombers were they took even longer to pass over. On two occasions night fighters of the Luftwaffe shot down a British plane over Verviers. At both times the air raid alert was sounded and the chatter of machine gun fire was heard. One alert came in the middle of a movie and the theater tent was emptied in a remarkably short time. Both of the planes which fell landed in the town.

Every night the flashes from the artillery could be seen on the horizon toward Aachen. Although the distance was over 15 miles the rumbling could be heard . With the amount of bombing and artillery which this city received it was little wonder that there was so much damage. The Germans realizing the importance of this objective, both materially and psychologically were fighting back with all their power and were willing to sacrifice men and material to make this city as costly as possible to the Americans. Once it had been taken the outer defense of the Siegfried Line had been breached and the entering wedge for the Allies driven..

On October 22, the robot bombs started coming over. At Verviers the bombs were presumably aimed for Liege and Brussels. By noting the map it could be seen that these three cities lie in a straight line so that robot bombs could be launched for any of them and if the calculation in the amount of fuel was faulty the bomb would still drop along important communications and supply lanes. The realization that these bombs were primarily intended to go beyond Verviers was little consolation for many of them dropped short of their target and quite a number landed in the town.

« Sweating out the buzz bombs » became a 24-hour task. A hill about two miles to the east was just a bit higher than the hill on which the school building had been placed and although this provided a screen so that bombs could not be seen until they were fairly close, the hill was not near enough to provide the least protection. The roar of the buzz bomb could usually be heard before it could be seen and as the irregular roar came nearer and nearer everyone stopped at their work and waited until the missile had passed over. The bombs traveled at such speed that the sound did not keep up and once the top the crescendo had been reached everyone breathed a sigh of relief as that meant the bomb was well past the point directly overhead.

Carrying litters was undoubtedly the heaviest work to be done in all the various tasks necessary for the functioning of the hospital. At Verviers, this job was heavier than at any other place because of the steps. The ambulances frequently came in convoys so that there might be 50 to 100 patients to be carried into the receiving room from the ambulance and then to the wards, some of the patients going to the third floor wards and many of them going to second floor wards. When an x-ray was needed or the patient was ready for operation he again had to be carried to the first floor where these two departments were located. When the time came for evacuation there would be about 270 of the 300 patients to be carried to the front entrance where the ambulances were loaded which often meant going down three flights of steps and then the length of the building.

Going up or down the steps, one end of the litter had to be held very low and the other very high so that the patient would not slip off. American soldiers are not small men and simple act of lifting a loaded litter required some strength so that carrying the litter for any distance was hard, grueling work. In the long halls the litter bearer developed a method of walking very rapidly and balancing the litter so that the patient was scarcely joggled which as of importance when the patient had wounds. As some of the wards were later located outside the building the patients had to be carried into the hospital through the blackout when operation was necessary. In spite of all these difficulties the litter bearers performed an exceptionally outstanding job working at times 12 hours without rest.

As the rain continued and the weather became colder it was obvious that the enlisted men were not going to be comfortable in the tents which had been set up. The field by now was very muddy and the trucks had cut deep ruts into the soil. Three school building nearer the center of town were taken over the enlisted men and they moved into them in the latter part of October. Their mess tent was moved from the mud and set up in the courtyard of the hospital where the large theater tent had been erected and this served as the dining tent.

In the theater tent, movies were shown almost every night to the enjoyment of both the patients and personnel of the hospital.

On November 2 one of the several acts of sabotage was committed at the hospital. The motor pool was located in an alley at the side of the hospital and here the unit vehicles and several thousand gallons of gasoline and kerosene were stored. In the evening just before dark a small fire was discovered near an open can of gasoline. This was extinguished by the guard. Two nights later the same thing occurred but this time as the guard was putting out the fire a shot was fired at him. Despite a prompt search by the guards and later investigation by the counter-intelligence corps the saboteurs were not apprehended.

