University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

Beverley D. Tucker, Technician Fifth Grade, Chaplain’s Assistant

John L. Guerrant | Hubert B. Holsinger | Alice M. Huffman | Frank L. Lowther | Randal Luscombe | Dorothy Sandridge | Melvin C. Shaffer | William P. Snavely | Beverley D. Tucker | Frances E. Wells | 8th EVAC home

Beverley D. Tucker

Beverley D. Tucker

Beverley Tucker graduated from the University of Virginia in 1942 where he was a member of the track and field, cross-country, and football teams. He enrolled at the Virginia Theological Seminary two days after his discharge from the army. Following graduation, he was assigned to a three church Episcopal town and country parish in or near Scottsville, Virginia, about twenty miles south of Charlottesville. Four and a half years later, he accepted a call to Old Donation Episcopal Church, a colonial church built in 1736, the third church building of a parish begun before 1640. For many years, Old Donation Church had been a country church near Norfolk, Virginia. But by 1953, when Reverend Tucker arrived, the neighborhood of the church was just beginning a rapid suburban growth. He remained until his retirement thirty-one years later and saw the congregation change dramatically both in size and personnel. Like most of the churches in the area, the congregation included a large number of military families, mostly members of the Navy or Marine Corps. Reverend Tucker’s years in the 8th Evac served as an excellent preparation for this kind of ministry.

Reverend Tucker retired in 1984, spent several months relaxing, and then became the part time Pastoral Associate at Christ and St. Luke’s Church in Norfolk. After retiring again in 1989, he continued to minister to the congregation in various capacities. While there, he and his wife, Julia, became involved in the work of a mission serving inner city youth. He also continued to serve as supply clergyman at various churches. He was Rector Emeritus at Old Donation Church, where he assisted the pastor on a volunteer basis. He and his wife also spent a lot of time at their beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He died June 13, 2014.

My involvement with the 8th Evacuation Hospital grew out of a conversation that I had with the Rev. “Bill” Laird in the spring of 1942. At the time, I was about to graduate from the University of Virginia and had been accepted at the Virginia Theological Seminary to study for the Episcopal ministry. But Pearl Harbor presented me with an urgent decision. Should I enter the Seminary that June? Or should I postpone my studies until after the war? Since most Seminary students were exempt from the draft, I probably could have gone ahead with my Seminary studies. Moreover, I had previously volunteered for the Marine Corps Reserve, but had failed to pass the eye test. And yet with the whole nation in crisis, would life in the Seminary be taking the easy way out?

Chaplain William H. Laird

Chaplain William H. Laird

This was the decision that I wanted to discuss with Bill Laird. Bill then suggested that I consider joining the 8th Evac. Hospital. The medical staff for the 8th Evac. was being organized at the University of Virginia Hospital, and Bill Laird was being granted a leave of absence from St. Paul’s Church to serve as their Protestant Chaplain. Bill told me that if I joined the 8th Evac., he would recommend me to serve as his assistant. This appealed to me because it offered me the opportunity to serve our country, but also to help me prepare for the ministry. After consulting with Dr. Staige Blackford, who was helping to recruit the medical staff, I enlisted in the Army medical reserve, to be assigned to the 8th Evac. Hospital.

Jack Gordon

Jack Gordon

And yet, like so much in the army in those days, it was not quite that simple. Although Bill Laird and the medical staff were called to active duty about July 1, 1942, I failed to receive any orders. I heard through the grapevine that the 8th Evac. had received orders to prepare to go overseas, but still no orders for me from the War Department! Returning to Charlottesville late in August, I discovered that another University of Virginia student, Jack Gordon, was in the same boat, also waiting for orders. We realized that without quick action, the unit would go overseas without us. Jack then phoned Dr. (now Col.) Staige Blackford, explaining our predicament. He, in turn, contacted the War Department, and our orders promptly arrived.

However, the orders that we received were at first puzzling. About halfway down a page, we found words something like this: “Pvt. John Gordon and Pvt. Beverley Tucker WP WD to Fort Benning, Ga.” Not being familiar with such army jargon, I drove down to the local recruiting station for enlightenment. We quickly discovered that “WP WD” meant “Will proceed without delay” And so without delay, we boarded a train in Charlottesville and proceeded to Fort Benning, Georgia.

Our sudden appearance at the 8th Evac. caused a minor uproar. What could possibly be the meaning of these two raw recruits in civilian clothes suddenly showing up just as the outfit was preparing to be shipped overseas? One man told me afterwards that the rumor was going around that we must be agents from the FBI, sent to spy on the enlisted men. When I joined some of the personnel at the PX and tried to purchase a beer, I was told, “We have to serve the soldiers first.” Fortunately one of the men had pity on me and came to my rescue by purchasing it for me. That was my introduction to the 8th Evac.

