Medical Units



In 1942, according to ADM Miles (1967, p 210):           

. . [T]he Chinese regular armies had fewer than one doctor for each hundred thousand men, and there were no assistants at all.   . . . U. S. Navy standards prescribe twenty-six doctors for each hundred thousand, and dozens of pharmacist’s mates with different specialty trainings.

Medical treatment was available for all SACO Units; at first some of it was minimal or borrowed.  As soon as pharmacist’s mates and doctors arrived from the United States they were sent to where they were needed most urgently; most went to aid the L.P.A. (Loyal Patriotic Army) guerrillas.

Summary of the locations of the L.P.A. hospitals

  • The Medical Center was located in June, 1943 at Tung An (now Dong’an) [lat. 26-23, long. 111-19], Hunan Province

  • Pact Doc was established in November, 1943 at Lingling (still Lingling) [lat. 26-14, long. 111-38], Hunan Province

  • August, 1944, Pact Doc was evacuated to the area of Hweichow (now Shexian or Huicheng) [lat. 29-52, long. 118-26], Anhwei (now Anhui) Province

In the spring of 1945, Hweichow Pact Doc divided and moved to two locations.  Hospital One located near the town of Suian (now Xuyuan) [lat. 29-28, long. 118-53] in western Chekiang (now Zhejiang) Province Hospital Two went to Kienow (now Jian’ou) [lat. 27-01, long. 118-19], Fukien (now Fujian) Province While on a three-week inspection trip to the China coast, CAPT Miles entered a burning house in search of survivors.  The roof collapsed and the captain was severely injured by heavy burning timbers. 

I managed to climb out but I did not get far.  My legs hurt and I was faint and sick.  It was Liu Shih-feng, my cook, who found me and while the others, under General Tai’s expert direction, fought the fire until it was out, he took care of me.  I never learned just how he managed it for I was not feeling up to par.  I only know that he came and went and fussed over me with this and that.  He even found a fairly comfortable canvas cot for me, and when, at last, I really began to take notice I found that he had packed my burned legs with mud he had brought in from one of the local rice paddies. (Miles, 1967, p54)

The date of injury was June 9, 1942, and the time was only a few hours after Gen. Tai and CAPT Miles had agreed to form a Chinese-American military operation; the unit was named SACO at a later time.  This was the first serious medical treatment carried out in the new unit.

It should be pointed out that Mr. Liu was not just a “cook.”  Besides being an expert chef he was a member of the Chinese Army and had been made personally responsible, by Gen. Tai, for the safety of “Mr. Miles.” Later, Mr. Liu killed a would-be assassin who had penetrated the living quarters in search of COMO Miles.  During the last three years of ADM Miles’s life, Mr. Liu persisted in bringing his favorite delicacies in order to keep him in the best health possible.

Early in September, 1942, the first contingent of men arrived in Chungking; they were LT Daniel “Webb” Heagy and six enlisted radiomen.  Lieutenant Heagy was trained in radio intercept but his commission was from the Navy Hospital Corps.  In between his code and radio duties the lieutenant assumed the duties of medical corpsman: his duffle bag full of drugs became the medical facility at Happy Valley.

Camp One was established April 1, 1943, before additional Navy medical personnel had arrived in China.  Fortunately there was a nearby medical mission headed by Dr. Goorchenko, a White Russian refugee.  When Radioman Randolph developed appendicitis the Russian doctor rode his bicycle over the tortuous paths at night to perform a life-saving appendectomy.  A Navy doctor, LT Arthur Smith Tucker, was posted to Unit One in November, 1943 The SACO Medical Department officially was established in May 1943 when CAPT Gordon Bennett Tayloe arrived in Happy Valley with two other doctors – LCDR Francis Lederer and LT Charles Jones.  A Fourth doctor, LCDR James C. Luce, was detained in Karachi awaiting proof of inoculations. On the way to China the four doctors had crash-landed in the Nigerian jungle and managed to survive but lost all of their surgical instruments and medical gear.

While stateside, CAPT Tayloe had chosen his medical crew for SACO – 12 doctors and 100 pharmacist’s mates.  They underwent training in arms, demolition, hand-to-hand combat, booby-trap detection, map reading, and camouflage as well as field medicine.  As soon as these men arrived in China they were deployed.

The first L.P.A. Medical Center was located in June, 1943 at Tung An (now Dong’an) [lat. 26-23, long. 111-19], Hunan Province.  Tung An was 100 miles northeast of Kweilin (now Guilin) and 85 miles southwesterly of Hengyang.

