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The Newsletter of the Fort MacArthur Museum Association


About the Fort MacArthur Alert

Welcome to the on-line edition of the museum's newsletter, the Fort MacArthur Alert. We hope you enjoy this highlight from recent issue.

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The Fort MacArthur Museum Association
P.O. Box 268
San Pedro, California 90731
 

The Fort MacArthur Museum is funded almost entirely by the efforts of the Fort MacArthur Museum Association and it’s volunteers. We are a non-profit corporation that was formed to support the ongoing education, restoration, and interpretive efforts of the Fort MacArthur Museum, a Special Facility of the city of Los Angeles.

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chest to get out of the Army. After several weeks of recovery he was returned to duty. On the day of his return to duty the same soldier administered another self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

 

The doctors proceeded to patch him up once again. While Prowse was on duty assisting the soldier during the second recovery, a doctor came in and showed the soldier exactly where the heart was located and told him to aim there next time to save all a lot of trouble.

 

Another case involved a soldier that wanted out of the Army. At every opportunity, the soldier would find an anthill and proceed to eat ants. After being in the mental ward for awhile, he seemed to recover but soon started to eat ants again. He was finally discharged.

 

Occasionally, Prowse found himself in the kitchen on KP. He recalls that the food at the Hospital was outstanding. At this time, the Fort MacArthur Army mess was run by a civilian employee acting as Mess Sergeant. The Hospital was still working on the old garrison rationing program where the Mess sergeant was given an allowance to purchase food in the civilian market place. Prowse recalls that they were served beef, chicken, rabbit and fresh vegetables that were procured by the civilian chef. Sometime along his time at the Fort, the civilian cook was replaced with an Army Mess Sergeant and the procurement process was changed so all food was drawn from a central distribution point directly from the Army. While the food was still good, it was not as good as before and you never knew what you would get. One incident that Prowse recalls was during the preparation for a Thanksgiving dinner. Prowse and some other men were detailed to unpack frozen turkeys that had come in. As they were unpacking, all noticed that the turkeys had inspection and packing dates from 1918. In some freezer somewhere, the Army had stored frozen turkeys for over 20 years. Even the stalwart Mess Sergeant agreed that there was no way anyone would eat those turkeys.

 

The most serious case that Prowse saw was the accident involving men from Battery G at the 90mm gun position at Bluff Park in Long Beach. On May 22, 1944 the Battery held a live firing practice. During the practice, a shell was dropped and it detonated. The resulting explosion killed Private Robert K. Fox and shredded the legs of Private Walter Kotch and Private Russell Snider. A total of eight men were wounded that evening. The men were taken to the Fort MacArthur hospital. Kotch’s wounds were the most serious with doctors amputating his leg. Prowse only saw the aftermath but what shocked him most was that the doctors, having just amputated a leg, proceeded soon afterwards to the mess and proceeded to devour large pieces of steak.

 

His concern about seeing terrible wounds later came back to haunt him. It was decided after the accident, that all of the technicians should observe and assist in a surgery to gain some exposure to the sight of blood and the human body during surgical operations. Prowse was detailed to assist and observe an abdominal operation. He donned his garments and mask and went to the operating table. After the nurses took off the sheet and the doctors started operating, Prowse fainted immediately. When he woke up, he was on a gurney outside the operating room. That was the end of his service as a surgical assistant.

 

Prowse benefitted from his service at the Fort MacArthur Hospital. Prior to the war he had only a vague idea of what hospitals did thus his service provided him with a great learning experience. While stationed at Fort MacArthur, he met his future wife further changing his life. They met through a friend who needed a soldier to come along on a date with her and another soldier. After a six month courtship, Prowse and Frances were married. Since Prowse was a soldier, he was required to stay in the barracks. He found that such a married living arrangement was difficult so he often went AWOL to be with his wife but he kept up his duties at the hospital and satisfactorily performed his hospital duties. Prowse left the Army and Fort MacArthur after the end of WWII and moved back with his wife to Washington State. Prowse, his wife and son visited us last year for the Great Los Angeles Air Raid event and donated a great photograph of him and Frances from their time together during the war. He also provided us with a recording of his wartime recollections that assisted with the writing of this article. Thank you to Mr. Prowse for this enlightening look into the Fort MacArthur Hospital.

 

In this issue, we focus on Mr. Grover Prowse. At the outbreak of WWII, Mr. Prowse lived in Albany, Oregon where he registered for the draft. He then moved to McClary, Washington and worked in a veneer factory. When his draft number came up, he was inducted into the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington. He recalls the induction process with some amusement. At a station issuing shoes, Prowse who wore size 7 shoes was handed size 9s. Upon complaining, it was suggested that he wear thicker socks. Perhaps the funniest aspect of this story is that he wore size 9 shoes from then on and even to today. Shortly after his processing, he was detailed to guard duty on his first night.