On several occasions the electricity supplied from Liege was cut off and wires were found to be cut at some point between Liege and Verviers. The control switch for an air alert siren placed on top of the building was located inside the school. This was found turned off several times when it had been on and in good working order earlier in the evening during the regular inspection by the guards. Such acts were to be expected as Verviers was located so near the German border. In the main the people of this city were pro-Allies but there were many who were of German descent and although most were anti-Nazi, there were certainly a considerable number who worked for the Germans. Sabotage in a unit such as a hospital was not a source of great concern as there were rarely any attempts made by enemy agents to harm an organization of this nature.

The awaited push for Duren and Julich on the First Army front began on November 3. The weather remained cold and nearly every day there was rain. From these offensive battles and the counterattacks there were a large number of casualties and for the first time an overwhelming proportion of the admissions to the hospital were patients with « trench foot ».

Although the hospital had prepared beds for about 1000 patients this was entirely inadequate. All the floor space in the hospital was therefore utilized the patients being left on the litters, as most of them remained only overnight and were evacuated the day following admission. The litters were as comfortable as the cots but before they were so low care of the patients was more difficult. The hallway in the front basement was set up as a litter ward. The long hallway by the x-ray department and several small rooms and a balcony near the dental clinic were utilized in a similar matter. Patients on litters were placed in each of the orthopedic wards and also in the medical wards as there was adequate space in the center of the wards to place two long lines of litters side by side. On the days when the admissions were exceptionally numerous the Chapel and Red Cross rooms were used and on one occasion the officers’ and nurses’ recreation room was filled with patients. Triangular frames covered with cloth were built and placed between the heads of each litter to reduce spread of respiratory infections.

The problem of « trench foot » became more and more acute as the winter progressed and more men were being hospitalized for this condition alone that for all other causes combined. At the front the men were frequently pinned down for long periods by enemy fire and had to remain in their foxholes as long as forty-eight hours without moving about. With their feet wet and no opportunity to change socks and shoes and with the forced immobilization and lack of exercise, tissue changes occurred much like those seen after frost bite or prolonged immersion in cold water. The men first noted numbness of the toes and feet and when the first opportunity came for them to remove their shoes their feet swelled so rapidly that were unable to replace their shoes With the swelling the feet became increasingly painful.

In the group with the least tissue damage the feet appeared normal but the men complained of burning of the feet and toes and loss of sensation. In the next stage slight swelling for the feet could be seen. In the more severely damaged there followed the various color changes in the skin. This began with a slight redness and progressed through a deep red to purple and on the black indicating local death of the tissues. In the early states almost regardless of the degree of damage there was little or not pain as long as the patient did not attempt to walk but the later the pain and burning of the feet was severe. The men soon learned that their feet were much more comfortable if they were left uncovered. There was little active treatment which could be done that would improve the condition of the tissues. Absolute rest, moderate warmth and cleanliness of the feet were the three essential factors of the treatment used

The fact that so few of the patients were able to walk created an additional problem in the feeding and nursing care. At the same time that all these patients with « trench foot » were being admitted there were the usual patients with injuries, wounds and illnesses coming in.

The mess department in particular was very busy and had more meals to serve here than at any other location. The hospital personnel numbered about 400, the civilian employees about 200, the litter company about 100 and the patients varied from 400 to 1,400. These difficulties were added to by the fact that there was no accurate means by which an estimate might be made of the number of meals to be served each day for if two or three trains were sent during the day and only a few admissions were made during the night the hospital census would drop sharply. And in evacuation was held up and admissions continued the hospital census rose very rapidly.

The large influx of patients far exceeded the normal capacity of the hospital  All available floor space was utilized. At the side of the building two ward tents were pitched for German patients and later four more ward tents were erected on a tennis court in the school garden. Although the capacity of the hospital was supposed to be 750 patients on one occasion 1451 patients were in the hospital. Besides the added strain on the mess department the other departments such as supply and laundry were equally hard pressed.

The severe fighting all along the front continued. The enemy had zeroed in all the conceivable targets. The steep hills, mines, barbed wire barricades, thick woods, poor visibility and freezing wet weather made this some of the toughest fighting of the war. Casualties poured into the hospital.     

Evacuation lists were made up cut and delivered to the wards well in advance of the time for evacuation. The patients were ready when the time came with proper clothing medical records securely fastened to their dog tag chains and x-rays in the hands. The litter bearers organized into groups and with duplicated evacuation lists quickly took all the patients from each ward and loaded the ambulances. Another group of litter bearers brought all the walking patients to the appointed place at the exact time for loading. Checks were made at so many points that it was practically impossible to miss a patient or to evacuate the wrong one.

