|Junior hostess from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Service
Center are helping in the readjustment of battle casualties in a way no
doctor or nurse can. Here a hospital patient tells how they do it.
They are dancing. The girl's eyes look into his
with bright and shining attention. He makes some passing comment,
and she smiles appreciatively. The girl is lovely; about twenty-four,
carefully groomed, and dressed in an evening gown perfectly suited for
the occasion - gay and partyish, but, not fluffy or gaudy. Her hair
The man she is dancing with is about her own age,
but his attire does not compliment her evening gown. He is dressed
in pajamas, bathrobe and slippers. Nor is he handsomely groomed.
The right side of his face and his entire head are swathed compactly in
bandages; the skin on the left side of his face is angry looking and puckered,
and the ear has been partly eaten away by flames. The bandages cover
an extensive skin operation for his charred cheek and hold snugly in place
the new ear that the plastic surgeon created for him out of cartilage and
skin grafted from other parts of his body. The girl makes some pert
remark, smiling and laughing into his eyes; she has learned the art of
seeing the man without being blinded by his disfigurement. He grins,
the faint trace of boyishness still there.
He is a Normandy beachhead hero. When the
88-mm. Shell set fire to the eighty octane gas and turned his tank into
a steel inferno, he was the only man out of the crew who managed to crawl
out. He has been out of bed for about a week; following his second
plastic. Two or three more such operations, and he will have a presentable
face, able to take his normal place in the world.
The Normandy beachhead hero and the girl circle
around another dancing couple, careful not to jog the wire and plaster-of-paris
contraption which holds the man's left hand rigidly curved and thrust away
from his body. Another couple glides by. The man is wearing
a white skullcap, concealing the gaunt, shaven head from a recent skull
operation. Bone and flesh near the temple are gouged away; his face
is liberally pocked with brown markings, evidence of a light peppering
of shrapnel. Another man limps as he dances, his brace visible below
the cuff of his pajamas.
These are the men returned from the wars.
The men who hit the beachheads of Anzio and Normandy; who fought the enemies
(jungle and Jap) in New Guinea and Bougainville; who made the amphibious
landings on Saipan and Guam; who captured Aachen-and in the process, helped
create a new word in the language-Aachenize: to reduce a city to dust and
These, the wounded, wearing bathrobes and pajamas
or convalescent suits, are dancing with girls more than a cut above the
average in appearance and dress. The place is the auditorium of the
Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The girls are
the junior hostesses of the Tuscaloosa Service Center.
They are pioneers in a new type of canteen, USO,
and service-center work - for, in addition to the Service Center, this
special kind of work is done by co-eds from the University of Alabama,
and girls from a large photographic studio in Tuscaloosa. With the
continuation of war, and the increasing boat and plane loads of wounded
reaching these shores for long periods of convalescence, there has been
a shift in emphasis and direction of soldier servicing.
The honeymoon days of soldier servicing are over.
Not so long ago, when a junior hostess entertained a soldier, she had a
gay and easy time. Sometimes, even, there was romance. The
men were healthy and bubbling over with spirit; it was fun to talk with
them; it was wonderful to watch them pack away large quantities of sandwiches
and cakes, and quarts of coffee. Occasionally a bruised soul may
have gone through a fifteen hour stretch of K.P. or a twenty-mile forced
march with full field pack. However junior hostesses soon discovered
the remarkable therapeutic properties of a bowl of hot soup or a thick
slab of chocolate cake. Bruised souls were healed in the twinkling
of an evening.
But now some of these very men have gone to foreign
lands, fought a war and returned. Now the bruises are deep, and the
therapy must be equally deep. The dancing can no longer be the carefree
dancing of two young, healthy people. The trip across the ocean fixed
that. Honeymoon days are over; the days of hard work are upon us.
The brief story of Tuscaloosa's Service Center
is the story of a new path which had to be hacked out, and which others
will have to follow. Organizations whose attendance has been falling
off will have to replan their activities. This is especially true
of those organizations (and there are a surprising number of them) which
are situated close to both camps and hospitals, and are learning that the
camps are emptying, and the hospitals are filling up!
