WWII Combat Medic's Personal Accounts of WWII
This page was last up dated on July 28th 2002
The following was submitted by email by Pricess Slagel-Buschon
upon your website and wanted to share the story of my father, SFC Wayne
My dad served in three wars and was awarded the combat Medical
Badge for his
service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. On May 1, 1945, he
received the Bronze
Star among many other awards he received during his military
career. (I have
the full list but I didn't know if that would interest you.)
During WWII, he served
with the 31st Infantry Division. During the Korean War, he served
in the Medical
Company of the 27th Infantry Regiment with the "Wolfhounds" which
battle at "Heartbreak Ridge." He was back as a Wolfhound
Vietnam and was the NCOIC of a battalion aid station.
The following was submitted by email by Albert Gentile
served with the 84th Infantry Division, (Railsplitters) I was
attached to Company B-333 Inf. as a company aid man. Unlike the vast
majority of (medic's)
I carried a .45 Pistol throughout the war, I was well aware that if
captured with that
weapon I would be shot, but I still took my chances. I wore no
red cross on my
uniform, and I traveled in combat along side of the infantrymen.
There were numerous
times when tending to the wounded the Germans fired on me, and I fired
back. My job was to
deliver back to the batt. aid station all those who were wounded,
and that's exactly
what I did. I'm not ashamed to admit I violated the rules of war,
and I would do it
again if I was once again in that position. Which at my age, those
day's are long gone.
I never thought of myself as some kind of hero, I
wasn't, I had a job
to do and I did it as best as I could. I won no medals, because I chose
not to accept any.
The only honor I chose was that I did my job as best as I
Raymond D. Butler with
The following first-person anecdote was told by
Raymond Douglass Butler to friend and author Richard Benter, who
amended and edited it.
The following email was received from Walt "Pete" Peters...Thank you Walt:
I was an infantry combat medic with the 106th Div. 331st Batallion, with the 422, 423 and 424th Regiments. We were the Division--green as grass, mostly ASTPs hurriedly sent to Camp Atterbury for training and then to replace the 2nd Div. just before the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest where no one believed the Germans would attack.
The 422nd and 423rd Reg. were captured during this action. Luckily, for me, the 424th was not, because that's the one I found myself with at the time. However, I and a bunch of my buddies got caught in the chaos and after floundering thru the snow, surviving nights, and days, of bitter cold, skulking through the morning fog, where, by only the grace of a Higher Power, we succeeded in eluding the Germans all around us, we finally got back to our own army.
As a medic I found myself on detached service all the time because there just were not enough medics to go around. I even was sent to accompany the 82nd Airborne on a glider flight behind the German lines, a very interesting, and unnerving, experience.
Medics were being picked off by the Germans who used our helmut red crosses to sight on. I couldn't believe your statement somewhere on your website that the Germans respected the medics and didn't shoot at them. That may have been some medics' experience, but it certainly was not mine.
I was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar, sent to St. Vith and then to Cherbourg. Thought I was going back to England and then home, but, as I said, medics were in short supply. Sent back as an ambulance driver and then on into Germany where I was bivouacked with a German doctor and his family. I was a "watchdog" over the doctor; it was not a very pleasant situation for him--nor me
I had amassed a bunch of points from the battles I served in and finally got word I was going home. When I got on the ship, the Mormackport, my comrades made me take the best bunk in our area because----I was a combat medic.
The following email I received from Milton A. Eisenberg:
I have always
admired the Merrill's Marauders who made
sacrifices and contributed so much to the war effort. They are
all heroes. I
was Master Sergeant in charge of personnel of the 14th Evacuation
Hospital located at Mile
14 of the Ledo Road in Assam, India. The Marauders passed our
unit in the spring of
1944 on their way to take part in the North Burma campaign. Some
stopped for medical
treatment, refreshments, to water their mules and chat. We heard
they were among the
army's best and toughest fighters. They sure proved it.
