It’s late in the morning to be writing but I’ll get a few words in before leaving for lunch. Yesterday I didn’t get a chance to write you, dear. (What! Again!) I was away from battalion all day from 0830 until 1830. I covered about 130 miles and I didn’t really thaw out until about 1000 this morning – no fooling. I had to visit several hospitals to get some data on some of our soldiers and it was quite a day. There was no one else to do it for me either. By the way, I forgot to tell you – our dental officer is in the hospital – with asthma. I don’t know the latest rulings on that. They used to eliminate those cases from the service; then they re-classified them. I won’t be sorry if he doesn’t get back to us, frankly, although it leaves me short. Too bad Lawrence isn’t over here. Wouldn’t that be something if he could be in the same outfit as I!
This has been a tough month for us – there’s no use kidding about it. The weather is just like New England’s – maybe not as cold as the recent cold wave I’ve read about – but cold enough – and with plenty of snow and ice. Each new C.P. location we have is a bit worse than the preceding one – because the area here has really taken a beating in recent weeks. But all in all – we’re better off than the infantry and I wouldn’t classify any of the above, darling, as complaining.
Hello again, dear –
Chow was only fair – but we have our best meal in the evening and the food has been very good – considering circumstances.
Some time ago, dear, you told me about a scrapbook you had started, and I failed to mention it in my letters to you. I guess you must have realized I had received the letter – because I’ve been digging through all my files and sending stuff on that I’d been saving. I’m glad you started the book, darling, because I’ll like to see some of the things after the war – and they’ll be safe with you. Anything else I come across – I’ll keep sending along – with or without comment, and you can put them where you like. Although I keep taking pictures – I won’t have any to send home until the war ends, I guess, because I don’t dare try to have then developed after having had 4 rolls confiscated. And by the way – in one of the packages I sent you a week or so ago – the largest one – a collection of photographs taken by Rothschild on a trip he once made – there are a couple of loose paintings. They’re not particularly good – but they’re colorful and definitely European. There’s also one etching – in black and white – and that is an original one. It’s a sketch of Stolberg Castle, Germany, given to me by a German patient from Stolberg – when I was there. I’ve taken some pictures of the Castle – but I liked the sketch particularly. We’ll have it framed someday, dear.
and somewhat cropped by the scan.
|Sketch (Etching) of Stolberg Castle, Germany|
I don’t know if I told you about the 2 German novels I sent home – I guess I did – at that. We’ll put them in our library someday, too. And while I’m talking about packages – remember my telling you about the dagger I was sending to you? Well, darling, to make the parcel really morbid – I included a Nazi “Persuader” I happened to come across some time ago. It is not a riding crop. Seems to me you should be receiving about 5 or 6 packages in a row and not one practical gift, sweetheart! Well – I like to collect things, dear – anything at all – except girls, I guess. I don’t collect those, I just pick one and then I stop collecting. Is that all right with you, dear??
I’ll have to shut up now and get over to the aid station and do some work. Of all the g-d things, I have to write a medical history of the detachment for the past year – activities, experiences, suggestions and all that sort of hooey. What a hell of a thing to be doing in the middle of a combat zone!
All for now, sweetheart – I’ve really got to get going. No mail for some time, dear – but maybe today. For now, dear – so long and love to the folks. Just in case you’ve been in doubt, I love you, I love you, I love you – and gosh darling – how I mean that!
Part 3: Combat Fatigue
In 1941, the Army lacked a definition, a treatment system, or even a name for its psychiatric casualties. These casualties by the end of the war would amount to over one hundred fifty thousand, or a average for every three men killed or wounded, one other soldier became a combat exhaustion case.
Medical writer Albert Cowdry described some of the symptoms of the soldiers with combat exhaustion:Intolerable weariness and baseless alarm. Some were stuporous and withdrawn, some tense and violent, some suffered from Parkinson-like tremor or from delusions... They were beyond self control and orders and threats meant nothing. Weeping, shaking, curling up in the fetal position... they had ceased to be soldiers for a time.
