Sunday Still at a hospital in England,1 Kenneth Cline received a letter from his mother. The letter, written on June 23, related that his sister had received a wire from the War Department.2 The wire was official notice that her husband, Verne Gray, had been killed on March 14.
Not long after, Verne’s wife received an official letter from the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. The letter said:
You will shortly receive the Purple Heart Medal, which has been posthumously awarded by direction of the President to your husband, Sergeant Verne R. Gray, Air Corps. It is sent as a tangible expression of the country’s gratitude for his gallantry and devotion.
It is sent to you, as well, with my deepest personal sympathy for your bereavement. The loss of a loved one is beyond man’s repairing, and the medal is of slight value; not so, however, the message it carries. We are all comrades in arms in this battle for our country, and those who have gone are not, and never will be, forgotten by those of us who remain. I hope you will accept the medal in evidence of such remembrance .
Kenneth is waiting for shipment home.
Today, no one living knows what caused his hospitalization in England. Some have speculated he was suffering from venereal disease which is a bacterial infection. A physician friend believes that he had mumps, a viral infection, which resulted in an extreme case of adult orchitis. He asserts that is why, mumps and orchitis, he was confined to the hospital for so long.
Near the end of his hospitalization, Ken was put on a long regimen of penicillin injections. My physician friend says this was result of misdiagnosis. According to my friend, this was done because someone wanted, foolishly, to make certain that he didn’t have any sort of venereal disease. If that had been the case, it would have been determined early on. Penicillin injections would have started right off, and there would have been no need to confine him to the hospital. Epidemic diseases, such as mumps, were a problem during World War II as they had been during all previous wars.
In World War II, as in World War I, large epidemics [of mumps] in young adult males differed considerably from epidemics in children before puberty. In epidemics in children, approximately 75 percent of all cases of clinical mumps (omitting inapparent mumps) belong to the full-blown type without complications. In contrast, epidemics in the United States Army may be divided roughly into three groups of approximately equal size with the following distinguishable characteristics: (1) A short course of the disease with signs and symptoms which are insignificant, (2) full-blown disease with marked swelling of the salivary glands but no complications, and (3) severe disease with the complications of epididymo-orchitis or meningoencephalitis, or both.3
There was no specific treatment for mumps. Those identified with mumps were typically quarantined in hospital or in quarters for a 21-day period. Given the living conditions at Wendlng and the base’s imminent closure coupled with Ken’s high temperature and “swelling in the groin”, his prolonged hospital stay was not unusual.
Notes & Commentary
1 Ken probably remained at a hospital not because he was ill but because it was his last duty assignment. With bases being closed rapidly in England and troops moving to other duty stations, it seems likely that he would not be quartered temporarily elsewhere as he waited to return to the States.
2 Living as we do in a world of near instant communication, it is hard to visualize peoples’ sense of immediacy 70 years ago. How would we cope in a world where news of events affecting our family or friends might take days if not months to reach us?
3 U.S. Army Medical Department, ed. by Ebbe Curtis Hoff. Preventive Medicine in WWII, Volume IV, Communicable Diseases, Transmitted Chiefly Through Respiratory and Alimentary Tracts. Washington, D. C.: GPO, 1958. p. 137. (http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/PM4/CH06.Mumps.htm : accessed 28 June 2015)
Alan. An aside to the problems Ken Cline had was the experience I had after the war had ended at Hobsonville Air Force Base out of Auckland NZ. Several of us suffered Mumps and were placed in quarantine for a couple of weeks. At least two of the other patients had it in the genitals while the majority of us had it in the facial area with swollen jaws. One of my friends had it down below and his testicle was swollen to a very large mass. It didn’t seem to affect his fertility as he fathered at least two more children. Also, since that period I cannot remember hearing of any further outbreak as bad as we had. Bud.
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According to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, cases of mumps have dropped by 99% in the U.S. since the introduction of an effective vaccine in 1967. The first mumps vaccine began to be available in 1948, but lacked long-term effectiveness. It is often overlooked by historians, but the battle against disease in wartime is often as significant as the battle against the enemy.
College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The History of Vaccines, “Mumps”. (http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/mumps : accessed 01 July 2015).
Medical advances, especially those due to the necessities of war are fascinating. It is a fact, that without them, the science of medicine would not have advanced as far as it has in this modern age. Another fascinating and insightful article, thank you.
I know we’ve had Vietnam and the Middle East and Korea, but this war was just too too much. Imagine having a baby and the hearing six days later that the little girl would never see her daddy.
I am sure he had the mumps.
Childhood diseases can cause a lot of problems in adults. In my early forties I had chickenpox and I was really, really ill for two or three weeks. Still, it looks as if things are looking up for Ken at last!
The dreaded official telegram… The anguish…
Ken probably expected that Verne had been killed in the mid-air collision on 14 March, and his sister had received official word on 07 June. His mother took over two weeks to write him about this bad news. So many would return home to depths of sorrow.
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