It’s no surprise that many people and groups across Southern California worked to make Christmas 1942 as happy as possible for injured sailors and recovering Marines at Norco Naval Hospital. Men were recovering there from injuries sustained at Pearl Harbor, as well as other battles including Midway, Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands that occurred during the first year of US involvement in World War II.
The hospital had been established just as Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941. By the end of its first year of operation, the facility had approximately 500-600 patients and 250 staff, including 30 officers and 35 nurses.
For many men it was their first Christmas away from home, and for all of them it was certainly their first Christmas spent recovering in a hospital. The doctors, nurses and corpsmen who cared for the patients were also going to be away from home for Christmas. In order to make it a joyful holiday for all, a mountain of gifts was given away, wrapped and piled around the Christmas tree in the hospital auditorium. Newspaper reports said the gifts were literally pouring into the Naval Hospital in December. The Santa Ana Navy Mothers’ Club also donated 100 small bedside trees for bedridden men.
On Christmas Eve 1942, a Christmas party was held for patients, staff and their families. Everyone there, which would have been 900 people or more, received a gift from the piles around the tree.
Probably the biggest hit that year among patients was also given by the Navy Mothers’ Club. It was a small yellow canary named “Bing”. The bird came with a note that read, “Hi Fellers, I’m Bing. I can’t say I like crooning very much, but you see I’m being taken care of and I’ll do my best. Bing’s note added that in addition to seeds and water, he would like a little lettuce or fruit every day.
The Riverside Daily Press said that of all the Christmas presents men received that year, Bing the canary was “unquestionably the cause of the biggest surprise and the biggest comment”. After a short consultation, it was decided that the best place for Bing to live was the hospital library. The temperature was uniform, and most patients and hospital staff regularly visited the library.
The newspaper went on to say that Bing seemed to like his new home, as he had the appetite of a boatswain and the activity of a serving hospital corpsman. Bing seemed to know where he lived, as he was reported to keep his singing canary at a moderate level, as befits a library.
All in all, with the large number of presents and a canary to entertain the men on their visits to the library, it seems that Christmas 1942 was memorable, in a good way, for patients and hospital staff. Norco Navy to 1942.
Many thanks to local historian and Norco City Council member Kevin Bash for his help with this article.
If you have an idea for a future Back in the Day column about a local historical person, place or event, contact Steve Lech and Kim Jarrell Johnson at [email protected]