Sixty-two years ago, in 1958, a flu epidemic surged through France where I was stationed at the U. S. Army’s 319th Station Hospital, part of the Bussac General Depot. Fear and adverse speculations made their way among the troops, but so did determination–especially at the 319th.
While our active capacity was small, we had 750 beds in storage at another location. We were fully staffed, and fully functional. Every Saturday we had mandatory classes that covered everything from military disciplines through medical procedures and protocols. Periodically, we moved out on bivouac to train in a field hospital setting. It was all done in keeping with the Army’s SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). As an information specialist, my job was, among other things, to set up and carry out those classes.
When the flu hit, it was harsh and widespread. Fortunately, a lot of planning had already been done. We brought in tents and equipment to set up an emergency hospital operation. Every summer an engineer battalion from Germany set up in a field adjacent to the 319th. We used that space to set up a field full of ward tents as much-needed overflow after we exhausted space in the hospital, service club, and gymnasium.
The impact was heavy. Every unit on post was forced to scale back as hundreds of soldiers fell ill. I was temporarily reassigned to work with a team at R&U (Repair and Utility). Our job was to maintain the tents, generators, and heating system (it was cold weather). This involved long hours with few breaks. The task looked overwhelming, but we tackled it with an attitude: We Can Do This.
I don’t recall now whether we had any deaths from the Asian Flu, but I do remember it felt a lot like the current atmosphere with the COVID-19 Corona Virus. Our resources were taxed, and people poured constant energy into meeting the crisis. One day at a time, it all got done.
COVID-19 is certainly more devastating and deadly that was the Asian Flu, and what we have now is a pandemic rather than an epidemic. Our community hospitals, medical personnel, and equipment will run short at the apex of the pandemic, but we CAN do this. One thing we have available is our military medical resources who are already trained, equipped, and mobile. They can take the edge off the anxiety that currently plagues us. We need to use them.