A Combat Medics Story in Italy, 1944
It was a bright sunny day which was very unusual as it rained most of the time we were in Italy. Our litter squad was attached to the first aid station of the First Battalion of the 142nd Regiment. We had orders to get behind the Monte Cassino Abbey at the base of Mt. Cairo. I don’t know why we tried to infiltrate in broad daylight as the Germans always held the high ground and were always looking down our throats.
As we moved out single file the German snipers opened up on us and held up the whole battalion. We took cover behind a stone wall so as not to be a target. One of the infantry GI(s) said to me that he will get that sniper as soon as he fires another round and exposes his hiding place. He poked his head over the stone wall to get a bead on the sniper when a bullet hit his helmet and glanced off. Another inch or two and he would have had it between the eyes. We all laughed as he grabbed his helmet and sat down next to me. He stated that let somebody else get him. As we ran to avoid the sniper shots, I forgot to pick-up my ditty bag and when we reached a dry riverbed I had to return to retrieve my ditty bag. It maybe was an omen as when I was sliding down to the riverbed a big artillery shell landed nearby. The second one landed right smack into the riverbed and exploded amongst the medics. It raised me up in the air about two feet and the smoke and dust clouded the area. Medics were hollering for medics as three were killed and one had his leg blown off. Another had shrapnel in his back. Two had some shrapnel but were able to walk.
As soon as the 3rd shell landed the infantry battalion took off towards their objective and left us. Those of us who were not injured put a tourniquet on the one that lost his leg and we patched up the others. There were eight of us that carried the two wounded towards the French front line as we couldn’t go back the way we started off. It was a long and tortuous trip and we could barely hold on to the litters after the first mile. We finally got to the French line and they took the two litter patients from us and put them in an ambulance to get to the Collecting Company.
We later heard the 210 pound patient that had a small shrapnel wound in his back died. The one that lost his leg lived.
Celebrating the End of Hostilities in the ETO
After spending 10 months in Italy before the invasion of Southern France and chasing the Germans through France and Germany, and winding up in Austria where Herman Goering, Von Rundstad and a host of German generals were captured, we had a great cause to celebrate. In Italy the civilians spiked their cherry Brandy with benzine and there was no beer or champagne as the German army relieved them of the best of the liquors. The only thing left was the red wine, which was kind of bitter to the taste.
On Christmas day 1943, our CO, who was a doctor, decided to spike our grapefruit juice with 180 proof alcohol, which our medical battalion used for treatment of the wounded. It sure tasted good and warmed our stomachs in the wintry weather with our warm meal. Our cook used the alcohol to swap for other goodies like eggs, milk and fruit, etc. It was our introduction to 180 proof alcohol.
After liberating a few labor camps in Germany in 1945, some Russian DPs (Displace Persons) asked us to have a drink with them in celebrating their release. The only problem with that was that they were tapping the tank cars in the railroad yards. I took one drink at the toast and knew that it was rocket fuel for the V1 and V2 (rockets) that they used to bomb London. I tried to tell them as a medic that if they drank too much of it they would go blind and die. They were so happy about getting their freedom that they really didn’t care.
The other time that we visited a DP Camp it was full of Polish and Russian workers. Being Polish-American myself, I would understand their language. They told me that there was an American soldier that passed out from drinking the rocket fuel. Me and my friends tried to revive him from his coma, but were unsuccessful. We then got a Clearing Company to get an ambulance and had him sent to get medical aid. I’m sorry to say that we heard later that he died. There was an investigation by the Military Police of how he died. I was called to go with the MPs and translate for the Polish witnesses of what he drank and how much.
Getting back to my story about celebrating the end of hostilities in Europe (and) Austria. We were told that we would be going home and not being transferred to the Pacific theater. We had enough points to go home as soon as transportation was available.
One night I sneaked down to the aid station in the dark to get some 180 proof alcohol to mix with the grapefruit juice. We were drinking our good fortune of getting through the war alive. I guess I drank more than the rest of my buddies. While we were celebrating, a Captain from the Air Force came into our house to seek bedding for the night. I arranged a cot and blankets for him in one of the rooms and invited him for a drink. After he took a sip he told us that what we were drinking was rubbing alcohol and not the 180 proof .
