What wars or famous battles did you serve in?
I served in World War II and was in the Battle of The Bulge at thesouthern end of the battle front, that was in France. We were a collecting company,a medical company attached to a division. We were the second stop from the front lines and we were attached to the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division. The Battalion Aid station was on the front line and they evacuated the wounded back to the collecting company. The collecting company sorted out the wounded, treated them the best they could and sent them back to the field hospitals, the third stop back. Ambulances evacuated the wounded from the front lines to the collecting companies and then from the collecting companies back to the field hospitals.
How did you become a medic? Was there special training?
Basically by virtue of the fact that I had just graduated from medical school and had finished up my internship which was shortened, due to the war. I went to Texas for six weeks for training in treating the types of cases that we'd be seeing and for basic military training.
Are there different types of medics? What's the difference between a medic and a doctor?
Of the about 30 people in our unit two of us were doctors and the rest were corpsmen. All of us were considered medics by the other soldiers, but the doctors were the only true medics. The corpsmen were assistants to the doctors, sort of like nurses, though the true nurses were back at the clearing companies. The corpsmen didn't have any medical school training, only the doctors did.
What kind of injuries did you mostly treat?
Whatever came through. We had gunshot wounds, trauma from explosions, extremities that were torn up or missing. We also encountered the same types of cases that you would see back here, like sprains and burns,abrasions, illnesses,etc.
What kind of medicine and instruments did you use?
Very simple. We used a scalpel to make an incision, but not usually.Usually the incision was already there. We used clamps and suture materials occasionally but usually we just loaded them in and put a bandage on them and didn't bother with trying to suture them up. You needed a clearing company or a hospital to do it correctly. We were not supposed to do this.We worked mostly with bandages and such. We gave medications, morphine and blood through intravenous setups and tried to stop any bleeding or other conditions that were detrimental. (Another story here) I remember one guy who came through and he had been shot in the groin. He was out like a light and bleeding heavily. We did everything we could, but his artery was so torn up that we just couldn't stop the bleeding. If we were further back, something could have been done for him, but our job was to stabilize them and send them back. We weren't equipped to perform any kind of surgical procedures or repairs.
Did medics get special protection? What happened if the medic got hurt?
Yeah, we had the red crosses on the trucks and the vans and different things that we used. (Were they honored?) Yeah, they were pretty much honored, but they couldn't be honored by the shrapnel overhead or the bombs coming in. We had to send our vehicles back to the clearing company for fresh supplies and such. I remember one time we sent a guy back and he came back in about 5 minutes. He'd been bombed by an enemy plane. His vehicle was tipped over and smashed and he was lucky to be alive. He had a little head wound, but nothing serious. (Should this next part be here or under stories? He said it here, so I'm typing it here.) They had these jet planes, the Germans. There weren't a lot, but they had a few of them...jet planes on the front. They'd go back and forth, and boy, they were scary. When you heard them, heard their motor, they were way off there, they were already gone. They were frightening.
If a medic got hurt they were sent back just like the others. And if a few went back, they'd send up some new ones, some replacements. We usually had enough there to take care of things, but every now and then we'd need a replacement, and they'd send someone up. They might be inexperienced or never having been in any battles, but mostly they'd be people who had been sent back, so they were familiar with the situation. Did you ever save a life? Well, yes..., you like to think you did by performing so many of those operations that we talked about. There weren't any dramatic situations like you might see on television. Did medics carry guns and fight like everyone else? No, medics were not allowed to carry guns. But, you knew where there was a gun handy in case you got overrun. Everybody had one hidden somewhere. ( Where'd you get them?) Well, they came along with the territory. Usually from the enemy. What happened with enemy soldiers? Did medics treat them too? Were they treated the same?
Oh yeah, the enemy soldiers were treated the same as all the others.You had to make sure they were totally disarmed and then you shipped them back the same way.They acted like any human being. They were grateful for being helped instead of just being shot. We had a guy in the outfit who spoke pure German and we conversed with them through him. Everyone of them came through with a guard, because they didn't want to take a chance with them shooting up the medical unit. Any stories about medics?
There was a fellow in the unit who had a brother in the South Pacific and one day we got word that his brother had been killed. It was the army's policy to ship back anyone who was in that situation where a brother had been killed in action. Everyday one of the corpsmen would go out on patrol with the fighting soldiers and this day it happened to be this guy's turn to go out. We tried to get him to stay and let someone else take his place, but he insisted on going out. He wouldn't hear of staying. Well, that day he ended up getting shot and killed, and he was the only in the patrol that day who did get killed. We all felt horrible about it, but he had insisted on going out.
Morphine story-- You had to use a little bit of common sense with morphine. What would happen is if it was cold up on the front lines and someone would get a dose of morphine and his circulation would be poor because of the cold and they'd be in shock.. They'd get back to the collecting company and they'd still be in pain because the circulation hadn't picked up the morphine to bring it to the brain to tell them there, =there's relief from your pain. So they'd get a couple of shots. Then they'd get picked up and brought inside and have a couple of warm blankets on them and their circulation would pick up and all of a sudden they'd be zonked right out. Everybody had a tag on them so you could monitor how much they'd been given and when they'd been given it. Then we had an antidote to give them if they did get an overdose.