The WWII Medical Department

(submitted by Alain Batens)

Last updated 7/12th 2003

Brief History: the Army Medical Department and the Medical Corps trace their origins to 27 July 1775, when the Continental Congress established the first Army Hospital . Congress also provided a medical organization of the Army only in time of war or emergency until 1818, which marked the inception of a permanent and continuous Medical Department .

 Duties of the Medical Department: there are three aspects of the Army medical problem . First is the selection of those upon whom the security of the nation depends, to be sure they are physically fit to endure the rigors of warfare . Second is the preservation of the health of the able bodied in the military service, and third is the restoration of the health of those who become sick or injured . The principal service functions of the Medical Department are EVACUATION, HOSPITALIZATION, SANITATION, PROCUREMENT, STORAGE and ISSUE of medical supplies . The Medical Department is charged with care of sick and wounded men and animals and transportation necessary for their evacuation and hospitalization; prevention of disease, including direction and supervision of measures of public health among inhabitants of occupied territory;  sanitation, including inspection of meats, meat foods, and dairy products; and preparation and proper disposition of medical records .

 Organization of the Medical Department: the Medical Department is organized into the Medical Corps (Caduceus), the Dental Corps (capital letter D over Caduceus) established 1911, the Veterinary Corps (capital letter V over Caduceus) established 1916, the Medical Administrative Corps (capital letter A over Caduceus) established 1917, the Sanitary Corps (capital letter S over Caduceus) established in 1917 too, and the Army Nurse Corps (capital letter N over Caduceus) established 1901. Additional departments are introduced in 1942 i.e. the Hospital Dietitian Corps (fraction of capital letter H over capital D over Caduceus), the Physical Therapist Corps (fraction of capital letter P over capital T over Caduceus), and in 1943 the Pharmacy Corps (capital letter P over Caduceus), is added . Civilian MDs will also join the Department as ‘Contract Surgeons’ (capital letter C over Caduceus), while the Army will equally accept female MDs . Contract Surgeons  who served as Assistant Surgeons and Medical Consultants, started wearing the Caduceus with capital letter C after 1941 (but did neither wear U.S. nor ranks), after 1942 they could start wearing First Lieutenant bars ! (in 1950 the Medical Department is renamed as the ‘Army Medical Service’, in 1968 it is again redesignated the ‘Army Medical Department’) .

 Branch Insignia: the medical symbol, i.e. the Caduceus (1” high) was approved in 1902 only (although already designed in 1851), and the different branch insignia use a gold color metal Caduceus, with a superimposed brown (early) and/or black (late) enamel capital letter indicative of their respective Corps .

 Branch Colors: maroon piped with white was specified in October 1916, this piping is often worn on the garrison cap of enlisted men  (while medical officers retain the overall gold/black piping indicating commissioned personnel) .

 Uniform Insignia: attached medical personnel retained identical clothing as the infantrymen – only branch insignia and piping could identify the aidmen; they wore the maroon/white piping on their headdress in lieu of Infantry light blue, and the caduceus replaced the Infantry crossed muskets on the collar disks . Being attached to the Infantry Regiment; they were considered to be part of this organization, and as such medical personnel displayed the enameled Regimental Distinctive Insignia (D.I.) on both lapels of their service dress (i.e. E.M.) or on the shoulder loops of the service coat (i.e. Officers) . As such, the standard bearer of the attached medical personnel used a guidon similar to that of the main Infantry group, i.e. a dark blue guidon with, the Regiment’s number high up, the standard crossed muskets in the middle, and the capital letters MED in the lower part, all in white bunting .

 Vehicle Markings: likewise, the vehicle markings (height : 3 inch) reflected the Infantry Division, followed by the lower unit, i.e. the Regiment, on one side of the bumpers, whereas the other side was reserved for the lowest unit, in this case the Medical Detachment followed by the vehicle’s number (.e.g. 104-413-I   (star)   MED-3 ) . Explanation: from L to R – 104th Infantry Division, hyphen, 413th Infantry Regiment, hyphen, Infantry, 3-in star, Medical Detachment, 3rd vehicle .

 Attached and Component Units: personnel, equipment, supplies and installations of the Medical Department, except those of the Veterinary Corps, are protected by the provisions of the Geneva Convention (signed by the U.S.A.) . Medical personnel assigned to units of the field forces includes 2 general divisions : FIRST to each unit of the several arms and services, such as the Infantry or the Artillery Regiment, medical personnel known as attached medical personnel (or Medical Detachment)  is provided by Tables of Organization . These officers and enlisted men fully retain their identity as members of the Medical Department. In action, they are concerned with the assembly of the sick and injured at Aid Stations and their preparation for evacuation to the rear . SECOND, the Medical Battalion  which is a component of Divisions and larger units . These medical units are charged with the clearing of casualties from Aid Stations and their succesive evacuation to Collecting Stations and Clearing Stations from which those who require further care are moved by ambulance, train, or plane, as may be necessary, to hospitals where definitive treatment may be administered ! A Medical Battalion consists of 1 HQ Detachment, 3 Collecting Companies, and 1 Clearing Company .

