Heroes: the Army
"...I could into a shell hole. When I grabbed his ankle, I also grabbed a lot of blood. He was bleeding freely from a wound in his lower leg that he didn't even realize he had. I compressed that, too, and then marked his position with his rifle stuck into the ground..."
Edward "Ed" Furlow
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Medic, 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- T/5, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Decatur, GA
"Recollections of a 407th Medic"
by Ed Furlow (Pt. 1)
"Stop the bleeding!" "Stop the bleeding!" These three words constituted the core of my inunit medical training before going overseas and into combat as a 20-year-old enlistee in September, 1944. The bulk of my army experience to that point had been two bouts of infantry training in Texas. Although assignment to the 407th Medical Detachment may seem odd in the light of my background, all that small-arms training stood me in good stead in combat. Although my bandage scissors, morphine syrettes, and red-cross armbands didn't offer much in the way of protection, I always made sure, if possible, that a rifleman with his weapon was within arm's reach. My lack of previous medical training was quickly remedied in the Medical Detachment.
Those three words "Stop the bleeding" were drummed into our very consciousness day after day and week after weeks. Even fifty years later they still echo in my mind. Ever since, whenever I am at the scene of a person who has suffered an injury, I pause momentarily to evaluate the situation, to catch any sign of bleeding, its extent, color, then take appropriate action.
Don't think that the various techniques to stop bleeding were the only on-the-job medical training that we received. We were given a short course in every kind of in-unit training possible: bandaging sprains, giving shots, drawing blood, giving out aspirin, painting sore throats and athlete's feet, flushing out ears, putting on splints, giving shortarm inspections, applying tourniquets, manning a pro-station; You name the training, we got it in spades.
The GIs in the Medical Detachment were made up of a widely divergent group - from every part of the country: draftees and enlistees, boys straight from the farms of the Midwest, hillbillies from Appalachia, street-wise sharpies from New York's lower East Side and the slums of New Orleans, Mexican-Americans from Texas and other points in the southwest. We had bootleggers, actors, financial professionals, chiropractors, and smart-ass college kids. In age, we ran from teenagers to the late 30s and mid 40s. With all this, we probably were not much different from most army units of WWII.
The non-coms also reflected the cross-country mix of the GIs and they knew their onions. The officers were MDs or dentists with a sprinkling of medical administrative types. All were people dedicated to their professions.
Looking back, it is obvious that the officers and non-coms had their hands full training such a mixed group of men. At that time I saw things differently from my perspective today. I was one of the smart-ass college kids and I didn't have much of an opinion of some of the non-coms who obviously had not gotten past sixth grade and spoke with a marked hillbilly twang. You can easily imagine, on the other hand, that some of the noncoins thought us college jokers as being big pains in you-know-where. And they were right!
The GIs got along together as well as would be expected. We tended to buddy up with others of similar backgrounds or with shared interests. Some of the college boys thought they were hot stuff, were quite snotty in fact. In particular, there was one from a small New England college who considered the Latinos in the Detachment as dirt under his feet. I regarded him as a pile of sh-t. Many of the Latinos could not read or write, even in Spanish. From time to time they would ask me to read to them their letters from home which were written in Spanish. I usually didn't understand much of what I was reading but apparently I was able to pronounce the words well enough for them to understand as they kept bringing their letters to me. I also would write home for them, but in English.
To carry this New England college/Latino business one step further, guess who was awarded the first combat medal for valor when we got overseas: one of the Latinos. Guess who, while in direct combat with the Germans, was found drunk when he had been sent back a hundred yards or so to cover our rear and to secure a CP for our rifle platoon: The New England college joker. That was his lucky day not to be court marshaled for dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy. Why? There was no officer present; a more common situation for us than not. At that time we were being commanded by the platoon sergeant. Although the sergeant did not prefer charges, he made sure that the New England college GI never got a promotion while in his platoon.
"Gold" Isn't Always Good
Faintheartedness in the face of the enemy is not necessarily cowardice, but sometimes it is. I remember one GI who was a chronic goldbrick. He always had some excuse to show up on sick call, i.e., getting off the line for a few hours. Once while on a night march up to the front to relieve another unit, I found this joker quivering and sobbing in a roadside ditch. It had been a quiet night and we hadn't taken a single enemy round. A short time later he was reported by the Division newspaper as having been shipped back to the States. This sort of thing has a terribly negative effect on the GIs who knew that soldier and were still dragging their asses in combat.
