The annual joint meeting of the Muscogee County Society and the staff of Martin Army Hospital was a successful one, and well attended by both groups. We made several new acquaintances, and renewed a pleasant old one with Colonel Henry W. Grady, a true officer and gentleman, now retired and living in Columbus, who in other years headed the Department of Radiology at the Benning Station Hospital. Col Grady's presence and the date reminded us that exactly 21 years ago, with red-bordered letter in hand, we were timidly mounting the pine-shaded concrete steps of the old Post Hospital reporting for active duty "on or before 1200 hours, 10 Sept., 1941."
If our attention wandered during the very excellent and learned talk on radioisotopes, it was partly because our weakening mentality has been outdistanced by the tremendous advances in this modern field, but mostly because we were lost in a flood of memories about those earlier days of military medicine at Benning.
We remembered that, perhaps instinctively preserving our civilian status as long as possible, we did not report until just before the stipulated 1200 hours on our orders. In 1941, 10 Sept. fell on a Saturday, and, as we went up the hospital steps, we were met by a horde of enlisted personnel, medical officers, civilian workers and maroon-robed patients, all heading in the opposite direction. We wandered around lost for a while, and when we finally located the proper administrative office, we were greeted by a remarkably disinterested corporal, who wearily advised us without looking up from his comic book to come back on Monday when someone would be there to tell us what to do. We were gone on weekend pass before we ever really got on duty.
In those pre-Pearl Harbor months we discovered that Army medicine was considerably less strenuous than the rigors of a $10-a-month residency at a university hospital, and that the duties of a Station Hospital ward officer required knowledge in fields apart from mere doctoring. Among other things, we learned about paperwork, requisitions, Section Eights, Line of Duty Boards, weekly inspections and property checks. In no time at all we became familiar with exactly how many bedpans (1 each) we had, and along with our chief of staff, the ward master, we could map the weekly strategy and tactics in the constant battle over hospital property, with all the brilliance of a 3-star general.
We were watching a polo game on the Sunday afternoon when the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced over the PA system, and, although this did not interfere with the match in progress, it was not long before we realized that total war had come to Benning. The declaration of war by Congress set into motion all of the administrative gears and mimeographing machinery of the Post simultaneously, and in grand confusion. All leaves were immediately cancelled; gas mask and air raid drills became daily occurrences; night blackouts were begun. Orders, countermanding orders, and new orders, countermanding the countermanding orders, appeared at almost hourly intervals. After a couple of weeks of frenzied military efficiency, when it became evident that no dive-bombers were materializing out of the blue Georgia skies, and that no enemy submarines had slipped up the Chattahoochee from the Gulf to sabotage the pontoon bridge, the tension eased slightly, and three-day holiday leaves were granted. Even then we were recalled from ours by an enthusiastic mimeographer, who had the countermanding orders canceling the recall ready by the time we had returned the 500 miles to the Post.
By February, in spite of the global war on two fronts, all was calm again and the hospital was back to a relaxed routine. We enjoyed an early spring on our ward among the hemorrhoids and pilonidal cysts from 8 to 4, and on the golf course after hours. We left Benning in the summer of '42 to become a foot doctor with the walking infantry, and it was another year before we finally got overseas and into combat where we could relax.
Through all the post-war years, the memories of Ft. Benning have always been pleasant ones - but we are glad those years are behind us (we hope).
(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Oct 1962, Vol. IX No.10, p.13