As the United States got deeper into World War II, the need for long term care military hospitals rose.   Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville used his influence as Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs to establish a naval hospital in Dublin.  Over the next twenty years, Congressman Vinson nearly succeeded in establishing the United States Air Force Academy and an Air Force base in Laurens County.  The plans for the hospital, which would serve as a long term care
facility, were formulated in 1942.  Early in 1943, the prospects of the hospital seemed dim. But Vinson persevered, and the project was approved in the late spring.

The primary need in order to establish a navy hospital in Dublin was the transportation of patients in and out of the city.  The Laurens County Board of Commissioners purchased 640 acres of land three miles northwest of Dublin for the construction of an airport.  The land was purchased at a cost of nearly double the amount originally budgeted.  The commissioners resorted to issuing warrants to pay
the cost after a bond issue and bank loans failed to materialize.  The federal government took over the construction and completed the project in 1943.  Among the first military uses of the airport was the delivery of mail to the few hundred soldiers who where stationed at the prisoner of war camp in Dublin.

The City of Dublin took immediate steps to aid in the construction of the hospital.  The city attempted to issue bonds for the construction of water and sewer lines to the hospital.  The Citizens and Southern Bank took over the financing after the failure of the bond issue.  The federal government stepped in and provided the remaining funds to extend the lines to the hospital.  A four lane road was built running from McCall's Point at the end of Bellevue Avenue to the hospital site.

 Real estate developer and theater owner R.E. Martin donated land for the road.  Years later the city lined the road with oak trees.  The road, originally known as the Old Macon Road, now bears the name of Veteran's Boulevard in honor of all the patients at the hospital.

Construction of the hospital began in July of 1943.  Lt. Commander Louis S. Dozier came to Dublin to inspect the site and begin the initial preparations.  Before the construction could begin, a rail spur line was laid from the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to the site.  An elevated steel water tank was the first structure to be completed.  Even as the work was proceeding, the government was still in the process of acquiring the land.

The government chose a 231 acre farm site on the western edge of Dublin. The farm, known as the "Capt. Rice Place" or "Brookwood," was owned by W.P. Roche.  E.T. Barnes asked the court to allow him to harvest the crops growing on the land.  Judge A.B. Lovett agreed, but allowed the government to immediately go into possession of the land where the water tank was constructed.  The government was allowed to take full possession of the property by September 13, 1943.  Mr. Roche's
home was spared, but part of his orchard was taken under a condemnation process through which Mr. Roche was paid the market value of $112.00 per acre.

In September, the engineers began laying out the streets on the hospital grounds.  The streets were named for medical department personnel killed in action during the war.  Gendreau Circle was named for Capt. Elphege A.M. Gendreau of San Francisco, who was killed in combat in the South Pacific.  Blackwood Drive was named in memory of James D. Blackwood of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, senior medical officer of the "U.S.S. Vincennes."  Johnson Drive and Alexander Drive were named in memory of Cmdr. Samuel E. Johnson of Clinton, Alabama and Lt. Cmdr. Hugh R. Alexander, of Belleville, Pennsylvania and the U.S.S. Arizona, who were killed at Pearl Harbor.  Crowley Avenue was named after Lt. Cmdr. Edward Crowley of San Francisco after he was killed in the Solomon Islands.  Neff Place was named in honor of Lt. Cmdr. James Neff, Senior Medical Officer of the cruiser "U.S.S. Juneau."  Trojakowski Avenue and Morrow Place were named in honor of W.C. Trojakowski of Schenectady, N.Y. and Lt. Junior Grade Edna O. Morrow (left -- above) of Pasadena, Calf. who were killed in airplane crashes.  The last street, Evans Avenue, was named in honor of Lt. Cmdr. Edward E. Evans of San Francisco who was killed in the Solomon Islands in December of 1942.

Construction Workers eatery near site of present day McDonalds.
R.A. Bowen & Co. of Macon began the grading and clearing of the land in mid September.  One of the first obstacles to be cleared was the Capt. Rice home known as "Brookwood."  It was built in 1903 by Joseph D. Smith.  Smith sold the home to farmer, naval stores operator and businessman Capt. W.B. Rice.  Rice developed the land into one of the finest farms in Laurens County.  In a matter of hours, the site of many of the grandest and finest social gatherings in Dublin was gone forever.