While discussing combat fatigue, there was another GI who was a real case. Sooner or later while in action he would collapse and have to be evacuated to the rear and be hospitalized. In variably after a few days in the hospital he would go AWOL and would return to our unit by any means possible. This cycle was repeated several times; that man had a lot of guts. He did not lack courage and determination even though he would break under shellfire. Compare his case to the chronic goldbrick.
One of the many skills that we novice medics had to learn was how to use a needle. We had to draw blood, give shots, etc., and later, in combat, to use morphine syrettes both the reduce the casualty's agony as well as to quiet him down so as not to attract unwanted attention from the Germans. Naturally the first time that we tried our hands at drawing blood, we didn't let the guinea pig/ patient in on our little secret: that he was this medic's first. Some of us became rather adept at finding the proper vein and slipping the needle in. This led to more work for those of us who were good with a needle.
When the time came to give everyone in the unit shots, perhaps three or four lines would be formed and the GIs would look to the head of the line to see which medic was doing the needle work. We had one dentist who was rough with the needle; he always had the shortest line. (Was this by accident?) Shots were given either in the arm or in the rear. Why the arm for certain shots and the rear for others, I just don't remember. Usually when giving shots in the fanny, the medic would sit on a stool, the GI would turn around and drop his pants and get his shot by the overhand dart method.
One old non-com long ago had gotten enough of having rear ends in his face and so he developed what he called "the full swing" or "bowling ball" method. This consisted of holding the syringe in his hand between the fingers and the palm, bringing his arm well back and then swinging it forward with one smooth movement inserting the needle in the buttock. Personally, I thought that was a pretty good trick, and after watching to see how easily it was done, decided to try that method myself. So, I did. I clasped the syringe in my right hand, swung my hand back a good distance, came forward in a smooth arc toward the bare rear expecting the needle to disappear upon contact therein. It didn't; That GI must have spent half his life on horseback because the needle didn't even begin to penetrate his tough hide. It simply doubed up and the GI took off across the room like a shot, yelling all sorts of nasty words. From then on, that GI made sure that he never got in my line again.
The Medical Hierarchy
Before getting along too far in this tale, perhaps it might be well to refresh the readers' recollections as to how the medics operated (no pun intended). Where did the medical support begin and end for combat casualties? In my personal wartime experience in the ETO, it started with the first aid kit that every soldier had been issued and it ended anywhere from his platoon medic to a hospital back in the states; or the cemetery. The principal content of the kit, a compress bandage, was designed for the individual soldier to staunch the blood from his or his buddy's wound.
The next level of medical help was the company medic who was equipped with a couple of pouches filled with a variety of medical supplies. His principal duties were to stop bleeding, of course, and to pull the casualty into some sort of sheltered position where he would be less likely to suffer further injury. The medic would then mark his position so that the litter bearers who were following on the heels of the rifle companies hopefully would find him and carry him to the rear for medical treatment before he died of his wounds and/or from exposure.
Since he was part of an attacking platoon, or company, the medic could not fall too far behind the advancing troops to treat just one GI; he may have others badly in need of his help just a few yards ahead.
Litter bearers usually were based at the battalion aid station and during an attack moved to and from the front. Their principal job was to locate the casualties, to provide appropriate medical care, and to get the wounded to the battalion aid station ASAP.
For a casualty, a battalion aid station was really just a pause enroute on the way to the collecting company and to the base hospital. Whatever emergency medical care that could be given to a wounded GI was done as promptly as possible and then he was shipped to the rear for further treatment. Things move fast in a battalion aid station, considering all the factors that are involved in a combat situation, the casualties are treated and evacuated as rapidly as humanly possible. Those who are brought in dead, or who die at the aid station, were placed under tarps or in a back room and later were evacuated through other channels. A number of bodies lying in rows, side by side, stiff and cold in sub-freezing weather presented a rather awesome sight, believe me!
It should be kept in mind that when an action, either offensive or defensive, was underway, each stage of the medical support system often would be swamped with casualties. Necessity forced that the most seriously wounded be treated first and/or be evacuated immediately if possible. The less seriously wounded just had to wait their turn.
