HistoryLink: Seattle Naval Hospital to Firland to Fircrest

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fircrest School
Photo courtesy Friends of Fircrest

The following is an excerpt from a much longer essay on Naval Hospitals in Washington HistoryLink.org Essay 10144, by Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D., July 10, 2012 

Seattle Naval Hospital
World War II found the navy seriously short of hospital beds. Large numbers of wounded and injured were expected from the war in the Pacific. The Oakland, California, naval hospital expanded, but more hospital beds were also needed in the Pacific Northwest. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard hospital could not be expanded. Seattle was selected as an alternative since it had a good transportation network. Construction of the Seattle Naval Hospital began in March 1942 and the hospital opened that August. It was located on 165 acres in Shoreline, north of Seattle, at 15th Avenue NE and NE 150th Street.

The hospital had 41 one-story wood frame wards with a 500-bed capacity. It had two surgical wards, a surgery building with four operating rooms, and staff quarters for 780 personnel. A contract authorized on September 19, 1942, added three special wards and Officers Sick Quarters. The first wounded from the South Pacific arrived in January 1943. Large groups of patients arrived by special hospital trains from San Francisco. Soon the patient load exceeded the hospital capacity. An expansion program approved on May 24, 1943, added another 500 beds to the facility. On July 20, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) made her second visit to the hospital, talking with and encouraging patients in all seven wards.

On May 23, 1943, Captain Joel T. Boone (1889-1974) became the hospital's commandant. He was described as the most decorated U.S. Navy officer. Captain Boone had been awarded the Medal of Honor in World War I, the Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and other awards. The distinguished captain had also served as physician to three presidents. His Chief Nurse was Lieutenant Ida Ann Netter (1890-1981) of Seattle. She had joined the army in World War I and in 1923 left the army to join Navy Medical Corps. Lieutenant Netter advanced in responsibility to chief nurse.

Joining the staff in 1944 was Robert E. Bush (1926-2005) of Tacoma. At age 17 he dropped out of high school and joined the navy. Bush attended Medical Hospital Corps School and trained to be a hospital apprentice. He was assigned to the Seattle Naval Hospital in May 1944 for four months of intern training. From there he went to Camp Pendleton for additional training and then overseas. He took part in the invasion of Okinawa and on May 2, 1945, cared for the battle wounded, running from one to another under intense enemy machine gun and mortar fire. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic action. After the war Bush used the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill, to complete high school and graduate from the University of Washington. Bush had a successful South Bend, Washington, lumber and hardware business. The naval hospital on the Marine Corps base at 29 Palms, California, is named in his honor.

Near the end of the war a five-wing building for military dependents care opened. Captain Boone departed in March 1945 for duty in the Pacific. In 1945 hospital staff included 15 Seattle physicians and surgeons serving as navy doctors. Most of them had already seen overseas duty. Included in the group were Captain C. E. Watts (1890-1958), who was a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington for many years and instrumental in obtaining funding for the university's medical school. The hospital reached a capacity of 1,500 beds but had 2,000 patients at its peak. Patients were placed in hallways and other available space.

Following World War II the hospital closed and in 1947 the property was transferred to King County. Firland, a tuberculosis hospital, took over the facility and 399 tuberculosis patients moved in on November 25, 1947. By 1948 the population had grown to 750 patients. Firland occupied the facility until October 30, 1973. In 1952 the Fircrest School for developmentally disabled citizens moved into one section of the former naval facility, which was divided from Firland by a fence. Eighty-five acres of the former hospital grounds became the site of Shorecrest High School in 1961. Over the years the Naval Hospital buildings have been removed.


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