Category Archives: History

History of Medical Corps Ranks – a Guest Post

by André Sobocinski*

Medical titles for the U.S. Navy were established by the Act of 24 May 1828 for the “Better Organization of the Medical Department of the Navy.”   After 1828, a Navy medical officer could serve as a Surgeon, Passed Assistant Surgeon, and Assistant Surgeon. You also see the term “Acting Assistant Surgeon” which usually denoted temporary service (a la contract) or a physician who was serving aboard a ship but has not yet received a commission or been approved by a Board of Naval Surgeons. It should be understood that Naval medical officers were called “surgeons”, but were qualified nominally to practice both medicine and surgery.

The 1828 Act provided that all candidates for appointment needed to be examined by  a Board of Naval Surgeons (AKA Board of Examiners). Upon
successful completion of the exam, the newly appointed physician would be given the title of “Assistant Surgeon.”   In order to be promoted to
Surgeon, the Assistant Surgeon needed to serve at sea for at least two years and be examined again by the Board of Naval Surgeons.  Successfully passing the board did not mean that he was automatically promoted to Surgeon.  Until vacancies occurred the Assistant Surgeon would be known as a “Passed Assistant Surgeon.”   Medical Officers could serve for years as a Passed Assistant Surgeon. We even have cases of physicians retiring from service as a Passed Assistant Surgeon.

These medical titles did not have an associated rank until 31 August 1846, when new regulations provided for “relative” ranks. Surgeons with more than 12 years of experience held “relative rank” equivalent to Navy line Commanders.  Surgeons with less than 12 years of experience held “relative rank” of Lieutenant Commanders, Passed Assistant Surgeons, as Lieutenants, and Assistant Surgeons were considered roughtly equivalent to Lieutenants (junior grade).

On 3 March 1871, the title structure was again altered.   The Navy Medical Department now had the additional titles of Surgeon General, Medical Director, Medical Inspector, Surgeon, Passed Assistant Surgeon, and Assistant Surgeon.  Each of these conferred additional relative rank (Surgeon General=Commodore (one star), Medical Director=Captain, Medical Inspector=Commander, Surgeon=Lieutenant Commander, Passed Assistant Surgeon=Lieutenant, Assistant Surgeon=Lieutenant (junior grade) or Ensign). In 1899, the Surgeon General/Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (“BUMED”) was given relative rank of Rear Admiral (two star).

On 15 August 1918, the concept of relative rank was abolished by General Order 418. Medical Officers were finally accepted in the Naval hierarchy and
looked upon as Naval Officers (the exception to this in 1918 was the Nurse Corps). With this said, the titles Medical Director, Passed Assistant
Surgeon etc continued to be used through 1947, but after WWI were less commonly used.  A Medical Director would typically be called Captain, Passed Assistant Surgeon a Lieutenant Commander, etc.

As for Navy’s medicine’s most senior officers, from 1842-1871, the Chief of BUMED was a Surgeon,  equivalent to Commander; 1871-1899 the Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED was equivalent  to a Commodore (one star); 1899-1918 the Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED had the relative rank of Rear Admiral (two stars); from 1918 to 1965 the Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED had the rank of Rear Admiral. The only exception to this was Ross McIntire who, while serving simultaneously as FDR’s White House physician and Navy Surgeon General, held the three star rank of Vice Admiral. From 1965 to present the Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED holds the rank of Vice Admiral.

The Navy very wisely established Boards of Examiners in a day when medical education in the U.S. was unregulated and quite irregular. To assure a certain level of competence, each candidate for appointment as Assistant Surgeon had to pass a rigorous examination of his knowledge of medicine, surgery, anatomy, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacy, legal medicine and more. For the convenience of the candidates, the Examining Boards sat at the Naval Asylum at Grays Ferry (Philadelphia), Brooklyn (Naval Hospital/School of Instruction), and later Washington, DC (Naval Museum of Hygiene/Naval Medical School).  In the mid to late 19th century examinations were also conducted  at Norfolk, VA, New Orleans, LA, and at Mare Island Navy Yard, CA.

Image: http://s277.photobucket.com/user/Sheriff__001/media/USNavyOffier.png.html, accessed 27 May 2015. The modern rank of Rear Admiral (lower half) was known as Commodore in earlier years. The Coast Guard retains the rank of Commodore for its one star flag officers.

*André Sobocinski is the Historian in the Communication Directorate at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington DC (his physical location is in Falls Church, VA). André wrote this article in response to a question about medical officer relative ranks put to the Executive Director of the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, Professor Annette Finley-Croswhite.

©2015 André Sobocinski

Paeon to Corpsmen

Recently, I came across this praise of medics. It’s from the 3rd Armored Division newsletter. It was written by a journalist who served in the 3rd AD during World War II. The story he tells could be repeated today in Afganistan and elsewhere. It’s a powerful and poignant tribute to selfless and brave folks:

© Leslie Woolner Bardsley  Woolner Index      NEXT

PILL ROLLERS
by
Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in 3AD Association Newsletter – December, 1974

Every time I read about some gutless dim-bulb who advocates surrender rather than serving his country in a time of need I am reminded of our pill rollers. There is little doubt that many of the gentlemen who served as medics in WWII were conscientious objectors, but they didn’t run and they were major contributors to our ultimate victory.

