Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Surgeon General of the United States Navy William K. Van Reypen to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long

Washington, D.C., 

April 25, 1898.

S I R :-

     As the Ambulance Ship “SOLACE” is about to be assigned to service, and as this is the first vessel fitted out by any government, under the terms of the Geneva Convention,1 I would respectfully request that a General Order be issued by the Department announcing the status of the “SOLACE”, and that it is the intention of the Government of the United States to maintain the neutrality of the vessel and her equipment.

     The Minister from Switzerland2 has informed me that he will report to his government the fitting out of the “SOLACE” and her contemplated neutrality, and that this information will be transmitted by Switzerland to the other subscribing nations.

     I venture to offer a few suggestions in relation to the terms of the order:

     The “SOLACE” having been fitted, and equipped, as an ambulance ship for the Naval Service under the terms of the Geneva Convention, is at present assigned to duty in the North Atlantic Squadron. The Geneva Cross flag will be flown, in addition to the National flag. The neutrality of the vessel will under no circumstances be changed, nor will any change be made in her equipment without the authority of the Secretary of the Navy. No guns, ammunition, or articles contraband of war, except coal or stores necessary for the movement of the vessel, shall be placed on board, nor shall the vessel be used as a transport for the carrying of despatches, or officers, or men, not sick or disabled, other than those belonging to the Medical Department.

     Information as to the special work for which the “SOLACE” is intended will be communicated to the Commanding Officer of the Squadron3 by the Surgeon-General of the Navy.

Very respectfully,               

M. K. van Reypen            

Surgeon-General, U.S. Navy.

Source Note: TDS, DNA, AFNRC, M625, roll 129. Addressed below close: “The Secretary of the Navy.” Note: The stationery on which the document is typed features the seal of the United States Navy Department Bureau of Medicine in the middle of the header. Document also features references: “(J.W.R.)” and “40468.”

Footnote 1: “Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded Armies in the Field” (1864) obligated all combatants to care for the sick and wounded regardless of their affiliation. It also established the neutrality of all medical personnel and mandated that a red flag should be flown over medical facilities to mark them as non-combatant. Dietrich Schindler and Jiří Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflicts: A Collection of Conventions, Resolutions, and Other Documents (Geneva: Henry Dunant Institute, 1988), 279.

Footnote 2: Switzerland’s Ambassador to the United States J.B. Poida.

Footnote 3: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

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