On that rainy night, he was issued only a pool cue stick as his weapon and was told to guard a transformer. That evening, he was approached by a soldier who asked what he was doing. He responded that he was guarding the transformer. Without thinking, he added that as far as he was concerned anyone that could pick it up could have it since he was only given a cue stick to protect it. It turned out that the soldier was the Sergeant of the Guard who was not impressed with his response. After his shift he returned to the barracks to clean up as he was wet and his boots were covered in mud. As soon as he was finished cleaning up he went to the mess hall to get some breakfast. He discovered that the mess hall was closed and he had missed his first Army breakfast.

After a two week stay for basic training at Fort Lewis, he and a few other men he had known from Oregon and Washington shipped out for Boise, Idaho for training. The train ride was a new experience for Prowse who had never traveled to anywhere but Oregon and Washington. He was surprised that food was served on the train and that it tasted good. They arrived in Boise by mid afternoon when the sun was high and hot which was a contrast from Fort Lewis. They found their way to their barracks and bunks to settle in for a good rest before starting their 13 week training. When they awoke and headed out for calisthenics the next morning, they were surprised to find a chill in the air. When they were finished and preparing to head back out, many of the men decided to wear their heavy coats even though the rule was that once coats were put on they would have to be worn all day. By the afternoon, the soldiers wearing Mackinaws were in sorry shape. The heat with the coats on was oppressive so they regretted wearing them.

The food at Boise was good but Prowse and the others had to get used to the Army way of piling different dishes on top of one another. Desert and the main course were always mixed together. He and others in his company were detailed to be medical personnel. As the 13 weeks progressed, Prowse thought it was odd that he should be in the US Army going through basic training without being trained on any type of weapon. The training was similar to that of other soldiers but there were never any firearms. He said that in no way did this mean that the training was in any way designed for lightweights. He just noticed that it was different from the others and from what he thought it would be. They still had to run obstacle courses and conduct long distance marches so the training was as tough as the discipline. He recalls how one soldier with free time on his hands decided he would read a newspaper. During training one learned not to do anything that was not authorized by an NCO. When a NCO caught this soldier, he ordered him to dig a hole with his entrenching tool and bury the newspaper. The hole had to be three feet deep. Once dug, the soldier had to bury his newspaper. The soldier was making his way back to the barracks when the NCO stopped him and asked “what page were you reading?” The soldier answered that he didn’t know so the NCO ordered him to dig up the paper and tell what page he had been reading!

On another occasion the men were gathered and preparing for gas mask training. The soldiers entered a room where tear gas was released. All was well with the masks on. Then the NCOs ordered the masks to be removed and instructed the men to go to the exit. Before the men could get out they had to recite their serial number to the NCO. Only those that gave their serial number were allowed to exit. Those who couldn’t went to the end of the line to see another NCO who would remind them of their numbers. They had to wait in line until they got to the exit and could recite their serial numbers, all the while choking on tear gas. Prowse did not remember his serial number but thought that he would take a chance and rattled off a bogus serial number. He wasn’t discovered and was allowed to exit but he never again forgot his serial number. He easily recites it today as 39328148.

After 13 weeks, he and a group of 28 men were sent to the railroad station for shipment to their permanent duty station. According to standard Army procedure, they were not told where they were going. After a long train ride, they arrived at the Fort MacArthur Reception Center. Like Boise, Idaho it was hot. Soon they were informed that they would be assigned to the Fort MacArthur Post Hospital at the Middle Reservation. The hospital mostly handled minor health issues and some minor surgeries. For serious cases, patients were transported to the larger Army Hospital in Pasadena. After leaving from the Reception Center at the Lower Reservation, Prowse was moved to the Middle Reservation barracks. At the barracks, each man was assigned an individual bunk. Prowse was glad to learn that he had been assigned a bottom bunk. Top bunks were a pain to make up each morning since everything was at eye level. He soon found that his permanent assignment was as a hospital technician at the 9th Service Command Hospital.

The Hospital had eight wards situated in a group of out buildings. The two story main hospital building housed the administration, mess hall, operating rooms, dental rooms, x-ray, laboratories and the officers’ ward that had private rooms. On his first day, he drew KP duty and spent most of the day in the kitchen. His regular assignment was to be Ward Technician for the 7th Ward. Prowse was to see to the needs of 27 patients in this ward. He was careful to avoid the 6th Ward which was the contagious diseases isolation ward. In his daily duties, he checked the needs of the patients, bringing food and drink, clearing dishes and utensils, and making beds. The ward boys, as they referred to themselves, worked 12-hour shifts from 7:00AM to 7:00PM with night and day shifts rotating throughout the week.

The ward boys were ordered to keep their area spotless and sanitary. This was an important

aspect of their work with the doctors and nurses demanding strict compliance. Brass hardware and other bright work were polished regularly. The floors were waxed once a month and buffed to a mirror shine weekly. Prowse learned the seriousness of the sanitary condition when Saturday inspections brought an officer with a white glove to examine and wipe down all the surfaces within the ward. Most of the patients came from the nearby areas.

