O'REILLY GENERAL HOSPITAL OF SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI
Springfield's Hospital With a Soul
by John Rutherford
Reprinted with permission from Fifty Plus, February 2002
In February 1941, it was Springfield, Missouri's luck to be selected as the host city for O'Reilly General Army Hospital. With street boundaries of Division, Fremont, Pythian and Glenstone, O'Reilly was dedicated November 8, 1941. It became the pride of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
In the field of military history, rarely do military health care providers receive much attention. World War II, however, was the first war with many modern health care practices. Field blood transfusions and miracle pharmaceuticals were just two of many new innovative medical practices. As a result, combat-related mortality among U. S. soldiers dropped to less than four percent during World War II, an amazing decline when contrasted with the fourteen percent mortality rate of World War I.
In February 1941, it was Springfield, Missouri's luck to be selected as the host city for O'Reilly General Army Hospital. With street boundaries of Division, Fremont, Pythian, and Glenstone, O'Reilly was dedicated November 8, 1941. It became the pride of the U. S. Army Medical Corps.
The staff at O'Reilly was recognized among the elite of army hospital staffs, and it was a result of early decisions made by the post commandant and his cadre. On May 15, 1941, Colonel George B. Foster, Jr., declared his intention to make Springfield's new O'Reilly General Army Hospital "a hospital with a soul."— Foster's emphasis on excellent health care was realized two years later when the U. S. Army's Surgeon General, Major General James Magee, arrived in Springfield and inspected the facilities.— In private, the Army Surgeon General quietly told Colonel Foster that he recognized O'Reilly as the best U. S. Army hospital—period. O'Reilly's facility was from then on the model for most army hospitals.—
O'Reilly's high standing was attributed to the skills of its staff. A veteran, who was wounded overseas, might receive life-saving field treatment, almost like an outreach service, from medics who were trained at O'Reilly's Enlisted Men's Medical Technicians School.— At the hospital itself, many surgeons were specialists in their fields, and a few were called to active duty from the Mayo Clinic. As the severely injured soldiers recuperated, physical, recreational, and occupational therapists helped them relearn their nearly forgotten motor skills. O'Reilly's health care standards, therefore, were comprehensive with goals of saving lives, repairing injuries and scars, and rehabilitating soldiers so that they could return to a relatively normal life.
By the end of the war, 1170 civilians also were on O'Reilly's staff. Springfieldians took on numerous support jobs at the hospital, such as postal clerks and carriers, ambulance drivers, secretaries, cooks, guards, telephone operators, and administrators, but Colonel Foster noted that volunteers were equally vital to the operation of O'Reilly. The Red Cross' Motor Corps staff, for instance, was charged with arranging fun excursions, such as driving recuperating patients to special picnics and to Shepherd of the Hills Country. And even Ozarkers, who otherwise had very little contact with O'Reilly, pitched in and obtained enough presents during the Winter of 1944 to ensure that each O'Reilly patient would have at least three Christmas presents to unwrap. These caring civilians were great morale boosters for patients who needed anywhere from a month to a year for treatment and recuperation. Springfield's community, therefore, enthusiastically picked up the slack for whatever army personnel lacked.
O'Reilly's staff served over 100,000 patients during the hospital's five years of operation. 42,000 patients were wounded and injured soldiers—even a few German prisoners of war. All were treated at an average cost of five dollars per patient per day.— In addition, 60,000 civilian dependents of military men also were treated at O'Reilly's outpatient clinic, and a few even gave birth to children there. Healthcare today could take a lesson about efficiency from O'Reilly's staff.
Fifty-five years later, Smith Park, the Army Reserves, Army National Guards, and Evangel University have replaced most of the 250 buildings on O'Reilly's original 160 acre plot, but it is still possible to drive around the city and view a few of O'Reilly Army Hospital's remaining landmarks. O'Reilly's post chapel was moved off the reservation, but it is still serving its original purpose as a church at the corner of Seminole and Lone Pine. Southwest Missouri State University's McDonald Arena was the location of O'Reilly's physical reconditioning battalion in 1944 & 1945. At Evangel University, the Administration Building, facing the towering flag pole along Glenstone Avenue, was formerly the post commandant's headquarters and the site of many medal presentation ceremonies. Just west of Evangel's Administration Building is the two-story Red Cross building. Nearby, a few of the former hospital wards are still linked by some of the original seven miles of connecting corridors. Along Division Street one barracks building for the Enlisted Men's Medical Technician's School and O'Reilly's Gymnasium still stands. These latter historic landmarks have well outlived the army's estimated twenty-five year life span.
O'Reilly General Army Hospital is one of the most important legacies from Springfield's past. The excellent cooperation between Ozarkians and the military staff made O'Reilly the pride of the community during its heyday. Springfieldians and more than 40,000 soldiers will remember O'Reilly as the "hospital with a soul."