An amazing thing happened to one of the ambulances making the run from our battalion aid station to the collecting company: it was struck by an artillery shell. An ambulance being hit by artillery fire was not that unusual, but this shell did not explode and also did not injure anyone in the ambulance. The shell entered the roof about a foot from the left hand side at a relatively flat angle and exited a few inches below the top of the ambulance. It must have passed within an inch of the chest or stomach of the GI lying in that top left hand stretcher. Can you imagine how that casualty felt!
Being an infantry unit, foot problems would be expected. At first it would be blisters developing from a combination of stiff, brand new boots and the tender feet of recruits. Let's not overlook athlete's feet, which was always with us. Both of these conditions respond to proper attention by the individual soldier.
One day while on the troop transport to the ETO, I was assigned the job of painting feet of the GIs in one of the rifle companies which was located in a forward compartment of the ship. Let it be said that the aroma of troops who had not showered in days, with their unwashed feet, coupled with the rolling and tossing of the ship in the rough seas of the north Atlantic, gave me one of the most thorough cases of sea sickness that I have ever had, before or since. Fortunately there was a GI garbage can chained to the bulkhead in the adjoining passageway that received the bountiful contribution of the contents of my stomach.
Normandy in the Rain
After nearly two weeks on the ship we landed at Cherbourg and disembarked shortly after dark in a pouring rain that turned out to be an all-nighter. An hour or so later, somewhere in Normandy, we arrived at our bivouac area and finally got to pitch our pup tents. We woke at dawn, to a bright and sunny morning, to discover that we had camped in a field well covered with fresh cow plops. It seemed that our area, until recently, had been occupied by a large herd of bovines.
The first thing I saw that morning when I poked my head out of my tent was an elderly French lady sedately riding by on a bicycle, sitting ramrod straight. She was dressed all in black, except for a bit of white at her throat, from her bonnet to her high-button shoes. She gave her bicycle bell a ring or two as she passed.
The rain the night before was just a taste of Normandy weather which turned out to be always cold and damp; it rained every day we were there, usually in the afternoon. Here's where we got our first taste of problems caused by feet being constantly wet and cold.
The weather resulted in a precursor to trench foot that caused excruciating pain when the feet started to thaw out. I write from personal experience of trying to dry and warm my wet and cold feet at night in my pup tent and rubbing them to improve the circulation. I would take off my wet socks, wring them as dry as possible and stick them Inside my shirt hoping that they would be dry by morning. In an effort to cope with these foot problems, a couple of GIs smuggled a small gas heater into their tent; they asphyxiated themselves.
Later the foot problems became more serious. They were the ones that were caused by low temperatures and dampness: trenchfoot and frozen feet. They required better treatment than an individual GI could do for himself or could be done at the battalion aid station.
When we arrived overseas and during our stay in France, we were still wearing the ankle-high boots and canvas leggings. Combat boots or snowpacs didn't show up until much later. We couldn't help but notice that many of the rear echelon troops had gotten theirs long before we in the line units did! Although the snowpacs with their rubber bottoms and sides were an improvement over the leather boot for winter operations, they still caused a lot of foot problems. Many GIs did not take their boots off for days on end, resulting in seriously infected feet.
The Mind Matters
In taking care of a casuaIty, one of the important considerations was to try to reassure him that he would recover in due time. To further this effort, I always carried cigarettes and matches and helped the casualty light up. Another factor along this line that medics had to deal with when treating a badly wounded GI was to have one of his buddies come up, seeing his wounded comrade, and say something like this: "Gee, ain't he hurt bad! He ain't going to make it, is he?" That is when the medic would like to smack the joker in the face with an entrenching tool.
The First Casualty
Let's get on with what we were being trained to do. The first casualty that I came in contact with was a German "civilian" who had tried to cross over to our lines. He had caught a Browning automatic rifle blast full in the stomach. We took him in a GI ambulance to a German hospital where he was briefly examined by one of their orderlies and then pushed back into a dark corridor to die. Afterwards one of the drivers asked me if I hadn't been afraid to have ridden in the back of the ambulance with him? The German, dying, might have tried to take an Americanische Soldat with him. That hadn't occurred to me at the time, but the driver was right; from then on I was more careful about keeping a sharp eye on German wounded.