The first bids let for buildings were for eight patient wards.  The wards were built of masonry and were two stories in height.  The contract was awarded to Beers Construction Company of Atlanta for 1.16 million dollars.  The initial plans called for a 500 bed, 5 million dollar hospital. After the end of the war, the hospital would be turned over to the Veteran's Administration which planned to add another thousand beds running the total cost to ten million dollars. After the wards were constructed, a central hospital and administration building would be constructed in the center of the complex. Nurse's quarters, bachelor officer's quarters, WAVES barracks, corpsmen's barracks, mess attendant's barracks, a gatehouse, greenhouses, a fire station and garage, an incinerator and storage buildings rounded out the remainder of the hospital area.

  The buildings were designed in the colonial style to blend with the colonial homes along Bellevue Avenue.  The wartime shortage of material necessitated the use of clay, wood, and cement products from the local area.  A crew of five naval civil engineers and twenty civil service engineers, inspectors, accountants and clerks began work under the supervision of Lt. Cmdr. Dozier. Dublin's civic and church organizations worked together to accommodate the hospital staff during the construction phase.  A corps of 125 architects and engineers worked out of an Atlanta office building designing the project under the supervision of Lt. R.R. Grant. President Roosevelt gave final approval of a Federal Works Agency grant in December of 1943 to extend water and sewer lines and install the necessary equipment at the pumping station.

As the completion date neared, Dublin tried to cope with its growing pains. Ingram Construction Company moved its operations to Dublin and constructed twenty brick homes for hospital personnel. Captain A.L. Bryan estimated that as many as a thousand people would be attached to the hospital. He estimated that as many as two hundred families would move into the Dublin area.  Commander
Ellington of Charleston estimated that one hundred forty new houses would be needed to house the new families.  By May of 1944, the city of Dublin was forced to institute rent ceilings to prevent gouging by landlords.

Despite some instances of rent gouging, the construction personnel were well treated by the community.  When the Dublin Theatre reopened in the summer of 1944, special Sunday movies were shown to the military personnel.  During the late summer of 1944, the navy men played Army-Navy baseball games against the army guards from the local German prisoner of war camp.  The sailors also played basketball games against alumni teams from local high schools.

Finally on January 22, 1945, the hospital was ready for full operation.  Five hundred beds were in place with room for an additional three hundred and fifty more for emergency purposes. The original complex was built with four and one half million bricks which,  if laid end to end, would extend all the way to Washington, D.C.  There were sixty cubic yards of concrete, seventeen hundred tons of steel, eighty miles of interior piping, five elevators, five thousand windows, twenty one hundred doors, eleven acres of flooring, four acres of acoustical ceiling tiles, twenty miles of underground piping and six thousand cubic yards of earth work.

Commander Louis Dozier, a native of Macon, Georgia,  was commended by the Bureau of Yards and Docks for his work in supervising the construction of the hospital.  He was promoted and was assigned overseas.  Commander Dozier was ably assisted by project managers Lt. Carl B. Babcock and Carleton B. Johnson.  The project was supervised at the highest levels by Rear Admiral Jules James of the Sixth Naval District and was operated by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

The dedication of the hospital was scheduled for the early afternoon.  A light and cold rain kept many away.  Nearly every politician and business leader in Georgia was invited to attend. Military leaders in the hospital's chain of command were invited to speak.  Gov. Ellis Arnall and Congressman Carl Vinson were slated to speak, but were detained and did not attend.  Postmaster M.J. Guyton spoke on behalf of his brother-in-law, Congressman Vinson, before a somewhat disappointed crowd. The first patients were scheduled to be brought in during the ceremonies but were delayed by a few hours by the bad weather.  The hospital was not quite finished when it opened.  The commander's office was temporarily located in the front guard house and later in the surgical wing of the hospital.