The railroad station was about a mile from the hospital across the town but even with this distance to travel in the shuttle a train could be completely loaded in less than an hour and a half. The excellence of this method of evacuation did not go unnoticed by higher officials and a number of evacuation officers from other hospitals were went to learn the systems used by the 77th.

On December 16, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge began. During the day the robot bombs came over in increasing numbers until late in the afternoon there were actually ten within sight at the same time. That evening during the show there was an air raid alert and bombs were dropped on the town. Early the following morning two patients were brought in and through them news of the offensive was learned. The first patient stated he had been fighting a German paratrooper.  A few minutes later a lieutenant was admitted and said he had been shot by a German paratrooper…

Germany’s general staff had realized that the war of attrition at the Siegried Line had no future for them but Field Marshal von Rundstedt had a plan and two panzer armies to carry it out. This was to break through the lightly held southern part of the First Army front and push to Liege and then on to Brussels and Antwerp on the north and toward Namur on the south breaking through between Monschau and Trier. The first phase of the offensive ended December 22

During the Battle of the Bulge, the personnel of the hospital worked harder that at any time. In addition to the large number of patients admitted the hospital was harassed continually by the bombing strafing shelling and the V-weapons which landed all about. During the afternoon of December 17 the fog and clouds cleared for a while and dog-fights were seen over the hospital. The robot bombs came over at 5 minutes intervals with scarcely a pause during day or night. In the afternoon the patients began coming in and their stories were repeatedly that of retreat, positions overrun confusions huge losses of men and material, temporary stand and then further withdrawal. There was no « strategic withdrawal » as far as these men were concerned, the powerful German forces were more than they could cope with and they had been forced to pull out.

Some of the operating personnel began working eighteen hours daily and by this means the backlog was overcome. Being in almost the exact center of the northern flank of the Bulge, the 77th was receiving nearly all the casualties from the northern flank. Once again there was a constant stream of patients to the operating room as the eight operating tables and two fracture tables were kept occupied night and day.

December 18 was a repetition of the previous day and night.

Verviers had become an important road junction a bottleneck through which thousands of American and British troops were being funneled into the northern flank The Germans were quick to appreciate this fact. From the maps it was obvious that there must be a large volume of traffic through Verviers if the central part of the northern shoulder of the Bulge was to be reinforced rapidly.  Such a target was too valuable to miss and the enemy wasted little time in carrying out the expected attacks. On the night of December 19 the enemy planes came over and dropped flares which lit up the entire town as though it were day. This was perhaps the heaviest raid which the towns experienced during the entire Battle of Bulge.

During this particular night one of the patients was being questioned concerning the manner in which he was injured and the story which he told later appeared in the papers under the heading the The Malmedy Massacre. He had been captured early that day along with about 140 American soldiers. They had been herded into an open field and when it was night several enemy tanks lined up along the road bordering the field. The men were forced into a tightly packed group and suddenly the machine guns from all the tanks began firing on them. The night was soon filled with moans of the dying but still the intermittent chatter of the machine guns continued. Finally these stopped and the officers and men of the German troops walked among the group of fallen men. If one of the prisoners moved or groaned he was summarily shot through the head. The patient had been only slightly wounded and although desperately frightened he lay quietly and made no sound. One of the men came close to him but passed on after a quick inspection. The patient dared not move and scarcely breathed for fear he would be discovered. After an interminable time the tanks finally turned off their lights and went on down the road. Only a few men were left to guard the mass of bodies. As it was now completely dark the patient finally moved slowly to the edge of the group and then into the woods where he at last stood up. He was soon joined by two others who could walk and they set out for their own lines through the darkness. After what seemed like hours they came upon of the American troops and were soon back to the relative safety of the hospital. Later on it was possible to identify the German unit which had carried out this horrible affair.

December 20 brought more patients, more buzz-bombs and more work. December 21, 22 and 23 were more of the same. A continuous stream of patients during the afternoon and night, gradually lessening early in the morning and regaining momentum again during the afternoon was sufficient to keep all of the hospital personnel fully occupied.

