“Hospital on Leyte,” November 1944


W. Eugene Smith, A Hospital in a Philippine Cathedral (Island of Leyte), 1944 (2008.55.3)

In their church which has become hospital, barefoot Filipino women worship only a few feet from the expressionless mask of a burned American officer.


Life, December 25, 1944, p. 13

Hospital on Leyte

On Leyte there is a thick-walled church where the people come for protection when the battle passes through there village. After the Americans drove out the Japanese, the soldiers dug foxholes in the town square in front of the church. When Americans were killed they were buried alongside the church.

While the fighting went on, an Army evacuation hospital was set up in the church. Cots for the wounded were lined in rows as far as the altar rail. In the baptistry the surgeons put up their operating tables. The wounded groaned a little, but mostly they lay quiet and stared at the church’s pale blue ceiling.

The first Saturday after the battle a black-robed Filipino priest came to the Americans and asked to be allowed to ring the church bells. The Japanese had forbidden their ringing for three years. At the sound of the bels the people came to the church to mourn and pray and help in the hospital.

The dusty lines of trucks outside the church often reminded the Americans and Filipinos that the battle was going ahead in other places. Last week they heard of a great new push even beyond Leyte. General MacArthur’s men had landed on Mindoro in another step of the long and bitter fight to reach Manila.

Army nurse Florence Vehmeier stands outside her hospital-church which was built in the 18th Century.
Life, December 25, 1944, p. 13


W. Eugene Smith, A hospital in a Philippine Cathedral (Island of Leyte), 1944 (86.1998)

A young Filipino girl rubs the back of a soldier who has been badly burned on the head and shoulders and arms. When a priest rang the church bells, hundreds of Filipinos came out of hiding places around the village and almost shly asked to help in hospital.


W. Eugene Smith, [Captain D.E. Campleele and nurse Catherine Acorn tend to a wounded soldier in makeshift hospital, Leyte, Philippines], 1944 (1571.2005)

In the quiet interior of the church an Army doctor and a nurse drain bottles of glucose and blood plasma into the veins of a wounded soldier. The nurse is Captain Catherine Acorn, one of the few Americans who escaped from the siege of Bataan and Corregidor.


W. Eugene Smith, Toilet paper and bed pans stacked in confessional, 1944 (1569.2005)

A grave soldier sits quietly on his cot next to ornate church confessional while the doctors and nurses care for men who have been more seriously hurt. The stucco wall behind him has begun to crumble in the tropical damp. In other parts of the church big religious paintings are hung to hide the cracks.


Life, December 25, 1944, pp. 14-15

Two generals stop on their inspection tour to watch a nurse dress a wounded man’s arm. At the left is Major General Richard J. Marshall, who was deputy chief of staff on Bataan and is now deputy chief of staff of General MacArthur’s GHQ in the Philippines. At the right is Major General C. P. Stivers.

In the hospital operating room three sweating doctors work silently in the gloom to remove a four-ounce piece of Japanese steel from the back of a wounded man. Their portable tables and battery-operated lights have been set up in the baptistry, a small, dark room which adjoins the church’s lofty nave. At the left of the table is the chief surgeon, facing him the assistant surgeon. In the background an anesthetist watched. The wounded man, like many of the patients in the hospital, was hit by Japanese bomb fragments in an air raid on the Leyte supply beach. Life, December 25, 1944, pp. 14-15


Life, December 25, 1944, pp. 16-17

Walking across the floor of the church, Nurse Florence Vehmeier looks down to see if one of her patients is comfortable. the wounded man, who is suffering quietly on his back, has been shot in the stomach. Taped across his upper lip is a rubber tube which drains his stomach through his nose. By means of the siphon arrangement at the left, the tube is drained into a bucket on the floor. Over the wounded man’s face is a damp cloth to cool his fever. Other cloths have been set out neatly on the holy-water font which stands at the head of the cot.

Chaplain’s Assistant Lew Ayres tapes the wounds of a Japanese prisoner in a hospital tent outside the church. Ayres is remembered now as the actor, once Ginger Rogers’ husbands, who played Dr. Kildare in the movies and became the most famous conscientious objector. Since February 1944 he has been serving quietly in Pacific field hospitals, has acquired a mustache and gray hair. Without having any special job, he is serious and helpful and friendly with everyone he meets. Everybody, including the Filipino children, calls him “Lew.” Life, December 25, 1944, pp. 16-17


W. Eugene Smith, [By candlelight, American nurse administers bottle of glucose and blood plasma to soldier suffering from second degree burns at makeshift hospital in Cathedral during battle to retake the Philippines], 1944 (1570.2005)

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