Traditionally, the shell-shocked soldiers had been treated administratively rather than through medical channels. In the Civil War many shell shocked men were treated as cowards and ere shot to death. At that time, women were supposed to be "fragile" while men were supposed to be tough and resilient. There was little medical aid for psychiatric casualties after that war, and in one state - Indiana - nearly three hundred Civil War veterans were locked up in lunatic asylums.
Veteran war correspondent Ernie Pyle was deeply touched when he met two GI psychiatric casualties:two shock cases... staggering down the road. They were not wounded but were completely broken... the kind that stab into your heart. There were shaking all over, and had to hold on to each other like little girls when they walked. The doctor stopped them. They could barely talk, barely understand. He told them to wait down at the next corner until we came back, and then they could ride. When they turned away from the Jeep, they turned slowly and unsteadily, a step at a time, like men who were awfully drunk. Their mouths hung open and their eyes stared, and they still held onto each other. They were just like idiots. They had found more war that the human spirit can endure.
The "thousand-yard stare"
There were a number of instances in which high ranking officers revealed the traditional Army view toward combat fatigue. One of these involved General George Patton when he visited the 15th and 93rd Evacuation Hospitals in Sicily, slapped one soldier and threatened to shoot another whom he call "A God-damned coward, a yellow son-of-a-bitch."
Once during the Bulge, General Matthew Ridgeway encountered a dysfunctional sergeant. An hour later in the same spot, the tough airborne General Ridgeway came under enemy fire, and a sergeant nearby became almost hysterical.He threw himself into the ditch by the side of the road crying and raving. I walked over and tried to talk to him, trying to help him get hold of himself. But it had no effect. He was just crouched there in the ditch, cringing in utter terror. So I called my Jeep driver, Sergeant Farmer and told him to take his carbine and march this man back to the nearest MP and if he started to escape to shoot him without hesitation. He was an object of abject cowardice and the sight of him would have a terrible effect on any American soldier who might see him.There were basically two types of combat exhaustion. One occurred among new troops just before combat or during their first five days at the front. Some traumatic event of violence or carnage was simply intolerable. Michael Douler cited the case of a Ranger Battalion GI who witnessed a decapitation event in the Hurtgen Forest:A new replacement in the elite 2nd Ranger Battalion saw the head of a fellow Ranger less than three feet away, blown completely off. The new soldier became speechless, did not know his name and could not recognize anyone around him. (The soldier was finally sent to a stateside psychiatric ward).A second type of combat exhaustion occurred among veteran soldiers who had survived hard, continuous fighting for four months or more. Paul Fussell argued that what the U.S. Military learned about combat fatigue in world War II was that "men will inevitably go mad in battle and that no appeal to patriotism, manliness, or loyalty to the group will ultimately matter.
At times some officers suspected that some soldiers were feigning their "combat fatigue." Paul Boesch, a 28th Infantry Division platoon leader alleged that his platoon sergeant had deserted under the guise of combat exhaustion:My platoon sergeant was missing. One sectional leader, a soft-spoken Georgian T/Sgt Arthur N. Clarke, explained his absence. "Lieutenant," Clarke said slowly, "Jim left. The first time that machine gun fired, he handed me his Tommy gun and said he couldn't take it any more. He took off."An Army policy gradually developed that viewed combat exhaustion patients as temporarily disabled soldiers. Treatment consisted of at least a day's rest, sedation, hot meals, and dry clothing. More severe cases were sent to treatment centers at Ciney, Belgium and Luneville, France. Here is how decisions came to be made:
I listened... stunned. "He said for me to take charge of the platoon," Clarke continued. I could hardly believe it. The platoon sergeant was the same man who, less than a week before when I had first joined the platoon, had stepped forward, his eyes shifting a bit, and regaled the replacements who had arrived with me. "Listen you guys," he had barked harshly, "I don't want any of you guys to turn yella, see! A yellowbelly sonofabitch is worse than a damn Jerry! If you see a man turn yella and run, shoot him in the back like a dirty dog!"
This, I thought, was the man who was going to shoot the first "Yellowbelly" in the back. To leave the platoon this way was just plain desertion. "Hey Lieutenant," one of the men shouted, "is that the guy who was going to shoot us in the back?"
Diagram of sorting choices and labels for battle fatigue cases
from Global Security's chapter on Battle Fatigue
where definitions can be found