On December 24 the sun was out bright and clear for the first time since the start of the Battle of the Ardennes. The Allied air forces were ready for such a break in the weather and that day there were hundreds of planes in the air. Dog fights took place over Verviers and a great number of German planes were shot down.

It was at this time that the hospital received a number of enemy patients who were dressed in GI clothing. They had been dropped by parachute behind the Allied lines and only after several days were the military police successful in capturing them

Christmas Day 1944 will probably be forever the most unpleasant Christmas in the lifetime of thousands of soldiers. The personnel and patients of the 77th were no exception.

On December 30 the first good news began to trickle through . The Allied troops had gained the initiative and Bulge was beginning to shrink. Even with such good news the work of caring for the wounded went on day and night.

Then the final order came through stating that the 77th was to move out.

On January 4, the main group moved from Verviers to La Louviere. The nurses traveled in ambulances for the first time on the continent, a few of the officers rode in one six-by-six and the remainder with the drivers of the ten-ton trucks which hauled the equipment. I rode in a Jeep at the head of the convoy – simply because of my knowledge of French. The roads were covered with ice and there were several narrow escapes from bad wrecks.

All along the road there were seen units moving to the front. The character of the traffic had changed now as it was an orderly advance toward the front lines whereas at the beginning of the Bulge hundreds of units had been striving to reach the front in any order and with all possible speed.

The contrast between the towns of Verviers and La Louvière was remarkable. There had been no troops stationed in La Louviere and for two weeks the 77th had the town almost to themselves. The apprehension which had been so visible in the faces and reactions of the people of Verviers contrasted greatly with that of the citizens of La Louviere. These people appeared secure in their knowledge that the liberation was a fact and that oppression by the Nazis would never return..

For the first day or two the personnel of the 77th imagined that they were intruders, and that they should be near the front where the casualties were,  at least this was the inference from the unsmiling glances which the civilians gave them. In a few days however their friendliness grew. The soldiers were overwhelmed with overtures to friendship, smiles and a tip of the hat. The whole impression was that the war had left the 77th far behind and although work was still necessary the mission took on the aspects of a mass furlough.

Three schools were taken over to serve as the hospital and living quarters. St Joseph’s a secondary school was the largest in the town and this was used as the hospital. This building had been used as a barracks by the Germans during the occupation but the priests had already started classes again and it was with some reticence that they allowed their building to be used as a hospital, not because they feared any damage would result but they did not like to interrupt again the classes which had just been resumed. The school building was in two sections, one which was rather old and a new section which had been constructed just before the war began. The old part of the school had high ceilings and numerous glass partitions.

 In the front part of the building was a beautiful chapel and an unusual courtesy was extended when permission was given by the Father in charge for the Protestant chaplain to conduct his services there also. The remainder of the old building was shaped like the letter U with the new addition coming off the upper part of the right wing. Along the front part of the building the administrative offices were set up. The largest classrooms along the left wing were put to the greatest use. Two very large lecture halls were made into wards for bed patients, one for the surgical service and the other for the medical service. Each of these wards held about forty patients. In the other rooms on the first floor of this wing were located surgical headquarters, plaster room, shock, central supply, operating room, dental clinic and the x-ray department.

 At the rear of this wing was a very large room which was used as the patient’s mess. On the second floor, medical wards were set up and by utilizing a number of small rooms and all available hall space a large number of beds could be placed there. The third floor had been used as a dormitory and here were a large number of cubicles containing bunks. This was also used as a medical ward.

In the right wing of the old building the supply section was set up with its store rooms. Pharmacy and the laboratory were also located here. In the basement of this section was the shower room not as large or as well built as the one in the school at Verviers but at least it had showers.

The new section of the school had two floors. The second floor had one large room with enough space to contain 140 beds which were used for surgical patients. On the first floor was another large room which also accommodated surgical patients and had 80 beds. In the large corridor on this floor the sick-call room and receiving office were set up. The main attraction of the entire school was the auditorium which was attached to this section. This was an extremely large room with a balcony on three sides and large stage. Regular theater seats filled two-thirds of the floor space. The auditorium was given over to the Red Cross.