The initial cadre of officers at the hospital was headed by Capt. A.L. Bryan. Capt. Bryan (left) was a veteran of naval operations in the Pacific serving with valor in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.  Commander A.J. Delaney served as the first Executive Officer.  Commander B.E. Goodrich, Chief of Medicine; Commander W.S. Littlejohn, Chief of Neuropsychiatry; Commander D.D. Martin, Clinical Director; Lt. Commander E.B. Brick, Chief of the Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Section; Lt. Commander V.B. Buhler, Chief of Laboratory Services, and Lt. Commander P.V. Dilts rounded out the executive staff of the hospital.  The Red Cross provided a staff of nearly two dozen women to serve the hospital.  The early heads of the Red Cross workers were Helen Cassidy, Merle Foeckler, and Margaret Weatherall.

The hospital, then a part of the armed forces hospital system, took on the  role of aiding the war on the home front.  This mission included entertainment and education of the patients.  On April 7, 1945, Eddie Rickenbacker visited the hospital. Rickenbacker was the top American ace of World War I. After the war, he got into the automobile business.  Rickenbacker owned the Indianapolis Speedway for 12 years.  In 1938, he was named President of Eastern Airlines and served in that position until he was named Chairman of the Board in 1959.  Rickenbacker's mission was to cheer up those sailors who were facing long recuperation from their injuries.

On the last day of April 1945, Helen Keller made a visit to the hospital.  Helen Keller had lost her senses of sight and hearing.  She could not speak.  Upon the recommendation of Alexander Graham Bell, she went to a special school for the blind.  Anne Sullivan taught Miss Keller to listen to others talk by placing her hand on their faces.  She eventually learned to read, write, talk and type and graduated with honors from Radcliff College.  In her later years, Helen Keller authored many successful books.  Her visit to the hospital was part of her tour of military hospitals across the country.  It was hoped that those disabled veterans would be inspired by Miss Keller's overcoming of her disabilities.

Over the years that followed, touring bands and companies performed at the hospital for the sailors in the afternoons and at public dances at night.  Among those were forties band leaders Les Brown, Vaughn Monroe, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Skinny Ennis, Glen Gray, Tommy Tucker, Jan Garber and Ted Weems.

The hospital continued to expand.  A research laboratory was built in late 1945 to study the effects of rheumatic fever.  Captain J.B. Logue succeeded Capt. A.L. Bryan as commander of the hospital. The last naval commander was Capt. Lea B. Sartin.  Capt. Sartin (left) was taken as a prisoner of war while serving at a Manilla hospital and endured three years in the Japanese prison camps, first as the prison doctor at Bilbub prison in the Philippines.   Capt. Sartin served as Executive Officer of the Naval Hospital in New Orleans before coming to Dublin.  The peak of hospital patient load came in came in June 1946, when there were 1200 Navy and 100 VA patients served by 75 Staff Officers, 80 Nurses, 300 corpsmen, and 78 WAVES. Nearly three years after the end of the war the hospital was decommissioned as a naval hospital.  The ceremonial transfer was broadcast  from the studios of radio station WMLT on the evening of June 30, 1948. Dr. David Quinn was named as Administrator of the new Veteran's hospital.  On September 15, 1948, the hospital was dedicated by Senator Walter F. George and Congressman Carl Vinson.

Felix Bobbitt, (left) a Laurens County native and a paraplegic veteran, was the first patient admitted to the Veteran’s Hospital.   Within a year, hospital beds were increased two and one half times to accommodate 500 patients,  though the actual number of occupied beds only averaged around 350.  For those patients who were able to enjoy the outdoors and primarily for the staff, workers and their families, the hospital grounds featured indoor and outdoor basketball courts, six tennis courts, a swimming pool, a small golf course and bowling alleys.

In 1956, an Intermediate Service Center was established under the direction of Dr. Albert Bush.    At the end of its first decade as a VA Hospital, twenty physicians, three dentists and nearly six hundred employees were providing services for more than 450 patients.  Two hundred more patients were waiting to get in the hospital.   By the end of the 1950s a domiciliary with 450 members was established bringing the total patient load of 950, all served by 650 employees.