A short time later when we were being held in reserve, word came to the battalion aid station that a GI in one of the companies had been shot. I was sent to check out the report. I was too late. In fact, if I had been there at the scene, I would have been too late. Seven or eight GIs had been sitting around grouped more or less in a circle cleaning their M1s. A round was fired accidently striking the GI in the chest, killing him almost instantly. What a shame! We really hadn't seen much action yet either.
The Battle for Flossdorf
The village of Flossdorf! This was our first real battle. I remember marching up to a railroad embankment the night before and digging in and then going back for something or other to the battalion aid station which was situated nearby in a small farm house. Left unattended on a table was a large can of fruit cocktail. It immediately disappeared and was promptly consumed by my foxhole buddy and me. It sure tasted good and my conscience didn't tweak me a bit.
The enjoyment of the fruit cocktail didn't last long. We jumped off the following morning. The rifle companies had lined up below the crest of the railroad embankment waiting for the signal to start the attack across the open fields to our objective, Flossdorf. As a litter bearer out of the battalion aid station, my job was to follow just behind the rifle companies. As I crouched behind the embankment, I remembered having read somewhere that for every soldier on the line there were supposed to be sixteen more in support. I wondered where in hell those sixteen were; I sure would have liked to have them right there with me.
Up and over the railroad tracks we went - the first fallen GI. He was dead, lying there with brand new combat boots on. With bullets whistling past our ears and artillery impacting close by, there was no time to meditate on boots.
During the late afternoon of the third day of fighting for Flossdorf, I led a twenty-man litter detail made up of riflemen and medics to make a sweep of the just-won battlefield for our wounded. We fleshed out our detail with Germans that we captured enroute. For obvious reasons, the Germans were the lead men on a stretcher team with a rifleman bringing up the rear. Nevertheless, one such stretcher team never made it back to the aid station and we never found out what happened to the casualty or to the GI.
As we found casualties and our litter bearers carried them back to the aid station, litter detail got smaller and smaller. Just as the last medic and I started to return to the aid station with a casualty, we came across a half dozen or so of seriously wounded GIs/ I sent the medic back for more litter bearers and I proceeded to tend to the wounded. The darkness and winter's cold began to settle in quickly, and with so many casualties on hand, some of whom were delirious, it became obvious that a serious situation was rapidly developing. Fortunately, help came in the form of an American combat patrol which, out of the darkness, asked questions first rather than lobbing grenades and then asking questions.
There were a few humorous aspects at Flossdorf, though not many. One that comes to mind is when we were carrying a casualty on a litter. Every time a shell would come in we would drop the litter and hit the ground pronto. When this happened the first time, we apologized to the casualty for being so rough. "Hell," he said, "drop me as hard as you want. Just get my ass out of mid-air."
Then Came Linnich and the Roer
A short time after Flossdorf came Linnich, a small town on the Roer River. The front was quiet and for a few days our battalion aid station handled only a small flow of casuaIties. While on duty in the aid station, one of the medical officers handed me a leg and told me to go bury it. For some reason looking at that leg sort of crystallized all the horror of the blood, guts and death that we had been facing. I begged off; I just couldn't do it.
We remained in Linnich for a short time before making the assault across the Roer. My buddy in the litter bearer team was an "old man" of thirty eight. Our first job in this action, crossing the Roer River in the dead of night, was not to evacuate, but to give additional close support to the medics in the rifle companies. We almost had gotten across the Roer when our boat was snagged by barbed wire entanglements and we bailed out into water up to our armpits. We waded to shore as fast as we could with artillery shells whistling overhead and with bullets plunking into the water around us. The first two casualties we found were lying a few feet apart on the riverbank, dead.
A shell came screaming in and we both dived for the same shell hole that we had just stumbled past in the darkness. I got there first; my buddy landed on top of me and caught a piece of schrapnel in his back. Although his wound didn't appear to be serious, he definitely was in a dazed condition. He was disorganized; he didn't know which end was up. I simply pointed him back toward the river, told him to go to the battalion aid station and gave him a push. I never saw him again but later learned that he had "made it." He died in 1980.