He was a doctor in the Air Force and told us to get to the water tank and throw-up as much as we could. It was quite a sight with everybody sticking their fingers down their throats and throwing up. All the noise woke up the rest of the company. We all had thoughts about dying after going through the war and screwing up just as we were ready to go home.
We finally dispersed and went to our rooms to get some fitful sleep, if any. About 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM, I heard noises down the hallway and soon I heard my door open and flashlights glowing from my buddies. Marty Allen said to John Kasmarik and the others, "If Val is dead then we have something to worry about". I hatched an idea to hold my breath and keep my eyes closed to pretend I was dead. Allen opened my eyelids and put his hand to my nose to see if I was breathing. He let out a yell, "He’s not breathing and may have expired!" I held my breath as long as I could and when I exhaled I thought that they would all kill me for sure. That was the end of our drinking until we got home to the good old USA
The following three personal accounts are from newspaper articles that were provided to me by Valerian Przygocki. Val and Harvey Reves (See next personal account) were medics during WWII with the 111th Medical Battalion. The 111th supported the 36th Infantry Division throughout the Italian Campaign. For more information on the 36th Infantry Division please visit the Texas Military Forces Museum. I want to thank Val and Harvey for sharing their personal experiences.
CPL. PRZYGOCKI RESCUES A WOUNDED SOLDIER UNDER HEAVY ENEMY FIRE
With the 36th "Texas" Division-The phone in the Medical Battalion Aid station, rang sharply. Everything and everyone was interrupted by the harsh buzz of reality. The men in the room cleared their eyes of drowsiness. The coldness of the room was momentarily forgotten. Someone picked up the receiver and the buzzing stopped. It was "A" Company of the 141st Infantry Regiment. They wanted medics, immediately!
Corporal Val Przygocki of Bay City, and eight others made their way up to Company "A’s" CP, but they found no routine litter haul waiting for them. They were taken to the third platoon and there an infantry officer explained the situation. From their position on top the wooded hill, the lieutenant pointed to a dark lump in the valley of white snow before them. That was their patient. He had been left there when the third platoon was forced to withdraw. The distance was about 150 yards. The area was naked of any cover. In fact the last 50 yards was without growth or defilation. "That was why the platoon couldn’t stay there," explained the officer. "And neither can I ask any of you to go down there and expose yourself." He looked at the medics carefully, and slowly continued, "If you want to volunteer, you can, but I’m not withdrawing this platoon until that man is gotten out of there".
Sergeant John C. McIntosh, of New Castle, Pennsylvania, felt the responsibility rest heavy on him. He had seen it all from Salerno to the present. He had lost too many buddies. He couldn’t and wouldn’t influence any of the men either way by his example. He saw the strained faces of his fellow medics. "Who’s going with me?" The words came out of Val’s mouth without him realizing it. Private Harold R. Sorrel, Wellstone, Ohio, a new man with the medics, was the first to answer. "OK, count me in," he said matter of factly. Private first Class Melvin Johnson, Morea Colliery, Penn., looked at the others and said very unconvincingly, "I’ll be damned if I go." And then he walked over and joined the first two volunteers. Sergeant McIntosh completed the squad.
With Val in the lead, the four medics took off crawling on their stomachs through the foot thick snow. From the hill, the infantry watched with growing excitement and mounting fear as the quartet made their way forward with painful slowness. The platoon sergeant cursed softly to himself as he watched, "They’ve got too much guts for their own good," he said to no one in particular. The litter squad was now some 50 yards from their objective. There had been no fire. They had not been spotted. But from here on there would be no more concealment. Val called back to the others. "Can anyone see the guy?" They raised up slightly for a better view. They couldn’t see him with their limited field vision. Val rose up still higher. He saw the wounded man. Suddenly before the others realized what had happened, he was running fully erect with his hands in the air, to show he was unarmed. The Red Cross on his helmet caught the sun. Quickly he was at the side of the wounded man. He grabbed him by the collar and started pulling him towards the others. That’s when the German’s opened up. The bullets were hitting all around Val. The snow seemed to come to life. It jumped up in a hundred different spots, leaving little black holes in the white carpet.
