Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ernie Pyle writes about medics in WW2

(Bill Mauldin Image)
Ernie Pyle

It is well known that I have soft spot in my heart for medics. In the course of researching for a project I'm working on, I came across this column about medics of a bygone era. Written by Ernie Pyle from Sicily in 1943, it is an up close and personal look at warfare in WW2, beautifully written. Take a look:

As Proficient as a Circus

SOMEWHERE IN SICILY, August 11, 1943 – Probably it isn’t clear to you just how the Army’s setup for the care of the sick and wounded works on a battlefront. So I’ll try to picture it for you.

Let’s take the medical structure for a whole division, such as the 45th, which I have been with recently. A division runs roughly fifteen thousand men. And almost a thousand of that number are medical men.

To begin right at the front, three enlisted medical-aid men go along with every company. They give what first aid they can on the battlefield. Then litter-bearers carry the wounded back to a battalion aid station.

Sometimes a wounded man is taken back right away. Other times he may be pinned down by fire so that the aid men can’t get to him, and he will have to lie out there for hours before help comes. Right there in the beginning is the biggest obstacle, and the weakest feature of the army’s medical setup.

Once a soldier is removed from the battlefield his treatment is superb. The battalion aid station is his first of many stops as he is worked to the rear and finally to a hospital. An aid station is merely where the battalion surgeon and his assistant happen to be. It isn’t a tent or anything like that – it’s just the surgeon’s medical chest and a few stretchers under a tree. Each station is staffed by two doctors and thirty-six enlisted men. They are very frequently under fire....

Read the rest here.

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