Dr. James E. Marvil
Interviewers - Dr. Lewis B. Flinn and William P. Frank
Dr. Marvil: I had military ROTC at the University of Delaware and also at Jefferson Medical College, and two summer camps.
Bill Frank: With the ROTC?
Dr. Marvil: Yes.
Bill Frank: So, now it's August 1942?
Dr. Marvil: August 1942. My first army assignment was at Stark General Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. I was there about two months.
Bill Frank: As a Captain?
Dr. Marvil: As a Captain, yes. I was sent then to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, assigned to the 30th field hospital, where I was promoted to Major and stayed there until June 1943, when I was assigned to go to Fort Ord, California, to get ready to go to the Aleutian Islands.
Bill Frank: Where is that?
Dr. Marvil: Monterey, California. In a few weeks, we got on a ship and went from San Francisco to the Aleutian Islands. We got off at Adak Island and stayed there a week or ten days, and then we were shipped to the Island of Kiska. We found the Japs had left before we got there. We landed under combat conditions, since we did not know the Japs were gone. We set up a hospital there.
Bill Frank: You mean you got there and were transported in a little boat?
Dr. Marvil: Yes, we went ashore in rubber boats.
Bill Frank: The way they do in the movies?
Dr. Marvil: Fortunately, there were no Japs there. At the spot we landed, we found out later, there was a machine gun nest about 200 feet above us. They could have wiped us out. We stayed on Kiska until February 1942, when we were sent back to Seattle, Washington.
Dr. Flinn: This was mainly a hospital setup?
Dr. Marvil: Yes. We had five field hospitals there with 250 beds each.
Bill Frank: On this island? Five field hospitals?
Dr. Marvil: Yes. We would have needed them if there had been fighting because the 17th Infantry Division, with 25,000 men, was there at first.
Bill Frank: How big an island is Kiska?
Dr. Marvil: The island is six miles long, and about one mile wide.
Bill Frank: Did they build hospitals there?
Dr. Marvil: We had five hospitals. When we went ashore, each of our men had his own rucksack on his back, and we also carried hospital supplies between two men. We got ashore and were able to set up a small hospital. The first night we had an acute appendix to operate on, under no lights except lanterns.
Bill Frank: Did you operate?
Dr. Marvil: I didn't, no, because I was commander of the unit. At that time, I was a Major; we had general surgeons with us who did the operations. We stayed there until February 1943. We came back to Seattle and then were sent to Brownwood, Texas, to reform, resupply, and repersonnel to get ready to go over to Europe. We arrived in April 1943 in Greenock, Scotland, near Glasgow, and went down to Nuneaton, Midlands. In the Midlands we took more training to get ready to go over to France with Patton, who was Commander of the Third Army.
Bill Frank: You went by ship to Greenock? Did you have any problems there at all?
Dr. Marvil: By ship. No, we sailed through several places where ships had been torpedoed because we saw a lot of wreckage floating. No problem except the slowest ship set the speed, and our speed was 15 knots--that's 16 miles per hour. A mile and an eighth is a knot.
Bill Frank: So then you went to Greenock and then from there you went to the Midlands, and then you were ready to go to France. When was D-Day, before or after?
Dr. Marvil: Well, this was after D-Day. When we went, it was about D plus 30 or 40. Immediately our hospital was assigned to take casualties in the area of Brittany near Brest. The Germans were leaving there at that point and as soon as they got out of that section, I had a radiogram from 20th Corps Headquarters to join the Fifth Infantry Division.
Bill Frank: That's the one you were with?
Dr. Marvil: Like M.A.S.H. That was my hospital unit, yes.
Bill Frank: We'll get back to M.A.S.H. So it was the 30th field hospital; then you were to join the Fifth Infantry Division to take care of the casualties?
Dr. Marvil: It was a 100-bed hospital.
Bill Frank: Where was that?
Dr. Marvil: That's what I couldn't find out. I asked everyone where the Fifth Infantry Division was. I got the radiogram to join the Fifth Infantry. Where were they? We didn't know. They went through here yesterday. So we knew they had a certain line.
Bill Frank: Where were you when you got this radiogram?
Dr. Marvil: Near Brest.
Bill Frank: So you're looking for this legendary hospital?
Dr. Marvil: Well, it's a well-known division of the Third Army, the 20th Corps. So, we started. We drove as fast as we could. We had 20 vehicles and we didn't stop to put-up tents; we'd sleep on the ground in our bedrolls. If we saw a unit eating dinner or eating lunch, we'd stop and get in their chow line, and then go right back to the trucks. So, after several days, we caught up with them at Rheims, France.
