Though a few of the members of the 12th General Hospital Unit had served in World War I, the majority of the recruits had to adapt to the military, which was especially difficult for many of the physicians and dentists who had trouble taking orders and whose professional habits were deeply ingrained. These civilian practitioners were transformed into military medical personnel through training, where they soon learned to acclimate to drills, uniforms, and censorship. Along with the tedium and anxiety about where they were being sent and for some what they were sacrificing by being away from the home front, there was a sense of camaraderie cultivated during this period.
Enlisted men’s quarters at Fort Custer
James A. Conner and Benjamin Boshes looking at a book at Fort Custer
Leaving behind the niceties of peace-time living like personal radios and make-up, the staff of the 12th General Hospital Unit set up in Ain-el-Turck in vacation villas without adequate water, heat, electricity, and a functioning sewage system. Upon arrival, they drank water from Lister bags hanging from the pines in Parc Petain and bathed using helmets until the shower house was built nearly three months later, when the schedule was devised that staff could shower twice a week. The lack of phones accentuated the importance of the daily 11:30 AM meeting when the officers could be briefed on what was transpiring with other divisions of the Unit. In Italy, the Unit continued to face issues with basic utilities leading the soldiers to sleep in their uniforms. They were constantly hungry, eating only two meals a day. The nightly air raids when they were stationed in Naples brought on additional stress.
While those in the 12th General Hospital Unit experienced challenges ranging from sleep deprivation to a lack of privacy, they were also afforded opportunities through serving in the military. Medical personnel had the ability to meet colleagues from around the globe at conferences and tournaments. They bonded over shared pursuits such as newsletters and poetry about their wartime realities. The troops also had the chance to embark on adventures, hitchhiking throughout Europe on trucks and even fighter planes.