Biography of William J. Stopfer

T/5, 1st Unit, 51st Field Hospital, US Army, WWII

   I, William Stopfer, was a Tec-5 (Technician 5th Grade, equivalent to Corporal) in the 1st Unit of the 51st Field Hospital during WWII, serving as a Hospital Orderly. I was from Philadelphia and enlisted in the Army on July 8, 1943 through enlisted in the Army at New Cumberland, Penn. We debarked for Europe on February 27, 1944 and arrived in England on March 9, 1944 for training in preparation for the Normandy Invasion.

   I was reading June-July 1994 VFW Magazines that would like to hear about unit's role in World War II. I may have missed it, but I don't recall seeing anything on T.V. or in the VFW Magazine and other magazines about Field Hospitals. We were one of the best Field Hospitals in the war. Every officer, nurse and enlisted man could not have been more dedicated. From what I understand, we were to land D+1. It was so bad we got in on D+2. I didn't think we would see the next day. We heard one man was missing and as time went on, one of our men took a litter in a field to get a wounded soldier. He stepped on a mine and was killed. He was about 21 years old. I can't tell you how bad everyone felt. One night, we pulled in this field surrounded with hedge rows and rolled out this big red cross and started to put up the hospital tents, which had big red crosses on them. We could hear this plane diving and dropped a bomb. The ground vibrated. We thought, this is it. Then shells came over us and were landing in the next field. Then flares were dropped and they light you like daylight. Then the shelling stopped. I had to give that much to the Germans. They could have blown us away. I say to all the ones who want to take prayer out of schools. Go look at the graves our men and women are laying in so you could have freedom. If that's not enough, try fighting a war. We had prayer right in the fields. God was good to us and most of us made it back. The government should help any man or woman who was in any war for the U.S.A.

German POWs at 51st Field Hospital, by William J. Stopfer T-5, United States Army

51st Field Hospital Tents with Plenty of Snow

      The following is a List of Locations of the 1st Unit 51st Field Hospital and a write up by Warren H. Kennet, Staff Correspondent, Newark Evening News about our unit on December 12, 1944. I have inserted some photographs I have as well.


Three Platoons Skipped Across France, Belgium and Into Germany Under Enemy Fire

By Warren H. Kennet, Staff Correspondent Newark Evening News - Dec. 12th

WITH THE 51st FIELD HOSPITAL, Somewhere in Germany - When the first American troops landed on D-Day, this little hospital unit was right behind them. As the campaign progressed, other hospital outfits arrived, but this field unit was always out in front. When our troops entered Germany, this outfit was the first to set up on German soil.

   The hospital consists of three platoons, each having four medical officers, six nurses, one administrative officer, one dentist and 190 enlisted men. It has cleared 6,008 cases since it has been on the Continent. This is not all, however, for no records were kept of the cases received the first two days because there was no time.

   The unit has several New Jersey people among its personnel. There is Capt. Eric C. Loth of 7 Gibson place, Elizabeth, and Capt. Anthony F. Palmeri of 47 Rowland Avenue, Clifton, both medical officers, and Lt. Archie Korngut of 26 Huntington Terrace, Newark, an administrative officer.

Private from Montclair

   Then there is Lt. Florence Bestman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Bestman of Margate City and Pvt. Leonard P. Whitmarsh of 221 Fernwood Avenue, Upper Montclair. He works in the medical supply section of the hospital.

   Lt. Korngut and I visited Miss Bestman where she was working in a small Catholic chapel which had been taken over as a hospital ward. Two GI stoves were set up in the rear corners of the chapel, their stove pipes sticking through broken places in the stained glass windows. Every few minutes, the firing of 155 long Toms would crack the plaster walls and ceiling, leaving gaping holes in the floor strewn with debris.

Severe Cases Only

   This unit handles only case which cannot be moved far, such as severe chest and abdominal cases, compound fractures and patients in severe shock. When the boys are first brought in, they are taken to the pre-operating room, where they are treated for shock. If they need blood, they are given whole blood. There is plenty available now and plasma is little used by this unit.

   In the early days of the campaign, whole blood was hard to get. In severe cases, it was even necessary to obtain blood from members of the staff and from walking patients.

   One German patient refused a blood transfusion, saying in good English: "I don't want blood from American pigs." He got it just the same. German patients - and this outfit has had plenty - get the same treatment as our own men.

X-Ray in Same Room

   After new patients receive blood, they are X-Rayed in the same room and then go to surgery. Those who have abdominal wounds are held 10 days and those with chest injuries are kept from six to seven days and sometimes longer. After that, they are moved to an evacuation hospital farther back.

   Doctors and nurses work in shifts, which sometimes stretch into long hours when casualties are heavy. In most cases, the men are operated on within three or four hours after they are brought in. Most of the major surgery is done in the field hospitals and it is estimated that many cases, which are now saved through the field hospital setup, would have died in the last war.

   Many times in its trek across France and Belgium, and even since it has been in Germany, the unit has been bombed and strafed. Once near Mortain the unit set up by flares of enemy planes.

Nazis Brought In

   No sooner was it ready for business when 88 mm shells started dropping, so it had to take everything down and move back. At Santerme, where thousands of Germans were trapped, more than 1,000 were brought in within a few hours.

German POWs at 51st Field Hospital, by William J. Stopfer T-5, United States Army

We had no room in the Tents for the POWs so we had to put them in the field. There were many of them.

