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New hospital car exhibit stirs WWII memories for local vets

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
SPENCER ó Glen Richardson worked on a hospital car during World War II, performing a variety of clerical tasks related to transporting wounded troops back from the front lines.
Richardson’s stint with the 37th Hospital Unit covered 18 months and involved a variety of battles in western Europe.
But Richardson said the hospital car dedicated recently at the N.C. Transportation Museum resembled very little that on which he served more than 50 years ago.
“The one at the museum is a hospital car in name like ours,” Richardson said. “But ours were bare cars. This other one, it’s all modern. Ours wasn’t modern.”
The hospital car at the Transportation Museum is housed in the facility’s roundhouse and was dedicated as part of last weekend’s Rail Days celebration.
The car has been restored.
Richardson, 89, a resident of Statesville, said he was proud to see hospital cars and those who served on them being recognized for the work they put into the war effort.
Walter Freeze, also 89, said much the same. Like Richardson, Freeze served in the Army, though his time aboard a hospital car was significantly shorter.
Freeze was wounded in the Philippines and transported back to the United States aboard a ship. From Hampton Roads, Va., he was moved by hospital car to Memphis, Tenn.
Freeze, a lifelong resident of China Grove, said he was grateful that hospital cars were available to transport wounded soldiers returning from the front lines.
“I think it’s a good thing they’re preserving them,” Freeze said of the handful of cars that remain. “They’re a part of history.”
The hospital car at the Transportation Museum was built around 1945. Each car had 35 bunks for wounded soldiers. The bunks were stacked three-high like a Navy ship.
Also on each car was a kitchen and quarters for a doctor and nurses.
The hospital cars were regular passenger cars reworked to handle bunks. The cars were also used during the Korean War.
By the time the Vietnam War rolled around, hospital cars were replaced by helicopters.
Many of the old hospital cars were kept in storage for years, military types thinking they might be needed in the event of a chemical attack. In the late 1960s and 1970s, circuses bought many of the old cars.
The car at the Transportation Museum is the only one of its type to be restored. There are five cars in Texas built in the 1950s that are rusting away.
Officials with the Transportation Museum are still working on a few details of the restoration of the hospital car they house. Those details include finding proper items (coffee pots and the like) to finish the kitchen.
They’re also hoping to get mattresses for the bunks, maybe even having the mattresses made locally.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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