Bill Frank: That's where the cathedral is.
Dr. Marvil: Yes.
Bill Frank: Is that where you found the hospital?
Dr. Marvil: That's where we found the Fifth Infantry Division. So, we stayed with them. Shortly after I arrived there, I was transferred to another hospital. A 1,000-bed hospital, front line hospital, the 100th Evac Hospital. I was Chief of Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat there. Then we moved to a school in the town of Thionville on the Meuse River. We stayed there until Patton had crossed the Rhine; then we were sent up to central Germany, to a town named Gotha. I stayed there about two weeks. At that time they were sending all the medical combat officers back to rear positions. About that time I had an order to join the 196th General Hospital, a 1,500-bed hospital at Cherbourg, France, but we didn't know where that was either.
Bill Frank: Well, you knew where Cherbourg was?
Dr. Marvil: I knew that, yes, but I didn't know where the 196th General
Hospital was. I didn't know it was in Cherbourg then. Our Colonel said,
Okay, you're ordered to the 196th unit hospital. I said, Well, what
should I do? He said, Well, I'll give you a choice. I'll give you a
jeep and you can start looking for it yourself, or you can go up to
the airfield (we always had an airfield within a mile) and you can get
on a plane and go to
Dr. Flinn: Had you found practice quite different after you came back from when you left?
Dr. Marvil: Yes. The first penicillin came to us when I was in England, just getting ready to board the ship for France. Someone came up and gave me a box. I said, What's that? He said, Penicillin, and you should have enough to last you several days with your hospital at full capacity. Well, I didn't open it until we got to France.
Dr. Flinn: That's when we used to give 3,000 units by injection per dose.
Dr. Marvil: We gave 10,000 units per dose. Every patient in the hospital got 10,000 units, no matter what his condition was, or what the complaints were. The Chaplain would sleep in the admission tent so that he would be there if needed.
Dr. Flinn: Now we think nothing of giving it in the millions of units per dose.
Dr. Marvil: Yes, several millions sometimes.
Bill Frank: You came out with what rank?
Dr. Marvil: Lieutenant Colonel with a terminal leave promotion.
Bill Frank: What's a terminal leave promotion?
Dr. Marvil: Well, when you're discharged from the army, that's terminal leave, and we were eligible for one notch promotion.
Bill Frank: During all this time, did you do much treating?
Dr. Marvil: I did a great deal. In the Aleutians, I did all the eye, ear, hose and throat work for the U.S. Navy installation. And at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, I did a lot of surgery at the hospital.
Dr. Flinn: You hardly had enough time to get your office set up before you moved someplace.
Bill Frank: What did you do in France?
Dr. Marvil: In France, I was Chief of Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery.
Bill Frank: Was that administration?
Dr. Marvil: No, actual work. When I was with the 100th Evac Hospital, that was where the busy work was done because we were a front line hospital and always within the sound of shooting, five miles away, something like that.
Dr. Flinn: When you came back and started in practice again, how did the living conditions in Laurel and Sussex County compare with ten years before or five years before?
Dr. Marvil: In 1945, there was no drastic change, but in 1952 Seaford
Hospital was built six miles away. In 1948, I decided to build a little
hospital of my own. I was having difficulty with Beebe Hospital pediatric
ward. It wasn't large; it held a few cribs.
Bill Frank: This was at Beebe?
Dr. Marvil: At Beebe. So, I bought a large building in Laurel and put a hospital on the second floor. I had 15 beds. The patients came in Monday morning at 7:00 o'clock and we did the operations. Dr. W. Pierce Ellis gave the anesthetics. We had a laboratory there sufficient for our purposes. We did hemoglobin, urinalysis, clotting time, that sort of thing. In five years I did 1,500 tonsillectomies there in that hospital.
Dr. Flinn: Now they don't do that quite as often as they used to.
Dr. Marvil: No, that's right.
Bill Frank: What did you name the hospital?
Dr. Marvil: The Marvil Hospital.
Bill Frank: How long did you have that?
Dr. Marvil: I kept it until my nurse, who ran it for me, got married. She was a war widow and finally found a second husband.
Bill Frank: What year was that?
Dr. Marvil: 1956.
Bill Frank: You opened it when?
Dr. Marvil: I opened it in 1948 and I had it for five years, plus 1953. Seaford Hospital was already built. They had ample facilities. I really didn't need my hospital then. In the meantime, Beebe had enlarged and built a new pediatric ward. I really had no use for my hospital then, so I closed it.
Bill Frank: Where was this hospital located in Laurel?