The mission of the hospital at this time was the care of convalescent patients. These men were theoretically nearly enough recovered to be able to return to duty within thirty days after they been received by the 77th. The majority of the patients came by train from the general hospitals in Liege. The amount of medical care which they required was very little. At the same time however the 77th served as a station hospital for troops which were being moved into the vicinity. The efficiency of the hospital was maintained but there was nevertheless plenty of leisure time.

Because of the great amount of work necessary to make the buildings suitable for occupancy as a hospital a large number of civilians were hired. Again I was in charge because of my knowledge of French. The pay of these people was regulated by the Belgian government but they were more than willing to work for the food which they received. The building had received little care for years prior to their occupation by the 77th and consequently both repairs and actual construction had to be carried out. The furnaces were cleaned out for the first time in over twenty years. There were only five inside toilets to serve the entire hospital.. On the outside in the courtyard was a line of exposed urinals and toilets but this was a bit too public for the American idea of privacy.

The enlisted men’s mess was set up in a tent in the courtyard. This was not too bad while the ground was frozen although it made dining a rather cooling affair but it became almost intolerable when the ground thawed and became a sea of mud.

The hospital was officially opened on January 9, 1945 when the first hospital train from Liege was received. The census for that evening was 392. Thereafter there were three more hospital trains with about the same number of patients. In addition there was a constant stream of admissions from nearby units , never in particularly large numbers but always sufficient to keep the hospital fairly busy. The outpatient service enlarged rapidly and these men took considerable care.

During the early part of the stay at La Louviere the official report of the hospital for the year 1944 was completed . The number of admissions to the hospital on the continent was as follows

Ste Mere Eglise
Ste Lo

During the time the unit was at Verviers there were admitted an average of 265 patients per day over a period of 79 days. The largest number of patients at one time saw the census at 1454.

Although not a notable landmark, the railroad crossing the main street will not be forgotten by anyone in the 77th. Repeatedly and especially if the weather was very bad a long train would be across the street and one would stand, shifting from one foot to the other for what seems like hours waiting for the train to move this despite the fact that there was a foot bridge over the track to enable one to avoid such delay.

The Battle of the Bulge had ended and the Germans were driven back into their former positions..

On March 22, 1945 orders were received to move the 77th to Munchen-Gladbach.

Munchen-Gladbach was a large factory town which had been thoroughly bombed by both the British and US planes and had received concentrated shelling during the advance to the Rhine. Not a single window was intact and few buildings had four walls standing.

The site selected for the erection of the 77th was a large flat field about 150 yards wide and 500 yards long. It was on a crest a little higher than the surrounding area and to the south where there were no buildings to interfere the view was unrestricted for over a mile looking out over the valley on street after street of tumbled buildings and littered ground. On the northern side of the hospital area the field continued for 200 yards where there were buildings at the edge of the outlying business district. On the eastern edge of the area were a large group of red brick four story buildings. This had been a hospital for the insane but in the last stages of the campaign had been damaged considerably so that it was untenable by the 77th. On the western edge a long low factory building was standing. This had been an electrical machine parts factory and had also been severely damaged. On the northern end of the factory was a high tower and when the 77th arrived here a white flag of surrender was still flying. This was soon replaced by a flag showing « 77th E.H. » the tower having been climbed with considerable respect for the possibility of booby traps and thereafter placed strictly out of bounds.

At the entrance to the area the attached laundry unit was given space beside a small house which they used for quarters. Just to the left of the entrance the motor pool was located. Between this and the first row of hospital tents, the officer’s area was set up, with the pyramidal tents erected in two rows of seven each, facing a central path. I was staying in the 3rd tent on the right.

The main hospital area was divided as usual into four sections. In the first the seven medical wards were set up with medical headquarters, nurses’ ward and isolation ward in the center. The central section was given over to the Red Cross tent, receiving tent, pharmacy and laboratory, clothing storage for evacuation and for medical wards, the x-ray department, electricians’ tent and generators, patients mess and mess storage. The last two sections in the main area were the surgical wards, surgical headquarters minor surgery and operating room section. At the southern end of medical row the nurses’ tents were set up with the mess and recreation tent in the southeastern corner of the area. Next in the row was the supply section, then the enlisted men’s mess, theater, with the shower behind this. In the southwestern corner of the camp was the enlisted men’s area and recreation tent.

