Heroes: the Army
"...As old saying that I'd heard from medics, "a live soldier and a dirty wound is better than a clean wound and a dead soldier" came to mind. In training they had told us what to do for a punctured diaphragm, so the first thing I did was to get a one inch rolled up bandage, and put it into the hole where the bullet went in..."
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: T/5, Silver Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Plainfield, NJ
My Longest Day in Combat:
by Alex Varga
I have been receiving the Ozark Notes for a number of years. Reading all the experiences from the 405th, 406th and 407th Infantries, I have enjoyed them all; it brings back many memories of WWII. So far I haven't read about a medic in combat and what he goes through, so I would like to share some of my experiences as I remember them.
It has been 52 years, and my thoughts go back to November 19, 1944. I was a combat Medic attached to First Platoon of Company K, 407th Infantry. This was the day Co. K was getting ready in Ederen, Germany to make "the big push to Welz". A few days before the big push our platoon lost its leader when he was wounded and sent back behind the lines. Then our platoon sergeant (Sgt. Roe Hill) became sick and was sent back also. Sergeant Bob Ford was finally sent to be our Platoon Leader. Highly regarded, Ford was considered a welcomed asset by our men. Up until that time, our participation in the war had been on the defense. Now nervous anticipation heightened as our first attack ("big push") on the enemy was planned.
On the night of Nov. 29th the First Platoon was busy getting ready. Each man was given extra ammo and hand grenades. I was also busy getting ready for the big push. I went to the battalion aid station to get extra morphine, dressing, antiseptic, etc., as much as I could fit into my first aid pack. As a non-combatant Medic, I chose not to carry a weapon. I felt that this freed me to do my job of saving lives, unencumbered by extra weight or the temptation to take a life.
First Platoon was told by Company K Command Post to move out from Ederen into the sugar beet patch between Ederen and Welz, and to dig our foxholes. We were told the "H Hour" was to be at 0700 hours. Since we thought that we were not to be too long in the area, some of us dug our foxholes only two feet deep.
The ground was cold, wet and muddy; the night was long, lonely and quiet. Just as it started to get light on the morning on Nov. 30th, a Co.-K runner came by and told us that "H Hour" was postponed until 0930 hours. As time crawled close to 0930 hours, I could hear an increase of rifle and artillery fire. Then some of the artillery began exploding nearby. As the artillery fire kept coming down, we were hoping not to have to get out of our foxholes. Just as I was thinking about this, here comes Second Platoon. One of the men said to me, "Get up Varga, your platoon is up ahead."
As I started to run to catch up to First Platoon, I head someone call out "Medic! Medic!'" When I got to the wounded soldier I could see the compound fracture at his right elbow. There was not much bleeding, so I started to give him first aid. I gave a shot of morphine and cut his sleeve so I could sprinkle sulfa pounder on the wound. I used his bayonet for a splint. In the meantime bullets and shells were landing all around us. When I finished with him, again I had to run to catch up to my platoon. Again a call came, "Medic! Medic!" This one was only a flesh wound and it didn't take long to fix him up. I stuck his rifle into the ground with a white bandage on top of it so the litter bearers would be able to know that he was wounded and take him back to the battalion aid station. After treating at least six soldiers, I finally caught up to the First Platoon. They were pinned down by enemy machine gun fire.
The terrain was hilly and not easy to run on. As I was finally able to lay down with the men in my platoon, Sgt. Ford told me that ahead on the hill was a wounded soldier, but to keep low, because he didn't want a dead medic. I crawled to him, and while giving aid to this soldier, the enemy's machine guns opened up again. This time a bullet hit my helmet and ricocheted off and hit the left side of his shoulder. That meant I now had two wounds to take care of. While working on him I could see one of our tanks from 771 Tank Battalion going toward the enemy machine gun emplacement. A few rounds in their direction, and the machine gun placement was finished. But things were not quiet yet.
