We’re taking another brief detour from our letters after I rediscovered some documents among my collection the other day. Now that I know Babe spent a significant portion of his overseas tour — about four months — convalescing at the 64th General Hospital in Livorno, Italy, I thought I’d look a little more at the hospital and try to learn something about it.
The 64th was a unit organized by the medical school from Louisiana State University. It served in North Africa and Italy and its history is well documented on this university website and in this 2007 master’s thesis by then University of New Orleans student Victoria Barreto.
A “general hospital” is distinguished from a “field hospital,” an “evacuation hospital,” a “convalescent hospital” or a “station hospital.” A general hospital typically will receive “patients from evacuation hospitals of the combat zone, by ambulance train, motor ambulance, or even by airplane. Patients are sent to a (numbered) general hospital for additional treatment and care up to a period of usually 120 to 180 days,” according to the WW2 US Medical Research Center, a “private venture between two WW2 US medical collectors and re-enactors living in Europe.”
That sounds about right for Babe’s case. He wouldn’t have been too far from Livorno at the time of his wound, if I understand his movements at all, and his hospital stay was just about at the outside threshold of the range mentioned in this article.
This post’s title is derived from an artifact I found on this website, apparently developed by LSU, that collected documents and photographs from the 64th — including this menu for Christmas dinner in 1944, the Christmas Babe would have spent in the hospital. Dinner on that Monday afternoon was roast turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, buttered parsley potatoes, a vegetable, cranberry sauce, “yuletide salad,” hot rolls, plum pudding, coffee, nuts, fruit and candy.
In one of the more recently transcribed letters from Babe, from March 9, 1945, he mentions that there “isn’t much to write about but the usual phenomena, the weather. The weather is still fine around here, which makes it a phenomena.”
Perhaps that is a reference to the fact that the weather early in his hospital stay was apparently horrible. A December 1944 unit report from the 64th, reflecting on the month of November (when Babe must have arrived) notes: “The continuous rain created so much mud that, regardless of paths, it was practically impossible to get around the bivouac area.”
The same report says the “patient status” on Nov. 30, 1944, was 1,730. I haven’t figured out for sure what “patient status” means, but it appears to be the number of patients hospitalized there — including Babe.