Fort Devens Museum
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Fort Devens Hospital Named for Army's First Surgeon General

January 6, 2004

First of three parts

By C. David Gordon, cgordon@nashobapub.com.
Copyright Nashoba Publications


Gen. Joseph Lovell, who at the age of 30 became the Army's first surgeon general in 1818, a post he held for 18 years.

DEVENS — Artifacts relating to the former Fort Devens are being brought in to augment the collection of the Devens Historical Museum at an ever quickening rate. All are worthy of individual attention with many raising questions that beg additional exploration.

Such a research-provoking item is the booklet written for patients at the hospital at Fort Devens near or shortly after the close of World War II. The 53-page booklet, which doesn't have a publication date, provides a glimpse of hospital services established for Army soldiers and airmen.

In his introductory "Welcome, Soldier" letter, the commander of the Medical Corps at Fort Devens at the time, Col. T.R. Goethals, told the new patients, "It is your country's turn to serve you. Every resource and every skill known to medical science will be used in your individual cases and will be applied by officers, nurses and enlisted men of the Medical department who are well trained for their duties. Your personal welfare is our motivation and aim."

He lost no time in acquainting his new patients with the idea that they face rules at this hospital. To meet the patients' desires "to be restored to health and to graduate from the hospital as soon as possible," he stated. "We need your support and cooperation." There are "certain rules [that] must be followed by us and by you." After all, the hospital "is an Army hospital, governed by rules dictated by a wise admixture of medical and military experience." These rules are "not Hard to learn and will be adequately explained in detail by your Ward Officer, the Commanding Officer, Detachment of Patients, the Information and education Officer, and others of my staff."

"Insofar as it is possible you will be treated as individuals," he added, wishing the patients "good luck and a speedy recovery!"

The hospital handbook itself, though, is not devoted to explaining many regulations; rather, it outlines a wide range of patient services and means of possible assistance that a patient can take advantage of.

The booklet also shares the background on this particular hospital. As its cover indicates, the hospital was known as Lovell General Hospital (LGH). It was aptly named for Gen. Joseph Lovell, who at the age of 30 became the Army's first surgeon general in 1818, a post he held for 18 years.

A Boston native, he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1811, "in the first class to graduate with the degree of M.D." In the Army, he became known as "a skillful practitioner and officer of marked executive ability." Requirements he instituted were said to have considerably raised the professional level of the Army's Medical Corps.

Lovell General Hospital's mission was "to furnish general hospital care for troops stationed in New England, Northern New York, and patients evacuated by the Port of Boston or by air transport." With plans approved in October 1940, construction began on Dec. 18, 1940, "at the start of the National Emergency," on a level plain at the "extreme northwest border of Fort Devens, in the town of Shirley, Mass."

LGH's location was on the western side of the Nashua River, the opposite side of most of the buildings and activity areas on the post. One approached it along Lovell Street, which led down to the plateau on which its 55 wooden frame buildings were built. Lovell Street was reached from a roadway which now bears the name Hospital Road. LGH's main entrance was on Lovell Street, its separate buildings laid out in a regular grid pattern.

The booklet's historical background relates that "a steady increase in patients since the beginning of the war" led to consolidating LGH with two other hospitals on the base in one administrative unit. From then on, LGH was known as Lovell General Hospital South.

Combined with it was what was called the New Station Hospital. This became Lovell General Hospital North. Its location off Front Street in Shirley was in part where the town of Shirley now has its new middle school. A spur track from the Fitchburg main line of the railroad was constructed across Front Street to the hospital. The formal main entrance to this hospital branch was on the street parallel to and furthest away from Front Street.

The third section of Lovell General Hospital was called the Reconditioning Center. As more hospital space was required for evacuees from overseas, convalescent patients in this center were moved in early 1945 to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod. This center became LGH East at the same time as New Station Hospital's was renamed LGH North.

Forming LGH East were the four long, narrow brick buildings forming a rectangle at the corner of Sherman Avenue and Buena Vista Street that would later provide headquarters and classrooms for the Army Intelligence School. The four buildings contained 14 units and were located quite close to a post exchange, a small theater, and the guard house.