Wartime call had Hopkins, UM forming overseas hospital units

JACQUES KELLY

April 20, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

The 88-year-old Ruxton cardiologist recalls precisely the cold and damp weather the night of April 20, 1942.

The scene was a Pennsylvania Station platform in Baltimore. The women were all bundled in spring suits and coats. The men wore U.S. Army khaki.

Dr. R. Charmichael Tilghman, today a retired Johns Hopkins man, stood in that throng waiting to board a train for the first leg of a journey that would take them across the Pacific Ocean. Some would go to the Fiji Islands and India. Others to Australia and Japan.

That night 50 years ago was an event hundreds of local medical men and women had been preparing for. They knew there would be many wartime casualties and the need for good military medical work. They were not given an exact date of departure until the last minute.

But in the weeks before, there were send-offs and social gatherings. A typical going-away banquet was held at the Hotel Stafford facing Mount Vernon Place. The Sisters of Mercy pinned medals to the nurses who had volunteered from their hospital. Then came the orders to move.

"There was a huge crowd at the station. Nearly everybody went down to the platforms. It was one of those wonderfully penetrating days, so damp, drizzling," Dr. Tilghman recalls.

Rivers Chambers, Baltimore's much beloved music maker, was on the scene with a four-piece combo (horn, sax, accordion and guitar). The group charged into "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Deep in the Heart of Texas," and their signature selection, "They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree."

In 1940, before the outbreak of fighting, the surgeon of the Army had asked the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland School of Medicine to organize general hospital units, each with a 1,000-bed capacity, for possible overseas service. In response, Baltimore's medical community pulled together.

Many Johns Hopkins people formed the 18th and 118th General Hospitals. The University of Maryland formed the 42nd and 142nd General Hospitals. Some of the Maryland group wound up on a hospital ship and observed the official surrender of the Japanese in ceremonies on the USS Missouri. The units treated combat injuries and many cases of malaria.

Dr. Tilghman was one of the Hopkins volunteers. At 38, he was too old for the draft, but his services were needed in the hospital unit. So he suspended his private practice in the first block of E. Biddle St. and boarded the train filled with his Hopkins colleagues.

Scores of nurses also traveled on the troop trains that eventually carried them across the country to San Francisco. The Army had not been able to get uniforms to the nurses, so they traveled in civilian clothes. The men wore khaki.

One night, the packed train pulled into a whistle stop so the passengers might get some outdoor exercise.

"The station master there was an old man who had no teeth and chewed tobacco. He was amused by what he saw and said, 'I've seen many a troop train pass through here, but I've never seen one take the women, too,' " Dr. Tilghman says.

Dr. H. Baldwin Streett, D.D.S., now retired from many years in dentistry, also answered that call. But instead of taking the train south, he decided to drive.

"When I got to Fort Jackson [S.C.], I was asked, 'Where are you going to put your car? You can't park it here,' " the dentist recalls. His wife had to take a train there and drive the car back to Maryland.

"I'll tell you, I didn't expect to be away for nearly three years. I never saw good beef and butter again until I got home," he says.

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