Scarcely more than ten days later, we all boarded a train for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, the embarkation camp for the New York area. In fact, less than two months after I had gone on active duty, I was sailing out into the Atlantic aboard the troop ship, Santa Paula. Jack Gordon and I probably set a record for being the rawest recruits in the U.S. army to be shipped overseas. Our astonishment was even greater when we realized that we were the second wave of the Western Task Force invading Morocco, which at the time was under the control of the Vichy French.

Aboard the Santa Paula, I received my first assignment as the chaplain’s assistant. I served as one of the librarians for the ship’s library, where the men could check out books. That suited me fine, especially since it meant that I was excused from serving KP. The worst feature of the voyage for most of us was the food served in the mess hall. Two meals were served each day, as we had to eat in rotation. The smell in the mess hall was so awful that it destroyed whatever appetite we might have had. I will never forget one breakfast in a storm. Every time the ship rolled, our mess kits would be turned over, and oatmeal about six inches deep would flow back and forth across the floor.

After our arrival at Casablanca, we set up our hospital in the former Italian Consulate, and I began my official duties as chaplain’s assistant. Two services were held each Sunday, a morning service in the hospital, and an evening service in the enlisted men’s bivouac area. But on a personal level, I found this a frustrating period. I began to face what a lowly position a chaplain’s assistant really was. Not only did it offer little opportunity for ministry in the traditional sense, but it also offered few possibilities for helping the sick and wounded. Some of the men used to call me, “G.I. Jesus Junior.” My Sunday job consisted largely in preparing for the services and trying to keep the reed organ operating. Its reeds kept sticking due to the humidity. And of course, there was the job of typing the Chaplain’s monthly report, correspondence, etc.

In the early spring of 1943, the 8th Evac. turned the Italian Consulate over to a more permanent station hospital and moved out of the city to Anfa Hill which is best known as the site of the Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill. Although we had no duties as a hospital, in many ways this was one of the most difficult periods so far as morale was concerned. While operating the hospital in the city of Casablanca, once we were off duty, we had been free to go almost anywhere in the European sections of the city. But that spring, the army authority in the Casablanca area placed strict restrictions on the granting of leaves. But what really aroused the anger of the enlisted men of the 8th Evac. was the way our top noncommissioned officers began playing favorites, limiting leaves almost exclusively to the old timers who had formerly been members of the old 3rd Evac. This understandably produced bitter resentment among the rest of the enlisted men.

There was, however, a reluctance on the part of the enlisted men to express what they were really thinking to the officers, including the chaplain. As a result, I was able to be a real help to Chaplain Laird by letting him know what the men were thinking and saying privately. This helped him minister more effectively to their real needs. Fortunately, the above conditions changed radically when a large number of the personnel were transferred out of the 8th Evac., and the enlisted personnel were reorganized, with Herbert Martin as First Sergeant.

But unfortunately, after leaving Anfa Hill, the 8th Evac. suffered a series of mishaps. When we finally boarded the train from Casablanca early in the summer, we became stranded in Algiers when orders of any kind failed to arrive. We did not even have authority to draw rations. By the time we finally received orders, it was too late for us to take part in the invasion of Sicily, as had been originally planned.

A second and more serious mishap took place off the Italian beaches in the Gulf of Salerno when the ship, carrying our hospital equipment and about ten of our men, was sunk by a German submarine. Fortunately our men were all saved. But there we were on the beach of Paestum without any hospital equipment. The presence of so many battle casualties in need of our medical services, but without the equipment to perform them, only added to our frustration. We also lost many of our personal belongings. Chaplain Laird lost his whole library.

I would like to share two incidents that happened at Paestum. We had pitched our pup tents next to a medical battalion, but our neighbors showed little willingness to share with us. One evening, as we were watching the artillery flashes in the distance, those flashes suddenly expanded into a severe thunder storm with winds that blew down all of the tents belonging to the medical battalion. Without a moment’s hesitation, the men of the 8th Evac. responded to the emergency by rushing in and helping them restore their tents. I was never so proud of the way our men repaid good for evil.

A short time afterwards, we set up a recuperating hospital in an old tobacco barn, using stretchers for beds. Many of the patients, being tired of C rations, began buying potatoes from the Italians and frying them in their mess kits. As a result, the whole area was covered with potato peelings. In the meantime, one of the patients got drunk. As punishment, First Sergeant Herbert Martin assigned him the job of cleaning up all these peelings. “This sort of thing is for the birds,” he complained. (Expletives omitted.) “Send me back to the front line.”