A 56-bed nursing home unit was established in 1965.  The unit expanded by 30 more beds in 1975.   In 1971, six-acre Lake Leisure was constructed along Bud’s Branch, the only creek in Dublin which flows in a northerly direction.

My most personal fond memory of the hospital came at Christmas.  In a day when church and state were separate but not mutually exclusive, Mamma and Daddy would drive us by the front of the hospital to gaze upon the tens of thousands of beautiful Christmas lights and wondrous displays of holiday celebrations.

Today the Carl Vinson Veteran’s  Administration Medical Center, named for the man totally responsible for its existence, has a 339 operating-bed facility which is staffed by approximately 750 employees.  The men and women of the VA Hospital provide acute and extended care services, ranging from pulmonary, optometry, surgery, podiatry, urology, cardiology, mental health, women’s health and general primary care.  With a budget in excess of sixty million dollars, the hospital, which turns sixty years old this month, continues to be a vital part of our local economy.
                     THE REST OF THE STORY
      Doctors, Patients and Visitors at the V.A. Hospital

Over the last six decades, hundreds of thousands of our country’s heroes have received medical care in the VA Hospital.    More than ten thousand physicians, nurses, sailors, waves, technicians, secretaries, and health care workers have walked the long halls, worked tirelessly to serve those who had served them and frequently held back their tears in the presence of those who suffer terribly from the wounds of war of the ravages of time.  It is to these wonderful Americans and the unnumerable legion of volunteers who have given of themselves that I dedicate these columns.

Franklin Gowdy was born to Dr. F.M. Gowdy and Margaret K. Gowdy on June 2, 1903 in Union Pier, Michigan.  He grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Gowdy attended St. Joseph’s High School, where he was vice president of the Crescent Society in his junior year.  While at St. Joseph’s, Franklin performed in school plays and choral programs.

Franklin played tackle for the University of Chicago Maroons in the early 1920s.  In 1924, he was elected captain of the football team.  Gowdy was generally regarded by national experts as one of the best tackles in the county and rated by his coach, the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg as “one of the best tackles ever developed at the University of Chicago.” Gowdy was chosen to the All Big Ten team and the All American team and led his team to a 3-0-3 record and its last Big Ten Championship.  He was honored by Coach Stagg in 1925, when he was asked to coach the Chicago line.  His younger brother Vic followed in his footsteps, first at Chicago and then as captain of the Oberlin College team.

Dr. Franklin Gowdy graduated from Rush Medical School in Chicago.   He began the  practice of  medicine in 1937 in Evanston, Illinois, where he met and married his wife, Dorothy Faye Brockway.  Dr. Gowdy enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve shortly after Pearl Harbor.  Gowdy, then nearly forty years of age, expected to serve in the Naval Reserve at the Great Lakes Naval Base.  He was transferred to the Marines and sent to Guadalcanal attached to First Division United States Marine Corps.  The First Marine Division participated in the invasion of the islands of New Britain and Pellilu. By the end of his tour in the South Pacific, Dr. Gowdy rose to the rank of Lt. Commander in the Navy.   His brother Howard served as an officer in the Army Air Corps.

In his last year in the service in the Navy, Dr. Gowdy was assigned to the United States Naval Hospital in Dublin, Georgia.  In January 1946, Dr. Gowdy resumed his practice of medicine in Winnetka, Illinois.  He and his family resided in nearby Glencoe.  Dr. Gowdy practiced medicine in the Chicago area and taught internal medicine at Northwestern University until his death on July 15, 1973.

In 1952, Dr. M. Ferdinand Nunez served as chief of laboratory services at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Dublin.  Dr. Nunez was a direct descendant of Dr. Samuel Nunez.  The original Dr. Nunez came to the infant colony of Georgia in July, 1733 as the physician and apothecary for the Colony.  Dr. Nunez delivered Phillip Minas, the first male child to be born in the colony.