Tuscaloosa was ready for a service center long
before one was actually founded. Finally, in January, 1943, a center
was formed by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. A directress was needed,
and Elizabeth (Betty) Coles Morley volunteered. Located originally
in a small building, which was soon outgrown, the Center moved into its
present quarters, furnished by the Federated Club Women of Tuscaloosa,
on September 1, 1943.
Their overhead was supplied by the War Chest,
current running expenses by the citizens of Tuscaloosa. They entertained
men who were taking the Army Specialized Training Program in the University
of Alabama, which is situated in Tuscaloosa; French and American
cadets who were training at the Van De Graaff Airport two miles outside
of town; Air Corps cadets training at the University of Alabama, and sundry
other small groups of men.
So far, this is the average story of the average
service club in the United States. But change soon began. First
the Army Specialized Training Program was cut down to negligible proportions.
Then French cadets were transferred to another field and Van DeGraaff Airport
was turned over for commercial use. Next the Air Corps program at
the University of Alabama was closed down. The healthy young men
began to disappear.
Meanwhile construction of Northington General
Hospital was progressing. On September 5, 1943, just five days after
the Service Center took over its new home, it was dedicated. Soon
many Pacific casualties were routed to Northington General Hospital.
Betty Morley, who is also a member of the Recreation Council of the hospital,
saw this change of balance from two sides, the Service Center and the hospital,
and appreciated its significance. If the Service Center was really
to serve, it would have to re-orient its program. And it would have
to do it fast.
Betty Morley called a meeting of all the hostesses
and discussed the situation. From the first, these hostesses had
been carefully chosen. Between the ages of eighteen and thirty, they
include teachers, students, professional and business girls. They
were checked carefully and, once accepted, had to take a five hour indoctrination
in such subjects as Military Security (conducted by Northington General
Hospital's Director of Intelligence); Boy Meets Girl in Wartime (conducted
by a member of the faculty of the University of Alabama); Physical Health
in Wartime and Sex Hygiene (delivered by a County health nurse).
Now these girls, about one hundred twenty strong,
were called together and told the story. The able-bodied soldiers
were being shipped off to war. They were being replaced by the very
sick and wounded, the men who were brought back for extensive hospitalization
and treatment, the long term war casualties. This was the new job.
Those who were not interested or did not feel
up to it were invited to resign. No one resigned.
Then began a short intensive course. Appropriate
articles were studied. There were group discussions. Again
and again the girls were impressed with the fact that a bad error on their
part could invite psychological catastrophe. The girls were taught
the art of seeing without looking-to see the whole without looking
at the injured parts.
To conclude the course, the chief of plastic surgery
of Northington General Hospital, Major John Francis Pick, delivered a talk
on the type of cases they would most likely come across. This talk
was illustrated with "before and after" slides. They were gory slides
indeed, but then the reconstruction of a mangled body is a gory business.
There were nervous giggles in Major Pick's audience, and some of the girls
turned green and gray when certain slides flashed on the screen. But
no one resigned.
Thus it was no accident that the wounded
who were routed to Northington General Hospital were met by the intelligently
trained, human and good-looking girls. They did not turn away, and
they did not shudder. They smiled, carried on a friendly chit-chat,
looking directly and steadily into the faces and eyes of the scared and
wounded men. No one resigned.
One girl confessed that couldn't sleep
after her first date with a bad plastic case, but she hadn't let the man
down; he had no idea of what was going on inside her head. Several
evenings with this and similar plastic cases, and she accepted the men
for themselves; she saw the men, not the injuries.
NECESSARY INGREDIENT FOR RECOVERY
It has been that way right along. There is a weekly
dance in the auditorium at the hospital, and daily entertaining in the
Service Center. The physicians and surgeons of Northington General
Hospital are uniformly delighted with the accomplishments of the Center.
For self-confidence is a necessary ingredient of any cure. Without
it the doctor's load is increased; with it the patient's cure is much speedier.
The men are urged to go down to the Service Center-especially
during the in-between stages of complicated plastic work. They go
down, frequently with hesitation, and discover that they are not pariahs,
that they are accepted as human beings on a plane with other human beings.
Their self-confidence flares high.
The dance and entertaining are the least exacting
parts of a full program. These ambulatories who can leave the hospital
to visit the Service Center are men who are on the road to recovery.
