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Position:Battlefield Surgery 101: From the Civil War to Vietnam


"Battlefield Surgery 101: From the Civil War to Vietnam." resents the highlights of the evolution of military surgical activities through a selection of photographs and 19th- and 20th-century artifacts--examining how the military operating room has evolved over time and changed with technological advances, and illustrating the challenges faced by the men and women who worked there.

"This exhibition really informs that connection, at the same time that it reveals a part of the military battlefield experience that is not often appreciated elsewhere," notes Adrianne Noe, president of the National Museum of Health and Medicine. "It is ... extremely timely ... given our current military engagements."


"Battlefield Surgery" consists of more than 100 photographs that document the wounds of soldiers and operations performed by military surgeons both on and near the battlefield. The photographs--many of which never have been seen before by the public--illustrate how the military operating room changed and improved from the Civil War (1860s) to Vietnam (1960s). The exhibit also includes a video that focuses on how the helicopter drastically altered military medical care by transporting wounded soldiers more quickly during the Vietnam and Korean wars, and how it later became an essential part of civilian trauma care.

"We picked the photographs that will be displayed because they cover roughly 100 years of military surgery, as well as illustrate interesting components of military medicine over that time frame," explains exhibition co-curator Mike Rhode, NMHM archivist. "The images, all of which will be accompanied by their original captions, document the medical advances that have so greatly decreased mortality in warfare, and illuminate yet another facet of the museum's long history of collecting military medical material."


The photographic portion of the exhibition includes three life-sized murals of photographs taken during the Civil War (1861-65), the Russo-Japanese War (1904), and the Korean War (1950-53). Each mural demonstrates the rates of medical advancement during the 19th and 20th...

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