Immediately I head a weak cry "medic." Crawling in the darkness toward the sound, I found a seriously wounded GI. "Where are you hurt?" I asked. He could barely whisper, "in my chest or shoulder someplace." Opening his jacket, I began to cut away his shirt. I had no trouble finding the hole in his chest. Fortunately his bleeding so far had been minor and so I firmly applied a compress bandage and dragged him as far as I could into a shell hole. When I grabbed his ankle, I also grabbed a lot of blood. He was bleeding freely from a wound in his lower leg that he didn't even realize he had. I compressed that, too, and then marked his position with his rifle stuck into the ground. If I hadn't pulled him into the shell hole I wouldn't have known of his other wound and he would have bled to death before he could be evacuated.
A few days after making the Roer River crossing, we were poised at dawn ready to launch another attack. We waited. And we waited some more. Finally, at 10 o'dock in the morning, the word came to "go." We went. Up and out of our foxholes we had gone about fifty yards when shells started to rain down on us - they came in from behind us! We were being shelled by our own artillery! When the first shells exploded nearby, a rifleman and I dived for the same shell hole. He was hit by a shell fragment that literally flayed a large piece of skin and meat off his right thigh, a piece measuring probably four to five inches wide and ten to twelve inches long. I bandaged the wound the best I could and continued with the rifle platoon in the assault.
A short time later, winter came in earnest: snow. As our dark uniforms showed up quite well against the whiteness of snow, we were fortunate to be issued white "snow suits." These were of very lightweight material and consisted of trousers and a sort of oversized smock or blouse. They were of considerable help to the riflemen but not too much to the medics. Invariably when treating a casualty, we would get our snow suits bloody. Bright red splotches on white clothing really didn't help too much to enhance our camouflage.
When the fighting would be at a low ebb, we could always count on a steady flow of miscellaneous ailments into the battalion aid station. Many of them were valid: dysentery, toothaches, and the like. Once we even had a case of malaria show up. How could we get a malaria case while in Germany in the dead of winter? The GI was from an attached unit and had fought in North Africa.
Human nature being what it is, we also got a flow of goldbricks. There was one hirsute individual who kept showing up on sick call with vague complaints of one kind or another. One day he reported sick with a supposed sprained ankle. The medical officer, having had enough of this joker, examined his ankle and instructed me to apply a basket weave bandage - without shaving his leg. Being always chilly in the battalion aid station, to make adhesive tape stick, each piece had to be heated by a match, thus creating a vulcanizing action. I did so with each long strip, and applied perhaps half a dozen horizontally and a like number vertically, forming a basket weave on his ankle and foot. No doubt when the time came for him to remove the adhesive tape from his hairy extremity, he realized that the aid station was not a good place to goof off! He must have gotten the message because we rarely saw him on sick call after that.
Trench feet and frozen feet are no joking matter, but for the medical officer to separate the real cases from the wannabes under combat conditions wasn't easy. One way would be to have the GI take off his boots and socks and place his feet on a chair. The medical officer wouid examine the feet very carefully and then without attracting the GI's attention, he would bring a lighted cigarette slowly up against the sole of one of the guy's feet. If the GI showed no reaction, obviously there was a real case. If the GI cut loose with a screech, we had a goldbrick instead.
There is always a little humor here and there, even in the battalion aid station. One joke that the medical officers never got tired of pulling was to tell a medic to take a GI's temperature. He would insert the thermometer into the guy's mouth and have him sit quietly for a few moments. Then the medical officer would come over, pull the thermometer out, and complain in a loud voice "You used a rectal thermometer again! I have told you over and over again not to do that!" The GI's face would turn all sorts of colors, purple and red, etc., and hightail it to wash his mouth out. Being an infantry battalion aid station, we never kept a casualty long enough to take temperatures rectally. Also, oral thermometers, being more fragile than the rectal ones, tended to get broken, and so after a while the only ones we had were rectals.
Recollections of a 407th Medic
(cont.) by Ed Furlow
War is a strange phenomenon; it leaves some impressions that stick with a person for years and year. Two of these particularly come to mind.
