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World War II Veteran: Dr. Kenneth James Gee
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I was in the Army. But I was in Camp Grant as an instructor.
How did that change how people felt at Camp Grant at that time? I know we're going way back into your story now....
Well, it happened Sunday morning, about 7:00. Some of us were up; some were still in the sack - Army term for bed. And we didn't know what to do. We called headquarters. I was with some officers living off of the post. We called headquarters and they said to get in uniform, but don't come down. We'll keep you posted. So we sat there in our clothes. Finally it was pretty obvious that we weren't going to be called out in the middle of the night. But we didn't know what was going to happen. They immediately began to plan to move this whole big bunch of people over the Pacific to get down to the South Pacific.
That was a lot of Navy down there. And, of course, some Air Corps because they had islands with air strips. For our hospital, the patients came in from the Philippines. We were sitting on the equator. And the Philippines are about 600 miles north of there. And the patients came from the north of us. Those that were seriously injured were flown down to our hospital. Those that could be fixed came by a ship that would bring them down. It takes several days to come 600 miles. They would travel day and night. Over a period of 15 months, we had thousands of patients. They would come either by boat or by air. We had a gymnasium that they could work out and get their muscles back in shape. And when their doctors thought they were ready, they would be put on an airplane or a ship that was going back up to the Philippine Islands.
Was there ever a time when you felt like you were in danger? You were usually about 600 miles away from where the action was?
I never had that. We had movies in our area, on this big amphitheater. Every night, if there wasn't a show on. It was said that the Japs that were hiding out in the jungle would come up and sit there and watch the movie. Now, I don't know whether that's a true story or not. But it's possible. There was a Japanese camp - not a camp, but a jail - with a fence that was 15 feet high. And they had pill boxes with armed guards up there. If they tried to get away I'm sure they would have shot them. They were quiet. We'd go down and look at them. They were terribly under nourished, not clean and not properly dressed. Their clothes were in shreds; they were just a mess. But that wasn't any of our business.
One thing that helped our hospital, a lot was that we built a gymnasium right across the road from our 3,000 bed hospital. This was wonderful because, I sent a couple of fellas down to Australia to pick up athletic equipment; footballs, basketballs, baseballs, bats - everything. They didn't bring and roller skates or skis. Then we built this auditorium with seats on 4 sides. There was a boxing ring in the middle, and all of these exercise things around the outside. A very popular place; very useful. It did a lot of good because, when the patients were well enough, they would get up and walk around the camp. Then when they felt much better they'd say, well I'm going to work out a bit. And they'd get the dumb bells out or get something else from the equipment. We had a wonderful boxing ring, for instance. A little football, lots of basketball. You could take a walk in the jungle if you wanted to. We knew what places were safe and what had been abandoned. I know there was a Japanese camp not too far from our hospital. And we'd go down there and see how they had lived. Their tents were different and so forth...
When we had the time off, anyone could requisition a jeep and go to the lake, or go just anywhere they wanted to. The only thing was you didn't want to get off the track and try to explore things in the jungle. There was a wonderful waterfall that everybody visited and that was off camp. You could look back down from this small mountain where the waterfall was and see the road down there. So sure, you were in the jungle, but it was safe. And there was nearly people there all the time. Just something to get out of camp and something to do that was interesting.
The Red Cross was very good. They had a lot of stuff to pass out to the G.I.s Their specialty was ice cream. A big hit - ice cream out in the jungle where the temperature didn't change. It just stayed at 99. You can't tell Monday from Wednesday. You don't know when 4th of July is unless you have somebody to tell you.
I will say that we ran through a total of 13,000 patients. So you can imagine the traffic between us and the Philippine Islands and a few of the other islands would send us too. Because we were a general hospital. That means any surgery you need. It's a system that begins out here in the battle. There are two or three corpsmen - medical corpsmen with each company. And they had the training that we had given them at Camp Grant. So that's the first place. The action happens here, the medics are here. Maybe they can put on a tourniquet or something and send the man back to his job. Or he comes down the chain of command. First, a little field hospital, and then a big surgical hospital. And if they can't handle it, then they would send him on down to us because we were a general hospital, just like you have a general hospital in Iowa City or a general hospital in Des Moines. Of course, they do everything. From a little cut finger to the worst you can think of.
It sounds like everything was a jumble. Like no one knew what ... but they did. We had good order, good behavior. We did our work. We had a little fun. We took in a lot of picture shows, a lot of entertainment. I don't know how many times Bob Hope was there, and other Hollywood dignitaries. In this time, I think we had been there between 9 and 11 months, and we had processed 13,000 patients.
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