Oregon Doctors at War

This post comes from Jeff Colby, Archives Assistant, Historical Collections & Archives.

As the Commemoration of the First World War comes to an end, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the variety of experiences of our local health professionals outside of the famous Base Hospital No. 46. There were those who entered the service of other armies prior to America’s joining the war in 1917. There were organizers of hospitals and examiners of recruits across the country. Finally, there was overseas duty in a variety of units in combat with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).

Early Birds:

Portrait of Ralph C. Matson, M.D., in military uniform
Portrait of Ralph C. Matson, M.D., in military uniform

Spiro Sargentich was born in Austrian-occupied territory and became a Serbian nationalist. He came to the West Coast for medical school in California, and practiced there and in Tacoma, WA before settling in Portland. He repeatedly returned to Serbia whenever a new crisis occurred (1908, 1912-1913) and when war broke out in 1914, he spent 15 months there with a variety of military and foreign hospitals during a typhus epidemic that killed many of his staff and nearly himself. Later, he was with the AEF in France before transfering to the Italian Front to be closer to home. After the war, he was a diplomatic courier and didn’t return to Portland until 1923.

The Matson twins (Ralph and Ray) for a brief time found themselves on opposite sides. Ralph joined a British Field Hospital; Ray, however, was caught doing grad work in Vienna, and was dragooned into working on Austrians wounded from the Serbian Front before being allowed to return home.

Edward Vincent Morrow had been recruited to build a hospital in Seward, AK for the Alaska Railway Commission, but when war broke out, he went to the Western Front immediately and worked with Belgian, English, and French hospitals and was decorated by all. Continuing his work with the AEF, he once remarked that he had forgotten how many limbs he had lopped off.

Albert Grossman joined a British machine gun battalion and was awarded the British Military Cross for bravery under fire at Cambrai.

Organizers and Examiners:

The country had already been forming its military and medical reserves for almost a year prior to America joining the war in the Spring of 1917. Then it kicked into high gear. As the famous Base Hospital No. 46 organized within the University of Oregon Medical School (UOMS) and got some basic training in Portland, J. Guy Strohm, Head of Surgery, went north to Camp Lewis, WA to set up its base hospital. It served the second largest divisional training camp in the country.

Drs. A. E. Rockey, Paul Rockey, and Eugene Rockey, pictured at Camp Lewis in 1918
Drs. A. E. Rockey, Paul Rockey, and Eugene Rockey, pictured at Camp Lewis in 1918

Ultimately, Base Hospital No. 46 and other medical personnel got extra training there as well. Among them were the Matson twins and the Rockey family. Father Alpha E. Rockey became Chief of Surgery as Strohm transitioned into the division being trained there (91st “Wild West”); while his sons Paul and Eugene got billets with AEF overseas. Mrs. Rockey worked in the kitchens.

Examiners had their own varied experiences. William O. Spencer examined and trained Oregon Naval Militia members for potential Navy service. Kirby Smith vetted volunteers for British and Canadian service. C. E. Southworth did the same, before joining a Canadian outfit himself. L. G. Holland examined troops in California, Utah, and Wyoming.  Sanford Whiting, who began his military career as a stretcher bearer in the Philippines in the Spanish War in 1898, ran the show with the so-called “Spruce Division.” He oversaw medical affairs for 7 logging camps and the huge mill in Vancouver, WA, which processed lumber for making airplanes.


Image of J. Guy Strohm, from a clipping from his scrapbook (collection 2004-026)
J. Guy Strohm, clipping from his scrapbook (collection 2004-026)

J. Guy Strohm shipped out with the 91st and rose from regimental to divisional surgeon. Ray Matson did likewise and became Assistant Division Surgeon. Marius Marcellus was regimental surgeon of the 3rd “Old Oregon” militia regiment, which was absorbed into the 41st Division, where he rose to Assistant Division Surgeon. Fred Lieuallen was a regimental surgeon in the 4th Division; and Harry Littlefield with the 6th Engineers. Both were gassed in the Argonne offensive and died of complications soon after the war.

The staff of Grand Ronde Hospital in La Grande organized a field hospital for the 42nd “Rainbow” Division as Oregon’s contribution to this “All American” outfit.

Marius Marcellus, seated, in uniform
Marius Marcellus (biographical file)

Homer Rice nearly never made it to France at all. His ship was torpedoed in the English Channel and everyone had to take to the life boats. Luckily he was soon rescued and he continued his journey with no further interruptions.

Even medical personnel with the YMCA got into the act. William D. Carlyle was a dentist with years in Russia catering to the Czar and nobility before being run out by the Revolution. He got a post with the Russian Corps in France, where they decorated him for courage under fire. J. E. Anderson was a YMCA doctor in France as well. At war’s end, he was in such a hurry to get home that he enlisted as a deck hand on a freighter!

As one can see, Oregon’s medical contributions to the war effort were more varied and of wider scale than previously imagined.

(The information in this article came primarily from The Medical Sentinel, volumes 25-27, 1917-1919.)