Vintage military ambulance brings back memories for local veteran

1955 M43 military ambulance parked at the Beaumont Emergency Center

When Harold Haines, 71, of Beaumont saw a 1955 M43 on a local news broadcast, he said it brought back fond memories of his military service during the Cold War.

On the weekend before Halloween, Haines, who was a medic in the Army and stationed in Kitzingen, Germany, from 1965-1967, visited the Beaumont Emergency Center at 4004 College St., where the vehicle is parked. Haines, who once drove that same type of ambulance himself, said he had to see it firsthand.

“We called them ‘cracker boxes,’” Haines said. “It was a general-purpose ambulance. We treated the soldiers, but we also treated the dependents of the soldiers as well.

“We had a lot of bona fide emergencies like fights and traffic wrecks. Sometimes when it would snow, we would have so many injuries from people falling. We were in an outpost, and the main hospital was in Würzburg, and so many times we would have to transport people from Kitzingen to Würzburg for real serious treatment. We used those ambulances quite extensively. We’d have a lot of on-post calls as well as off-post calls. … I remember one night a guy got stabbed at the EM Club and we almost lost him.”

The ambulances weren’t the fastest or most comfortable either, Haines was quick to point out, but they served the purpose really well.

“They were slow, and brother, were they cold,” he said. “It would take forever to warm them up. And when you go pick someone up, naturally, they’re cold. … In Germany, it’s always cold. If you put your finger on a globe on the United States and Canadian border and spin the globe around you would almost dissect where I was stationed in Germany.”

The vehicles were slow and could only reach speeds of around 55 mph, Haines said.

“It was probably a good thing because we were young. You know how kids are,” he said, pointing out that the cobblestone streets of Germany were slick.

Marketing Director Roni Stephenson said Beaumont Emergency Center owner Richard Yount purchased the display ambulance because he believes it to be a symbolic piece of history that shows the evolution of medical transport.

“We don’t really know if it was in service in the States or another country,” Stephenson said. “But the design was really the catalyst for our emergency transportation today.”

Before the 1970s, hearses were often used to transport people in cases of medical emergency and served as city ambulances. The ambulances had space for the patient to lie down but lacked room for an attendant to ride in the back with them.

“This particular style (the M43) was the catalyst that actually began insurance coverage for medical transport because there was room for personnel to work on a patient,” she said. “This made it to where if you did have this type of vehicle, your insurance company would cover it. … This made emergency care what it is today. … It was very symbolic for Richard to have this first ambulance style that created the coverage and the transportation that we have, being an emergency facility.”

Haines, who retired last year after a career in drafting, said especially on Veterans Day, it’s important to remember those who served and sacrificed.

“Anybody that cherishes the freedom that we have in these United States should thank a veteran, because freedom, as the saying goes, isn’t free,” he said. “The price of freedom was bloodshed down through the ages, no matter what war it was. There are veterans who paid the ultimate price so others could enjoy life.”

Stephenson said the public is welcome to come see the ambulance, and she is happy to open it up for views of the inside, as well.