German shell fire met William Brennick that June day in 1944. Brennick was among the first in the major wave of wounded soldiers who arrived at Cushing Hospital, a complex of 95 buildings created in Framingham to care for the wounded WWII soldiers returning from overseas.
William Brennick, too wet and sick from the rough and stormy English Channel that June day in 1944, couldn't think of the Germans as he approached the beaches of Normandy.
German shell fire met him and his fellow soldiers as they landed. He survived. Some didn't. As he moved inland, machine guns and mortars erupted. Pinned down in a field, a mortar shell blew off his right foot.
The private first class told his story during an interview shortly after his arrival. The account appeared in the Cushing Hospital magazine, "The Chart."
Brennick was among the first in the major wave of wounded soldiers who arrived at Cushing Hospital, a complex of 95 buildings created in Framingham to care for the wounded WWII soldiers returning from overseas.
It took more than a month for them to arrive at the Army medical facility, which specialized in neurosurgery.
"After triage on the front lines, depending on where they were, they may have gone to a field hospital, then a hospital ship, which took two weeks, and then they arrived at ports up and down the East Coast from Halifax to Charleston, S.C.," said Framingham's historian, Fred Wallace.
Hospital trains took the wounded for the final leg of their trip.
"There was a railroad spur that crossed Fountain Street that came up directly onto the hospital grounds," Wallace said.
While patients suffered from lost limbs, burns and brain and spinal cord injuries, the town of Framingham reached out to them.
"The community tried to adopt everyone at Cushing," said Irene Renner of Ashland, a nurse in training at the general hospital. "A lot of volunteers wheeled the patients to church or took them outside for fresh air and read and talked to them. Others from different church groups in the community brought baked goods and had a 'coffee time' with the patients."
At Christmas, different groups came and sang carols, and people from around the country made afghans for the patients, she said.
"Those are the little things that mean so much to people," Renner said. "People were very kind. Everyone had a family member who was away at war."
Renner worked at the hospital during the time the wounded arrived from Normandy. Patients arrived at night by train that came to the back of the hospital, she said.
Cedric Zakarian, another survivor of D-Day, was one of the patients treated at Cushing, the primary hospital designated as District 1, for New England patients.
Landing in Normandy, the paratrooper broke his right foot. "I crawled to a farmhouse," he said in July 1944 for "The Chart."
With German snipers in pursuit, the private jumped 15 feet from a window, landing on his good foot but breaking his hip. He lay in a ditch for four days before his rescue, he said.
With so many injured troops arriving, Cushing Hospital brought the war to Framingham.
"Several hundred people from the area were employed at Cushing," said Wallace. "There was a great outpouring of volunteers."
In addition to civilians, civic and veteran organizations helped out. A Catholic and Protestant chaplain served at Cushing Chapel, and B'nai B'rith played an active role taking care of Jewish patients.
"A bus shuttle ran to downtown which took medical personnel and ambulatory patients where they might have had a beer at the Blue Moon Cafe, next to the St. George Theater on Concord Street," Wallace said.
A big USO stood behind the Memorial Building. That location is now a parking lot.
While many patients arrived from the beaches of Normandy, some at the Army medical facility were injured in Italy. While doctors and physical therapy helped repair their bodies, amid the turmoil of war, some found love.
John Alfred Renner was one of them. He almost died in 1943 when a German bomb sank the sailor's ship in the Mediterranean Sea, but the near loss turned out to be a net gain when it led him to Cushing Hospital. There, he met Irene, the nurse, and they began their marriage of 62 years.
"A British hospital ship picked him up and he was sent to Cushing to recover," Irene Renner said. Eight months later they exchanged wedding vows.
"He was so handsome, the first time I met him, he took my breath away," she said about her husband, who died earlier this year.
After basic training at Fort Devens, Irene Renner worked in the operating room. She remembers fainting when she saw one of her first patients.
She regrouped after realizing, "I was thinking about how I felt, instead of how he felt," she said.
The Army broke ground in April 1943 for the 1,750-bed hospital, which opened in January 1944.
William Wernet, an EKG technician in the Army Medical Corps, arrived before completion of the 95 buildings.
"We set up the wards and the iron beds and sanded and finished the floors throughout the place," Wernet said. "With no quarters, they housed us at Devens, and brought us back and forth each day in an old Army ambulance."
Wernet's life changed at Cushing Hospital, where he met his wife, a cadet nurse, who worked at the Army facility.
A year later in 1945, they married at the Cushing Chapel.
While dating, the couple went to the Abner Wheeler House at Framingham Center for dinner and, per usual, the owner picked up the tab for the soldier.
"I have a lot of good memories of Cushing," said Wernet. "I enjoyed the people I worked with, but it was difficult to see the quadriplegics who were so young."
The Wernet couple lived in Ashland for 51 years, then they retired to Summerville at Farm Pond, next to Cushing Chapel, all that remains of the original 95 buildings. William Wernet's wife died earlier this year and he now lives in North Carolina.
Wernet's wife, nicknamed Tess, trained with Irene Renner, at King's County School of Nursing in Brooklyn, N.Y. They went to Cushing.
During the day, staff and patients congregated at in intersection of corridors called Times Square, near the auditorium where celebrities including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby entertained patients.
Charles DeAngelis, who lost an arm and had his legs crushed in Italy, had high praise for Cushing.
"It was a very nice hospital," he said. "Patients were treated great."
June Warren of Marlborough served for 18 months with the Women's Army Corps at the Army hospital until it closed in October 1953.
"Working at Cushing was quite an experience," said Warren, who updated personnel records there. "I was doing my part to help out. I helped the soldiers and met friends from all over the country."
She recalled working in the theater at Cushing one August night in 1945.
She does not remember the title of the movie, but she does remember they stopped the projector to make an announcement.
"The Japanese had signed the peace treaty," she said.
"Oh boy, everyone was elated," Warren added. "There were all kind of servicemen and sailors in town. They were celebrating in the streets. A car couldn't get through the streets. It was wonderful."
It was converted to a Veterans Administration Hospital in September 1946.
Before its closure, Gen. Douglas MacArthur visited some of the several hundred Cushing patients who were wounded in Korea. The hospital reopened as a nursing home in 1957, closed in 1991 and was demolished, replaced by Summerville at Farm Pond.
The property, maintained by the town of Framingham, is home to a tree-lined park where mothers and fathers push babies in strollers and runners and walkers abound.