First let me apologize for not writing you yesterday; it was the first day I missed in a long long time – but I just couldn’t get to it. As you know – if you’ve received my letter of 31 October, dear, I’m with one of the batteries and I was busy all day. Part of the day consisted in my going back to Verviers, Belgium – but I couldn’t get into any of the stores to look around because it was All Saint’s Day or some such thing – and everything was closed.
I’ve been inspecting all a.m. and have more to do. I’m supposed to go back to battalion tonight but I think I’ll sleep over here because I won’t get through before dark – and we just don’t like traveling in the dark – around here. If I’m free tonite – I’ll try to write you, darling – otherwise I’ll write you more tomorrow. I’m closing now because the battery mail clerk is here and will take this back to battalion for mailing; Otherwise I’ll lose a day. So – so long for now, sweetheart, love to the folks – and
Divisional unit detachments (such as Greg's) and medical battalions at the forward end of the evacuation chain collected casualties under fire, stabilized their condition, and started them toward safety and healing in the rear. Increasingly, by late 1944, the latter function - evacuation - was becoming the primary one for all medical personnel forward of the clearing stations. By army policy, medics confined treatment to the bare minimum needed to fit casualties for immediate further transportation: controlling bleeding, pain, and infection; immobilizing broken limbs; and administering plasma.
Medical treatment of wounded soldiers began even before they reached their battalion aid stations. Casualties received first aid at or near the spot on the battlefield where they were injured, administered either by themselves and their buddies or, much more often, by their company aidmen. Each soldier carried an individual first aid packet, containing field dressings and sulfa powder and tablets, and was supposed to know how to improvise and apply splints and tourniquets. First aid procedures called for a wounded man, if able, to seek protection from fire, examine his injury and assess its severity, sprinkle it with sulfa powder, apply a dressing, and swallow his sulfa tablets. Then he was to get back to the aid station on his own or call for the aidman.
In practice, a large proportion of the wounded forgot to do, or not do, any number of these things. Of casualties polled in COMZ (Communications Zone) general hospitals, for example, about one-third did not take their sulfa pills before they reached the aid station, claiming that they lacked water to wash them down; doubted the tablets' usefulness; or were incapacitated by their injuries. Soldiers often did not have their belt first aid packets on their persons when hit. "They'd take them off," an aidman reported, "for example to be more comfortable in a fox hole, and we'll usually find the belts [and packets] lying close by." Hurt, frightened soldiers yelled frantically for the aidman even when only slightly wounded and capable of leaving the field under their own power. Many, in panic, further injured themselves, at times fatally. A company aidman recalled the actions of a lieutenant.
He got hit and just had a little bit of gut hanging out and he sits up and lies down and hollers and thinks he is going to die and we fix him up but he's still excited and pretty soon air gets in and he dies. That same day there's a Jerry with all his guts hanging out. He puts his hand down there and holds it in. We get him to the aid station and we hear later that the son-of-a-bitch still lives. He just held it there and didn't get excited.
Fortunately, comparatively few wounded men - only one in five, according to one hospital survey - had to give themselves first aid. Most found a company aidman at their sides within less than half an hour of being hit. Besides bandaging, splinting, applying tourniquets, administering sulfa powder and tablets, and injecting morphine, aidmen were supposed to fill out an emergency medical tag (EMT) for each casualty, providing the basic record of his identity and initial treatment. Many divisions in practice transferred this chore to the battalion aid stations, for the company medics, amid the urgency and danger of combat, were hardly in an ideal position to do paper work. Company aidmen had a deserved reputation for bravery but they complained that some of their heroics were unnecessary, the result of panic calls for help by the slightly injured or of poor judgment by line officers in sending out their medics under fire. One medic commented: "If a man is hit, he's hit, and it may be better to leave him there for a while than to send the aid man to him on a suicide job for example, I've seen it done when mortars were pounding the area and every foot was covered with [machine-gun] fire."
Most demands for courage on the part of aidmen, however, were legitimate and essential to their mission, and the medics responded with dedication and self-sacrifice. During the Third Army fighting along the Moselle, for example, Technician 5th Class Alfred L. Wilson, a company aidman in the 328th Infantry, moved about under heavy shelling treating his unit's many wounded until badly hurt himself. He refused evacuation and, in great pain and slowly bleeding to death, continued dragging himself from one casualty to the next. Finally too weak to move, he instructed other soldiers in giving first aid until unconsciousness overcame him. His unit credited Wilson, who received a posthumous Medal of Honor, with helping to save the lives of at least ten men. A 4th Division captain reported of another aidman in the Huertgen Forest who similarly stayed on duty after being injured: "This man was perhaps an even greater morale aid than a physical aid" to the hard-pressed riflemen around him.
Not surprisingly, in the light of such performance, aidmen were among the most popular and respected soldiers in their companies. Aidmen and infantry troops alike bitterly resented the War Department refusal-based on the need to maintain the medics' Geneva Convention noncombatant status-to grant eligible enlisted medics the Combat Infantryman Badge and the ten dollars a month extra pay that went with it. In some ETO divisions riflemen collected money from their own wages to give their aidmen the combat bonus. The War Department, however, did not remedy this inequity until barely two months before V-E Day. Medical Department soldiers - mostly aidmen and litter bearers - did collect their share of decorations for valor. Four ETO enlisted medics besides Wilson received Medals of Honor; hundreds of others won Silver or Bronze Stars.
In the judgment of doctors farther to the rear, aidmen and front-line troops gave generally competent first aid, although they made a few persistent errors. Soldiers-whether medical or nonmedical-regularly misused tourniquets. They applied them unnecessarily; left them unloosened for too long; and occasionally evacuated patients with tourniquets concealed by blankets or clothing, and hence not discovered until the limb was doomed. Trying to prevent such abuses, the Seventh Army surgeon directed that the "sole indication" for applying a tourniquet should be "active spurting hemorrhage from a major artery" and that medics in the field or at battalion aid stations should note the presence of a tourniquet on a patient's EMT in capital letters.
With the morphine Syrette then in use, aidmen easily could overdose casualties, especially in cold weather when slow blood circulation delayed absorption of the initial shot and the patient received more at an aid or collecting station. To guard against such mistakes, front-line medics who did not fill out EMTs often attached their used morphine Syrettes to soldiers' clothing before evacuating them. In the First Army the surgeon, Colonel Rogers, recommended abandonment of the practice of sprinkling sulfa powder on open fresh wounds as an anti-infection precaution. Combined with the taking of sulfa pills, this treatment resulted in excessive doses, and it also made wounds generally dirtier without reaching the deepest portions most in need of prophylaxis.