SEPTEMBER 24, 1943
GUADALCANAL, Sept. 18, (Delayed)—We had an interesting experience the other night, the first and only one of its kind I've had on this trip. We were spending the night in a hospital, not like Ernie Pyle who lay in a tent where the wounded are brought in and lie on stretchers and wait for the busy doctors to get to them, but very comfortably and safely, if somewhat primitively. The hospitals on Guadalcanal have had time now to establish themselves and, since it is the first stop for many of the seriously wounded it is important that their installations and equipment be as good as possible and provide as much comfort as is compatible with the conditions near the front under which they still must live.
An alert sounded as we were driving into the hospital area after supper. A motorcycle military policeman dashed by calling out "air raid!" We were driven immediately to a shelter. They made us go in, though many people, including the patients, still were standing outside. I think the officers felt it would prove to be a false alarm, for it was early, just barely dark, and the moon was not yet up. Tojo likes a full moon, the boys told me, and later in the night it is almost as clear as day.
We sat with some patients and hospital corpsmen in the dark and two more men on crutches hurried in and seats were found for them. Murmurs of conversation began and one man whistled, but none seemed even to sense tension. I wondered if they all felt as I did, that this was just a kind of routine and had very little to do with my real life, which was going on very calmly in my mind.
Very soon the all clear sounded and I proceeded to make the rounds of the eleven wards which I had been unable to cover before supper. Here I looked for some effect of the air raid alert on the men, but found only two patients disturbed. In both cases, I think, it was because they had been under a long strain and any noise in anticipation of a disturbance was too much for them. I noticed earlier in the day, when I was talking outside with a group of ambulatory patients, and a blast went off where they were putting through a road, some men just faded out of the crowd and went inside, unable to take the noise and the unexpected flash, even though they knew its source. Some of these boys go through great hardships after being wounded and before help can reach them. I have seen some who had crawled to safety in spite of broken legs and other wounds.
I would like to say a word of appreciation here for the wonderful work the regular Navy and Army doctors and the great number of reserves are doing. Their work is magnificent and accounts for the small percentage of the loss in men, once they have reached a hospital. The administrative work, which has been done at home, and which has sent these units out so well equipped that it has been possible to set up hospitals and to receive patients in record time, also deserves our gratitude. This great business is not just initial planning, which in itself is a great job on an unprecedented scale, but in keeping the flow of necessary replacements arriving on time. All equipment deteriorates quickly in the tropics, but the home administration soon found that out and now a shortage of anything is very rare.
Wherever there are nurses, they do a wonderfully good job and mean a great deal to the men. But even where there are no nurses, the hospital corpsmen or orderlies are remarkable. They are as gentle and as patient as a woman with the wounded and the sick. The Red Cross is another vitally important agency for the wounded, who arrive with nothing but the clothes they wear and identification tags. A toothbrush, comb or any little comfort looms large, and a smile and a word of cheer from a Red Cross man or woman is even more important.