Hospital on Wheels
June 01, 2008
Words from Major Van Harl USAF Ret.



Hospital on Wheels-WWII MASH is scheduled for publication on June 6, 2008, the 64th anniversary of D-Day.  You may purchase an advance copy by going to


Major Van Harl USAF Ret.


Camp Forrest during World War II


Words About Hospital on Wheels - WW II MASH
Major Van Harl USAF Ret.


A classic picture of the 6 June 1944, D-Day landing on the beaches of France was taken from the inside of a landing craft, with itís ramp down and the shore line in view.  This is how US Army Medic, Leo E. Ours Sr. first saw France and experienced his first day in WW II.  His first night in the war was spent in a trench on Utah Beach, with German aircraft flying over looking for targets of opportunity. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention your enemies are not suppose to fire on your medical units. Sadly sometimes the larger red cross on a hospital tent was just a big target. After that first night the 662nd Medical Clearing Company (mobile field hospital) and Private Ours was never more than ten miles from the front lines of combat.

As a boy Leo Ours had done favors for his local town doctor.  It was this same doctor who performed Oursí Army induction physical and suggested that Ours be assigned to a medical unit. Ours was a college football player when he was drafted and a good size man.  The Army probably saw the makings of an excellent litter-barrier, but Private Ours did a lot more than just carry the wounded around on a stretcher. He worked along side the Army surgeons in the field operating tents, performing the duties of a surgical technician. When a soldier was wounded in the fighting, he was provided combat first aid on the line, and then transported to Leoís field hospital.  This is the first place an injured troop was treated by an actual Army doctor. The injured were cared for and could be held up to ten days at the 662nd. If the soldier was not too badly hurt he may in fact be returned to his unit to continue the fight.  Bullet wounds did not always automatically get you removed from the front lines.

One of the sad issues was when Leoís unit would patch up a troop and send him back to the line, only to have soldier reappear in the hospital wound, sometimes mortally. Leoís unit worked with another medical unit and they leapfrogged across France. His unit would drive up to the second medical unit relieve them in place, taking over that unitís entire field hospital. Leoís unit would then turn over their medical equipment that was all packed up on trucks and ready to roll forward to the next location. If a wounded soldier was too injured to be returned to combat then he was moved to a rear area hospital. The injured GI could be treated in a larger facility, in safety, behind the lines or transported back to England and perhaps all the way back to the States. 

If you watch TV coverage of the Iraq War you never see any US troops with a red cross armband on their uniform or a big red cross on their helmet. You also never see a soldier without a rifle. In modern day combat our enemies believe you shoot the chaplains and medics first, it demoralizes the troops.  So todayís medics go unmarked and carry weapons to protect themselves and their patients.  Private Ours spent his entire war only a few miles from the German Army. He never was allowed to carry a weapon and always had a big red target on his uniform.  Private Oursí son, Leo Ours Jr. has taken the time to record his fatherís combat medical experience in the new book Hospital on Wheels ( 

Being married to an active duty Air Force medical officer I found the history of the 662nd Medical Clearing Company not only very interesting but an excellent reminder that combat medicine and the treating of our wounded is an ever, ongoing and evolving process with the US military.  Private Oursí unit was at the Battle of the Bulge.  Normally his patients were treated and out of his hospital tents in days, but when the 662nd was surrounded by Germans there was no removal of patients to the rear.  This meant you had to keep treating the earlier wounded troops and make space for the continuing stream of new combat injured.  Leo came home from his war, but even with all of his emergency medical training and experience he steered completely away from hospital work.  Like many of todayís former military medics, once you have experienced combat medicine you just want it over and to return to normal, what ever that is.

9 May 2008

Major Van Harl USAF Ret.