 Nice to know: “An officer or enlisted man may be brought to trial by court-martial for refusing to submit to a surgical or dental operation, or to medical or dental treatment, at the hands of military authorities, if it is designed to restore or increase his fitness for service and is without risk of life” .

 Just in case, one wouldn’t remember: The Hague Convention, (last one held in 1907), was held in order to consider, among other things, the treatment of prisoners of war and of inhabitants of occupied territory . Non-belligerents are prohibited from engaging in combat and in other forms of direct action against the enemy, except in self-defense . If they violate this law of war and are captured by the enemy, they are not entitled to the protection guaranteed prisoners of war, and may be punished ! These laws of war are therefore included in The Hague Conventions . The Geneva Convention (of 1929) indicates the obligations of all belligerents to respect the sick and the wounded, without distinction of nationality . It is also their duty to search, care and protect the wounded, and to arrange for burial or cremation, and to make every effort to record the identity of dead enemies . Medical troops, installations and equipment are to be protected so long as they’re not used to commit acts injurious to the enemy (this protection is also extended to dental corps personnel, but NOT to the veterinary service). The medical service emblem (Red Cross or Geneva Cross) MUST be displayed on all flags, brassards, equipment (if feasable), used by the medical service . This emblem cannot be used by any other branch of the military service !

 Statistics and Data: in WW2 efficient medical care reduced overall losses to only 4 in each 100 wounded (WW1 8 out of 100) . Better surgery, penicillin, plasma and whole blood are responsible in varying degrees, however the credit must be shared by the entire personnel of the Medical Department, whose painstaking care, surgical skill and devotion to duty under trying conditions saved thousands of lives and preserved the fighting strength of our combat forces ! The soldier with an infection of his wounded leg, or with an open chest wound, or a mutilated face, or an injured brain, was certain to receive, after a short interval, the care of an orthopedic, plastic or neuro surgeon – until he could reach his specialist, the G.I. received the type of care which would get him to that specialist in the best possible condition . Army nurses also gave widely varying types of skilled and sympathetic (=angels) service, some in field hospitals and others in general hospitals farther back . WW2 was also the first war in which nurses automatically held officer rank ! (May 1945 17,314 nurses in ETO) .

 Prior to D-Day, June 1944 ETO medical personnel totaled 132, 705, of whom 62,000 were with combat forces and the rest with the Services of Supply (S.O.S.) – by March 1945 the number had increased to 245,387 men . During WW2 the Medical Department’s field forces totaled 13,174 casualties, of which 2,274 were killed . Overall battle casualties in the ETO were as follows: 554,031 mean & women (up to V-E Day) . This can be subdivided into KIA = 98,812, WIA = 373,018, MIA = 42,278, POW = 24,783, died of wounds = 15,140 . The percentage among arms and services was split into Infantry = 75.02%, Air Forces = 9.36%, Artillery = 5.40%, Corps of Engineers = 3.03%, Medical Department = 2.47%, Armored Forces = 1.01%, and others = 3.71% . Also, deaths from disease in WW1 were more than 31 times greater than those suffered in WW2, while lost service due to venereal disease (V.D.) was 30 times higher in WW1 than during WW2 … (although WW2 still numbered 606 men who came down with VD each day) .   

 Sources: The Officer’s Guide  9th Edition 1942, TM 8-220 Medical Department Soldier’s Handbook March 5, 1941, American Enterprise in Europe – the Rôle of the S.O.S. in the Defeat of Germany USFET June 1945 (all documents belong to the author’s private collection)

Branch Insignia: the medical symbol, i.e. the Caduceus (1" high) was approved in 1902 only (although designed in 1851), and the different branch insignia use a gold color metal Caduceus, with a superimposed brown (early) and/or black (late) enamel capital letter indicative of their respective Corps .

Branch Colors: maroon piped with white was specified in October 1916, this piping is often worn on the garrison cap of enlisted men (while medical officers retain the overall gold/black piping indicating commissioned personnel) .

Uniform Insignia: attached medical personnel retained identical clothing as the infantrymen – only branch insignia and piping could identify the aidmen; they wore the maroon/white piping on their headdress in lieu of Infantry light blue, and the caduceus replaced the Infantry crossed muskets on the collar disks . Being attached to the Infantry Regiment; they were considered to be part of this organization, and as such medical personnel displayed the enameled Regimental Distinctive Insignia (D.I.) on both lapels of their service dress (i.e. E.M.) or on the shoulder loops of the service coat (i.e. Officers) . As such, the standard bearer of the attached medical personnel used a guidon similar to that of the main Infantry group, i.e. a dark blue guidon with, the Regiment’s number high up, the standard crossed muskets in the middle, and the capital letters MED in the lower part, all in white bunting .

