65th General Hospital Collection, 1917-2002

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Brown, Ivan W.
Contains personal papers, records, and memorabilia of the United States Army 65th General Hospital, a United States Army Medical Corps unit staffed by Duke University Medical Center alumni in England during World War II. The unit distinguished itself as a center for both specialized treatment and the immediate care of combat casualties. Following the war, physician of the 65th, Leo Alexander, acted as a consultant to prosecutors in the Nuremberg Trials. Types of materials include official reports, newsletters, patient records, memorabilia, oral histories, photographs, artifacts, audiovisual materials, investigative notes, and short writings. Major subjects include Duke University Medical Center, United States Army, the 65th General Hospital, World War I, World War II, war crimes, neurosurgery, Ivan Brown, Leo Alexander, Norman Ross, and O. Norris Smith. Materials range in date from 1917 to 2002.
15.6 Linear Feet (9 cartons, 1 flat box, 2 map folders)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection combines the papers of Ivan Brown, Leo Alexander, Norman Ross, and O. (Opie) Norris Smith, each a physician at the 65th Base Hospital of World War II or the 65th General Hospital of World War II. The first series, General Collected Materials of the 65th, contains general administrative records, medical records, photographs, newsletters, memorabilia, reunion materials, artifacts, oral history interviews collected by Ivan Brown, a surgeon in the 65th General Hospital. The first series also includes materials of the 65th Base Hospital, a Duke University military medical unit that served during World War II. The second series, Leo Alexander Papers, also collected by Ivan Brown, contains the papers of Leo Alexander, a neuropsychiatrist and consultant to the postwar War Crimes Commission in Nuremberg. Alexander's papers contain personal materials, trial records, investigative correspondence, copies of some Nazi records, publications, and patient records. The third series, Norman Ross Papers, contains correspondence, clippings, memorabilia, and photographs. The fourth series, O. Norris Smith Papers, contains photographs, medical reference materials, and memorabilia. Ivan Brown gathered and cataloged the general administrative and medical records of the unit, along with many photographs, newsletters, and memorabilia. Materials range in date from 1917-2002.

Biographical / historical:

Historical Note
The United States Army 65th General Hospital, a United States Army Medical Corps unit staffed by Duke University Medical Center alumni, was the idea of Wilburt C. Davison, then dean of the Duke University School of Medicine in October 1940. The Army reserve unit's original core consisted of doctors and nurses who all had some connection to Duke University. This created a mix of faculty, medical school graduates, nursing school graduates, and current or former house staff. In July 1942, the 65th was placed on active duty and headed to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training. Once in Fort Bragg, its ranks swelled by additional Army nurses and about 500 enlisted men, who served in roles as diverse as operating room technicians, pharmacists, and payroll clerks.

Immediately after arrival in England in October 1943, the 65th equipped and furnished two new hospitals in Malvern, Worcestershire. But the grueling nature of the task that lay ahead became more apparent when the unit was sent to Botesdale, Suffolk, in East Anglia, in February 1944 to expand the hospital serving the Eighth Air Force. Unlike most general hospitals, which received casualties that had been evacuated backward from the front lines through a series of medical corpsmen, first aid stations, and field and evacuation hospitals, the 65th treated freshly and often severely wounded airmen returning directly from bombing runs over Germany in bullet and shrapnel-riddled airplanes.

While the majority of other Army general hospitals remained comparatively idle during the build-up to the D-Day invasion, the 65th handled a constant stream of casualties from heavy bomber crews, as well as all of the acute diseases and emergency cases from the surrounding air bases. It was also a designated specialty center for neurosurgery, thoracic and plastic surgery, burns, and hand injuries from hospitals throughout eastern England. The complex of 35 Nissen huts that made up the 65th General Hospital's Botesdale compound was supplemented by tents, enabling it to handle more patients.

In all, the unit treated more than 17,250 patients during its time in England. Due to their exceptional success rate, the 65th quickly earned a stellar reputation among general hospital units in the European Theater of Operations (E.T.O.). Members of the 65th General Hospital often helped train doctors and nurses in other units, as well as developing new and innovative practices.

Lt. Col. Clarence Gardner, the unit's chief of surgery and later chair of surgery at Duke University, helped develop a method for removing shell fragments from a patient's still-beating heart by probing the heart's chambers with his finger through a circular purse-string suture.

The 65th General Hospital physicians established one of the first blood banks among American hospitals in the E.T.O.

Major William Bridgers, neurosurgeon for the unit, traveled to London and learned from silversmiths there how to manipulate large plates of metal. In one case, he constructed and attached an entire prosthetic forehead from tantalum, a special inert metal, to the skull of a wounded B-17 pilot, sewing the scalp back in place to leave the patient looking almost the same as he had before the flak injury.

The unit's last reunion, held in 2002 at Duke University, featured a dedication of a sculptured monument.

Biographical Notes

Ivan W. Brown Jr.
Ivan W. Brown Jr. was born in 1915 in Newfane, New York, to Ivan and Agnes Brown. He was an undergraduate at the University of Rochester and Duke University. He graduated from Duke University Medical School in 1940. Brown served as an army captain and neurosurgeon with the 65th General Hospital unit in England. He established the first and only blood blank in the European theatre of the war.

After the war, Brown started blood banking at Duke University Hospital, and, in 1954, as a Markle Scholar, he invented and patented a critical component of the heart lung machine, the Brown Harrison heat exchanger, giving doctors the ability to stop the heart without using ice; this created the impetus for the first open heart surgeries. In 1960, Brown became the first James B. Duke distinguished Professor of Surgery also becoming the first doctor at Duke University Hospital to implant a cardiac pacemaker in a patient.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he served as a consultant to President John Kennedy regarding the use of blood transfusions to treat radiation sickness. He became the advisor to Sea Lab and the Man Under the Sea Program in 1964, and, in 1965, he became a member of the Executive Committee of the National Academy of Sciences. At this time, Brown designed, funded, and built the hyperbaric chamber at Duke University Hospital. It is one of the largest such facilities in the world. In 1968, Brown joined the Watson Clinic in Lakeland, Florida, as a cardiovascular surgeon.

