Veteran Stories: World War I Letters from the Medical Museum Archives

Amanda Quinn, Social Media/Website Manager, Trenton Streck-Havill, Assistant Archivist, and Laura Cutter, Archivist | November 7, 2019 |
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Collage of images and correspondence from the Otis Historical Archives and their mirror image. (NMHM photo illustration)

Our Otis Historical Archives documents and preserves the stories of veterans dedicated to the care of their fellow service members during military conflicts.

Looking at memories from more than 100 years ago offers a glimpse into the individual lives of service members devoted to military medicine during a pivotal time in our history. These veterans captured the joys and struggles of military medicine from the rigorous entrance evaluation for the Army Medical Corps to serving at sea, and the celebrations that filled the streets of New York at the end of World War I.

With Veterans Day just around the corner, we share some of their stories from both periods of conflict and peace in appreciation of their service and commitment to health and medicine.


Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Bradley

Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Bradley, Chief Surgeon, A.E.F., April 30, 1918. (Reeve 31174)

Alfred Eugene Bradley of Jamestown, New York, graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1887 and entered the Army Medical Corps the next year.

Letters written by Bradley to his wife, Letitia Follett, from Oct. 9 to Oct. 13, 1888 take you on a journey of the thorough evaluation process for his appointment to the Army Medical Corps that consisted of written exams, oral exams, and a practicum at a nearby hospital. The only successful graduate of his division, Bradley was commissioned as 1st Lt. and Assistant Surgeon at Davids Island, New York Harbor, later known as Fort Slocum.

During the Spanish-American War, Bradley served on the hospital ship USS Relief and was later promoted to Brigadier General during World War I. While serving in France as Chief Surgeon with the American Expeditionary Forces, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Explore the Bradley Collection in the Otis Historical Archives.


Dr. Jesse Pearce with Dr. Marrall

Dr. Jesse Cleveland Pearce (left) in U.S. Army Medical Corps uniform with Dr. Marrall, ca. 1940s. (OHA269_001_002)

Jesse Cleveland Pearce, a native of South Carolina, received his medical degree in 1911 from the Medical College of South Carolina. During World War I, he served with the American Expeditionary Forces and was also selected to serve with the British forces.

Pages from Pearce's journal detail some of his experiences aboard the USS Mongolia in 1917 as the ship sailed from New York to England. Along with caring for wounded men, Pearce took turns with the crew performing nightly guard duty to look for enemy submarines. Additionally, Pearce spent 22 months in the trenches tending to soldiers until he was injured by poison gas and hospitalized.

He later served during World War II, and in 1962, a South Carolina Senate resolution commended Pearce for his more than 50 years of faithful and devoted practice of medicine and for his "long, cheerful, diligent, and dedicated service."

Explore the Pearce Collection in the Otis Historical Archives.


Maj. Daniel Marsh Shewbrooks

Maj. Daniel Marsh Shewbrooks walking on an air field (location unknown), ca. 1918. (OHA301_002_001)

Shortly after graduating from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1915, Daniel Marsh Shewbrooks served with the Serbian Red Cross during a typhoid epidemic. He was subsequently commissioned as a Captain of the Medical Reserve Corps in 1917 and promoted to Major in 1918. The Otis Historical Archives holds several documents from his time in Kansas, including a letter he wrote requesting a leave of absence for the purpose of getting married.

After serving as part of the Medical Officer Training Corps at Fort Riley, Kansas, he became an instructor and an assistant to the post surgeon at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York from 1918 to 1919. Thereafter, he was honorably discharged.

Explore the Shewbrooks Collection in the Otis Historical Archives.


Gertrude Smith in nurse uniform

Gertrude Smith in nurse uniform, Camp Mills, New York, 1918-1919. (OHA308_00001_67_005 - Smith)

Gertrude Lillian Smith enlisted as a nurse with the Army Quartermaster Corps on May 20, 1918, at the age of 22. During World War I, she served on the homefront in the surgical and influenza wards at Camp Mills, New York then later served at Camp Pike, Arkansas until October 8, 1920. Smith saw a great deal of influenza patients and documented life at Camp Mills in her scrapbook.

In a letter to her mother recounting the end of World War I, she describes a celebration in which "every able bodied man, woman and child in New York was in the streets."

Explore the Smith (Gertrude) Collection in the Otis Historical Archives.

It is our mission at the National Museum of Health and Medicine to preserve and explore the impact of military medicine. Though each of these stories is as unique as the person who penned their pages, together they highlight the rich tapestry and historical roots of the medical profession within the military. The collective efforts of Bradley, Pearce, Shewbrooks, Smith, and those that came before and after, formed the foundation on which the modern-day Military Health System is built.


Otis Historical Archives

Bradley Collection Finding Aid

Pearce Collection Finding Aid

Shewbrooks Collection Finding Aid

Smith (Gertrude) Collection Finding Aid

Relevant Links:

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: From War To Home – Veterans Stories

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: History of Veterans Day

Department of Defense: 5 Facts to Know About Veterans Day

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