It is August 12, 1944, the day I am sure will be the beginning of one of the most important times in my life. After a year here at Fort Huachuca, the day we have been waiting for has finally arrived. We have received orders to proceed to an eastern aerial port of embarkation. That simple instruction means we are at last joining the war. All of us have watched units of soldiers leaving for overseas duty and have wondered when it would be our turn.
Before leaving Fort Huachuca, we are required to undergo a round of training for overseas postings. The drills on the rifle range will cover rolling over and not raising our heads to avoid getting shot. Live ammunition is used for the drill. We will learn how to get under barbed wire and how to get in and out of ditches. It sounds to me like the same type of training the soldiers receive.
After a three-day train trip across the country, we have arrived in New York City, back in the place my journey began. We will have ten days of processing, which will include physicals, immunizations for typhus and cholera, and I am sure plenty of briefings, covering everything from the need for secrecy to the importance of mosquito netting. Our packet of instructions say uniforms will be modified to include protective clothing for the type of climate we are destined for. The list includes fatigues, field jackets, field shoes, wool and cotton socks, mosquito head nets and mosquito gloves. The good news is we will have time for dinner in a restaurant and a night at the theater before we leave New York. Seems it will be a very long time before we will have a chance to enjoy these special treats again.
There is one more thing I have to do before leaving New York and that is contact my friend Wanita Davidson and ask a favor. During the time I spent at Hospital #1 in Fort Huachuca, there were three occasions when we were visited by reporters from African American newspapers and magazines. Each one of those publications was anxious to tell the story of this first of its kind, all black hospital on an army base. Many of the nurses were interviewed and our pictures were taken each time.
The last visit was from a young reporter named Langston Hughes who writes for the Chicago Defender newspaper. He is also a poet and writer, so it was wonderful to meet him. I need to ask Wanita to find a copy of those articles so I can send them to my family. I am sure she will be able to find them at one of the newspaper stands in Harlem. My family will be so proud to see me in uniform and being a part of something so important to the country. I think a daily journal is going to be the best way for me to keep track of all the things I am going to experience. I know it will be helpful when I do have time to write to my family and I am sure there will be plenty to tell.
August 24, 1944 – After being split into small groups we boarded the transport plane. I know I was not the only one filled with equal parts of excitement and nervous anticipation. Not sure what to expect, but I knew I was ready. When we boarded the plane, I did not realize that the distance we were to travel would require layovers in various places. Never in a million years did I think I would see the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Casablanca, Cairo and so many other interesting places. When we flew over the Holy Lands, it made those bible stories of my childhood become more than just stories told in Sunday School. One of the nurses was very afraid of flying and was thankful for days with heavy overcast skies so she didn’t have to see the ocean below. I was hoping for many days of clear weather, I didn’t want to miss a thing.
September 12, 1944 – After landing in Karachi, India, we have a few days to rest as guests of the 181st General Hospital before we begin our six-week attachment to the 48th Evacuation Hospital here. The climate in Karachi is unbelievable, it can reach 130 degrees in the day, with slightly cooler temperatures at night. I hope the mountains of Burma will be a little cooler.
September 17, 1944 – The 48th Evacuation Hospital officially opens next month, but we are here to help get everything up and running. Even before the official opening day, 900 of the 1000 beds are full. The 66 nurses are desperately in need of help. Some of the patients here were injured in plane crashes, others are suffering from “scrub typhus” and are some of the sickest. The majority of the patients are Chinese, who are suffering from battle wounds and malaria.
Life at the 48th Evac is certainly interesting. We are living in British tents, four to a tent, a tent that we share with frogs and lizards. We have done our best to make it a temporary home. We have covered boxes and crates with colorful cloth from the Indian Bazaars. In Burma, our housing will be Bashas, which are huts made of bamboo and grass. We plan to go back to the Bazaar to buy some inexpensive bamboo chairs and tables to take with us before we leave Assam because travel on Ledo Road is dangerous, so we will not be able to return to Assam before we leave for Burma. The six weeks we have spent with the 48th Evac have been a good opportunity to learn how to set up and open a hospital. I imagine our location in the mountains of Burma will be different, but I feel more confident in understanding what is involved in the operation of the hospital.
October 18, 1944 – Our full unit is in place, we move out tomorrow for Tagap, Burma. I know nothing about Burma, but in talking with soldiers working on Ledo Road, they tell me that Tagap is near the top of a 4, 500-foot peak of the Patkai Range. Wearing full field uniforms, we will travel by truck convoy up and over the Ledo Road for 80 miles into northern Burma.
October 19, 1944 – It has been a long day. We arrived here at the 335th Station Hospital in Tagap, Burma late this afternoon, tired, dusty and more than a little nervous. Before nightfall, we needed to put up our cots and mosquito bars in hopes of getting a good night’s sleep. After sorting things out, we had a short meeting and a supper of C-Rations.
October 20, 1944 -The morning makes clear just how bad the conditions are here. This site was a former headquarters. It needs much work on the grounds and many repairs are needed for the buildings. Most of them are made of bamboo and some are infested with rats and will have to be burned. It looks like some of the buildings can be repaired and made somewhat livable. I have never seen so many blood-thirsty mosquitos, thank goodness these are not the malaria carrying variety of insect. The soldiers building Ledo Road told us to be sure to use the mosquito bars because they are good protection from the rats. Well, at least so far, no one has seen any snakes.
December 1944 – After several months of the area being burned, cleared, scraped and drained, it has been possible to put many of the buildings on concrete foundations, which makes for much better working conditions. All of us were eager to set up our Bashas. The colorful cloths and throw rugs from the Indian Bazaar in Assam and the bamboo chairs and small tables have made it possible to once again create a comfortable space for us to call home.
December 23, 1944 – Two days before Christmas, the 335th Station Hospital is now open.
Mary Robinson lives in St. Michaels, Maryland.
– Overseas training, African American Soldier at Fort Huachuca, Ariz, 1892-1946, Stevenn D. Smith, pg. 112
– Travel orders, Unit Citation, Campaign Participation Credit Register, Dept of the Army, Heritage & Educ Center
-48th Evacuation Hospital, G.I. Nightingales, Barbara Brooks Tamblin, pg. 162-163
-335th Station Hospital, Double Victory, Cheryl Mullenbach, pg 135 – 136