The Little Hospital That Could

A Personal Recollection of the 24th Medical Group at the Crossroads of History

Non-Fiction - Historical
299 Pages
Reviewed on 01/07/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Gisela Dixon for Readers' Favorite

The Little Hospital That Could: A Personal Recollection of the 24th Medical Group at the Crossroads of History by Terrence O'Neil is a military memoir that details Terrence’s experiences while managing the operations of the 24th Medical Group that served during the Panama Canal handover. The book starts off with an introduction by Terrence to the scope of the project, its historical background, and how he came to be at the place in action at that time. What follows after that is a detailed narrative of his experiences as well as of some others as they worked towards making the Panama Canal handover a peaceful and seamless one for both sides. Included are many stories of actual events, people, and places that occurred during this two-year period including dealing with extreme weather, managing local politics, understanding the climate and the people, etc.

The Little Hospital That Could by Terrence O'Neil is a good book to read for information purposes as not many people are probably even aware of this massive operation and how important it was to manage it as seamlessly as possible. I liked reading the actual stories and experiences of the day to day life there, both in the military as well as a civilian living among the locals. I did find the book a bit technical at times, with elaborate military terminology and descriptions, which can make for dry reading, but others might find it fascinating. Overall, Terrence clearly writes with a passion for the cause and his detailed writing style reflects this. The photographs included and the names of actual people who worked there during that time adds a nice touch to this book.

Jack Magnus

The Little Hospital That Could: A Personal Recollection of the 24th Medical Group at the Crossroads of History is a nonfiction military history memoir written by Terrence O'Neil. In 1997, the author had been the squadron commander for the 60th Medical Operations Squadron at Travis Air Force Base for thirteen years, and he knew that his days there were numbered. O’Neil was being considered for a few new posts, including one in Turkey and another in North Dakota, but the one he ended up being assigned was at Howard Air Base in Panama. This was no routine assignment, however. Pursuant to the 1977 Carter-Torrijos Treaty, all US bases and military personnel would be leaving Panama by the end of 1999. Preparatory to that turnover, Gorgas Army Community Hospital, the major hospital serving the military community, was closed in 1997. O’Neil and his staff would be responsible for the health care of the 25,000 Active Duty personnel and their families still remaining in the country. They’d be doing so with an 18-bed facility and other medical facilities scattered amongst 16 different buildings.

The Little Hospital That Could is a well-written and fascinating account of the author and his family’s experiences during the last few years of the U.S. presence in Panama. I loved how O’Neil opens his story with his jog and then morning bicycle ride around his new environment, and he closes with that same attention to the amazing environment he had been able to experience. His descriptions of the jungle and the animals and insects found in that country are marvelous! The pictures he includes also really help to share his experiences with the reader and provide a basis for seeing the scope of his assignment. I began reading this book having very little knowledge of Panama and the Canal, and finished with a much fuller understanding of the original undertaking and the massive effort that O’Neil had to coordinate. O’Neil’s story is a compelling one that is hard to put down. The Little Hospital That Could: A Personal Recollection of the 24th Medical Group at the Crossroads of History is most highly recommended.

Keith Julius

In The Little Hospital That Could: A Personal Recollection of the 24th Medical Group At the Crossroads of History, author Terrence O'Neil presents a historical look at military involvement in Panama in the late 1990s. The US Government had mandated that by the end of 1999 all land belonging to the United States would return to Panamanian control. For the 25,000 military troops in the area – plus their extended families and the local people who supported and relied on the military base – these were difficult times. A smooth evacuation was imperative as the local hospital system was dismantled and shut down. At the same time, the troops remaining were relying on their medical needs to be met while surviving in a jungle environment. This included the troops monitoring air traffic who were responsible for intercepting drug-laden airplanes crammed with illegal contraband. As could be expected, the risks were high and the chance of injury was great. Rescue Operations, such as those that provided supplies and attention to the people devastated in October 1998 following the ravages of Hurricane Mitch, also emanated from the base.

Terrence O'Neil commanded the health care organization from early 1997 until the end of 1999. His story includes first-hand information that could only have been obtained by someone who had lived to see it. The Little Hospital That Could tells of the dedication of the personnel who not only lived at the base, but of those that depended on it for support during trying situations. The story within these pages is one of heroism and devotion to duty during a particularly trying situation. Though the pacing is slow at times, with much military description, the story is riveting nonetheless, presenting in telling detail an amazing chapter from American history. The story really moves when the author focuses more on individuals and their stories, rather than on the military machine as a whole. This behind the scenes look at life in a military operation, one running smoothly with very few hitches, is a must for any history buff. An amazing story.