Vehicle Markings: likewise, the vehicle markings reflected the Infantry Division, followed by the lower unit, i.e. the Regiment, on one side of the bumpers, whereas the other side was reserved for the lowest unit, in this case the Medical Detachment followed by the vehicle’s number (.e.g. 104-413-I * MED-3 ) . Explanation: from L to R – 104th Infantry Division, hyphen, 413th Infantry Regiment, hyphen, Infantry, 3-in star, Medical Detachment, 3rd vehicle .

Attached and Component Units: Personnel, equipment, supplies and installations of the Medical Department, except those of the Veterinary Corps, are protected by the provisions of the Geneva Convention (signed by the U.S.A.) . Medical personnel assigned to units of the field forces includes 2 general divisions : FIRST to each unit of the several arms and services, such as the Infantry or the Artillery Regiment, medical personnel known as attached medical personnel (or Medical Detachment) is provided by Tables of Organization . These officers and enlisted men fully retain their identity as members of the Medical Department. In action, they are concerned with the assembly of the sick and injured at Aid Stations and their preparation for evacuation to the rear . SECOND, the Medical Battalion which is a component of Divisions and larger units . These medical units are charged with the clearing of casualties from Aid Stations and their succesive evacuation to Collecting Stations and Clearing Stations from which those who require further care are moved by ambulance, train, or plane, as may be necessary, to hospitals where definitive treatment may be administered ! A Medical Battalion consists of 1 HQ Detachment, 3 Collecting Companies, and 1 Clearing Company .

Nice to know: "An officer or enlisted man may be brought to trial by court-martial for refusing to submit to a surgical or dental operation, or to medical or dental treatment, at the hands of military authorities, if it is designed to restore or increase his fitness for service and is without risk of life" .

Just in case, one wouldn’t remember: "The Hague Convention", (last one held in 1907), was held in order to consider, among other things, the treatment of prisoners of war and of inhabitants of occupied territory . Non-belligerents are prohibited from engaging in combat and in other forms of direct action against the enemy, except in self-defense . If they violate this law of war and are captured by the enemy, they are not entitled to the protection guaranteed prisoners of war, and may be punished ! These laws of war are therefore included in The Hague Conventions . "The Geneva Convention" (of 1929) indicates the obligations of all belligerents to respect the sick and the wounded, without distinction of nationality . It is also their duty to search, care and protect the wounded, and to arrange for burial or cremation, and to make every effort to record the identity of dead enemies . Medical troops, installations and equipment are to be protected so long as they’re not used to commit acts injurious to the enemy (this protection is also extended to dental corps personnel, but NOT to the veterinary service). The medical service emblem (Red Cross or Geneva Cross) MUST be displayed on all flags, brassards, equipment (if feasable), used by the medical service . This emblem cannot be used by any other branch of the military service !

Statistics and Data: in WW2 efficient medical care reduced overall losses to only 4 in each 100 wounded (WW1 8 out of 100) . Better surgery, penicillin, plasma and whole blood are responsible in varying degrees, however the credit must be shared by the entire personnel of the Medical Department, whose painstaking care, surgical skill and devotion to duty under trying conditions saved thousands of lives and preserved the fighting strength of our combat forces ! The soldier with an infection of his wounded leg, or with an open chest wound, or a mutilated face, or an injured brain, was certain to receive, after a short interval, the care of an orthopedic, plastic or neuro surgeon – until he could reach his specialist, the G.I. received the type of care which would get him to that specialist in the best possible condition . Army nurses also gave widely varying types of skilled and sympathetic (=angels) service, some in field hospitals and others in general hospitals farther back . WW2 was also the first war in which nurses automatically held officer rank ! (May 1945 17,314 nurses in ETO) .

Prior to D-Day, June 1944 ETO medical personnel totaled 132, 705, of whom 62,000 were with combat forces and the rest with the Services of Supply (S.O.S.) – by March 1945 the number had increased to 245,387 men . During WW2 the Medical Department’s field forces totaled 13,174 casualties, of which 2,274 were killed . Overall battle casualties in the ETO were as follows: 554,031 men & women (up to V-E Day) . This can be subdivided into KIA = 98,812, WIA = 373,018, MIA = 42,278, POW = 24,783, died of wounds = 15,140 . The percentage among arms and services was split into Infantry = 75.02%, Air Forces = 9.36%, Artillery = 5.40%, Corps of Engineers = 3.03%, Medical Department = 2.47%, Armored Forces = 1.01%, and others = 3.71% . Also, deaths from disease in WW1 were more than 31 times greater than those suffered in WW2, while lost service due to venereal disease (V.D.) was 30 times higher in WW1 than during WW2 … (although WW2 still numbered 606 men who came down with VD each day) .

Sources: The Officer’s Guide 9th Edition 1942, TM 8-220 Medical Department Soldier’s Handbook March 5, 1941, American Enterprise in Europe – the Rôle of the S.O.S. in the Defeat of Germany USFET June 1945 (all documents belong to the author’s private collection)

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