The Harbor Defense soldiers and members of the 3rd Coast Artillery were most common. Some patients were new recruits from the Reception Center and others were soldiers rotated from overseas. Patient care was usually simple but at other times, physical assistance was required for sponge baths and use of bed pans or the “duck”. Prowse recalls that the portable urinals for the patients were called “ducks”. The most unpleasant assistance was giving enemas. Another unpleasant job was tending to the patients coming out of anesthesia. Ether made the patients very nauseous and nearly every one vomited upon coming out of the induced “sleep”. It seems that patients were not told to refrain from eating prior to surgery. No one liked the cleanup work but they did the job.

Another ward dealt with venereal diseases. In this ward injections were given on a monthly basis. The men would show up and approach a doctor. The doctor ordered trousers dropped and as each soldier passed he was given a sharp slap on his posterior. With each slap the doctor inserted a needle and then passed the soldier onto the next doctor who administered another injection. Prowse thought it amusing that the doctors would use a production style technique to administer the drugs but that was the way it was.

There were other humorous experiences. One patient was returned to ward 7 while still under anesthesia when a fire broke out in a building across the street. The doctor in the ward ordered all the window shades closed lest the awakening patient should see the fire and think he had gone to hell. On another occasion a patient arrived that spoke only Spanish. Through sign language and a mixture of Spanish and English, they learned that he gotten into what he thought was a line for food. Instead, the line was for a bus to Fort MacArthur. The men of the Reception Center found syringes and medicinal vials in his possession and confiscated them but sent him on through the recruit processing. After a time he started having seizures so he was sent to the hospital. There it was learned that he had diabetes and never should have been inducted into the first place. He remained in the ward for about a week and was discharged from the Army with 100% disability. On another occasion, a soldier came into the hospital with his neck contorted to one side. The doctors gave him an injection that temporarily corrected the problem but the soldier soon returned with the same condition. It was determined that the soldier should be discharged with 100% disability so the process to generate discharge papers was started. In the meantime the soldier asked for a three day pass to go into Los Angeles to see a chiropractor. The sergeant gave him the pass and told the ward boys to collect his personal effects because he would be discharged when he returned. After three days the soldier returned fully recovered. When the doctors learned of his recovery his discharge papers were cancelled and the soldier was returned to duty. When told later how close he had been to discharge, he was not pleased.

There were also some bad times at the hospital. Prowse reported on sick call with a severe sore throat. An examination by a doctor revealed that he had tonsillitis with the diagnosis that the tonsils had to come out. The doctor had Prowse lay back on the examination table while he cut out his tonsils. Prowse recalls the tremendous pain and that he could barely swallow food or drink for some time. During his recovery he noticed another soldier who had undergone the same procedure but was receiving whiskey. With this treatment, the soldier went back to duty the same day. Prowse wondered if he should have treated his wounds similarly but didn’t. He continued to suffer from a sore throat for two more months.

Another bad experience for Prowse came while transporting a patient. A nurse asked him to take a patient into the lower level of the Hospital main building. Normally, this area was off limits to enlisted men especially the elevator. Under no circumstances were enlisted men to use the elevator. The patient was confined to a wheel chair so there was no way to get him downstairs using the stairs. Prowse took the patient to the elevator and rode downstairs to the ENT  (Ear, Nose and Throat) office. Upon exiting the elevator, Prowse passed Col. Absher. The Colonel halted Prowse demanding name, rank and serial number. Prowse complied where upon the Colonel said he was placing Prowse on report with reduction in rank. In addition the Colonel gave him a thorough dressing down regarding the use of the elevator. Prowse returned dejected to the ward and told the nurse that a Colonel had demoted him for taking the elevator. The nurse, a lieutenant, promptly phoned the Colonel and him that she had ordered Prowse downstairs with a non-ambulatory patient and that he was simply following orders from an officer and gave the Colonel his own dressing down. The matter was soon dropped and Prowse kept his rank.

One of the other ward boys had a close call with Colonel Absher as well. Prowse and the others occasionally had slow times with little to do. To alleviate boredom they would call each other on the telephone to gossip and sometimes pull pranks. One night his friend PFC Willard was working in the mental ward. When the phone rang, Willard answered thinking that it was one of the other ward boys calling to harass. Willard answered with “This is the nut ward, chief nut speaking”. To his horror Colonel Absher was on the other end and demanded to know who had answered. The quick thinking Willard responded tartly and said “I’m not going to tell you and I hope you don’t find out” and hung up the phone. The Colonel immediately showed up to search for the ward comedian. Approaching Willard, the Colonel asked who had been on the phone. Willard responded that he hadn’t heard the phone ring nor had he seen anyone using it. Since the Colonel had no witnesses, he decided to drop his pursuit but this instance gave all a lesson about playing on the telephones.

The mental ward had both interesting and serious cases. One case was a soldier that had administered a self inflicted gunshot wound to the


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