Note: This entry was originally posted on a blog I created for my History of Medicine class final project during December 2012.
Doctors and nurses have lofty figures like Hippocrates and Florence Nightingale that they can point to as bastions of their fields, but as many medics lament, their field largely seems to lack famous names; instead, the field has as its media representation raunchy films like Mother, Jugs & Speed in the seventies and Paramedics in the eighties. Therefore, while visiting the Ernest Hemingway House in the Keys over Thanksgiving break this year, I was pleasantly surprised to learn on the guided tour that famous author served as an ambulance driver during World War I. You just don't get any better than Hemingway if you're wanting a culturally-respectable name to drop! (Although I'll admit that Hemingway's father was a physician.) Actually, I soon discovered that several literary figures served in that role during the war, including EE. Cummings.
The American Field Service and American Red Cross both ran volunteer ambulance services in Europe in World War I, although when the US entered the war in 1917, the former was rolled into the US Army Ambulance Corps.
Volunteering as an ambulance driver was actually a popular choice for upper class young men who wanted to take a part in the war, but either did not want to join the Army (which was beneath them or too dangerous) or who wanted to but were precluded due to health issues. In Hemingway's case, a poor left eye caused him problems. "I'll make it to Europe some way in spite of this optic. I can't let a show like this go on without getting into it," Hemingway explained to his sister.