One of my dad’s older brothers was an Army medic during World War II and had a job you don’t usually associate with medics. He wasn’t on any battlefields mending the wounded. Instead, he worked with psychiatric patients stateside.
I got Frank Venditta’s story on tape in 1998 at his home in Malvern, Pa.
After going to Panama soon after the U.S. entered the war and spending almost 28 uneventful months there, Uncle Frank came home in 1944 and was reassigned to Mason General Hospital on Long Island. Rented by the Army, Mason General was a surgical-medical-psychiatric center where patients included German and Italian prisoners of war with mental problems. Uncle Frank worked on the seventh floor with the worst cases, the most troubled American soldiers.
“That’s where the electroshock therapy was given,” he said. “I hear they’re coming back with that shit now. Three times a week, we’d take the guys out, kicking and screaming and hollering, tie them down. It took four of us to hold them down. Electroshock, volts of electricity. Some would wake up, look around and say, ‘Where the hell am I?’ ‘New York, Mason General Hospital.’ ‘How’d I get here?’ They’d be perfect after seven or eight treatments. Others, it never did any good for them.”Uncle Frank would have preferred to serve overseas in the war – many of his buddies had been shipped there — but he stayed at Mason General. That’s where he met his wife-to-be, Florence Prebe, a medical technician who worked on the fifth floor helping troubled U.S. servicewomen.
“I was in the mess hall one morning,” Frank said, “and I seen this nice-looking blonde walking across, standing in the chow line. I said, ‘Well, let me take a look.’ Oh Christ, I never saw anybody eat so much as her.”
“I heard that, Frank,” his wife called from the kitchen.
“You were a chowhound, Florence, believe me!” he called back.
Florence, whose nickname was Dutchy, was from Philadelphia and served in the Women’s Army Corps. She had seen Frank at lunch a few times and noted he was a handsome guy usually surrounded by four or five nurses. He’d say to her, “I saved you a seat,” and she’d answer, “No thanks.” They finally hooked up when Dutchy was trying to assemble a new coffee machine on her floor and asked Frank for help.
Another time, I’ll tell you Aunt Dutchy’s war story.
Uncle Frank, who had made his living as a construction manager, had a stroke in 1999. He died in November 2002, a month after his 83rd birthday.
Here’s the link to his wartime biography I posted on the National World War II Memorial website: