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Introduction: A Medic's Role
I was a medic attached to 2nd platoon, C Battery, of the 225th during my entire tour of duty in Europe. When we were in the field, there was half of C Battery (117 men) that I would visit in their positions on a daily basis. I was their primary health-care provider. I would travel on a three-quarter-ton truck that carried rations and water to each searchlight/radar section every day to make my rounds. From June 1944 to December 1945 we moved from Omaha beach in France to Neubiberg in Germany. During this entire time, I never treated someone who was wounded by the enemy. This was a good thing.
Most of what I treated were routine problems encountered by our troops. These included treatment for colds, flu, sprained ankles, headaches, and injuries from working around the equipment. There was one incident where a telephone lineman got hold of a 3300-volt line. The current burned through his protective glove and deep into the palm of his hand. I was the first one on the scene. After emergency treatment, I transported him to the nearest field hospital where his hand was treated. He survived but never returned to duty with the 225th.
Another incident involved a man cleaning a German pistol he had taken as a souvenir. C Battery was in a German barracks and a group of guys ran up to me and said someone had been shot. I grabbed my first-aid kit and followed them to the scene. When I arrived, I saw a man lying in a bed who had been shot in the left side. He was on his back. I turned him over to look for an exit wound, which did not exist. I filled the wound with penicillin powder and wrapped it with a large bandage. I also had someone summon an ambulance. While I was administering treatment, the wounded soldier was telling me to write his mother and tell her what happened in the event he did not survive. The wound did not hit any vital organs and he survived, so I did not have to contact his mother with any bad news.
One of the primary jobs of the medical corps was preventative care to keep soldiers in the field. Early in my tour of duty we had a problem with wounds that were received by soldiers working on equipment that would not heal. The soldiers in our outfit were always in the field stringing wire, digging, sand bagging, and installing large radar and searchlight units. When these guys would get injured, we had problems with getting their wounds to heal rapidly. Our medical staff believed that the soldiers were not getting all the vitamins they needed, so they prescribed a dietary supplement of a multiple vitamin once a day. Once this started, this took care of the problem.
I was a T-5 Medical Technican attached to the 2nd Platoon of C Battery. I was transported to Europe on the Queen Mary along with 15,000 of my closest friends and neighbors in December 1943. On December 21, 1943, in New York Harbor, we were bussed to the loading dock. While we were waiting to board the Queen Mary, we saw hundreds of boxes of frozen turkeys being loaded onto our ship. We assumed that they were for the Christmas dinner for the troops on the Queen Mary. On Christmas day we heard President Roosevelt over the ship's loudspeaker assuring the American public that the armed forces of the United States would be enjoying wherever possible a Christmas turkey dinner. At dinner time on the 25th we were in line with our mess kits anticipating a turkey dinner. When I got to the front of the line, to my surprise and disappointment, I was served a greasy, half-done, cold pork chop. To this day, I don't understand why, on a boat that was loaded with turkeys, the 22,000 troops on board were served pork chops.
I was part of the 225th and assigned to the medical detachment for transportation. I had never had any training as a medic. During the trip over to Scotland, a captain gave me an orange and a syringe. so that I could practice giving shots to the orange. After I had become proficient at giving innoculations to an orange, I spent the next three days giving shots to troops on board the Queen Mary. There were 10 shots in every loaded syringe. After administering 10 shots the syringe was supposed to be empty. Sometimes it even worked out that way. I also knew when to change needles because when they were dull, the soldiers would jump a little higher then normal. My wife is a nurse. I think I gave more shots on those three days than she did in her entire nursing career!
On Christmas Day, we were listening to Franklin D. Roosevelt give his Christmas Fire Side Talk. In his quiet and assuring voice he declared " ... to all the mothers, sisters, and wives of loved ones, rest assured that you should not worry. Your loved ones are not on the High Seas this Christmas day." As I sat with a group of other GIs at one of the ship's loudspeakers, we listened to our President assure the folks back home that we were not on the high seas. We all agreed that since we were two days out on the North Atlantic, someone should tell the President about us.
About three of four days out, we were quite aware that the Queen Mary was not a luxury ship. Conditions on board were minimum plush. The ship had been stripped of all unnecessary items that would make life on board easy and comfortable. It was set up as a troopship to carry up to 15,000 troops and 2,000 crew members. Only the basics were left on board.
Bunk beds were stacked four or more high. This made climbing in and out of your bunk while the Queen rolled from side to side quite a feat of skill. Because the stabalizers had been removed from the ship, it was a little unsteady. This action caused a lot of the troops to be seasick. Because of all this sickness, the deck where I bunked became unbearable. The vital juices from the troops seemed to be everywhere. I took my blankets and went up on another part of the ship to a hall near what had been the drugstore. This hall was about 30 feet wide. One night while sleeping in the hallway, the ship made a very sharp turn and I slid from one side of the hall to another. The ship picked up speed and it felt like we were speeding across the top of the ocean.
The next morning we did not know our location sea gulls were flying around, vegetation was floating on top of the water, and none of us knew what happened the night before. No one in authority was talking. We arrived in Gourock, Scotland on December 29, 1943. While waiting to disembark I noticed three or four English sailors sitting on a ladder aboard the ship. I went over and asked what had happened the night the ship made the sharp turn. One of the English seamen told me that the ship's instruments had picked up an indication of a German vessel in the area, so the Queen changed course as quickly as possible. The Queen Mary was a fast ship and could outrun many of the ships at sea at the time, but she would have been no match for the firepower of a German battleship. I am certainly glad we avoided any encounter like that on our voyage to Scotland.
When we landed at Normandy on Omaha beach, we climbed up the clff overlooking the English Channel. Battery C was assigned a portion of a field that had ready made foxholes. The first night there were strong winds and rain. I covered my foxhole with the little bundle of firewood that the French used to start fires and covered the wood with my rain coat. The next morning we awoke to find out that during the night the temporary dock that our vehicles were supposed to be unloaded on had been washed away by the storm. We also noticed the ship that had brought us to Normandy was gone. We all felt abandon and wondering what we going to do without our equipment and supplies. Because we thought our supplies were following behind us, the men in our battery only had three days worth of K rations. When those rations ran out, our supplies stil had not arrived. Since we were hungry and without food, we would stand in line wherever troops were lined up to be fed. The problem was that if you were not part of the outfit that was being fed, they would ask you to leave the line. We would have to find a sympathetic mess seargent in order to be fed. We did this for three weeks until our equipment and supplies finally arrived. We were all in the same army, but each outfit protected its own.
One of the first assignments Battery C had after our equipment arrived was antiaircraft protection of a 10-acre ammunition storage facility. Our searchlights and SCR-268 radars were set up in conjunction with 40-mm and 90-mm Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) guns. This was one of the most dangerous assignments because if any enemy aircraft would have penetrated our defense and dropped a bomb into the middle of all this ammunition, we would have become part of a big hole in the middle of France. During our stay, I do not recall any enemy attacks on the ammunition dump. I was very glad when this assigment was over and we moved away from all that ammunition.
In December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, the 2nd Platoon, C Battery HQ was located in Joyville, France. The HQ was set up on the second floor of an old masonry building in the center of town. Our searchlights were protecting an airstrip on the outskirts of town. We were in this location about three to four weeks total.
During the first week, I remember that a single German plane would fly over the airfield and strafe the U.S. fighters parked on the runway. The planes on this airfield that were in the open were made of wood. The real fighter planes were camouflaged and out of view. The nickname the U.S. soldiers gave this German fighter was Bedcheck Charlie since he would fly over about 8 p.m. in the evening. He would come in low over the railroad track between two hills and suddenly emerge over the airstrip. This would take everyone by surprise. He would make one run over the field, strafe the planes, and fly away. By the time we got the 40-mm AA gun ready, he was gone.
This happened for about a week and a half. One evening Bedcheck Charlie appeared over the airstrip and near one of our searchlight positions. Jeff Workman (C Battery) from West Virginia ran out of his tent clad only in his shorts and manned the 50-caliber machine gun and started firing at the German plane. Shortly afterward, a 40mm AA gun started firing. The German plane started to trail smoke and crashed at the end of the airstrip.
I was at the HQ in Joyville and when we heard the firing and crash; we ran to the airstrip, which was less than quarter of a mile away. By this time a crowd had gathered around the wreckage. I observed that the three airmen in the German plane had died in the crash. Evidence in the wreckage indicated that both 40-mm and 50-caliber machine gun shells had brought the plane down. Jeff got credit for half a kill. Had he taken time to put on his pants, he would not have been in position to fire at the German plane.
An interesting note to this incident was that a few days later our village was visited by a team of Office of Strategic Services (OSS) personnel to investigate this situation. Their investigation indicated that someone who lived in the village was going up to the church tower and releasing a tethered balloon to signal the German fighter. Shortly after the balloon was released, the German fighter would show up to strafe the airfield.
In April 1945, the 235 members of C Battery of the 225th and some other troops were on the Rhine River in Oppenheim, Germany. We had taken over a large German warehouse as our HQ. When we arrived, it was obvious that the Germans had used this building to store kitchen supplies. There were many rooms so almost everyone had a private room with a wood heating stove for heat and cooking. We found in this warehouse a supply of tea kettles. Someone noticed that one of the sergeants would fill his tea kettle several times a day. One day, one of the guys followed the sergeant to see where he was going with his empty tea kettle to see why he was getting filled so often. The Sergeant descended from the 4th floor to the basement of the warehouse. To the surprise of the man following him, the sergeant had discovered a wine cellar containing eight huge hogs-heads of Rhine wine! Each one of the hogs-heads contained over 6,000 gallons of wine. Each of the containers of wine had a date, with the oldest vintage being 1936.
Without telling the sergeant, the guy tailing him went back and told his buddies what he found. The word about the wine rapidly spread throughout C Battery and soon many of the guys were taking tea kettles down to the cellar. The preferred vintage was the oldest wine. I can tell you from personal experience that it was a good wine and it made our stay in the warehouse much more enjoyable. In a matter of days after everyone had discovered the wine, the container of the 1936 vintage was depleted.
After we had been in Oppenheim about three weeks, we received word that C Battery would be deployed to Wurzberg, Germany. This presented a dilemma for the troops in the warehouse because there was so much wine still left in the basement. We decided to fill all of the water cans on the trucks with Rhine wine. This just about emptied the hogs-head with the 1937 vintage of wine. When the convoy left in the morning, we had no water, so when we stopped for lunch we had another dilemma there was no water for cleaning our mess kits. The cooks had to fill the 30-gallon immersion heaters we used to clean mess kits with wine, so the mess kits were cleaned with boiling wine instead of water. As one of the members of the medical staff, I believed that this was even better then water for cleaning since the alcohol would further sterilize the mess kit. Unfortunately, we never stayed in a place with a wine cellar for the rest of our tour, so we had to go back to using water for clean-up after meals.
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