HISTORY OF LETTERMAN GENERAL HOSPITAL
THE AMERICAN RED CROSS
Pages 26, 42
From the moment of his arrival in San Francisco until he is restored to civic industry the returned soldier is under friendly surveillance by the Red Cross. “The Greatest Mother” is no less assiduous in promoting his welfare at home than she was eager to provide for his comfort abroad. She is ready to fulfill his every reasonable demand, and does not hesitate to exceed his expectation in her work of good-will. She considers it her duty and privilege to serve him—that she is a steward administering the will of the American people.
San Francisco Chapter’s hospitality to the returned soldier begins when he arrives in the city and continues until he no longer needs it. He is greeted at ferryboat or train by a group of blue-gowned canteen workers who decorate him with a Red Cross badge of welcome and supply him with creature comforts. If he is hungry, they serve him with all the good wholesome food he can consume, giving cigarettes and chewing gum to those who desire it. In the comfortably-furnished canteen hut the soldier can rest and meet his friends while waiting for the trucks to transport him and his impedimenta to the demobilization camp at the Presidio. Extra dainties are given disabled or sick men, and three Red Cross ambulances and as many automobiles as may be needed are used for their transportation to Letterman Hospital.
There are more than 150 faithful workers ever ready to respond cheerfully when their commanders call for service. At any hour of day or night they are available to meet incoming troops and have hot meals prepared for them. There are numerous instances on record of a woman toiling in the canteen from 6 a. m. until midnight and reappearing at 5 o’clock the next morning to serve breakfast to men detrained at the Third Street Station. An idea of what the Ferry canteen is doing may be derived from the commissary officer’s last report, covering the thirty days of June. During that period the total number of men served was 45,502, an average of 1,500 meals a day. Of this total 25,346 men were served free and 20,156 paid for their food at an approximate cost of five cents per man. The viands consumed included 1,256 loaves of bread, 2,005 dozen doughnuts, 797 dozen rolls, 2,400 pies, 240 pounds of butter, 1.559 “hot dogs,” 245 pounds chocolate, 190 pounds cheese, 430 pounds ham, 370 pounds of coffee, 479 pounds sugar, 720 gallons milk, 182 quarts cream, 650 pounds watermelon.
These melons were provided as a special treat for a trainload of colored troops who arrived from Camp Lee, Virginia, to be transported to the Philippines. The day was one of the hottest in June, consequently the ice-cold melons were received with enthusiasm. This canteen service will continue until its usefulness expires, and just when that will happen cannot now be predicted with any degree of certainty. For his release from military duty does not debar a man from the canteen. He is entitled to its benefits until he can no longer reasonably expect them—which means until he is in position to take care of himself without Red Cross aid. If he has money to pay for his food, he can enjoy a bed, bathe and toilet accommodations at the Red Cross club house and dormitory, 301 Market street. But if he has no funds, the Red Cross will feed and lodge him free until he finds employment, which that organization will assist him in procuring. If he feels inclined to renew the Red Cross what it did to relieve his needs, his offering will be accepted with appreciation; but he is under no obligation, written or verbal, to do that. “When in need or trouble of any kind, seek me,” is the slogan that San Francisco Chapter aims to write indelibly in the mind of every man its call to arms. The chapter’s home service bureau is maintained for the benefit of him and his dependents. If he desires friendly counsel, it is his for the asking. If he is stranded en route to his home town, transportation is obtained for him. Dependable information concerning compensation and conversion of insurance or in tracing lost personal property is furnished him free of all cost. Through the bureau he can get in touch with the best medical advice. If disabled or incapacitated to resume his former means of bread-winning, vocational suggestions in the choice of a new occupation are gratuitously offered him.
In this connection it may not be amiss to say something about what San Francisco Chapter had done is doing to lighten the loneliness of hospital life for the boys confined in Letterman. It has given them two delightful days down the peninsula which were enjoyed by every patient able to make the journey. The first excursion, made in 130 automobiles was to the Saratoga estate of United States Senator James D. Phelan, who welcomed the boys in person and treated them to an elaborate luncheon, followed by a vaudeville show arranged by the Chapter. The second motoring trip was to the Menlo Park home of Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund Stern, who provided an old-time California barbecue, and entertainment by Stanford students and an afternoon tea. In addition to these large affairs, the Chapter has provided auto trips several days a week and arranged theatre parties of the boys at some of the city’s most prominent movie houses. An unusual entertainment presented in the Red Cross house was provide by the Chapter, when Walter Belasco, the well-known actor, “made up” for a character in which he appeared a moment later in the photoplay on the screen.
What the Chapter is doing for the lads in khaki it is doing also for the boys in blue.
The Red Cross at Letterman
The necessity of an adequate provision for the entertainment and recreation of the ill and convalescent patients and of the able-bodied personnel attached to hospitals is now generally recognized. Therefore, in accordance with its program of reconstruction work, the American Red Cross at Letterman General Hospital has established a Convalescent House.
The building is intended for recreation and amusement for the convalescent patients, and provides a place where the men may gather and get away from the atmosphere of the hospital. It is equipped with library, comfortable chairs, games of various kinds, writing facilities, pool tables, victrola, piano player, motion picture machine, and a stage for amateur theatricals. The house will be open daily from 10 A. M. until 9 P. M. for all of the patients, and motion pictures will be given several evenings each week.
The American Library Association has equipped the library with books and provided a librarian who will have charge of them and their circulation through the wards.
Many relatives and friends come to the hospital daily and the Red Cross aims to care for the reception of these visitors, giving all information possible and affording comfortable facilities in which they may meet the patients. Through its communication service it will be able to furnish the information as to the condition and progress of patients by mail.
Until now, a large part of the service of the Red Cross has consisted in the distribution of comforts and supplies together with food contributed by friends. This service will be continued and all foodstuffs will be brought or sent to its room for distribution.
Under the direction of the Educational Service, the Red Cross personnel are providing organized athletics for both the patients and the corps men. Baseball, volleyball, tennis and quoits are the most successful in maintaining interest in the out-of-door recreation, while physical training and special exercises are being given certain groups of men to secure the therapeutic ends desired.
The Home Service Department endeavors to add its influence in the rehabilitation of the soldier by serving as a contact between the soldier and his family and by advising and aiding in handling allotments and Liberty Bond inquiries or by giving advice about insurance or problems of a more personal nature.
The purpose of recreation and entertainment activities is to induce in the individual patient a state of mind which will stimulate his recovery. The entertainment given for the bed patients, the organized auto rides, theater parties and picnics, all deal with the lighter and less serious phases of life, but they are all important factors in maintaining morale. The opening of the Convalescent House gives added equipment and new stimulus to all of the Red Cross activities and meets a need which has been growing more acute with the increase of overseas patients.
Transcribed by Sharon Walford Yost.
Source: ”The History of Letterman General Hospital, Pages 24, 52a, 52b. Published by the Listening Post, Presidio, San Francisco, Cal. 1919.
© 2010 Sharon Walford Yost.