But there are many wards still with the seriously wounded: the paralyzed,
the shocked, the burned. For these teams of junior hostesses have
a weekly schedule of ward rounds. This work calls for unbelievable
tact, patience and kindness.
The girls must sense what the man in the bed has
on his mind (the war, his girl, his kids, his plans for when he gets out,
perhaps a date with the girl he is talking to when he finally becomes an
ambulatory), and frequently they have to lead the conversation in that
direction. When they play checkers or cards, they must know when
to win (if they can) and when to lose. They do skits, frequently of their
own authorship. "Sometimes we get into costumes and act gay and silly.
We do what we think will give them an hour away from their hurt."
After a while, these girls develop a sixth sense; they are marvels of imaginative
The progress from bed patient to ambulatory patient
confined to the hospital, to visitor at the Service Center, to gradual
absorption into the stream of normal civilian life, is apparent in this
Only a few weeks ago, there were three bed patients
in Northington. One of them had a bashed-in face, with the jaw shoved
way over to the left side. The second was a bad burn case, the skin
cracked and red, with slits for eyes that were rheumy and glazed, the burned
hairless scalp splotched pink and white. The third had one eye gone,
a section of the nose clipped away, the upper lip twisted into a challenging
There are cases upon tragic cases of men allowed furloughs
and not taking them, afraid to go home, afraid of that first look, that
first minute, that first hour, that first day, that first week, that first
month, that first year, that entire lifetime. If those who have had
the fortune to say at home want to maintain the love and respect of that
returning soldier son, husband or friend, they had better measure up to
Service Center Standards.
It was during their time as bed patients that
they met the junior hostesses at ward parties. After a few weeks they became
ambulatories, it being necessary to wait for the first stages of their
work to heal properly before the second stage could be embarked upon.
During the ambulatory period they were persuaded
by girls to get out on the floor during the weekly dances. Finally,
toward the end of the healing period they were allowed evening and week-end
passes. But these three soldiers didn't go out. They looked
into their mirrors and remained in the hospital.
Three girls, with their highly trained perceptions,
realized what was happening. They went to the hospital and cajoled
the men into a promise to visit the Service Center. The soldiers
were as good as their word, and they came to the Center the very next Saturday
afternoon. That short two-mile journey from the hospital to Service
Center was the first voyage made on their own since the day they were hit
on the battlefield! They were not in an Army ambulance or an Army
hospital train; they were not surrounded by doctors, nurses and wardsmen.
They were in a public conveyance. They paid their five-cent bus fare,
and sat among civilians.
THE GIRLS HAVE A WAY WITH THEM
It was a difficult journey. They hunched down
in their seats, hiding their faces, and the Service Center, when reached,
was a haven of refuge. At the Center, the girls met the men with
whoops and cries of joy. They were made to feel at home, put at their
ease. After a suitable interval, one of the girls casually - most
casually - suggested they take a walk through town on this lovely, sunny
afternoon. The men held back; the girls insisted. More persuasion,
more cajolery, and finally they started out.
What happened on that walk? Nothing happened.
Nothing at all. Therein lies its wonder and glory.
In the backs of their minds, for months on end,
the men were frightened at the prospect of staring eyes and the gaping
horror of the citizen approaching on the street, and then after passing,
the craning neck and the cluck-cluck of sympathy, the eyes and cheeks stiffened
with fright at the sight of these walking wounded.
But nothing happened. The six bantered and
chatted, and for all their wary watchfulness, the three men couldn't find
a single citizen of Tuscaloosa staring at them, craning back at them, commenting
about them. They were taken in stride-which is precisely the way
they want to be taken. Indeed one of the greatest worries (perhaps
the greatest worry of these wounded) is fear of the reaction of their families
and friends to their disfigurement.
|Our physically handicapped soldiers will have to win the fight to live
useful, Normal lives. In this fight, public understanding of the
wounded soldier's problem is of vast importance in assisting him to assume
his rightful place in society. Through training and leadership, the
soldier is courageous and physically fit. When wounded he is given
the best care that medical science can provide. His spirit and morale
are maintained during his hospitalization. It is the public's responsibility
to carry on when he is discharged and becomes a veteran. The plan
adopted by the Tuscaloosa Service Center at Northington General Hospital
is of inestimable value in this regard.
Norman T. Kirk
Major General, USA
The Surgeon General