After that, First Platoon started moving toward Welz again. I stayed a short time with the wounded soldier to finish giving him aid. Then the litter bearers came and took the soldier back to the aid station. While taking care of other wounded, shells fell all around me and bullets cracked past us. Each time I took care of a wounded soldier I would get behind from my platoon.
Again someone called for a medic. As I got to him I could see that this soldier had a punctured diaphragm, and was having difficulty breathing, and I realized how serious a condition he was in. In combat it's almost impossible to use sterile techniques. As old saying that I'd heard from medics, "a live soldier and a dirty wound is better than a clean wound and a dead soldier" came to mind. In training they had told us what to do for a punctured diaphragm, so the first thing I did was to get a one inch rolled up bandage, and put it into the hole where the bullet went in. Then I got a K Ration box and put it over the bandage. I got his belt, put it around his chest over the K Ration box and made it as tight as possible. I noticed he was able to breath much easier. I waved to the litter bearers to come and get him so he could be taken to the battalion aid station as fast as possible. Again I had to run to catch up with my men.
As we got near Welz, there was a building on fire. Explosions were going on behind and in the building, probably ammo left behind by the enemy. As one of our tanks was coming by, we moved with the tank on the opposite side, to protect ourselves from the burning building. As we caught up with the First Platoon, we could see they were pinned down again by machine gun fire, but we couldn't see where the fire was coming from. Then one of our platoon boys threw a hand grenade into the haystack near the farm house, and that took care of the machine gun placement. This was the machine gun that killed Pvt. Giles, so when I got to him there was nothing I could do for him. No time to grieve over a friend, or think about it.
We continued to move out toward Linnich, on the other side of Welz. We started to dig out foxholes, only this time we dug two men foxholes. Sgt. Treeman (Tremain, Wilber E.)was my partner. We dug down about 4 1/2 feet, hoping that could protect us from the 88s they had been throwing at us. As soon as we had dug our holes, the enemy started with heavy artillery, many exploding within a few yards. I know it affected us all mentally. When one shell explodes behind you, the second in front of you, and the third one starts coming at you, you think this is the one that is going to get you. Believe me, you start praying, no matter who you are. There is an old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes," and I do believe it.
At just about 1800 hours I had to carry/drag Sgt. Treeman to the Battalion Aid Station because he was having mental problems. All that artillery was coming down around us, and drove him full of anxiety and confusion. Yet it was avoiding us. No sooner had I gotten back from the Battalion Aid Station to my foxhole, when Cpl. Greenfield (Arthur M.)(Second Platoon medic) called me to give him a hand. Nearby had been a direct hit on a foxhole. Both men were seriously wounded. There were no litter bearers around, so Greenfield and I improvised a stretcher and took them to the aid station. While there we stopped by at Co.- K Command Post and met Capt. Rodey with the platoon sergeants, discussing the next day's move. The main discussion was about the exhausted mental condition the Co. K soldiers were in. It was a day they would never forget! Finally the outcome was that Co. K would stay in reserve, and would not move ahead as originally planned. This gave us a chance to rest up physically and mentally.
After about 2000 hours things quieted down, and I didn't have any more wounded to care for that evening. It had been the longest day of my life.
It is difficult to realize what a non combatant medic has to go through while in combat. Carrying no weapon of any kind, when someone calls for a medic, one goes regardless of the danger he may encounter. As I would go to help a wounded soldier, there were times I would find the soldier already dead when I got to him, just as it happened when I got to Giles. Looking back, it is amazing how one does what one has to do. I did my best, and am grateful to be whole, and able to tell my story.
Over 50 years have passed and some of what I have said here may not be perfectly accurate, but I hope it will give a picture of a medic in combat in WWII in Germany.
----- Alex Varga
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
Interested in some background information?
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The above story, "My Longest Day", by Alex Varga, 407th, Co. K., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 49, No. 1, Oct. / Dec., 1996, pp. 12 - 13.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 1 July 2003.
Story added to website on 1 July 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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