One is when we had occupied a small village after an exhausting and bloody fight. The village had been "softened" up a but by artillery fire prior to our attack. When the village had been secured, we set up our perimeter defense and located our CP in the cellar of what had been the village tavern. (Incidentally, in case the reader is interested, the beer was long gone.) While we were lying there, completely drained by the day's events, the sound of beautiful piano music began to waft down to us. I could hardly believe my ears. I went up to the ground floor and there in the corner of the debris which had been a taproom was a GI playing Chopin. He must have been a talented pianist because, in spite of the battered condition of that old instrument, that GI played like an angel
Another one is the time we overran a German position a few days after Christmas. With considerable caution based on hard-learned experience, we took stock of one of their dugouts. The several Germans we found there were beyond being of any danger to us: they were all seriously wounded and had been in that condition for some days. One had his leg blown off just below the knee; he was just sitting there with the blackened stump resting on a chair. In the corner of the dugout was a small Christmas tree decorated with tattered, hand-fashioned decorations.
Anti-personnel mines were employed by both the Germans and ourselves. They are a most useful defensive tool. In one attack the cry "medic" came down the line. The wounded GI had stepped on an "ankle buster" which had blown off his foot and had tossed him up in the air. When he came down, his left hand landed on another mine which blew it off and shattered his arm up to his elbow and ripped him open from his neck to his crotch. His buddies had pulled him into a sheltered area behind a building. When I got to him he was conscious, but fortunately not fully aware of his injuries. I put tourniquets on his leg and arm, and compressed his chest and abdominal wounds the best I could. Only things left that I could do were to give a morphine shot, to light up a cigarette for him, and to chat with him for a moment. In this situation his buddies had enough sense to offer him words of encouragement and not to have come up commenting on how bad his wounds were.
Word had already been sent back for litter bearers for his evacuation to the battlefield aid station. Did he survive his wounds? I don't know, but it would have been most unlikely. As I had reached him within a few minutes of being injured, the amount of blood flow had been relatively minor; he needed the care of a skilled surgeon within a very short time &emdash; before the massive bleeding started. There was nothing more I could do. As my rifle platoon was continuing the attack, I had to leave him to keep up with it.
Getting A Medic's Goat
There was one type of casualty that never failed to get a medic's goat! The SIW type (selfinflicted wound). Like all medics, I took a strong exception to risking my neck to help one of these jokers. I remember one case where the word came to the aid station that there was a SIW casualty at such-and-such platoon head- quarters. It was my luck to be assigned to this one. When I reached the platoon CP. I found this guy in an apparent state of shock; he either couldn't, or wouldn't, talk or respond to my questions as to where he was shot. There was blood trickling down the inside of his left hand. I cut open his shirt sleeve up to the elbow with my bandage scissors and found but a little rivulet of blood. I then slit the rest of the sleeve open, and still found only a little blood. It wasn't until I removed the entire left top of his shirt did I find the wound. It was under his armpit. He had taken a carbine, shoved it into his armpit, and pulled the trigger.
The Big Discussions
As we all remember, combat is a combination of absolute boredom combined with absolute terror; the former being with us most of the time while we waited and waited for the next action and the latter, after the fighting was over, when suddenly the impact hit us of the horror of all the blood, gore and death in which we had participated. Why had Joe Blow been shot up, badly wounded (or killed) and not I? He was a much bigger, tougher and more capable person than I. During the periods of boredom, after we had finished all our letter writing, washed our socks, etc., we GIs often got involved in lengthy discussions of some of the most outlandish subjects. One that I remember was which human urge was stronger: self-preservation or sex? We never reached a consensus on this topic except that we did agree that if the Lord made anything better than sex, He kept it for Himself.
What brought me to an irrefutable decision as to which urge is stronger is while we were crossing the Roer River. When I was wading ashore in chest-high icy water in the dead of winter, I couldn't have gotten a hard-on at that particular moment even if my life depended upon it.
A "Nasty Little Firefight"
One of the nastiest little firefights that I personally was involved in occurred shortly before the Germans surrendered. This was a period of considerable fluidity. The Germans held sway at night while we holed ourselves up in villages. During the day, we commanded the countryside and the Germans would retreat to their strong points in the forests.