Dr. Marvil: Right in the center of town, across from the post office.
Bill Frank: What type building was it?
Dr. Marvil: It was a large building. It was built in 1904 and it used to be a private home.
Dr. Flinn: When did you finally retire?
Dr. Marvil: 1981.
Dr. Flinn: But in the meantime you were sailing, weren't you?
Dr. Marvil: Oh, yes. I had a pleasure boat and I did a lot of cruising and fishing with it.
Bill Frank: You had a skipjack too, didn't you?
Dr. Marvil: Well, I had a modified bugeye for two years, but I found the bugeye cabin was so small you couldn't have much comfort in it. So we bought a larger boat, a motorboat, with a larger cabin.
Dr. Flinn: What kind of fishing did you do?
Dr. Marvil: Well, at that time, we'd catch trout, hardhead, and bluefish.
Bill Frank: You've looked at M.A.S.H., haven't you?
Dr. Marvil: Yes.
Bill Frank: How do you feel when you look at M.A.S.H? How does it compare to what you've been through?
Dr. Marvil: M.A.S.H. is an exaggeration of everything, but it has to be to make it interesting. We didn't have the female fringe benefits seen on M.A.S.H. We didn't fraternize with the nurses the way they do.
Bill Frank: Did it make you furious about what they may have been overemphasizing?
Dr. Marvil: No, I don't think so.
Bill Frank: How is the medical angle in M.A.S.H?
Dr. Marvil: I think the medical angle is good. I think they did pretty well on that.
Bill Frank: Did it make you nostalgic?
Dr. Marvil: No, I wouldn't say so. I enjoyed seeing it. I wouldn't take a million dollars for my experience, but I wouldn't give a nickel for another one.
Dr. Flinn: When did you start your historical interests?
Dr. Marvil: About 1960.
Bill Frank: What started you on that?
Dr. Marvil: Well, I've been interested in history for many years. My grandfather was a shipbuilder in Bethel, Delaware. Many people asked me about ships built by my grandfather when I was a child. About 1948, a very close friend said, You should really write all this material, get it down on paper. So I did. At that time, I was spending a lot of time in Lewes. We had a place at the seashore in the summer. I had several friends who were pilots who invited me to go up the river with them and come back with them, which I did. I thought, Well, I should keep notes about wooden shipbuilding. Furthermore, no one had ever made records of the piloting. So, I thought, Well, I have enough to get out a small pamphlet or small volume. Soon I found I had more material than I could use in a book.
Bill Frank: You wrote two books?
Dr. Marvil: In 1961, Sailing Rams was published. In 1965, Pilots of the Bay and River Delaware appeared. Another edition of that book appeared five years later, in 1970.
Bill Frank: What's the difference between the Marvils and the Marvels?
Dr. Marvil: All the same family. I get -el on a lot of things. I went down to the National Archives to look up Governor Marvel, who was governor of Delaware for a few months in 1890. He died in office. Well, he was listed as a shipbuilder.
Bill Frank: Governor Marvel? Really?
Dr. Marvil: He was a contractor. The story that Miss Nan Campbell told me was that he was a brilliant, but illiterate, man. He was taught to read and write by Minos Dulaney, a colored ship carpenter. I always thought that Minos Dulaney built the ships. I have some of Minos Dulaney's things that Miss Nan Campbell gave me. He wrote his time books with very nice handwriting. When I went to Washington to look up these things at the National Archives, I found that he signed his name in several different ways. In Laurel, he spelled it -il, but on ship certificates it was -el, -ii, -ell, or -elle. From conversations I've had with Judge David Marvel, I understand that Marvels are all the same family. I've decided that, no matter how you spell it, it's all the same family.
Bill Frank: What about your own family?
Dr. Marvil: I have one daughter, no sons.
Bill Frank: What's her name?
Dr. Marvil: Trennick.
Bill Frank: Is that the last name or the first name?
Dr. Marvil: First name.
Bill Frank: Where did you get that name?
Dr. Marvil: We had a very good friend who lived in Montreal, Canada, whose name was Trennick Bates. My wife decided she wanted to name her for Trennick Bates, so she did.
Bill Frank: Is she married?
Dr. Marvil: Married, and her husband is a Captain in the United States Navy. They live in San Diego now.
Bill Frank: What is her last name?
Dr. Marvil: Elliott. Captain George M. Elliott.
Bill Frank: Do they have any children?
Dr. Marvil: They have a daughter, Kristin. She will be 22 in December and is getting married next week.
END OF INTERVIEW
James E. Marvil, M.D.: Bibliography