March 17, 2008

Edward Ferreri, D.D.S., '40: last survivor of first medical/dental responders in WWII

Edward Ferreri

At the dawn of World War II, approximately 200 members of the Cleveland medical, dental and nursing community left their homes at a moment's notice to answer their country's call. The only medical/dental corps survivor, Edward Ferreri, D.D.S., '40, was deployed in early 1942 with other members of the 4th General Hospital—Lakeside Unit. While Dr. Ferreri and his colleagues had to mobilize quickly, formation of the unit was hardly slap-dash. In the spring of 1940, Western Reserve University (WRU) School of Medicine Dean Torald Sollman, M.D. received a letter from the U.S. Surgeon General requesting the establishment of a medical unit staffed by medical school faculty and associated hospitals.

On Christmas Eve 1941, the Surgeon General telephoned the unit director in Cleveland, and "offered the 4th General Hospital the opportunity and honor of being the first general hospital to be sent out to foreign duty in World War II," according to the book that the members of the unit put together after the war, Fourth General Hospital, 1942 to 1945. In those three years, the hospital admitted more than 46,000 patients. The 4th followed in the footsteps of its illustrious predecessor, Base Hospital No. 4, which was sent in with the first American troops to land in France during World War I.

Ferreri's saga

"The Cleveland doctors were the first in World War I, and they did such a good job that the government asked them to serve in World War II," explains Dr. Ferreri. And serve they did, with 56 doctors and 125 nurses. How did Dr. Ferreri get involved? "The army was shy two dentists with hospital training," he explains. "Hospital training ultimately saved me from the infantry. I was in the first military draft, which started in 1939. I received a deferment for a year because I was in an oral surgery residency program at what was then City Hospital in Cleveland.

"I approached the dental reserve corps in 1939, but they weren't taking applications," says Dr. Ferreri. "Then I tried to get into the Navy. I was deemed 6 pounds underweight. I went to a dietitian, who put me on a high-vitamin, high-caloric diet. Two weigh-ins later, I was still 1 pound underweight. It was looking like I was going to be a private in the army. But fate would intervene. "In August 1941, Dean Wendell Wylie of the dental school told me there was an opening at the Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry in Richmond. I interviewed there and was hired immediately."

Meanwhile, Pearl Harbor changed everything, and Dr. Ferreri's weight was no longer an issue. "In early January 1942, I received a call from Dr. Henry Toomey [4th General's chief of dentistry], telling me that I was needed. Then on January 17, I received a telegram from Joseph Wearn, M.D. , of the WRU medical school. 'Your commission has come through as first lieutenant in the dental corps. Wire your acceptance to the Surgeon General.' Which I did, on a Wednesday. On Saturday of the same week, I received a call from the headquarters of the colonel stationed at the 5th Corps, U.S. Army, Columbus, Ohio. They told me to report to the Brooklyn, N.Y., port of embarkation by [the next day]. I got a [military] uniform that afternoon and was at the port by 9 am. The next day. I was told, 'Edward Ferreri, your task force unit number [is] 1414Z.' I didn't know where I was going once I left New York." He ended up going halfway around the world, to Melbourne, Australia.

Down-under Clinic

"The Aussies were happy to see us," says Dr. Ferreri (who was honorably discharged as a captain). "Our first Marine division came to our hospital—the brand new Royal Melbourne Hospital—for medical and dental care. They loved the attention, and the pass to come to town. I spent a year in Melbourne. When we received orders that someone had to go to the Oro Bay, at the 362nd station hospital in New Guinea, 3 degrees off the equator, I went.

"The hospital facility was primitive," says Dr. Ferreri. "The ward was a slab of concrete, 200 feet by 30 feet. It was supported by posts. It had a tin roof, no sides. The surgery suite was like a MASH unit. When I got there, we had no electricity to run the dental drill. I had to have a man operate a foot treadle while I worked. It wasn't too long before we got electricity." After about a year in New Guinea, Dr. Ferreri developed a staph infection. He was sent back to the 4th General Hospital as a patient. "I never did serve with the 4th General; after 24 shots of penicillin, I was sent back to the United States," he explains. "After I healed, I was sent to Ft. Lewis in Washington state. I then went to Camp Adair in Oregon, where I served as the chief oral surgeon for 5,000 soldiers."

Wartime experiences are seminal for many who serve. Dr. Ferreri notes, "I went 40,000 miles around the world. I had a general, officers and enlisted men as my patients. After that experience, I felt comfortable talking to anyone—presidents to paupers. To all those relatives of the members of the 4th General Hospital I would say that I felt very fortunate to serve with so many experts in the fields of medicine, dentistry and nursing.

"These people were so talented that General Douglas MacArthur chose Maj. Roger Egeberg, M.D., one of the original officers of the 4th, as his personal family physician during this period. Dr. Egeberg wrote a book about this experience, General Macarthur and the Man He Called 'doc'.

Dr. Ferreri resides in East Cleveland, Ohio, at the A.M. McGregor Home, an independent living facility on 32 wooded acres where, he says, "I have no neighbors except wild deer and turkeys." He lives with Jeanne, his wife of 58 years. The couple has seven daughters and one son.

First in the first war, first in war again…

The 4th General Hospital—Lakeside Unit, which served during World War II—was initially commissioned by the U.S. War Department on October 1, 1933. This action proved prophetic. It also acknowledged the past sacrifice and professionalism of doctors and nurses from Western Reserve University and the Cleveland area who had served in the Great War.

During World War I, the U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 4—Lakeside Unit—was sent overseas with the first American troops deployed to Europe. The unit provided medical care for Allied troops between 1917 and 1919 in Rouen, France. The Cleveland/Western Reserve leadership was evident early on. In 1915, a surgical team from Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland, headed by George W. Crile, M.D., volunteered to serve at the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris.

Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Crile and the American Red Cross (Cleveland chapter) prepared a plan for making U.S. civilian hospital staffs available for overseas military service. The Red Cross organized base hospital units at 25 hospitals across the country. The hospitals fell under War Department jurisdiction when the country went to war.

Lakeside Hospital signed an agreement in 1916 pledging to staff a 500-bed army hospital. Medical officers received army commissions, and nurses were enrolled in the Red Cross. When the war came, these brave men and women answered the call.

Source: Adapted from The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Accessible at

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, March 17, 2008 12:34 PM | News Topics: Alumni, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Public Policy/Politics, School of Dental Medicine, School of Medicine, features

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