Officials at the Dublin VA Hospital were honored when the national commander of American Veterans agreed to pay a visit to the hospital on January 12, 1961.  The commander, a Canadian born paratroop sergeant in World War II, was the guest of honor at a luncheon held in the dining room and the featured speaker in the auditorium, which was filled with patients, staff, and personnel.  The commander told the veterans "It's not what you have lost, but what you have left. Disability does not mean inability."  He urged the veterans to pass on to the civilians what they had learned in the military.  The Commander spoke from experience for he lost both arms during the war.  He tried, without his hands, making a movie. He played the role of Homer Parrish, one of several veterans returning home after the war.  Evidently he did a pretty good job.  He was awarded two awards for his performance in the film.  His name was Harold Russell.  The classic movie  from 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives."  The movie won the Oscar for best picture. Frederich March won the Oscar for best actor.  The director and writer also won the Oscar that year.  Russell, one of the most famous American heroes of World War II, won the Oscar for best supporting actor and another special Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." In his first and only movie, Sgt. Russell was the only actor ever to be awarded two Oscars for one role.  Russell went into the public relations field after the war.  He died in 1993.

In the days and months before Fidel Castro took control of the Cuban government, Cubans by the thousands fled to Florida and parts of the southeast. Several families came to Dublin and, in particular, to the Veteran's Hospital.  Three of Cuba's top physicians wound up in Dublin. They were unanimous in their view that the Cuban refugees should leave Miami and come to small American towns like Dublin, which were a more true example of American life and the strength of our country. Dr. Rogello J. Barata was a former professor of surgery at the University of Havana Medical University until 1961.  Dr. Barata served as general and thoracic surgeon at the V.A. hospital.  His former student, Dr. Luis G. Valdes, was Chief of Surgery in one of Havana's largest hospitals after completing his post graduate  work at Harvard University.  The third and most prominent physician was Dr. Delio S. Garcia, former professor of Pathology at the University of Havana.  Dr. Garcia had
been the former director of the Cuban National Bureau of Identification.  Between 1944 and 1948, Cuba was experiencing a wave of gang killings when nearly 150 prominent people were killed.  Dr. Garcia was able to identify five of the killers through scientific tests.  The first murderer he identified was a young Cuban rebel by the name of Fidel Castro.  The Cuban families assimilated into the community; Dr. Valdes’ mother-in-law taught Spanish at Dublin High School.

At the Veteran's Hospital, patients came and patients went.  There was something unusual about this particular patient.  He was a veteran of the United States Army having fought in Korea.  After the war, he married Frances Googe of Hazelhurst, where he made his home.  He did nothing to create the excitement.  The unusual amount of attention paid to this patient, Vincent Cadette, came not from his
actions, but because of his ancestry.  His ancestor was among the most famous men of the late 19th century.  Vincent was an American Indian like his great grandfather, Sitting Bull.

One of Dublin's oldest residents in 1968 was Louis Greenhaus, who was 101 years old.  Greenhaus, a Russian-born naturalized citizen, was a resident of the V.A. Hospital.  Naturalized as a United States citizen in 1892, Greenhaus (left) served as a sergeant in the Spanish-American War and World War I. Between the wars, Greenhaus was a member of John Phillip Sousa's band and played under the direction of America’s foremost band leaders. Greenhaus credited his daily cigar as the most important factor in his longevity.
In the early decades of the V.A. Hospital, the wards were filled with veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I.   William C. Owen was Georgia’s oldest surviving veteran of the Spanish American War.  He turned 100 years old on September 4, 1978.  Lemuel J. Rogers, who died at the VA Hospital on June 25, 1963,  served under Col. Teddy Roosevelt and retired as a master sergeant in 1926.

Roland Wilbur Charles, Jr. died at the VA Medical Center on July 18, 1997. Charles, a former sailor in the 1950s, worked at NASA and was responsible for the worldwide installation of S-Band radio systems for Earth to space communications during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.   A former national vice president of the Children of the American Revolution, Charles was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Roland Ellis, Jr., formerly of Macon, died in the VA Medical Center on May 22, 1995.  Ellis worked as a journalist for the Paris Tribune before joining the New Yorker magazine, where he once wrote the popular column “Talk of the Town.”

These are a few of the thousands of stories of the people of the VA Hospital. Their complete stories would fill volumes.  I encourage you to record your stories of the hospital for posterity so that the generations to come will know just what a special place the V.A.  Hospital is.