Our job for that day was to do a little moping up in a wooded and mountainous area. Our combat team consisted of a couple of light tanks, two or three 2 1/2 ton trucks loaded with riflemen, and several of our machine gun jeeps. As the medic in the heavy weapons platoon, my post was riding in one of the machine gun jeeps with my legs dangling over the right rear wheel. We came to a fork in the road; one went along the left side of a valley and the other, the right. The tanks and trucks took the righthand fork and the machine gun jeeps, the left. We had been separated for not more than four or five minutes before we heard a furious firefight starting up across the valley. We did an 180 degree turn, dashed back to the intersection and down the righthand fork and met the ambush that had hit our tank/truck convoy.
The Germans had waited until the tanks were half way around an uphill curve when they blasted them with Panzerfaust and poured rifle fire and machine gun fire into the trucks. The Panzerfausts had hit both tanks just above the open hatches, killing the drivers instantly; their helmets were so riddled with fragments that they looked like sieves.
The surviving riflemen had dived off the offside of the trucks and started counter attacking. We yanked our water-cooled 1917 machine guns off their jeep mounts and joined on foot with the riflemen in the attack up the hill. That ambush was ended right there and then. Our heavy water cooled machine guns were not designed for marching fire, but they certainly helped to get the job done.
We started searching the area for our wounded and dead. I remember seeing one GI, apparently badly injured, lying way down the hillside from the road. I went down after him and literally carried him back up the hill in my arms like a babe. How I was able to do that, I'll never know. I certainly couldn't do it today.
The Feared Non-Fatal Wound
Soldiers can and do get shot or hit with schrapnel almost anywhere on their bodies. The non-fatal wound that we all feared the most was to be hit in the genitalia; it happened, all too often. The one case that comes to mind is about a GI who had one of his testicles shot off. You never saw such a pitiable case. From all the moaning and groaning going on, you might think that he was on the verge of death. We knew better. He was certain, however, that his life was over; no woman would have anything to do with him. Much to his surprise, his wound was not considered serious enough to be sent State-side; he probably did not get much farther than the base hospital. In due time he was returned to duty and was back in his unit. Guess what? The Good Lord knew what He was doing when He equipped us with two of almost everything. So, with any luck at all, after the loss of a body part, the other takes over and helps make up the loss. In his case, the remaining testicle did more than just taking over the load formerly shouldered by two &emdash; he became a regimental celebrity for his sexual exploits.
Spring Came Early
It seems to be that spring came a little early in 1945. The days started to get a bit warmer, the daylight longer, and we could almost smell the end of the war. We were marching in extended file on both sides of a country road. We were "moving up" but did not expect much to happen that morning. It didn't But it had! We had been marching in this fashion for an hour or so when we came across the body of an American tanker (by his uniform), dead as a doornail with no outward sign of what had killed him. A hundred yards or so off to one side in a field was a woman working at her garden. At her feet there was a little girl playing with her doll. The contrast was striking &emdash; a balmy day with insects beginning to buzz - a woman and child going about their business &emdash; and the body of an American soldier lying in the middle of the road, on his back, with one arm across his body and the other at his side, and his blank eyes staring at the blue sky. We moved on.
Towards the end of the fighting during a march toward a rendezvous, we came across a German army convoy consisting of a dozen or so miscellaneous vehicles which obviously had been on the receiving end of an awful lot of very effective ordinance; numerous badly mangled bodies were lying in and around the vehicles. It was like something out of that old novel, Beau Geste: there wasn't a single German soldier left alive. There was nothing for me to do this time.
Death of a soldier, American or German, on the battlefield is never a pretty sight, especially when we all knew the war was about over. On one march we came across a Panzer tank that had had a track blown off by a mine. The crew faced with Hobson's choice, obviously had decided to bail out. They were literally cut into chunks by what could only have been .50 caliber machine gun fire. Bad choice.
Medics Still Needed After the War
Now that the war was over, you would think that medics wouldn't have much to do. Think agaln. It's true that ordinance injuries dropped precipitously, but the casualty rate for vehicular accidents began to soar and that old bugaboo that has plagued armies since the dawn of time began to increase: venereal disease.
Shortly after the end of the war, I was fortunate enough to get a pass to Paris. For me, it was a bit of luck; for another GI it wasn't! We were traveling by truck convoy. While enroute a GI truck and a civilian truck slightly sideswiped each other. Damage to the vehicles? Insignificant. Unfortunately a six-inch plank had stuck out a few inches from the side of the German truck and sliced open the head of a GI sitting in the other truck. The convoy stopped, the call went down the convoy for a medic. I went, but there was nothing that could be done. The GIs head had been opened up like a ripe watermelon.
