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Annual Report the Surgeon General United States Army Fiscal Year 1960


After the devastating earthquakes and quake-generated tidal waves in Chile late in May 1960, the Chilean Government appealed to the U. S. State Department for assistance. Acting quickly in response to this appeal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on 25 May, authorized the U.S. Army to airlift two field hospitals, along with their personnel and complete equipment, except general-purpose trucks, to the disaster area to assist in the evacuation and care of the injured and to help prevent outbreaks of epidemic diseases.

The hospitals selected for this mission were the 15th Field Hospital from Fort Bragg and the 7th Field Hospital from Fort Belvoir. The former was staged out of Pope Air Force Base, Fort Bragg, and the latter out of Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. Each hospital was augmented by an engineer water purification unit, a quartermaster laundry detachment, and a Signal Corps communications team. The airlift, which involved about 1,230,000 pounds of Army supplies and


equipment and 550 Army personnel, required the use of 59 giant transport aircraft of the Military Transport Service (C-124 Globemasters and C-118's). It was the Army's largest emergency airlift since the Lebanon crisis in 1958.

The first aircraft to leave on the 6,000-mile flight to Chile departed from the Pope Air Force Base at 5:09 a.m. on 26 May, and the second from Andrews Air Force Base at 5:49 a.m. of the same date. These flights were the beginning of an airstream which continued at the rate of approximately one plane per hour until the last of the huge planeswas airborne. The principal limiting factor in the airlift was the lack of capability of the intermediate and destination airfields to service the large transport aircraft.

The 15th Field Hospital, Puerto Montt, Chile, during Chile disaster relief operations

To support the operations of the Army units, 15,000 patient rations, 225 aid station supplement packs, and 2 medical maintenance units (medical resupply packs) were also included in the initial airlift. Thesesupplies, sent direct from the New Cumberland General Depot, wereloaded at the Harrisburg, Pa., airfield. Later, in response to an appeal from the Chilean National Health Director, submitted through the Military Medical Supply Agency, the Louisville Medical Depot shipped 1,400 bottles of tetanus vaccine and gas gangrene antitoxin by commercial aircraft.


During the afternoon of 26 May 1960, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested that the Army send 10 helicopters to Chile to assist in the disaster relief operations. Two medical helicopter ambulance detachments, the 56th from Fort Bragg and the 57th from Fort George G. Meade, were loaded into the maws of the C-124 aircraft and placed into the airstream to Chile. The Army's new turboprop Bell HU-1A (Iroquois) helicopters were selected for this mission because of their superior performance capabilities at higher altitudes, their ease of movement (two HU-1A's fit into a C-124), and their reduced maintenance and support requirements. A small Transportation Corps detachment (12 men) accompanied the helicopter units to provide maintenance support.

Members of the 7th Field Hospital boarding plane, en route to Chile to provide medical aid in the earthquake disaster area

These AMEDS helicopters, piloted by MSC officers, played an important role in the relief activities by surveying the disaster areas and by evacuating the injured and rescuing the homeless from outlying and isolated regions, some of which were virtually inaccessible except by helicopter. The earthquakes and tidal waves had completely disrupted communications and transportation in many areas. The helicopters also flew food, blankets, clothing, medical supplies, and, medical personnel to regions where the people were in distress. Many of the missions flown were in support of the extensive program that was


carried on to suppress epidemics by flying Chilean doctors to administermass inoculations.

Upon arrival in Chile, the planes carrying the 15th Field Hospital were refueled at Santiago before continuing about 500 miles further south to Puerto Montt, where the hospital was unloaded and its tents set up in a stadium. The 7th Field Hospital had to be unloaded at Santiago and then moved by rail and truck to its site at Valdivia, whichdid not have adequate facilities for handling the C-124 aircraft. The hospitals began operations on 29 May and 1 June, respectively.

U.S. Army nurse assists refugees of Chile's earthquake disaster area. Ambulance serves as a clinic

Official reports concerning the workloads performed by the two field hospitals had not been received as of 30 June. Unofficial accounts indicate that the medical assistance required by Chilean doctors in caring for disaster victims were not so great as had been anticipated. In some instances, the tent wards of the field hospitals were pressed into service as temporary housing for refugees.



Number of personnel

7th Field Hospital, Fort Belvoir


15th Field Hospital, Fort Bragg


56th Medical Helicopter Ambulance Detachment, Fort Bragg


57th Medical Helicopter Ambulance Detachment, Fort George G. Meade


2 laundry detachments, 496th Quartermaster Company, Fort Lee


2 water purification units, 19th Engineer Battalion, Fort George G. Meade


2 signal Corps teams, 50th Signal Battalion, Fort Bragg


Detachment, 25th Transportation Company (Maintenance), Fort Bragg


The professional staffs (MC and ANC officers) for the 15th Field Hospital were obtained from the Army hospitals at Forts Bragg, Gordon, McPherson, and Jackson. To fill the gaps thus created in the staffs of these CONUS hospitals, replacements were ordered in on a temporary-duty basis from Forts Knox, Campbell, Jackson, Monmouth, and Dix, as well as from Fitzsimons General Hospital and Carlisle Barracks.

The professional staffs for the 7th Field Hospital came from the Walter Reed General Hospital, the Pentagon Dispensary, and from Army medical facilities at Fort Belvoir, Fort Myer, and Aberdeen Proving Ground. The temporary replacements required in these hospitals were assigned from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort George G. Meade, and Valley Forge General Hospital.

All the personnel of the Army units sent to Chile, except for small rear detachments, had accomplished their mission and had returned to their home stations by 30 June. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government announced its decision to donate all the equipment of the two field hospitals to the Chilean Government. The rear detachments were in the process of accomplishing this transfer at the end of the fiscal year.

Apart from the humanitarian aspects of the mission to Chile, the airlift demonstrated that the Army Medical Service's TOE field hospitals could be assembled, transported, and set up for operation within a relatively few hours, regardless of the distances involved.