Signs were painted and erected for complete identification of the various departments’ wards and sections. White streamers were placed around each tent, tied to the tent stakes so that walking in the blackout would be less hazardous. To aid the ambulance drivers the roads were lined by rocks which were whitewashed.

Little has been said about the German people who had remained behind as their troops retreated. After the 77th had arrived in Munchen Gladbach there were more and more people seen on the streets during the day and whereas a civilian was seen occasionally early in the stay here they gradually increased in number.

 They contrasted markedly with the friendly Belgian people who had been left behind but this was to be expected. They all appeared well nourished and their clothing was good although it was apparent that they were wearing only working clothes It was difficult to describe any particular attitude: any attempt at friendliness was rarely noted at this time. For the most part they remained with solemn essentially expressionless faces always avoiding looking one directly in the face. In some there was a hint of humiliation occasionally fear and perhaps disgust or shame, but there was never noted anything which might remotely resemble guilt for the war and subsequent suffering which had occurred. For the most part these people remained in whatever was left of their homes, faring as best they could for essentially all business had stopped. An occasional trip to the stores as their reopening was permitted was their only task.

The hospital was officially opened and the first patient received on Sunday March 25. On the following day the patients arrived in greater numbers many having received only the treatment given at the battalion aid stations. These men had been well triaged however for the most part they had relatively minor wounds as the severely wounded had been taken out of the chain of evacuation in the more forward field and evacuation hospitals. From the 26th of March to the 7th of April an average of about 400 patients were received daily and once again the hospital was on a twenty-four hour schedule. During the sixteen-day period of great activity 7,143 patients were admitted. The character of the admissions then began changing as fewer and fewer of the Allied troops were seen and more and more German prisoner of war patients were brought in. This was of course a very encouraging sign.

I was working at receiving and soon was in charge of the German prisoners, because of my knowledge of German which, however, was very limited at the time.

After the crossings of the Rhine had been completed and more and more material taken across the admission rate dropped sharply. The airfields on the other side of the Rhine were evacuating the wounded directly to general hospitals in the rear, by-passing the evacuation units. But with the decline in admissions more and more prisoners were received.. These men had been cut off for days from their units shot to pieces without hope of reinforcement. Many of them had been wounded days before and received little or no medical treatment. Their wounds had become infected and irreparable damage done. These patients all required more treatment not only because of the complications which had developed in their wound but because of their poor nutritional state.

In the latter part of April it became obvious that there were to be many prisoner patients and that additional facilities were needed for their care. Prisoner of war cages were being set up with all possible speed in several locations not far from the hospital and word was received that the 77th would take patients from these cages..

Hospital facilities were badly needed for these men  At this time the 77th received orders to prepare to receive 2,000 prisoner of war patients and was given no time to prepare for the vanguard of several hundred which arrived about April 28. This is probably the time when I worked the hardest in my life

Four wards were set aside for the hospitalization of Allied troops and the remaining wards were all used for the prisoners. In spite of roughly 500 beds which were thus available, much more bed capacity was needed quickly and so the partially demolished factory at the edge of the hospital site was used to house about 1,200 patients. This change from a wrecked factory to a satisfactory hospital did not come about without considerable hard work which had to be accomplished rapidly. In one sector of the factory the floor of the second story was reasonably intact and with some repair would serve as a roof for the first floor. It was decided to use this first floor space and basement beneath it as wards for the prisoner patients..

A temporary hospital unit was finally arranged and the patients were received. Meanwhile work was started on another larger section. Single, double and triple deck beds were built and equipped with straw ticks and two blankets. The frames for the beds were obtained from local lumber yards.

After the framework had been established and the unit was functioning well a requisition was sent to the cage at Rhineberg and a complete staff of Germans obtained. This included medical officers who paralleled those of the 77th’s organization: a commanding officer, adjutant, surgical and medical staffs and administrative officers. The nurses of the 77th were relieved as soon as the first of the workers were received from the cage and the German staff was gradually allowed to assume complete charge of their unit although they were always under constant supervision from the commanding officer down to the laboring private.