Another type of medical emergency was typified by the GI who had been greasing a vehicle standing underneath it in a lubrication pit. As is known, gasoline fumes are heavier than air and they collect in such recesses. This unfortunate GI ignited the fumes, resulting in an explosion. His clothing was virtually burned off along with most of his skin. When I saw him at the battalion aid station he was in terrible shape, blinded and badly burned over nearly all of his body. His skin had all the appearance of an overdone pork roast: brown with a heavy crust. I talked to him, trying to calm him. He recognized my voice and called my by name. Little could be done for him, and he died a few hours later. A week or so later, I met a GI on the street who gave me a momentary start: he was the GI I thought had been killed in the gasoline explosion! So, it turned out that although the victim had recognized me, I didn't know who he was after all.
That scourge of mankind had become a serious problem. Most GIs who had wives or girl friends at home kept their pants buttoned up; they did not want to return home with an unwelcome present for them. It became important to screen units by employing the "short-arm" technique from time to time to uncover cases of VD for early treatment. We medics would hit a barracks before down, unannounced, put a guard on the latrine, and have the GIs parade before us, one by one, with their private parts exposed, telling them to "milk it down". If there was any sign of a discharge or a canker sore, that GI would be pulled aside, a specimen taken to be sent back for analysis. One soldier objected strenuously to providing a specimen, saying that he had not been messing around with a lot of Frauleins and that he had had only one woman, who had been his private stock for months. Word was passed for the MPs to pick up the woman. She proved to be infected. When this informations was sent to the CO of the soldier's unit, some five GIs showed up also wanting to be tested. So much for that guy's private stock.
There was one GI who was quite a lover boy. He managed to secure for himself a private room to entertain his lady friends. It happened to be on the third floor of a small apartment house. His girl friends would mount the stairs after waving hello to the GI's buddies. One time when he was entertaining a young lady, another made her appearance and started up the stairs. The GIs deliberately did not try to stop her but, instead, held their breaths waiting for the explosion. It came, the biggest cat fight you ever saw between two women as they came tumbling down the stairs, pulling each other's hair and screaming invectives at each other. When the dust had settled, the lover boy came down the steps, approached his buddies with a mournful look on his face, saying "that wasn't very nice of youse guys."
Although enjoying their company immensely (so it seemed), the lover boy constantly was racked with fear that he would "catch" something. By hook or crook, periodically, he would get his specimen sent back to the military hospital for analysis, but under a false name. The reports kept coming back negative, much to his relief. Finally, however, one turned out to be positive. He had some explaining to do with his unit commander when the CO had received orders to produce the individual with the positive VD result.
After the war in Germany came to an end, the U.S. army established a system of regular bus service between many of the towns and cities using GI trucks. Transfer points between routes were located where two roads happened to cross. On a trip while traveling back to my unit, I had to transfer to another route. The transfer point in this instance, an old stone bridge, was way out in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. As I sat on the parapet waiting for my ride, a German boy of about ten or twelve came ambling by. I spoke to him in my GI German, asking his name, how old he was, etc. The boy was very talkative. I asked if his father had been a soldier in the war and, if so, where had his father served? "Oh yes," he replied, his father had been in the Wehrmacht and had been in both Russia and in France. I then asked the boy if his father had taught him any French. The kid said "yes" and I was dumbfounded to hear what next came out of this kid's mouth: "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
With the war being over and with our going home, you might think that my days as a medic might have come to an end. There is always one more scene, however before the play is over. In 1948 I took ROTC summer camp at Fort Riley. One day a small convoy of jeeps snagged a low-hanging branch, snapped off, and jabbed one of the cadets in the neck producing a rather nasty looking and quite bloody injury. Cries went up immediately for a medic and I, being one of the cadets in that little convoy, once again, and for the last time, I became a medic.
----- Ed Furlow
(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?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "Recollections of A 407th Medic", by Ed Furlow, 407th, Medic, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 49, No. 2, Jan./March 1997, pp. 8 - 14 and Vol. 49, No. 3, April/June 1997, pp. 4 - 7.
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 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 4 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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