— by COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore, AN
In late May 1960, after a series of earthquakes followed by tsunamis, the Chilean government asked the American leadership for assistance
including hospital, and medical aid. On 25 May the 15th Field Hospital, with thirty nurses from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 7th Field Hospital, with thirty-one nurses from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, were airlifted to Chile to aid the victims. After stops in Panama and Peru on 27 May, the transport planes began to land in Santiago, and by the 30th all had arrived.1
Chilean officials requested that the two hospitals supply medical support for Puerto Montt and Valdivia, where the local hospitals had been destroyed. The 15th was established in Puerto Montt and the 7th in Valdivia. The hospitals were open for business less than 72 hours after they landed and had totally different missions.2
The 15th Field Hospital leadership discovered the report of major healthcare problems had been exaggerated. As a result, the mission of the Army nursing staff changed. They consulted with local Chilean nurses, who asked for training on various pieces of equipment that had been donated for a new facility they hoped to build. The Americans nurses enjoyed the challenge of teaching through interpreters. The Chilean nurses proved to be excellent students so their American colleagues worked hard to provide them with information they needed.3
Chilean relief workers, Army nurses, and other staff established a tent city and field kitchen for those Chileans who lost their homes. They established a clinic and treated Chileans for infections, and minor injuries. All relocated persons were given tetanus shots to ward off pathogens that could enter the body through cuts or puncture wounds.4
In Valdivia, the staff of the 7th Field Hospital erected tents in case there was an epidemic. When, thankfully this did not happen, the hospital welcomed displaced persons to use part of the tented hospital for shelter. Most nursing and enlisted staff organized and assisted with a massive vaccination program because the city had no clean water or sewage system.5
On the hospital wards, nurses generally worked with interpreters to aid the communication with their patients. They recognized how overwhelmed some patients were after losing all their personal belonging. Often kind words, and shoulders to cry on were important therapeutic tools.
By the end of June the work of the nurses had ended. “Nurses [were] stopped in the street by Chileans expressing thanks.”6 They were happy to represent the country and their nursing profession on this important humanitarian mission.
1 “Chile Disaster Relief Operation,” Annual Report the Surgeon General United States Army Fiscal Year 1960, accessed on October 28, 2015, http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/AnnualRpt1960/chiledisasterrelief.htm
4 “Article 1—No Title,” New York Times, May 26, 1960.
5 “Chile Hit By New Quake,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, June 7, 1960
6 “Chile’s Goodwill Reaped by the U.S.,” The Sun, June 2, 1860.