18th Portable Surgical Hospital
Capt. Charles M. Bradford MD
Three days after the jump, the 18th Portable Surgical Hospital
moved into the Topside Barracks beside us. They had come to Corregidor in
the invasion barges on D-Day and had installed themselves on the beach;
but down there they soon found that they were subject to bursts of fire
from hidden Jap squads, which made the area "unsanitary or at least
unsalutary," as one of their officers put it. Not that they were unused to
this sort of thing, for they had already seen fierce combat at "Zig-Zag
Pass" on Luzon, and had made the initial landing at Mariveles, as well as
As far as the Portable Hospitals go, few people realize how completely
they are integrated as functional parts of all combat teams, and how fully
they share the experiences of battle. In the initial stages they
frequently live under fire, digging their own foxholes like all front line
troops. Many of them at times have been pinned down by mortars or
artillery or even by enemy rifles and machine guns. As soon as the
perimeter widens, they begin treating casualties with full surgical care.
"We couldn't get the wounded back to the hospitals fast enough," one
theater surgeon explained, "so we brought the hospitals up to the
wounded." At Corregidor we were to witness many convincing examples of the
effectiveness of these medical tactics. We actually saw what is often
talked about, but seldom happens in a civilian doctor's life, we saw
lives saved, not a few, but many, by surgical teams in action.
In less than three hours after the hospital trucks rolled up to Topside,
the wards and operating rooms were functional. For the latter, blackout
curtains were draped across window openings and doors in order to allow
the surgeons to work through the night. The electric lights from their
portable generators gave excellent illumination. The portable autoclaves
were able to keep adequate supplies of sterile sheets, towels and dry
goods ready to furnish operating tables, and there were enough instruments
for two cases to be treated at once. The hospital also was equipped with
portable refrigerators for serums and for drugs such as penicillin, of
which there was such an ample supply that every surgical case received it
routinely in three-hourly injections.
On the wards, though canvas army cots were used, the patients received all
the essential advantages of bed care that they could find in a good
civilian hospital at home. Even oxygen tents were available and were used
on one or two serious cases which needed them. Plasma, of course, was
given on the wards as well as in the operating rooms, and also intravenous
saline and glucose.
More surprising to me was the plentiful supply of whole blood, which none
of the substitutes can seem to replace for cases of profuse hemorrhage.
The medical corps has devoted intensive research to this problem of
transporting blood, with the result that they can package it on the
Pacific or Atlantic coasts and send it through all altitudes and climates
"Fresh" to Europe or the Philippines. Examples like this remind us that,
though the American soldier may think he is far from home, he can never go
far enough to be beyond the reach of his countrymen's most devoted care.