Friday, August 17, 2007

War and romance: a tragedy

The Oregon Historical Society here in town is starting to prepare for a new exhibit on "The GI Dream: Family, Home, Peace, and Prosperity" opening November 9, 2007. Curious about what we might have here in the OHSU collections to complement the exhibit themes, I've been looking around for material related to World War II veterans associated with our schools of medicine, nursing, and dentistry.

A fantastic intersection of medical students, nursing students, the war, and post-war Portland--including Vanport--can be found in one of our smaller collections, the Robert Leon Rose Papers (Accession 2005-026). The Biographical History on the finding aid tells the tale of Robert, son of Leon and Rose Rose (current winner of the award for most feminine name), a tale filled with danger, romance and, of course, medicine:
Robert Leon Rose was born March 29, 1915 in Hood River, Oregon to Leon and Rose (Schweigert) Rose. He lived, along with his sister Lois, in Parkdale, Oregon, a small community outside of Hood River, where his parents owned a fruit farm. He graduated from Parkdale High School in 1933 and started college as a pre-med student the same year at Oregon State University.

Lois attended two years at OUS and transferred to the University of Oregon Medical School’s registered nurse program. She was in the first group of nurses in Oregon to earn both a college degree and RN.

Bob received his Bachelor of Arts in Zoology in 1938. He started medical school but quit after two years. He worked as an ambulance driver for a time and later became a medical technician at VanPort Hospital.

Bob met Borgny Christofferson, a nurse, at the first aid station in the Portland Shipyards. Bob and Borgney married in March of 1942.

In July 1942, Bob enlisted in the Army, becoming part of the 46th General Hospital. He received training as a medical technician at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and later was promoted to a Technical Sergeant 4/3. On August 10, 1943, Bob traveled by train with the 46th to Camp Shanks, New York. Eleven days later, protected by a convoy of Navy destroyers, the 46th General Hospital personnel set sail across the Atlantic. After a 13 day voyage, they sailed into the Mediterranean Sea, this time escorted by a British aircraft carrier. They disembarked in North Africa. After two months of visiting and becoming familiar with Oran and surrounding villages in North Africa, the doctors and the nurses of the 46th set to work in the hospital. Italy had surrendered and the injured were being transported 500 miles for treatment. Bob worked in surgery with Dr. V. D. Sneeden, Bob’s former pathology instructor at UOMS. By Christmas, the 46th was treating 2000 patients from the Italian front. Major Sneeden took special interest in Bob and offered to help get him reinstated in medical school when they returned to the States after the war. Bob continued to work in surgery, to take classes in anatomy and to meet with Major Sneeden. His interest in medicine grew and he became increasingly interested in returning to UOMS.

In September 1944, the 46th General Hospital suddenly pulled up stakes in Northern Africa and left for France in small flat bottomed barges called LCIs [landing craft infantry]. Upon arrival in Besançon, Bob had time to rest, shop and explore the region. But soon the Hospital moved closer to the front lines where the sounds of war could be heard and the men and women of the 46th had little time to spend except in work and sleep. Fatigued and discouraged, Bob was demoted by recommendation of an inspecting officer. He was relieved to be away from the exacting and stressful work of surgery. His new job was to open and run a 110 bed surgical ward. But without warning, Bob was moved from the surgical ward to the laboratory. Both of these moves, though surprising, were a great relief. However, work did not let up and the hospital staff worked from 7 am to 10 pm daily.

As the war drew to an end, Bob looked forward to ending his military service, but the hospital was still half full of patients. The 194th General Hospital came to relieve them and Bob and the other members of the hospital staff had time to rest and travel. In the fall of 1945 he was sent to Rheims, France to join the 178th Hospital with others from the 46th. Soon after, he was sent to Chalone, France to be a part of the 93rd Medical Gas Treatment Battalion and later to Camp Baltimore with only rumors of moving to go home to buoy his spirits. But by the 19th of November 1945 they were ready to leave port aboard the Pittston Victory. Bob reached Boston
the 28th of November 1945, over two years after leaving his new bride. He arrived home in time to spend Christmas in Portland.

Their first child, Clara Christell, was born, in 1946. Clifton Leon Rose was born a year later. In 1949, another daughter, Kathleen Marie, was born.

After the war, Bob took a job at a laboratory in Portland but in 1951 the family moved so he could take a position in a lab in Silverton, Oregon.

Robert Leon Rose contracted Polio in the Summer of 1952. Spending months in Isolation Hospital in Portland, he was later moved to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. While in the hospital Bob’s second son David was born.

Bob was paralyzed from the chest down. Borgney gave up nursing to help Bob start a small answering service business in the corner of a stationary store. As more store space became available, Bob and Borgney bought more merchandise.

In late August 1961, Borgney and Bob were traveling to Portland to buy merchandise for the store. They collided with another car. Bob died later that night of internal injuries.

Robert Leon Rose died at the age of 46.

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