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Pennsylvania Gazette:
20th Hospital Unit Holds Reunion


The following article is quoted verbatim from The Pennsylvania Gazette, vol. 48 (June, 1950) pp. 20 and 30. Available at the University Archives and Record Center of the University of Pennsylvania



Major General Frank D. Merrill, U.S. Army, retired, famous leader of the unique fighting organization known as "Merrill's Marauders" that achieved military fame and glory while fighting Japs in the China-Burma-India theater of action during World War II, came to Philadelphia on May 13-but not in the familiar role of jungle raider.

As a guest speaker, he participated in a reunion of members of the celebrated 20th General Hospital Unit of the University of Pennsylvania that compiled such a fine record during the war while serving United States and Chinese troops in Assam, India, and Burma.

With General Merrill on the same platform appeared Major General Lewis A. Pick, Chief of Engineers Corps, who also won distinction in the same area of conflict while directing construction of the famed Ledo Road (Pick's Pike) that provided the Allied forces a backdoor entrance into China by way of the difficult overland Burma-India route.

The two generals spoke at a dinner arranged by prominent physicians aligned with the School of Medicine and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who are veterans of the China-Burma-India campaign. Approximately 200 persons, including wives, sweethearts and friends of organization members attended the dinner, which was followed by a dance. Organized in Pearl Harbor days under the leadership of Dr. I. S. Ravdin, now John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery at the University, the 20th General Hospital Unit left Philadelphia in 1942 for Camp Claiborne, La., and was assigned to duty in India in January 1943. It broke up in 1945 at the conclusion of hostilities and held a reunion the following Spring with a record attendance of 220 personnel.

Revered souvenirs of the gruelling [sic] three years service in India and Burma were on display at the May 13 gathering. One was an autographed flag captured from the Japs at Kamaing, Burma, and presented by General Merrill to Brigadier General Ravdin. Another is the official copy of the general order bestowing upon 20th General the rating of "superior" at the time of the annual inspection in 1944.

The 20th General Hospital Unit dates back to 1917-18, when it served in the first World War with distinction. At the inception of World War II it was reorganized on a more comprehensive basis, with larger personnel. It left Philadelphia in 1942 with 59 medical, surgical, laboratory and dental specialists, 120 nurses and about 600 enlisted men.

Associated actively with Dr. Ravdin in reactivation of the unit were Dr. Thomas Fitz-Hugh, Jr., as chief of medicine; Dr. Francis C. Wood, Dr. John McKay Mitchell and other University physicians who in the post-war years have assumed leading positions of responsibility in affairs of the University's medical school and hospital.

When the hospital unit reached Margherita at the beginning of the Ledo Road in the hot, wet days of the "Little Monsoon," they found huts in a sea of mud. Before they got through, this setting had been transformed into a 2,000-bed hospital, with 148 buildings, covering one and a half miles. The hospital had macadam roads, a nearby airfield, screened and air-conditioned wards. By September, 1945, it had cared for 73,000 patients with a mortality of only 0.04 per cent.

Colonel Ravdin was advanced from Chief of Surgical Service to be commanding officer of the hospital and later on was made Brigadier General. Dr. Wood became Chief of Medical Service. Under the leadership of these and other University doctors, what was regarded as one of the toughest medical assignments in any theater of the war became one of the most distinguished of any in point of volume, quality of service to patients, and research output.



This article is from the The Pennsylvania Gazette, vol. 48 (June, 1950) pp. 20 and 30, available at the University Archives and Record Center, the University of Pennsylvania