CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW A LARGER VERSION
Throughout World War II, the Navy operated special medical facilities for Sailors and Marines who no longer needed general hospitalization, but were not yet able to return to duty or be discharged from service. In most cases, patients sent to these "convalescent hospitals" required little treatment other than rest, psychotherapy, physical therapy and oftentimes “salubrious climate” and a good diet before being discharged or returned to duty. Oftentimes located in former luxury resorts and hotels, these Navy convalescent facilities were havens of rehabilitation where occupation and physical therapists applied their trades and explored new paths to recovery through physical education, hydrotherapy, light and heat therapy, massage, corrective exercises, and recreational services.
Perched majestically on the summit of East Mountain, N.Y., USNCH Harriman was the first "convalescent" facility to go into commission in World War II. Located in the ancestral home of U.S. ambassador to Russia (and later governor of New York) W. Averell Harriman, the facility offered many amenities not available to patients at other naval hospitals.
In addition to relieving general hospitals, convalescent facilities provided the atmosphere and physical surroundings conducive to rehabilitation. This comprehensive rehabilitation program included occupational and physical therapy, physical training, educational services, and civil readjustment. Social and servicemen s organizations along with civic clubs supplemented the rehabilitation program with recreational activities that helped to boost patient morale and, in some instances, provided forms of control exercise for coordination of unused muscles and limbs.
Like many of the Navy rehabilitative facilities in World War II, Naval Hospital Sea Gate—located right on the Coney Island Boardwalk—offered patients various occupational and vocational training courses. Patients could learn photography, leather-working, wood-working, printing and typesetting, and automotive repair. Red Cross personnel frequented the hospital providing classes in painting and sculpture.
Established in the spacious Hotel Casa Del Rey, and first specifically designated as a “U.S. Navy Convalescent Hospital,” Santa Cruz offered patients such recreational amenities golf, horseback riding, bowling alleys, a “warm salt water plunge,” deep-sea fishing, trips to the countryside, two basketball courts, an 18-hole miniature golf course, horseshoe pitching, handball courts, a softball diamond, croquet courts, a complete gymnasium and a motion picture theater. Between the date of commissioning and December 1, 1945, 18,263 patients were admitted to the hospital; of these, 9,941 were returned to duty or transferred to other hospitals and 8,322 were discharged from the service. This volume of work was carried on by a complement of five medical officers and 50 Hospital Corpsmen.
The first large group of patients arrived at Naval Hospital Asheville on May 27, 1943 from the Naval Hospital, Norfolk, Va. During the three years of its existence, there were 6,338 patients treated in the hospital. Before the Navy took over the property, the facility was under lease by the Ashville Holding Company to Appalachian Hall, Incorporated, operated by Drs. William Ray and Mark Griffin as a sanatorium for patients with mental and nervous diseases. The property consisted of 13 acres in the Kenilworth Park section of Ashville, N.C. The site was splendidly suited for the purpose of convalescence. The buildings were on a flat area of an elevated ridge between two hollows overlooking the village of Biltmore and two miles from the center of Ashville.
The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) instructed commanding officers to set up programs most suitable for their hospitals. For example, Naval Hospital Glenwood Springs, Colo. was an excellent hydrotherapeutic facility because of its three hot water springs, bath houses, caverns and a year-round swimming pool. Similarly, the nearly 2,400 feet altitude, equitable climate and low pollen and mold count at Naval Hospital Banning, Calif., made it an exceptional facility for treating patients with nasal, bronchial and pulmonary diseases. The Naval Hospital in the famous winter sports mecca Sun Valley, Idaho offered convalescing patients access to ski meets and ice skating.
The hospital formerly had been the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel, owned by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, and leased by the Government for use as a hospital. The hospital complex consisted of 37 acres located in the upper part of the Yosemite Valley in the Yosemite National Park. The setting was magnificent. The hospital was situated on the north bank of the Merced River opposite Glacier Point among tall pines and oak trees. Steep granite cliffs toward some 4,000 feet above the valley floor on all sides. In front of Glacier Point was the famous Fire Fall. Above was the worlds famed Half Dome. Below, at the Yosemite Falls, was the massive El Capitan. At the entrance of the valley was a beautiful reflecting pool.
Many of the convalescent hospitals had their own stages and recreational halls which became a center of entertainment for all hands, including the showing of movies, the holding of dances and presentation of shows and concerts.
By 1945, the total patient census in Navy Hospitals had risen to 90,635. This sharp increase in war casualties prompted the Navy to redesignate "U.S. Navy Convalescent Hospitals" as "U.S. Navy Special Hospitals" (USSH) in June 1945 so that the facilities could operate at full capacity. No longer restricted in admitting patients solely labeled "convalescent," these hospitals opened their doors and embraced an abundant number of patients with acute diseases.
With the end of hostilities in September 1945, some special hospitals doors had only been opened a few months. Now came the rapid closing of special hospitals and with them another chapter of Navy medicine. The former hotels, colleges, resorts, and sanitariums had served their purpose. More than 40,000 war-battered Sailors and Marines received treatment at the special hospitals. Some returned to full or limited active duty some transferred to non-naval facilities for further treatment and others returned to civilian life. Few, however, left in the same condition in which they had come.