Brown was one of the most active veterans of the unit. He collected memorabilia, organized reunions, and acted as caretaker of Leo Alexander, O. (Opie) Norris Smith, and Norman Ross' papers. Also serving as a point of contact for people wishing to reunite with veterans and patients of the 65th General Hospital. In 1982, Brown created a video of reminiscences of veterans of the 65th General Hospital.

Brown was married to Madeline Davis, who died in 2007. They had three children: Sandy, Diane, and Ivan. Brown died in November 2009.

Leo Alexander
Leo Alexander was born in 1905 in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. His father was a physician. He graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1929 and interned in psychiatry at the University of Frankfurt. In 1932, he moved to Peiping, China to teach psychiatry and neurology at Peiping Union Medical College. He immigrated to the United States in 1933 and taught at both Harvard Medical School and Duke University School of Medicine. Alexander specialized in the field of neuropsychiatry.

As head of neuropsychiatry in the 65th, he served with the rank of major. Alexander later worked as an investigator and consultant to prosecutors in the War Crimes Commission at Nuremberg (1946-1947). Following his research and the Nuremberg Trials, he became a spokesperson on war crime issues and an advocate for victims. During the 1960s, Alexander worked in the Chandler Hovey Unit of Brooks Hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Alexander saved voluminous notes, court records, and his own writings concerning the Nazi doctors, later forwarding them to Ivan Brown. In 1942, he was appointed Colonel, Medical Corps, US Army, 8th Air Force Medical Intelligence, and from 1946 to 1947, he acted as US Medical Consultant to Secretary of War and US Chief Counsel for War Crimes during the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial. After World War II, Alexander wrote the Nuremberg Code, which established moral, ethical, and legal principles after studying the actions of German SS troops and concentration camp guards. He also arranged for treatment in Boston, Chicago, and New York for 40 Polish concentration camp victims disabled by injections of gas gangrene by Dr. Josef Mengele. Alexander treated some of them psychiatrically. Later he served as assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University Medical School, and as a consultant for the Boston Police Department, helping to solve the Boston Strangler case.

Alexander wrote several books on psychiatry and neuropathology and coined the terms thanatology, the study of death and ktenology, the science of killing.

Alexander married to Phyllis Harrington in 1936, and they had one daughter and two sons. Alexander died in 1985 in Weston, Massachusetts.

Norman Ross
Norman Fletcher Ross was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1912 and graduated from Duke University in 1935. Ross enlisted in the 65th General Hospital in 1942 and became the Chief Dental Officer of the 65th General Hospital.

While part of the 65th, Ross corresponded regularly with family members and created elaborate scrapbooks that serve as illustrated histories of their comrades and their experiences. Ross served in another medical unit in Germany following his tour with the 65th.

Ross married Marjorie Glasson Ross (1912-2004) in 1939 and they had three children: Marion, David, and Christopher. Marjorie Ross graduated from Duke University in 1933 and served as personnel director for Duke Hospital during World War II. Norman Ross died in 1987

O. (Opie) Norris Smith
O. Norris Smith was born in Davidson, North Carolina, in 1909. His father was a physician. Raised in Lexington, Virginia, he attended Washington and Lee University for his undergraduate education. Smith received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1933. He completed a two-year rotating internship at the old Pennsylvania Hospital, a two-year residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and an assistant residency at Duke University Hospital. In 1938, he established a practice in Greensboro, North Carolina.

During World War II, Smith was a member of the 65th General Hospital Unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for a year. Afterwards, he served in the US Air Force in East Anglia, England. He was detached briefly to take charge of consolidated German Army hospitals behind General Patton's advance. Later, he transferred to other US Army hospital units. While part of the 65th, Smith corresponded regularly with family members and created elaborate scrapbooks that serve as illustrated histories of their comrades and their experiences.

After the war, he founded and became president of the Greensboro Academy of Medicine, which later became the Guilford County Medical Society and chief of the medical Service at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. Smith served on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Insurance Committee of the North Carolina Medical Society for many years.

Smith married Rebecca Hines Smith, and they had a daughter and a son. Smith died in 2004.

Acquisition information:
Accession A2003.015 (gift, May 2003), Accession A2003.052 (acquired, June 2003), Accession A2003.087 (gift, December 2003), Accession A2003.089 (gift, December 2003), Accession A2004.046 (acquired, June 2004), Accession A2008.007 (transferred, January 2008), Accession A2011.059 (transferred, July 2011), Accession A2022.052 (transferred by David Kass, July 2022)
Processing information:

Processed by Brian O'Connor: September 2003; updated by Dawne Howard Lucas: February 2008, November 2009; updated by Lucy Waldrop: July 2022

Organized into the following series: General Collected Materials of the 65th Base Hospital and the 65th General Hospital, 1917-2002; Leo Alexander Papers, 1926-1998; Normal Ross Papers, 1942-1992; O. Norris Smith Papers, 1942-1992; Final Reunion Photographs, 2002; Oversized Photographs, 1942-1944; 65th Commemorative Statue Group, undated.
Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.


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This collection may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals or IRB approval may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Duke University assumes no responsibility.

Materials in Subseries 1.3. Field Hospital Data and Subseries 2.7. Neurosurgical Case Data must be screened for sensitive or confidential materials before being accessed. For further information consult with the Medical Center Archivist.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], 65th General Hospital Collection, Duke University Medical Center Archives.