   There was no room for them in the hospital tents, so they had to be taken care of on the ground outside. Every effort was made to give the Germans cover, but there were many who were dissatisfied. They were finally loaded on trucks and sent to a general hospital in Paris. The morning after the wounded enemy had been brought in, one of the enlisted hospital attendants discovered a Gen. von Auloch among those lying on a cot. He said he could not speak English, but when it came time to move, he spoke enough of it to demand that he be transported to Paris separate from his own enlisted men. He went with the rest. There also was a German doctor in the lot. When he was asked to help take care of his own men, he was found to be very inexperienced.

German POWs at 51st Field Hospital, by William J. Stopfer T-5, United States Army

German POWs at the 51st Field Hospital

Down Wrong Road

   The unit was with the 29th Division when it captured St. Lo and some one led it down the wrong road. Jerry planes dropped flares, followed by bombs, and there was also strafing. Suddenly, the leading vehicles of the hospital came right up behind the infantrymen who were crawling along the hedgerows.

   It was decided to go no further and orders were given to pull into a field, but before this was done, one man volunteered to test it for mines. He zig-zagged a Bantam across it, but luckily found none. If he had, he probably would not have lived to tell it. That night, some of the men slept in German-made foxholes while the others lay under their vehicles. Combat soldiers moving up and knowing the situation were concerned for the nurses. They dropped in to make sure the girls were all right. Willing hands dug them deep foxholes.

Atop Hill

   Divided into four groups and transported on LCIs and LCTs, the unit landed 36 hours after the first troops. The town it was supposed to go to had not been taken, so the unit set up on top of a hill overlooking the Channel.

   As their equipment had not arrived, the 12 doctors went down and aided in the evacuation of the early wounded troops to the LSTs in the harbor. The doctors worked night and day patching up the boys so they could be moved.

   Next day, the unit started operating as an evacuation hospital, since the regular evacuation hospital had not arrived. While this was going on, an air strip was constructed in the rear of the hospital and a cemetery to its left and the unit was the first to ship men back to England by air.

   The layout included nine ward tents with two operating tables in each. Only those which could not be transported were operated on. The rest were dressed and sent directly to the boats. No records were kept for a time because of the situation, but the first day a record was kept, 121 non-transferable cases were listed.

Nurses Ease Situation

   Only one platoon was working for the first five days. The other two were standing by ready to move up as the line advanced. The nurses came ashore on D plus six, which eased the situation quite a lot. They worked night and day without complaint.

   From there, all the way across France and Belgium, the three platoons operated separately under the skip system. The one in the rear would pack up and move in front of the other two as the line advanced. When the advance slowed upon reaching Germany, all three platoons were together and landed in Rotgen, Germany, two days after it was taken. There it went into buildings for the first time. Lt. Korngut occupied the desk of the town gauleiter.

   Much of the equipment used by the hospital is improvised and some was captured. The hospital has wooden operating tables made by the men and lights captured from the Germans. The hospital confiscated a lot of medical supplies found in a warehouse in a town and the next day the Germans took the town back.


First Hospitalization Unit

51st Field Hospital

   The following is a list of location of the 1st Unit. 51st Field Hospital. This includes both bivouac areas and operational setups.

Locations 1st Unit 51st Field Hospital During WWII




Ohmaha Beach, France

8 June 1944

17 June 1944

Cartigny L'Epnay, France

18 June 1944

29 July 1944

St. Lo, France

30 July 1944

3 August 1944

Percy, France

3 August 1944

10 August 1944

La Chapelle, Uree, France

11 August 1944

14 August 1944

St. Cyr Du Bailleul, France

16 August 1944

17 August 1944

Couterne, France

16 August 1944

17 August 1944

Senoaches, France

24 August 1944

29 August 1944

Signy Sigenette, France

29 August 1944

1 September 1944

Berrieux, France

1 September 1944

9 September 1944

Villere Le Temp, Belgium

9 September 1944

10 September 1944

Petit Rechain, Belgium

11 September 1944

16 September 1944

Roetgen, Germany

16 September 1944

1 December 1944

Aachen, Germany

2 December 1944

29 December 1944

Huy, Belgium

29 December 1944

10 January 1945

Les Annais, Belgium

10 January 1945

22 January 1945

Lierneux, Belgium

22 January 1945

10 February 1945

Eschweiler, Germany

10 February 1945

27 February 1945

Kariaweiler, Germany

27 February 1945

3 March 1945

Bergheim, Germany

3 March 1945

7 March 1945

Cologne, Germany

9 March 1945

25 March 1945

Unkol, Germany

25 March 1945

28 March 1945

Herborn, Germany

28 March 1945

6 April 1945

Berloburg, Germany

6 April 1945

20 April 1945

Halle, Germany

20 April 1945

4 May 1945

Leipzig, Germany

5 May 1945

   After the War ended we returned home, leaving Europe on November 27, 1945 and arriving on December 7, 1945 after 1 year 9 months and 11 days over seas. I was discharged from the Army at the Separation Center in Indian Town Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania on December 12, 1945 and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Award, the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five Bronze Stars (For the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe Campaigns), and the World War II Victory Medal. My Honorable Discharge and Report of Separation are below.

Honorable Discharge William J. Stopfer T-5, United States Army

Honorable Discharge, William Stopfer, T/5, United States Army

Enlisted Record and Report of Separation Honorable Discharge, William Stopfer, T/5, United States Army

Enlisted Record and Report of Separation Honorable Discharge, William J. Stopfer, T/5, US Army

-----William J. Stopfer

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