CAMPAIGNS: Rhineland-Ardennes

Hospital Train # 22 Captain Detachment C.O.

Awards: American Campaign Medal
European, African, M.E. Campaign Medal with 2 Battle Stars
World War II Victory Medal

Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when I came down the steps of the Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood California I joined Peter Lind Hayes, Skeets Gallager and Frank Fay in conversation, and for the first time heard the words “Pearl Harbor”. I soon realized that we were at war.

Among the radio announcements of that time was one that the Coast Guard needed officers. Since I rather fancied myself in blue, I inquired about what I needed to do to apply. I submitted my application, including my Birth Certificate and College Transcript. While waiting for their response, I received “Greetings” from the local Draft Board. I called the Draft Board and explained about the Coast Guard application. They said, “OK, let us know how this goes.” When I received the notice from the Coast Guard that I had not been accepted, I called the Draft Board and within two weeks, I was a “Dog-Face” Private in the Army.

I entered the Army January 27, 1943 at Fort McArthur, California and was immediately shipped to Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois. This was a medical replacement center. Since I knew the “Manual of Arms” from my earlier stint at the University of Illinois. I was immediately put on the color guard. This helped, because I received special favors such as attending dinners and receiving cartons of cigarettes.

After being promoted to Corporal, I was sent to Camp Barkley, Amarillo, Texas. There I attended Officer Candidate School, and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant and was sent back to Camp Grant, to become a training officer.

After a little more than a year of helping to make soldiers out of civilians, I was shipped to Fort McHenry, near Boston. We were loaded on a French ship, the Colombie and joined the largest convoy that had been formed up to that time. We sailed May13, 1944. After crossing the Atlantic we went up the Firth of Clyde to Glasgow, Scotland. Next to the north coast of Wales and eventually to Southampton, England. There we picked up an English Hospital Train, loaded it on a ferry and sailed to Cherbourg, France.

I will tell you about our Hospital Train. It was made by the English, mostly of wood. There were about 15 cars, each equiped with 5 racks, 3 tiers high, on both sides of the car. These racks held the stretchers on which the wounded had been placed. Near the middle of the train was the pharmacy car, carrying medicine and medical equipment. When traveling with wounded, the dining car was busy, but when the train was empty, the personnel, equiped with booze, congregated in the dining car. There they could read, write letters and play games.

The first car behind the dining car was a regular coach type car for the walking wounded. The officer’s car had staterooms for the doctors, the nurses and myself and a so-called recreation room. Our supply sergeant and corporal were handymen, so they made bunks for themselves in the utility car. They put linoleum on the floor and installed a barber,s chair (which we had liberated in Aachen, Germany.) We found a car on a siding in Belgium, which we added to our train (without any questions). It had four berths, a bathroom and some benches. This gave us some leeway for storage and personnel use. The personnel cars had an aisle down one side and staterooms for 4 on the other side. This created some minor morale problems, when corpsmen tired of looking at each other. I frequently pointed out to them that this beat sleeping ina foxhole.

Personnel included about 50 corpsmen, 2 doctors and 4 nurses. The nurses were kept busy tending to the wounded, but they were also a tremendous asset as morale builders.

Of course, strafing was a problem. Some pilots saw the red crosses on top of our cars and went on their way, but others did not. I found that the best place to be when being strafed by the enemy was at the end of each car, where there was an overhead water supply and porcelain sinks underneath. Of course this was not a secret and usually became a meeting place for personnel.

One thing that puzzled me. During the campaign was that I was instructed to show a 1st Lt. MAC(Medical Admistrative Corps) on my morning report. I did so, but never saw Lt. MAC until after the war. It turned out that he was General Omar Bradley’s foot doctor.

The civilians operating the locomotives were French and Belgian. We learned to keep an eye on them, because when they heard warning sirens, they would go to their own shelters, sometimes letting the boiler fires die down. Of course, that meant no steam to propel the engine.

We were now we were an active part of the war. For the next several months, we followed the troops to the front in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, bringing the wounded back to Paris.We were strafed and came under enemy fire, especially during the Battle of the Bulge. On Christmas Eve, 1944, we picked up some patients, including Woody Davis, who later became my close friend in Ferriday. Shortly after we picked up the patients, a “buzz bomb” hit one of the hospital tents we had left, causing many casualties.The next day we left for the front again. Shortly thereafter the train station we had just left at St. Lazare was blown to smithereens.

We made continous trips. Go to the front and pick up wounded patients, take them to a hospital, unload and go back again. This went on for several months, with hundreds of patients transported each trip. I have no idea of the total number of patients we served. There is one thing that I remember, of which we were quite proud. In all these trips we lost only one patient, and that was a German POW.

After the Peace Agreement was signed at Rheims, France, we picked up American POWs and brought then back to Paris. During the demobilization, I was appointed Adjutant of the Dispensary in Paris, where I lived for about a year, in the American Hospital in Neuilly. February 1,1945, I turned the hospital over to civilian authorities. I spent the next few weeks at Villa Juif south of Paris. I came home on the ship, Ernie Pyle and was released from active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, August 10, 1946 as a Captain. I was later promoted to Major while in the Reserves.

In Burbank, California, January 1966 I met the former Suzanne Moulle through the LSU Alumni Association. We were married in September 1967 when I retired from Technicolor. We moved to Ferriday, Louisiana December 1976. This has been my home since that date.

Fred Johnson