There were very few letters in the mail yesterday – but I got three of them and all from you, dear, and the latest was written 20 October. That made the rest of the day a success, darling, because I love the content of your letters. The fact is that the way you express yourself, sweetheart, is very satisfying to one who has to be separated from the one he loves. You often write that you ‘feel’ something and can’t make it clear to me. Well you’re all wrong, darling, because I understand all that you say and I love the way you say it. Certainly love is a peculiar thing in the way it makes you feel inadequate. I often feel as if I were the luckiest fellow in the world and I want to tell you about it, yet when I write it and read what I’ve written, it seems to fall short. But over a period of time, dear, I think the message gets across – I believe so anyway.
I was especially interested in your letter of 17 October, dear. You had just been out for a walk by yourself and had done some good thinking. That’s the only time a person can really clear his mind, I think – when he’s alone – and in the open. Being outside makes a good deal of difference, too, because it seems as if your thoughts can really expand. I used to do that a great deal when I was in Salem and the war has allowed me ample opportunity to continue. Of course – I’m a rather introspective person, anyway, but practically so – I believe. I didn’t know you well enough, dear, before I left – to know whether you were introspective too. I’ve come to find out since – that you are – and I’m glad – because a person who can be introspective – can usually think things out.
Marriage is supposed to make two people intimate – but I’m afraid that more often than not that intimacy is sexual only – and if that’s all it gives – then you’re better off not married. The intimacy must involve an understanding of every like and dislike, of every thought – if possible – and certainly an understanding of every mood. No two people – except two mentally diseased perhaps – can live together, without some difference of opinion, some contralateral likes or dislikes; but if they can realize that fact, occasionally give ground, wait until a mood has passed – those two people can live happily. From what I can gather from your letters – I didn’t know you in the States long enough to find out – I know we’re going to be happy. Why did I want to become engaged to you then – you may wonder? The answer is that I saw it in you letters right from the start. I know so much more about you from our correspondence, darling, than I do from our being together – but we were together long enough to complete the picture. No – you are not too idealistic, dear; on the contrary – you are being very realistic in stating what you want. I’ll try not to disappoint you. I know we’ll belong to each other in every sense of the word.
The letter of the 17th also included your transcription of some cartoons, sweetheart, which I enjoyed. You’re really ambitious to take the trouble to do it, dear – and I appreciate it. And now I see some patients coming to visit me and I’ll have to stop now. Today it was I who rambled on – but from all of it – you must realize how much I love you and want you, darling – because I do – with all my heart. You shall see – So long for now, dear, love to the folks – and
From the place on the battlefield where the aidmen treated a casualty and marked his position, ETO divisional medical installations and hence the chain of evacuation stretched rearward over a considerable distance. By late 1944 battalion aid stations typically set up at least a mile behind the engaged infantry and armor elements, to reduce losses from artillery and mortar fire among essential, hard-to-replace doctors and technicians. Collecting stations usually took position about a mile back of the aid stations. Clearing stations remained 3 to as many as 15 miles behind the fighting line, to be free of the patient-disturbing noise and counterbattery fire danger or their own corps and division artillery.
Since the Battle of the Hedgerows they had used collecting company ambulances, supplemented by trucks for walking wounded, to evacuate their battalion aid stations. By late autumn they routinely extended motor transport forward of the aid stations as well, whenever possible right to the place where casualties lay on the battlefield. Medics now used jeeps, belonging to battalion aid stations and collecting companies, in preference to litterbearers, for moving wounded in the forward areas. Fitted with brackets for carrying litters, these small sturdy vehicles could go most places men on foot could; they could accommodate two or three litters each, and as many ambulatory patients as ingenious drivers could crowd on board. When their jeeps bogged down in mud and snow, medics often switched to the M-29 Weasel, a small tracked cargo vehicle that had about the same litter capacity as the jeep. Armored division surgeons used light tanks and tank retrievers to move their wounded over ground impassable to jeeps and regular ambulances.
