El Paso Medical History
Summary of Interview
In this interview, J. Halbert (“Hal”) Gambrell shares his memories of his colorful family, early El Paso, and his military experiences during both World War II and the Korean War. Born in El Paso in 1920, Gambrell entered this world in the family home due to his physician father’s decision to avoid local hospitals overflowing with Spanish Influenza patients. His father had recently returned from service in France during World War I; earlier he had served under General Jack “Black” Pershing during the latter’s 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico in Pershing’s ill-fated attempt to capture Pancho Villa. Gambrell continues to relate the various historical events his father was involved with: the KKK’s entry into El Paso, the break-up of the city’s corrupt government “Ring,” as well as his father’s efforts to raise money for the construction of what became El Paso’s Providence Hospital. Gambrell reminisces about his father’s many interesting patients, from Detroit gangsters to Mexican smugglers. In addition, he discusses his mother’s family’s involvement in New Mexico’s ranching industry and his uncles’ business dealings with then Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall. Gambrell briefly discusses the El Paso of his youth, including the city’s streetcars, movie theaters, and the “little straight bridge” that separated El Paso from Juarez. Going on to talk about his military service, Gambrell talks about his World War II assignment as one of the White officers commanding the Tenth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, a segregated unit. Gambrell closes his interview by sharing details of his life after his retirement from the military; he speaks briefly about his first and second wives, his children, and his involvement in several local organizations including the Kiwanis Club and the Sheriff’s Posse.
Date of Interview
Length of Interview
Interview with J. Halbert Gambrell by Barbara Dent, 2008, "Interview No. 1624," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.