"I was sure Val would get it," said Johnson. " I still can’t see how they missed. Standing up against that snow he was like a bullseye on a target." But Val didn’t let go. He crouched now, keeping a firm grip on his patient. He kept going. Meanwhile, the third platoon had opened up. "It seemed like every rifle and machinegun in the army had turned on those Krauts." Said McIntosh. "That’s what probably saved us," he continued. "After those first shots at Val, they didn’t get a chance to get in a good shot. They stayed pinned down deep in their holes". The litter bearers completed their mission; they got the wounded man back to the aid station.
Corporal Przygocki is the son of Mrs. Mary Przygocki, 1101 South Jefferson street, Bay City. He was inducted into the army in October 1943 and wears the Purple Heart Medal.
A second newspaper article provided by Val...
MEDICS USE TANK TO CARRY INJURED OFFICER TO SAFETY
With the 36th Division of the Seventh Army, France-The combat-payless medics were enjoying the warmth of the 111th Medical Battalion aid station. It was safe inside even though a mortar had put a hole through the adjoining building. The Jerries were still shelling the town that day so the men were happy indoors. Their host, who owned the beer tavern, was patriotic and frequently tapped a keg for the boys who enjoyed the good brew. It was a dream set-up soon interrupted by the battalion surgeon who called for a litter squad.
Sgt. Arthur Wenzel, of Irvington, N.J.; Cpl. Valerian Przygocki, of Bay City, Mich.; Pvt. George P. Goldman, of New York City, and Pvt. Ercie Cooper, of Levelland, Texas, prepared for their assignment. A tank lieutenant had been wounded some 400 yards across sniper infested territory at the other end of town.
The men threaded their way through the mortar-torn streets hugging the protection of the building lining the route. A block away from their destination they were spotted and all hell broke loose in the way of small arms fire. But they made the last block safely in one quick dash. After patching up the lieutenant, they held a small council of war with the tank crew and decided to try to evacuate the casualty by tank. The littermen stepped out into the barrage of mortars now peppering the area and carefully lowered the lieutenant through the turret into the relative safety of the tank. Cpl. Przygocki quickly followed him. Just as Pvt. Goldman lowered himself into the tank, a shell landed nearby. Quickly he slammed the hatch tight and off went the tank to the aid station.
"That was the closest they ever got to us," said Goldman. "We made it all right after that last shell. But the guys who really deserve credit and have the guts are Cooper and Wenzel. There wasn’t enough room for all of us to get into the tank so they volunteered to try and get back on foot. They’re the heroes".
Sgt. Wenzel and Pvt. Cooper made their way back with some difficulty. "We knew we couldn’t go back the way we came so we took another route which turned out to be a blind alley. We retraced our steps, but this time Jerry spotted us so we ducked into the first building we saw".
"Quite a place it turned out to be," said Pvt. Cooper. "It was a combination hospital and home for the aged, run by nuns. Soon as they learned we were Americans nothing was too good for us. We ate, got warm and dried our clothes". "When we started out again, we made for the river that ran through town. It was about waist high and fairly swift, but we got through OK except for getting soaking wet. We dodged a few more close ones, but they missed and that was all important." Pvt. Goldman, who already wears the Purple Heart Medal, was formerly a machine gunner in one of the regiments. "I thought I had some rough deals as a doughfeet, but this last one with the medics beats them all."
The third newspaper account provided by Valerian Przygocki...
THE TERRIBLE CZECH GOES HOME
Friday’ the 13th’ wasn’t a bad day for Sgt. Joseph E. Vodvarka, far from it. It was the easiest day for him to sweat-out since he’d been overseas. "The Terrible Czech" was going home. But the GI Paul Bunyan is leaving behind a lot of memories and friends. He is one of the two-footed mules who took over when the regular four-footed animals gave out in the mountains and winter of the Italian campaign.
The Terrible Czech is built like the mountains in which he worked. He looks more formidable with a litter than most men do with a machine gun. He stands 6 foot 4, and carries one end of a litter, with a combat pack of two shelter halves, 8 blankets, a full ditty bag, and two medical pouches crammed full. When ever he is at the front, he is the most conspicious figure around.
