Non-Medical Activites at Valley Forge General Hospital

February 18, 2012 § 5 Comments

Our campus is property that used to be the Valley Forge General Hospital, a military hospital that operated from 1943-1974.  It served veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and was groundbreaking in the areas of plastic surgery, orthopedics and treatment and rehabilitation of blinded soldiers.  This history of the Hospital is fascinating and is tied intimately to the history of our town.  We have frequently have people stopping by to visit the place where they spent months recovering, or where their parents worked.  A big part of our archival collection is materials from VFGH.  Since we often have people stopping by, we like to have a display area that is constantly dedicated to this part of our history.

Inspiration:  Over the thirty one years that Valley Forge General Hospital was in operation, it served about 200,000 soldiers wounded in action.  However, not everyone who worked at the hospital was a doctor or nurse.  VFGH was a complete community with its own police force, fire department, store, and recreational facilities.  I wanted to create a display that looked at some of the non-medical departments and activities that were important to the hospital.

Item Selection:  All of the items that I used for the display came from our archival collection.  Since we are located on the same property, some of these materials came from things that were left in the buildings when the college moved in.  Others came from people in the community who had ties to VFGH.  Some we’ve even found on Ebay.  All of the items in this display were items that created an overall picture of VFGH as a community.

I picked five areas that were highlighted by some of our interesting items.  These included:

  • Radio Station – We have records that are marked as belonging to the VFGH radio station.  In addition to the music, broadcasts involved special hospital announcements, rebroadcasts of radio programs, and daily news from the Associated Press.  The hospital’s 300 speaker PA system reached all wards and mess halls.

  • Motor Corps – We have a license plate that marked a vehicle owned by the hospital.  Wounded soldiers arrived on trains from convoy ships or at Philadelphia International Airport, where they were picked up by ambulances and taken to VFGH.  Besides ambulances, the hospital had cars and buses for shuttling patients in and out of town, as well as picking up patients’ relatives from the airport or train stations. 
  • Laundry – The hospital employed local civilians in many aread.  One of the necessary non-medical services was the laundry, which furnished clean linen daily for every hospital need.  We had a donation from a local civilian who worked in the laundry for over 30 years.  This donation included her VFGH ID cards. 
  • Fire Brigade – The installation had its own fire house, which boasted “the latest in Fire-fighting equipment.”  The need for the Fire Brigade was highlighted in 1952 when the Post Chapel was gutted by fire.  We have a badge from the Fire Brigade. 
  • POWs – The Army transferred 250 German prisoners of war to VFGH.  They were quartered behind barbed wire fences and assigned to work details throughout the installation.  For their work they were paid $0.80 in scrip, which could be spent in a camp store.  We have one of those scrips. 

Once I had the items I wanted to display, I also looked through photographs, newspapers and booklets to find pictures that displayed these areas.

Creating the Actual Display:    After doing research, I typed up captions for each area.  I mounted the captions and scanned pictures on foam board to keep them from curling up and to make the display look more professional.  I used a cloth from my display supplies to line the bottom of the display.  I also used some acrylic sign holders that I placed underneath the cloth to prop some of the items up.

Cost for the Entire Display:  Other than the foam board and photo paper, I didn’t have to buy any additional supplies.  I usually buy a little extra board so that I’ll have some for the next time I do a display with captions.

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§ 5 Responses to Non-Medical Activites at Valley Forge General Hospital

  • Jane Gopan says:

    My uncle, Malcolm Shapiro, drew a pastel mural in building T-102 when he was stationed there 60+ years ago. He sent me an article about it from the Forge newsletter Vol. 5, No 7. Do you have any information about it? He is still alive and painting and would love to know whatever happened to it.

    • juliagpatton says:

      Hi Jane,
      I’ve looked in our archives and I haven’t been able to find any more information about this. On a map of the property dated 1967, there isn’t a building T-102, only a T-101 and a T-103. I don’t know if the building was knocked down or renumbered before then. I have an e-mail sent to our Director of Facilities, who has worked here for many years and knows the buildings and the history of the buildings more than anyone else on campus. When I hear back from him, I will be sure to let you know if he has any additional information!
      -Julia

  • Isaac McLemore says:

    Julia I was the last active duty person to leave VFGH Jul 1976, At the time I departed The state of Pa, was to take control of the facility,I was transferred to Fort Campbell,Ky. My assignment there was the the smallest military post in the world. I was asked to return later to return becaause I knew where everything was located.

  • Vicki Barker says:

    Were patients photographed when they were admitted? If so, do these still exist?

    • juliagpatton says:

      I haven’t heard of this happening, and we don’t have any records of that in our archives, although we don’t have any of the Army’s records. I would think that it would also fall under private medical records, so I’m not sure how much success you’d have with getting them from the Army, either.

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