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Duke Pays Tribute to Members of World War II Hospital Unit

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- More than 200 doctors, nurses and enlisted men who served in the Duke-affiliated 65th General Hospital during World War II and their families will gather at Duke University Medical Center at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, to dedicate a bronze memorial sculpture honoring the pioneering medical unit. The event, which is open to the media, also will be the unit's final formal reunion.

The sculpture by Stephen H. Smith of Marshville was commissioned through grants from The Duke Endowment and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation. It features four life-size figures -- an injured soldier, a physician, a nurse and a corpsman. The sculpture stands on a lot adjacent to Duke Clinic. Behind it is the Duke LifeFlight Helicopter pad, where critically ill and injured patients are airlifted to Duke from across the region.

The keynote speaker for Saturday's dedication will be Brigadier General Eric B. Schoomaker, M.D., commanding general of the Southeastern Regional Medical Command and chief of medical corps affairs for the Office of the Army Surgeon General. The 82nd Airborne Division Band from Fort Bragg will perform, and four Duke medical students will unveil the statue. Other speakers scheduled are Ralph Snyderman, M.D., chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of the Duke University Health System; William G. Anlyan, M.D., Duke chancellor emeritus; Ivan W. Brown Jr., M.D., former James B. Duke Professor of Surgery and the 65th's historian; and R. Sanders Williams, M.D., dean of the Duke School of Medicine and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The 65th General Hospital served on active duty from July 1942 through September 1945. It was composed of faculty members, active and former Duke Hospital house staff members and nurses from Duke University Medical Center. It was formed in 1940 at the urging of then Duke medical school dean Wilburt C. Davison, M.D. The 65th spent one year training at Fort Bragg and helping staff the large Army station hospitals. The doctors and nurses were joined by 500 enlisted men, mostly from New York and New Jersey, who served as operating room technicians, barbers, ambulance drivers and cooks.

In the fall of 1943, the unit sailed for England, where it began treating casualties from the North African Theater. In February 1944, the 65th was suddenly ordered to a hospital site at Botesdale, Suffolk, to provide care for the 8th Air Force. It was months before the Normandy invasion of France, and the 8th Air Force was the only American force in active combat in western Europe. As many as 10,000 men and 1,000 planes flew near-daily raids over Europe. Casualties were heavy and included wounds from anti-aircraft fire, exploding shells and bullets, frostbite from exposure to minus 60-degree in-flight temperatures, aircraft crashes and accidents.

In 22 months overseas, the 65th treated 17,250 bed patients and more than 30,000 outpatients. The hospital's mortality rate in the treatment of fresh battle casualties was remarkably low -- 0.4 percent. At the end of the war, the unit was highly commended for its outstanding service by General Dwight D. Eisenhower; General Carl Spaatz, Commander of the 8th Air Force; and the surgeons general of both the Army and the Air Force.

The bronze memorial statue was designed to convey human compassion. A wounded soldier lies on a stretcher as a nurse administers care and a doctor beckons to a corpsman to bring supplies. Smith, who specializes in highly detailed portrayals of the human form, says he placed the figures at ground level to encourage interaction with the viewer. "The corpsman leads you to the outstretched hand of the doctor," says Smith. "You can touch the figures; you can see the interaction between the nurse and the soldier."

Smith also created the statue of Benjamin N. Duke that stands on a pedestal on Duke University's East Campus.

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