During the campaign in the Italian mountains, there were very few men who could stand the exhausting work without rest. The problem of evacuating wounded infantrymen down the steep sloped trails was a heartbreaking, back-splintering danger. But when Joe was around the problem was half-solved. He would hitch himself around one end of a litter and bring a man down a hill faster than anyone else.
"Most guys think ours is a thankless and dirty job" said Vodvarka "but I don’t agree. The medals are nice to have, but the most important thing is the warm feeling you get when you’ve brought a guy down from the mess he was in and see the medicos slowly bring him back to life".
"The greatest kick I ever had was to walk through the 142nd bivouac area or Naples or Caserta or Rome Rest Camp, and have some guy I couldn’t recognize come up and stick out his paw and recall the time you got him back to safety. You can’t recognize the guy, because he isn’t the same dirty, bloody, heavy load you had. He’s clean and alive. Yep, being a front line medico has its points".
Then Joe slung his pack and walked over to the orderly to get transportation. In the meantime, others came by to shake hands and say "Goodbye".
The following personal account I received by email from Harvey Reves. Harvey was a medic with Company B, 111th Medical Battalion and was providing medical support to the 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Division of the 36th Infantry Division during World War II
"...The 36th Div. spearheaded the invasion of Italy at Salerno on September 9 1943. We spent a very wet and cold winter in and on the mountains of southern Italy. The front lines moved very slowly during that miserable winter. We spent many weeks bogged down moving very slowly from mountain to mountain. We were kept very busy patching up the wounded and sick and then carrying them off the mountain to a spot the ambulance could reach. This took 4 to 8 hours somtimes longer depending on the terrain. On Mount Sammucrow we set up a shuttle system with litter bearers posted at three different spots. The last shuttle took the patient to San Pietro. The town of San Pietro was in ruins as the Germans had the town and the trail we used zeroed in with their artillery..We helped carry food, water and ammo back up the trail which was shelled constantly. At night the Mule train carried supplies up the trail and the Germans never let up killing and wounding many of the mules and Muleskinners every night. We were on this mountain the end of December and part of January and will never forget it. So thats the story of just one of the many mountains our brave infantry battled on in Italy."
A few days later Harvey added this personel experience of his during WW2.
"...It was May 30, 1944 . We (142 inf.) were on the Anzio beachhead and at dusk started moving into the mountains behind the town of Velletri. Our orders were no talking, no smoking and no ammo in the chambers of the riflemen. We were infiltrating behind the enemy lines. We walked silently all night. At dawn we took a break in a small canyon. I went to sleep immediately but was soon awakened by bursting Mortar shells and Val Pryzgocki yelling at me to help him with a wounded sgt. When I got there the Sgt. was dead and his Lt. was crying. We quickly moved to another wounded nearby, patched him up and put him on a litter and then Val took a chunk of shrapnel in his leg. After I patched him, the column started moving out and Val was evacuated by Jeep along with others. There were many wounded there and some dead. We moved on and the next morning 8 of us litter bearers were sent out to find some wounded further up the trail. We finally found them at te bottom of a cliff. There was several German prisoners there so they helped us drag the wounded up to the trail. Then we took off down the trail towards the aid station. There was 13 us .Two litter patients and three walking wounded and 8 litter bearers. A short while later we heard a rifle shot very close. We all hit the deck and as I peeked around a tree I saw a bunch of Germans heading our way up the side of the mountain. The first one to reach me was freckle faced and looked to be about 15 years old. He shoved a Burp gun in my face and said Pistola! Pistola! I said no Pistola and then there were hands all over me. They took my water, food, medical supplies and just about everything except my clothes.Then I heard this German yelling Italiano to Tony Gomez and Tony says, "No no Espanol! " Then he fired a burst at Tonys feet. At this time the German Lt. appeared. Said a few words that was that. Some of the Germans hated the Italians so I guess he would have killed Tony. We tried to convince the German Lt. to let us take the wounded to the aid station, but he said one word in perfect English, "IMPOSSIBLE!" Then he told two of his men to guard us and take us down the side of the mountain to Veletri. It was a long rough trip down the side of the mountain with litter patients. But we made it. They put us in a small shack on the edge of town. We wer strafed once by our own planes but no one was hurt.There was also about 15 German wounded in a cellar nearby and most had gangrene but we couldnt do much to help them. That night we were sleeping and all hell broke loose bullets flying everywhere and somebody outside yelling, "Come out of there you dirty Bastards". It was our troops so we were recaptured. Several of us were wounded but we all survived until the next time."
