There was one hospital ship that provided the United States with exceptional service through wartime and peacetime. That ship was the USS Consolation in wartime; and, renamed the SS HOPE for her peacetime service. She sailed the seas for 30 years bringing medical help to thousands, and her story is unequaled.
The USS Consolation was a Haven Class Navy Hospital Ship (AH-15) that was built in 1944 and commissioned on May 22, 1945. She provided war services for the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1946 and from 1950 to 1955. She was 520 feet in length and 71 feet 6 inches at the beam. Her geared turbine, single screw engine provided a maximum speed of 17.5 knots. The USS Consolation carried a crew of 564 with a patient capacity of 800.
Upon being commissioned, the USS Consolation embarked from the east coast sailing to Wakayama, Honshu, Japan where it was joined by the Sanctuary (AH-15). There they set up shore screening and field hospitals for World War II Allied Forces who were POWs in Japan. In mid-September 1945, the Consolation transported 1,062 patients to Okinawa for transfer into Untied States hands. She returned to Wakayama to serve as the station hospital for the 5th Fleet when she was ordered back to Okinawa a month later to the treat victims of a typhoon that ravished the island. She returned to Nagoya, Japan as station hospital for both the 5th and 6th Fleet.
After a brief overhaul in San Francisco, in late November of 1945, the USS Consolation transported sailors and patients from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, for a three month period, before returning to the east coast of the United States.
The Consolation was on temporary duty with the Naval Transportation Service moving dependents from the Canal Zone to New York, until October 1946, when she was ordered to inactive status, anchoring at Hampton Roads.
In July 1950, the USS Consolation was pulled out of the mothballs and dispatched to the Korean War. She anchored at Pusan, Korea to care for wounded military and civilians of the Allied U.N. Forces. She also provided medical services for the military operations in Inchon, Wonsan, and Hungnam.
In June 1951, the Consolation reported to San Diego, California for a four month overhaul and retrofit. She returned to Pusan, Korea outfitted with a helicopter landing platform attached to the aft deck. She was the first hospital ship to receive wounded direct from the battlefield via helicopter. The hospital ship remained in Korea after the truce was declared, to provide care for the United Nations forces that stayed on station.
In 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) was founded. The USS Consolation was donated to Project HOPE and renamed SS HOPE. Her mission was to provide care and train locals, to deliver basic medical care in underdeveloped countries. Before embarking on the first of its 11 voyages, the HOPE was retrofitted with a special piece of equipment called “The Iron Cow.” This device distilled seawater, added milk solids and butterfat to that water producing 2,500 gallons of milk per day to fulfill the needs for nourishment. The HOPE remained in service until she was retired in 1974 and sold for scrapping a year later.
Not only did this Haven Class Hospital Ship have a history that was unparalleled by any other, but it was known for a number of firsts:
*First Hospital Ship to serve U.N. Forces in the Korean War.
*First hospital ship to receive wounded direct from the battlefield via helicopter
*First to return battle casualties to the U.S. from Korea
*First to incorporate a female Medical Officer on staff. She was Lt. Commander Bernice R. Walters, the first female Medical Officer to serve at sea.
*First to use an Electroencephalograph machine at sea.
*First hospital ship with a blood bank as standard equipment.
*First hospital ship with a helicopter landing pad.
*As the SS HOPE, she was the first peacetime hospital ship.
This is a rather odd slice of military history of which most of us would be unaware. I was raised with the story of the USS Consolation because my father was very proud to have served as a Navy Corpsman on this ship, in 1945/46. Dad, this is in your memory.