By the time the United States entered the war, the number of casualties suffered by the Allied forces was staggering. It was clear to American military strategists that a strong and efficient medical department would be necessary. The existing Army Medical Department was expanded, ultimately engaging over 300,00 people in medical, nursing, dental, and veterinarian services.
American Indian soldiers were among the workers in the Department, serving at various levels from doctors to ambulance drivers. Among the doctors was William Patton Fite (Cherokee) who held a degree from the University of Virginia. He was a captain in the Medical Corps of the 36th Division. Another Cherokee, Robert Lee Mitchell, also a captain, served as a doctor in the Medical Corps in France and Germany. Judson T. Bertrand (Potawatomi), a practicing dentist, worked in the training camp at Fort Riley, Kansas.
I am now doing my bit for Uncle Sam. I have for the past two years and a half been located in Denver, Colorado, where I established a fine business, when the war came on I was called to the colors. I am assisting the dental surgeon, as dentistry is my line, and I can do more and better in this particular line than any other.
Judson T. Bertrand (Potawatomi)
While the doctors were physicians at the start of the war, the Army trained servicemen for other roles in medical services at posts as far flung as Camp Green, North Carolina, and Fort Riley in Kansas.
Our work consists of general first aid, surgical dressings, etc. We are taught how to handle the wounded from gun-shot, gas, bayonet, etc. and how to treat them. We have foot and litter drill. . . .We are assigned to wards where we help with all the work. Each one is kept in a ward for two weeks on a certain disease, then he is transferred to some other ward. In this way they say we will be better prepared for our work “over there.”
John Shecag (Bad River Ojibwe)
In addition to providing services related to the general health needs of the servicemen and to war related injuries, Medical Department personnel treated the victims of epidemic diseases such as measles and the Spanish influenza, which struck the training camps hard.
When I first came to this camp I began driving an ambulance for the Base Hospital and gained a great deal of experience in first aid work. I drove for about four months and a cry came for office men and I was transferred to the Registrar’s Office. In this office we keep a record of every man in the hospital or that has ever been in it. Since this hospital opened in November, 1917, 54,000 patients have been admitted and treated. At the present time we have only 1000 on the register, about 100 of them being overseas patients.
Clinton W. Merriss (Peoria)
American Indian servicemen also served in the Army Ambulance and other support units of the Army Medical Department. Most were deployed to France and, at the war’s end, Germany and had broader experiences of the European cultures and countryside than did the men in the trenches.
I am well and enjoying the sights and scenery which are nice. In November and January we had some hard snowstorms and I was pretty cold at times, but now we are having rather nice weather. I was transferred from the Oklahoma Ambulance Company to the Tennessee Ambulance Company and am satisfied with the change.
William Louis Pappan (Kaw)
We had to work Sunday morning and in the afternoon three boys and myself took a long hike out into the country. It was a little muddy, but what we saw was enjoyable anyway. They have fine roads over here in France and “Henry Ford’s cars” sure get over the road. Nearly all the ambulances are Fords.
Elmer Prophet (Shawnee)