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Infantry battalion and collecting company litterbearers (the latter all but supplanted by ambulances for work to the rear of the aid stations) customarily combined forces to remove wounded from the battlefield. They were far too few for the job during intense combat and when weather, terrain, or the tactical situation prevented vehicles from assisting them. The Huertgen fighting, in particular, absorbed bearers at an almost intolerable rate. The 1st Infantry Division, during its time in the forest, used 240 additional litterbearers; the 4th Division employed 140. The 68th Medical Group, for example, which supported the VII Corps, provided infantry divisions in the Huertgen Forest with over 450 reinforcement bearers, including the enlisted personnel of two entire collecting companies.
Litter bearers in the Huertgen Forest
In especially difficult tactical situations, infantry battalion and collecting company medics resorted to all manner of expedients to keep evacuation going. Such was the case during the disastrous attack of the 28th Infantry Division in the Huertgen Forest early in November. In this operation the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 112th Infantry seized a salient of key high ground around the villages of Schmidt and Kommerscheidt, deep in German-held territory, and then came under heavy infantry, tank, and artillery counterattack from three sides.
Attack on Schmidt from three sides
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The battalions' route of supply and evacuation consisted of a narrow trail, muddy from the incessant rain, which wound its way down into the gorge of the Kall River and then up another ridge to the American-held town of Vossenack, some 2 miles northwest of Kommerscheidt. Vossenack itself was under intense German infantry attack, as well as artillery bombardment from high ground to its northeast.
The battalion surgeons, Captains Paschal A. Linguiti, MC, of the 1st and Michael De Marco, MC, of the 3d, faced a difficult evacuation problem. Ambulances from their supporting collecting company could not negotiate the trail across the Kall.
Tank Destroyers on the muddy Kall Trail
Hence, the battalions had to send casualties back in jeeps and weasels to an ambulance loading point near the top of the ridge at Vossenack. Linguiti initially set up his 1st Battalion aid station in a basement in Kommerscheidt; De Marco, with his 3d Battalion station, took position about a mile farther to the rear, west of the Kall, sheltered in a cave-like 18-by-12-foot dugout built into the steep hillside that bordered the trail. The station in Kommerscheidt in effect functioned as an advance collecting point; it sent wounded in whatever vehicles were available to the 3d Battalion installation for relay on up the hill to the ambulance loading point.
Battalion Aid Station personnel readying
casualties for evacuation farther to the rear
As the American position at Schmidt and Kommerscheidt deteriorated, so did the evacuation situation. Linguiti and De Marco consolidated their two aid stations in the dugout. Litter patients, eventually about sixty-five of them, accumulated in and around the dugout. Linguiti and De Marco cared for them as best they could, helped by their MAC assistant surgeons, the battalion chaplains, a dwindling contingent of enlisted medics, and infantry stragglers whom the surgeons disarmed and pressed into service as attendants and litterbearers. The medics had adequate food for their patients and enough medical supplies for what little treatment they were attempting, but they were short of blankets and shelter. The dugout could accommodate only about twenty-five patients. The remainder, wrapped in what coverings were available, lay along the trail in the cold, rain, and snow, protected by soldiers holding Red Cross flags. This protection was needed because, during the final days of the battle, German troops infiltrating behind the 1st and 3d Battalions periodically visited the aid station. However, except for announcing that the medics were captured and making sure that no armed Americans were present, the Germans left the facility unmolested. They allowed American walking wounded to reach the station and at one point offered Linguiti and De Marco food and medicine, which the surgeons declined. Nevertheless, the Germans did confiscate the aid station's few vehicles.
After the survivors of the 1st and 3d Battalions withdrew from Kommerscheidt on the night of 8-9 November, in the process inundating the aid station with a final stream of walking and litter-borne casualties, Linguiti and De Marco and their staff and patients remained within German lines. The enemy evidently had neither the means nor the inclination to remove the American doctors and wounded. The local German commander agreed to a truce, proposed by the 112th Infantry's surgeon, Maj. Albert L. Berndt, MC, for removal of both sides' casualties from the Kall valley. Under this arrangement the battalion surgeons, after further adventures with a German unit not party to the truce, eventually managed to assemble a makeshift truck and weasel convoy to carry themselves, the other medical officers and men, the chaplains, and the severely wounded back to American lines. However, they had to surrender the lightly wounded and their non-medical personnel as prisoners of war.