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Military Surgeon, Vol. 19, No. 1 (July 1906)

Books and Documents > The U.S. Army Medical Department in the Aftermatch of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 18 April 1906

Excerpt from Military Surgeon, Vol. 19, No. 1 (July 1906)

NEWS OF THE SERVICES

95

EXPERIENCES IN THE SAN FRANCISCO DISASTER.-Captain Henry du R. Phelan, formerly Assistant Surgeon of United States Volunteers, and a member of the Association of Military Surgeons, describes his adventures in connection with the San Francisco disaster as follows:

"After escaping from our house uninjured with my family, consisting of myself, wife and two young children, we soon saw it reduced to ashes without having any opportunity of saving anything but what we could carry in our hands.

"In a few hours time we were reduced from a position of comfort to the direst distress. Hatless and half dressed, my wife and babies were driven up the street by the soldiers, and I remained behind in vain endeavor to save some of my property. After dragging, unaided, across the avenue into a vacant lot, several trunks of valuables, and having saved my diploma, I fell from exhaustion with my hands blistered and my throat burned, and was rescued by soldiers and friends who laid me out on the sidewalk and administered a heart tonic, which revived me.

"While I laid thus prostrated, I felt several more shocks of earthquake and saw my house disappear completely and the effects I had saved with such difficulty consumed in the street.

"I was fortunate after a separation of four hours, in finding my family in the crowd which had been driven back several blocks, and together, we wandered about the streets and over the hills for several days and nights, with scarcely any food or shelter against the weather. A kind hearted policeman finally took us into his half wrecked cottage, whence we were directed to a house on 24th street, where we occupied a vacant room and slept upon the floor.

"After standing in line for hours for our bread and a few other necessaries, day after day, week after week, we finally obtained two army mattresses and blankets and enjoyed a degree of comfort after our painful experience on the hills.

"To any but a dreamer, the prospects of hundreds of physicians in San Francisco of getting on their feet again are very poor. Their practice is gone, as well as their offices, and also the homes of many. My losses cannot be estimated in money alone, and the things that I most prized can never be replaced.

"I lost all my army relics, including my commission, sword, and my certificate of membership in the Association of Military Surgeons."

Editor's Note: Dr. du Phalen was soon hired as a Contract Surgeon, U.S. Army, to assist at the field hospitals that the AMEDD set up in Golden Gate Park. See his report of 30 June 1906 on the U.S. Army Field Hospital in the Deer Park area of Golden Gate Park.