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Norm Johnson Recalls the Army Hospital in England
From a letter to the late Dan Schmocker




Hi Dan; 

    Boy, you sure took the wind out of my sails when I turned the page of your newsletter and saw my name and old address that I had written in your notebook. Yes, I was there and did not know you were even in the hospital, say nothing of being in the same ward. I did ask if there were any other sailors in the hospital and was told there were none. So I didn't pursue it any further. You know I have a hard time remembering what I did last week to say nothing of 53 years ago. But I'm going to dig back in my brain and see if I can come up with something.

    If my memory is right we were in the 90th General Hospital which was later sent to France and I believe the unit that took over was the 155th General. Sure looks like we were in the same ward, full of paratroopers with body casts and legs hanging in the air in trapezes. I was lucky, after some bedtime, etc., I was able to get around on crutches and later able to walk. I could even ride a bike!

    I went to the clothing supply and asked if they had any used Navy uniforms. I was getting tired of those GI clothes. When they gave me a complete Army outfit (less gun) but including a gas mask, I was afraid they would make a serious mistake and send this swabbie over to France! Anyway, I came up with a white hat and blue sweater and a pair of dungarees which gave me a feeling of security.

    There was a paratrooper from our ward that I got acquainted with and we ran around together. We would acquire or borrow(?) bikes to go riding. On some of these rides we would wind up in the neighboring hospital but we never went in. Just rode around to see if there was anyone we knew. It is too bad you and I couldn't get together cause I could have done all the legwork for you and maybe we could have found a few more of our crew. Anyway, one day we were coming back from one of our rides when we were stopped and told we had better ditch the bikes because a mad Army major was looking for a sailor who had borrowed(?) his transportation. That sort of put a stop to our bicycle trips.

    I'm beginning to remember a few more things that happened in our ward. Maybe you'll remember these events. One night the paratrooper had a bad dream and woke up yelling and started to climb out the window between our beds. Well, a couple of us grabbed him until the orderly arrived to take over.

    Also one night there was a big explosion. Of course, everyone thought it was a buzz bomb. We had heard the Germans were sending them all over England. Anyway, those of us who could walk, crawl or navigate left the ward for the woods. Why, I don't know! The next morning we heard there was a British bombing range nearby and they were practicing until one bomb zigged and another one zagged.

    The next thing I recalled is kind of humorous. Three or four of us would walk down to the neighborhood pub for a few suds. One of the paratroopers had a cast on his leg and of course was on crutches. Well, by the time we started back he was stink-O and away went the crutches. By the time we got back to the hospital his cast was in shreds. But he had no pain. After the doc replaced two or three casts they finally took his clothes away! That didn't stop him as he would walk down to the pub in his PJ's and robe. After that the MP would pick us up and truck us back to the hospital. I left the hospital around the middle of September for Scotland and to the Queen Mary. Churchill was on board bound for Halifax. I was sent to St. Albans but only for a couple of weeks, then to Bainbridge, MD, for surgery and discharge.

    Last October I had my second knee replacement. It's getting better slow but sure. The doc says it is due to my age! I don't know how he figures that. I told him I was only 72, not 92! I know one thing this VA hospital sure has changed since the first surgery 12 years ago and not for the better either.

    Sure would like to make a reunion, but it is Impossible. My wife is not doing good, so you can understand I am pretty much tied down. I sure enjoy your newsletters. Anyway that's my hospital story. Maybe you can remember some of these events. It's too late to wish you a Merry Christmas, but l know you had a good one. I wish you and my shipmates a Happy New Year and may the good Lord look over you and yours.

Norm Johnson

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