The Tung An Medical Center contained a hundred-bed hospital and two teaching centers – one for doctors and one for medical assistants. Commander Arthur P. Black and LCDR Francis L. Lederer were in charge of five Navy doctors and nineteen pharmacist’s mates

During the six months of operation very few guerrillas were treated.  The fighting was too far from the hospital and the wounded often died on the way.  General Tai and COMO Miles decided to establish field hospitals which received the codename “Pact Doc.”

The first Pact Doc facility was located near Lingling (still Lingling) [lat. 26-14, long. 111-38], 20 miles southeast of Tung An and 70 miles southwest of Hengyang.

A rare jewel that we provided for L.P.A. was “Pact Doc,” the only real hospital for guerrillas in all of China.  Established in November 1943 after we consulted Lieutenant General Robert S. K. Lam of the Chinese Army Medical Service, Pact Doc began as a Medical Training School near Lingling in southern Hunan Province.  The original idea was to set it up as a training organization for Chinese physicians and medical assistants who were to be given courses of instruction in modern medicine and surgery.  Commander (Dr.) Arthur P. Black of El Paso, Texas was the medical officer in charge, and under him were a number of specialists as well as a warrant pharmacist and about twenty pharmacist’s mates. (Miles, 1967, p 386)

In August, 1944, after training one class, the unit was evacuated to the area of Hweichow (now Shexian or Huicheng) [lat. 29-52, long. 118-26], Anhwei (now Anhui) Province.  Camp One was located five miles south of Hweichow which was 100 miles west-southwest of Hangchow (now Hangzhou).

The new hospital was relocated into an old Buddhist temple in a high cloud-filled valley.  Although it was very cold, heating could not be installed until late November.  The hospital started with 100 beds but soon was enlarged to 300.  Most of the time half of the beds were filled with battle casualties.  When the clouds were just right the lights of Shanghai, 200 miles away, could be seen from the nearby peaks.

There was little hospital equipment available and that which Pact Doc did have had been improvised from all sorts of odds and ends, using scraps of metal, ammunition tins, thermite containers, bamboo or whatever else might be on hand to make such complicated equipment as field Pressure sterilizers, laboratory facilities, operating tables, surgical beds, X-ray stands and the many other necessary items.  The autoclave which was made out of a thermite tin, a .30 caliber carbine barrel and heated on a charcoal fire made it possible for them to do major surgery. An incubator, which proved invaluable in confirming the bacteriological diagnosis of plague in several patients, was improvised from a thermos bottle by means of suspending a tube of innoculated media into water of the proper temperature.  Dressings were washed out, dried and used over again and again. Time and again, such improvisations had to be resorted to from sheer necessity. In addition to this hospital which gave the best medical care that this section of China had ever seen, a number of small units that were more like dispensaries and first aid stations were established even closer to the front.  These were usually under the care of graduates of the hospital training classes and served as collecting stations and screening stations in the process of relaying patients from the front where they had been sent by other graduates trained in first aid. (Stratton, 1950, p 141-142) 

The new hospital became a collecting point for downed flier and escaped war prisoners.  The latter usually required medical treatment, food, and clothes before they could be sent home.

In the spring of 1945 Pact Doc was divided into two facilities and moved.

Hospital One was located 40 miles southeast of Hweichow in the vicinity of Suian (now Xuyuan) [lat. 29-28, long. 118-53] in western Chekiang. Suian was about 100 miles southwest of Hangchow.

Hospital Two was placed 200 miles south of Hweichow at Kienow (now Jian’ou) [lat. 27-01, long. 118-19], Fukien (now Fujian) Province. Kienow, 85 miles northwest of Foochow (now Fuzhou), was 10 miles southwest of Camp Seven. In July 1945 the hospital had 100 patients.

By war’s end the Medical Department included a hospital at Camp Nine, three mobile field hospitals and twenty-four dispensaries.

Mary Miles wrote at the end of the war: “SACO medical units never numbered more than ninety men and had to take care of two thousand five hundred Americans and eighty thousand guerrillas.  Although overworked, they still managed to work up the best kind of Sino-American good will by chores for local people”.  (Stratton, 1950, p 154)

Cited reference:

    Miles, M. E., 1967, A Different Kind of War: Doubleday & Co, Garden City, NY. 629 p.

   Stratton, R. O., 1950, Saco – The Rice Paddy Navy: C. S. Palmer Pub. Co., Pleasantville, NY, 408 p.

Provided courtesy of Charles H. Miles on November 20, 2010


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