In 1946, coal was still the largest energy source for the United States and the demand for coal was high. When the bituminous coal mine workers went on strike that year it was no surprise that the effects were immediate and impactful. Across the United States there were brownouts and the reduction of coal-powered freight shipments led to nationwide shortages of food, fuel and other goods. In response, President Harry Truman took control over U.S. coal mines placing them under the Secretary of Interior.
Eight days after government seizure of the mines, and 59 days after the strike began, the Federal Government conceded to the demands of the United Mine Workers of America. The resulting Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (AKA, the Krug-Lewis agreement) included a reduction of the coal miners’ work week from six to five days, an increase in wages by 18 ½ cents an hour, workmen’s compensation, a medical and hospital fund contributed by wage deduction, and an unprecedented nation-wide survey of “hospital and medical facilities, medical treatment, sanitation, community facilities and housing” in coal mining areas. Enter Navy Medicine.
In 1946, Rear Admiral Joel T. Boone, Medical Corps, USN was tasked with leading a medical survey of U.S. bituminous coal mines and coal towns—the first ever conducted by the Federal Government. The effort resulted in the seminal publication, A Medical Survey of the Bituminous-Coal Industry.
The Indispensable Admiral:
In Spring 1946, Rear Adm. Joel Boone was serving as the Inspector of Medical Department Activities for the Pacific Coast, in San Francisco, Calif. At this point, Boone had already charted a storied 32-year career. He had served on tours with the Marines in France and Haiti, as physician to three presidents, commanding officer of Medical Treatment Facilities, and the Medical Officer of the Third Fleet. He realized his latest assignment was surely a twilight tour or else a stepping stone to the position of Surgeon General. Certainly, with Vice Admiral Ross McIntire retiring later in the year, it was not too bold to think of Boone as a fitting successor. His distinguished service record was heavily burnished with ribbons, citations, and medals that made him the most visible candidate and the most decorated Navy medical officer in history.
Serving across the country from “the seat of political power” was a change of pace for Dr. Boone. The West Coast assignment also gave him and his wife Helen ample opportunity to see their daughter Suzanne and her family in nearby San Mateo. On Sunday, May 26, 1946, the Boones took the short drive to their daughter’s house. Suzanne met them with a look of grave concern. “Dad, Admiral McIntire just telephoned. He said it’s urgent.”
Boone may have wondered if Dr. Ross McIntire—the Navy Surgeon General—was reassigning him, or perhaps there was an impending announcement on the selection of the next Surgeon General.
Dr. Boone’s call was answered by Admiral McIntire’s calm but firm tone. “Joel, I can’t tell you exactly what this is about over the phone, but I call tell you it is related to the new Federal Coal Mines Administration. We’re going to need you to come to Washington right away.”
Historically, the Federal Coal Mines Administration (FCMA) existed in times of war. It was now being re-activated because of the Bituminous Coal Strike of 1946. As negotiations between coal labor and management stretched into its seventh week and “brownouts” becoming increasingly common throughout the nation, President Truman stepped into the tempered fray. On May 21, 1946, Truman issued “Executive Order 9728” authorizing his Secretary of the Interior Julius A. Krug to seize all mines while re-establishing the FCMA to oversee coal operations. Negotiations now continued between FCMA—headed by Secretary Krug—and United Mine Workers (UMW) president, John L. Lewis. To aide in negotiations, the administration designated Admiral Ben Moreell to serve as FCMA’s Deputy Director and Administrative Officer.
As the former Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and father of Navy Construction Battalions (better known as “Seabees”), Moreell was already a national figure by 1946. In World War II, “King Bee” Moreell earned the high opinion of many politicians for his affable and direct approach and by the end of the war he had been promoted to four-star admiral, becoming the first non-Naval Academy graduate to achieve such a rank. Back in 1943, then Senator Harry Truman called upon Moreell to help negotiate a deal with striking oil refinery workers. Now as a proven “energy resource negotiator,” Truman now needed his services again in 1946.
Eight days after government seizure of U.S coal mines, and 59 days since the strike began, Krug and Moreell finally conceded to the UMW’s demands. Major provisions in the “Krug-Lewis Agreement” included a reduction of the coal miners’ work week from six to five days, an increase in wages by 18 ½ cents an hour, workmen’s compensation, a medical and hospital fund contributed by wage deduction, and an unprecedented nation-wide survey of “hospital and medical facilities, medical treatment, sanitation, community facilities and housing” in coal mining areas.
When Dr. Boone reported to the Surgeon General’s office on May 28th—a day before the Krug-Lewis agreement was signed—he learned that Moreell had specifically requested him to serve as Medical Advisor to the Federal Coal Mines Administration and Director of a Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry. Moreell gave Admiral Boone free rein over his duties and implementation of the medical survey, which would be the first of its kind.
Some Assembly Required:
Admiral Boone was responsible for assembling and organizing a “coal survey staff” as he saw fit. Or as Ben Moreell put it to Boone, “You envision it, plan it as you see fit, and direct it and operate it according to your own convictions.”
Boone’s only orders were to keep the Federal Coal Mines Administration (FCMA) informed and to make the agency “look good.” As Moreell explained, “It is intended that this survey should determine the steps which must be taken to establish medical, housing and sanitary facilities in the mining areas that will bring them up to the standards recognized as proper for American communities.”
Secretary Krug announced Boone’s selection at the press conference on May 31, 1946. “I believe,” Krug said, “that the Coal Mines Administration can make substantial contributions to the future prosperity of the coal industry, and the betterment of the miners, by ascertaining at first-hand what is needed to improve living conditions and then by providing the leadership to carry out the recommendations made by Rear. Adm. Boone. “The welfare of the miners,” he added “is the concern of the American people and their Government.”
Boone’s first task was to build a team to undertake the daunting task. He was assigned Capt. Charles T. Dickeman, CEC, U.S.N., a housing expert with the Seabees to serve as engineering consultant. As his administrative officer, Boone recruited a Supply Corps officer named Cmdr. John Balch, USNR. A former Hospital Corpsman, Balch had served with Boone in the 6th Marine Regiment in World War I and like Boone was a Medal of Honor recipient. The Surgeon General authorized Boone to call upon personnel in the Navy Medical Department to serve as preventive medicine experts. Notable among this group was Cmdr. Julius Amberson, Medical Corps, U.S.N., a former mining engineer-turned preventive medicine specialist.
In all, Boone’s Medical Survey Group consisted of headquarters staff including statistician Lt. Charles Curtis, Hospital Corps (Officer), and Public Relations Officer Allen Sherman…