And yet, in spite of all our misfortunes, the morale of the 8th Evac. continued to grow. We developed close friendships among the personnel and a determination to demonstrate what we could do if we ever had a chance. Not only did we begin to replace our equipment, but, out of necessity, we developed a talent for moonlighting. For instance, in Algiers, not being authorized to draw rations, we sent some of our roughest and toughest men down to the ration dump, and they were careful to select only the best food that they could find. Eventually we became the best equipped evacuation hospital in Italy.

As we gradually began to assemble our equipment, we were able to perform more and more hospital services. I, in turn, began to assume more responsibilities as chaplain’s assistant. The Red Cross had supplied us with a large library, consisting of paperback books. Unfortunately, only ambulatory patients could avail themselves of this service. So I began carrying a selection of what seemed to be the most popular books through the wards. This served two purposes. First, it provided reading material for the bedridden patients. Secondly, it offered me an opportunity to talk with the patients and to minister to their spiritual as well as to their physical needs. I particularly watched out for those wounded patients who were physically unable to write home. They knew that their parents or wives would be receiving telegrams informing them that their son or husband had been wounded in action. They realized, moreover, how anxious their families would be to hear about their condition. As a result, I wrote numerous letters, dictated by these wounded soldiers. I also wrapped and mailed a large number of Purple Hearts.

During the fall and winter of 1943-44, the war in Italy was fought largely in the mountains. The wounded had to be carried long distances by stretcher bearers, up and down hill, in regions with few roads. Every one in the 8th Evac. remembers a patient named Holland, who had been stranded on the side of a mountain for several days before he was finally evacuated to our hospital. Not only had gangrene developed throughout both legs, but it had spread to his hips. The medical staff performed a real miracle in saving his life. But in the process, they had to amputate the whole of both his legs. For many weeks he lay there, all alone in an isolation tent. Chaplain Laird described him as the most depressed person that he had ever seen. His future seemed so bleak that he really did not want to live. But there is a sequel to his story, which I happened to read in a newspaper after the war. Before going overseas, he had been engaged to his high school sweetheart. Upon returning home, he had written to his fiancee calling off the marriage. But she responded, “I don’t care if you don’t have any legs. I still love you, and I want to marry you.”

Chaplains' Tents to the Left with the Chapel across the Walk at Pietramala

Chaplains’ Tents to the left with the Chapel across the walk at Pietramala

During the Italian campaign, the 8th Evac. operated in about ten different locations. As the front moved forward, we followed. We prided ourselves on how rapidly we could move from one location to the next. The hospital usually moved in two shifts. The first shift included the operating team, its equipment, and enough of the hospital to take care of the first patients to arrive. The second shift tore down the rest of the hospital and followed as quickly as possible. Our longest time spent in any one location was during the late fall and the entire winter of 1944-45, in the mountains north of Florence at Pietramala. During a large part of that winter, we were living in snow over two feet deep.

The last place that we operated the hospital was in the Po Valley, in a field a few miles south of Verona. Normally the chaplain’s equipment, chapel, etc., would move in the second shift. But for some reason, in that final move into the Po Valley, Chaplain Laird and I were in the first shift. It was an exciting time for the Allied Forces. After being snowed in all winter, our forces finally broke through the German lines. We passed hundreds of destroyed German tanks, trucks, and other vehicles and equipment. As souvenirs, I picked up a German helmet and other gear. After crossing the Po River on a pontoon bridge, we entered a small town where the Italian partisans were celebrating by shaving the hair of women who had been Nazi collaborators. When we finally reached the site for our hospital south of Verona, we received the news that the entire German army in Italy had surrendered. And so Chaplain Laird gathered us all together to give thanks to God that peace had finally returned to that part of the world.

When the 8th Evac. closed down the hospital south of Verona, we moved to the shores of Lake Garda. Since the majority of the personnel of the 8th Evac. had earned at least the 85 points needed for discharge, the 8th Evac. as a whole was scheduled for discharge. But since Jack Gordon and I had only 82 points, we were transferred to the 185th Medical Battalion, which was scheduled to return to the States for a thirty day furlough and then to be shipped to Japan. Fortunately, the very day that we sailed out of Leghorn, the Japanese surrendered. Someone on the dock held up a copy of the army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, with the huge headlines, “JAPS QUIT.” So not only did I return home before the rest of the 8th Evac., but, after my furlough (extended to forty-five days), I was discharged from the army on Oct. 20, 1945. Two days later, I was enrolled at the Virginia Theological Seminary, which had been in session for about six weeks. By extra studying, I was able to catch up with my class.

Beverley Tucker

John L. Guerrant | Hubert B. Holsinger | Alice M. Huffman | Frank L. Lowther | Randal Luscombe | Dorothy Sandridge | Melvin C. Shaffer | William P. Snavely | Beverley D. Tucker | Frances E. Wells | 8th EVAC home