The following excerpt is from the book, Pfc. Keith Winston, V-Mail, Letterd of a World War Ii Combat Medic. Pfc. Keith Winston was a combat medic for the 398th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, US Seventh Army during WW2. This is an excerpt from one of his letters sent to his wife back home in the states.
"You must be wondering, and perhaps concerned about my first assignment up front. Well, here it is: Our team was rushed out to pick up a seriously injured boy. To be more explicit--to pick up a boy whose leg was blown off …. As we got closer, I was determined to avoid looking at this catastrophe--and tried to keep my head averted as much as it was possible. But somehow--and this is really uncanny--the first thing that drew my eyes, as if magnetized, was this torn-off leg. 1 was almost in a state of shock, and I just stood there, staring, almost not believing what I saw.--But, Honey, somehow a super-strength rushed through in moments like these--and I was aware that the life of this boy depended on our immediate and careful attention. To make a long, gruesome story short, I did what I was sent out to do--and that was my first and thorough initiation. After that, I was about ready for anything.
The following excerpts are from the book, Combat Medic Memoirs, Personal World War II Writings and Pictures, by Richard L. Sanner. Mr. Sanner was a combat medic in the 71st Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division during WW2. The following is from a letter to his parents in October of 1944 from France.
"…..We have had casualties, that is only natural. How many is a military secret. In general they haven't been bad cases. One, however, as I told you in my last letter, died on us. When he came in he was nearly dead, but his pain was covered by morphine. He died while still under the influence of the morphine. I helped carry him in the station and carried the body out. It was a strange feeling and hit me a little. Some of the other cases, the ones I have seen, were mere scratches, while one case was really bad. The blood plasma given this fellow pulled him through. The officers didn't think he would live when he first came in. He went out, his face not quite as pale as when he came in. Blood plasma is really wonderful."
".....The responsibility refers to an instance when I was called to assist an injured man in my platoon. Russ Lengle was out in no man's land when the Germans started shelling our positions, and he was hit. The call, MEDIC, went out, and so did I. He was hit in the groin by shell fragments. All he asked, or seemed to be concerned about, was whether he had been hurt badly in his private parts. I reassured him as best I could, stopped the bleeding, put sulfa powder on the wound, dressed it, and filled out the medical tag. Three other men and I made a litter out of tree limbs and a blanket to carry him to a safer place. There I called for litter bearers (my old job) to carry him to the rear for treatment..."
"...On another occasion I was able to call on my own experience to diagnose a medical illness. One of our sergeants was brought to me by another medic. He said he just felt lousy all over, couldn't eat, and was really no good on the front line. I only had to take one look at him to determine his problem. The whites of his eyes were yellow! I had had yellow jaundice (hepatitis) while a student at Iowa State College, and therefore was quite aware of the symptoms of that illness. I tagged him and sent him back to the aid station. He rejoined our outfit when he recovered..."
"....I am a company aid man attached to the 3rd platoon of Company K of the 71st Infantry of the 44th Division. As an aid man, as Ray knows, I am the medical aid person for the men on the front line. We treat all casualties, illness', injuries, sickness, and also act as a chaplain. I say this latter, not because we really are, but because the men come to us with many troubles. I guess we are the ones to talk them over with. I have been on line for a long time and many times; I have sweated out artillery shellings, sniper fire, and mortar shellings; I have treated casualties; had blood soaked hands that didn't get washed for over a week until the blood finally rubbed off; I have done nothing sensational or outstanding; and I have always done my job~l think--very well. I guess that is about all I want to say about my new job..."
...More to Come...
Please email me with any comments mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org David Steinert © Copyright 2000