Since nearly all of the first groups of patients were suffering from diarrhea, bouillon and tea was the only diet which they could tolerate. As they improved more food was obtained and they were adequately fed. In comparison to the cages where they had to be kept during this period, the hospital was a paradise and numerous prisoners begged to be kept as workers after they had recovered.

During the month they functioned under the supervision of the 77th, 6083 patients were admitted. I was the liaison officer between the German colonel in charge and the Commanding Officer of the 77th.

Just as this unit had been completely organized and was functioning satisfactorily, the 77th was ordered to find a building and prepare it to receive 1,500 additional patients. The Stadthalle, located in the adjoining town of Rheydt and about two miles from the location of the 77th was selected as the most ideal place which was readily available. This was a relatively new, six-story structure which had apparently been built during the more constructive period of the Hitler regime. It was a community theater center and the construction showed that great thought and care had gone into the planning and construction of the building in order that it might exactly fit the specified purpose. On the first floor was a large foyer with small offices for the officials, offices with windows for ticket sales, restaurant and check rooms. The main room was a large theater with a stage off which were numerous dressing rooms. On the other floors were located large lecture rooms and a number of smaller rooms on the order of classrooms. There were large dining halls and one large ballroom. Offices sitting rooms and living quarters were located on several of the floors.

The building was strongly constructed with steel, brick and concrete so that while it had not suffered a direct hit in the bombing the near misses had caused little damage and building could be repaired sufficiently for use. During the ten days which the group was allowed to prepare for the first patients the entire building and grounds were thoroughly cleaned, the existing roads were repaired and additional roads marked out and constructed, 850 double deck wooden bunks were assembled and provided with 1700 mattresses which had to be constructed and an improvised laundry was set up.

Fortunately with the improvement in the weather and other factors admissions were not as great as anticipated. Nevertheless during the 27 days the Annex functioned under the supervision of the 77th there were admitted 3049 patients.

During the first week in May the rumors of the surrender of Germany gradually gained in intensity and truth. The final announcement did not come as a sudden surprise. At last the official news came that the formal surrender would take place at Rheims and the « cease fire » order was to be given at 0001 hours on May 9 which was to be the official V-E Day

The following day there was little change. Probably the most noticeable change at least outwardly was that helmets were no longer worn and orders rescinding this regulation permitted the wearing of overseas caps.

The blackout restrictions were lifted and for the first time in many months one had no difficulty in getting about the area on a dark night. Two wards were all that were required to take care of the patients which were received from units in the surrounding territory. This required very little work and as the officers took turns in serving as professional officer of the day much leisure time became available.

The point system for discharge from the Army and the classification system for the redistribution of units were announced. The point system was relatively simple and as the majority of the men and women in the 77th had been overseas for nearly three years sounded like a very favorable idea. One point was allowed for each month in the Army with an additional point for each month spent overseas, five points were given for each decoration or battle star and twelve points for each child. Practically every original member of the unit had above 90 many had more that 100 points and the unit still had two more campaign stars to be awarded.

The reclassification and redeployment was a different matter. The rumors soon had it that the actual designation of the order in which the hospital units would be sent home had been established and while the 77th was not far down the list the appointed time was still months away.

On the 19th of June the 77th closed, turning over the remaining prisoner of war patients to a British hospital unit.

The 77th was instructed to move to an area near Mailly le Camp France which was south of Chalons and near several of the large camps which had been organized for the processing of divisions which were either on their way home or to the Pacific. The 77th was to act in the capacity of a general hospital for three of the camps nearby. The site selected was a long field, bordered by a sparse woods of scrub pine with a second field at right angles to the first.

As the unofficial word from headquarters had been that the unit would remain in this area until October or November rather extensive preparations were made to insure the comfort of both the patients and personnel. Because of the scarcity of water a well was drilled by an engineering unit. The individual members of the unit went to a great labor to make their tents especially comfortable and salvaged lumber went to build floors clothing racks and similar luxuries.

The 77th was in its last days as a unit. In September the last members of the original 77th were ordered home. I left the unit October 14, 1945.

Thanks to André Jamar for the story and the photos.