Admittedly, back in the states (where every rookie is a self-appointed hero) those of us who were silly enough to think war a glorious adventure made bad jokes about the moral fiber of aid-men. We should have had our mouths washed out with yellow, GI soap!

Much later, in combat, our definition of bravery underwent some startling changes. It turned out that 90 per cent of us were scared blue; we performed our duties, but it was no piece of cake. I’m sure the medics were scared too, but I never saw better soldiers.

Indeed, if comparisons are necessary, then I held these crusaders of the red cross on an absolute par with the crazy, wonderful gladiators of The Big Red One, the Ninth, the Screaming Eagles – and the best of our own superb Spearhead warriors. Today I’ll buy drinks for any aging character who admits that he was a medic in the big leagues.

Whether they were company aid-men or battalion, we got to know our pill rollers in combat. They were gentle men. Few of them wanted to kill, yet they lacked no intestinal fortitude. They were as beat-up and dirty as any of us, but they were angels of mercy toting plasma and sulphanil-amide and bandages – and hope.

Ever stop to think that the medics are directly responsible for the fact that many Spearhead veterans are getting old? One of Woolner’s sage maxims is an observation that aging is an alternative; otherwise one dies young.

A certain company aid-man I knew rather intimately, due to mutual suffering in basic training and later operations in assorted beer joints, may have been typical. Maybe I should name him, but I won’t – other than to say his first name was John and he originated away back East. This guy was well-read and cultured, really officer material, yet he shook his head at the thought of killing other human beings. John went AWOL out of Camp Hood, Texas, eluded all of the MP’s, thumbed his way back East and married “that girl” in his life. Then he returned to face the music.

They gave him a month of hard labor, and he took it in stride, never complaining.

Hard labor wasn’t much fun. On several occasions I had to be watch-dog and, once, having fouled-up a given task, I had a day of it myself. You dug latrines, broke rocks and raked sand. It was dawn to dusk under armed guard. The hard labor boys were temporary second-class citizens, and you’d better believe it.

John felt that his “crime” was worth the punishment. Laughing it off, he served his sentence and went back to company duty, a buck private with no immediate dream of advancement. That man served with distinction when the guns began to pound; he was a hell of a great soldier.

Spearhead brats must realize that a red cross on arm and helmet was no armor, yet these characters scurried out under the heaviest of fire to rescue the wounded. Lots of them were killed in action, daring too much. Some were slaughtered by the spiteful SS, but more caught it because machinegun fire and artillery is indiscriminate. The rank and file of the German Army respected aid-men. Often, in surrounded pockets. Kraut and GI medics worked together to save the lives of soldiers of both sides.

There may have been medics who dogged it, but I never saw one. To those of us up front they were all heroes, and I might add that our standards were pretty high. How else do you rate a man who darts out of cover during a tremendous bombardment to succor the wounded? While brave infantrymen were crouching in foxholes and tank commanders tried to get hull-down and inconspicuous, these wonderful bastards answered every call for help.

In the Third Armored Division, as in every true lighting formation, we swiftly reached a point where “pill-roller” was uttered only if, like Owen Wister’s Virginian, “you smile when you say that!”

Commanders reap most of the glory and combat troops harvest a lion’s share of medals, but talk to “old soldiers, broke in the wars,” and you’ll find their greatest praise reserved for the unarmed medics who didn’t want to kill anybody, but who had the guts to conquer fear, to dive into a furnace and save the lives of comrades. No braver men ever served America.

 

The Grog, Issue 37, 2013 (A Journal of Navy Medical History and Culture)

The latest “ration” of The Grog, A Journal of Navy Medical History and Culture, is now online and can be found on our website here.

According to Andre Sobocinski, editor and historian, “In this edition, we look back at the U.S. Navy’s long history with sharks–from curious cases of shark attacks documented by Navy physicians to the development of “full-proof” repellents.  We follow this with an assortment of original stories and sidebars ranging from a look back on the life of a long-living World War II Prisoner of War and the service of Navy flight nurses in the Pacific and in Brazil to the recollection of Surgeon General Edward Stitt’s “Budget Battles” and a glimpse at the Navy Medical Department in 1963.

As always, we hope you enjoy this journey on the high seas of Navy Medicine’s past!”

Guest Blogger: Chaplain Dave Thompson on Non-Combat Casualties

Our blog-friend Chaplain Dave Thompson joins us for another post. This time, he writes about the matter of non-combat casualties of war since the Civil War.

As you are well aware, I have been trying to tell the story of disease in our wars…especially WW I ( The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 in WW I), which cost more lives than combat in that conflict, For every American war before WW II, this largely was the case… death to disease trumped all combat deaths in these conflicts!.

In the Civil War a similar phenomenon of more deaths to disease than combat occurred (see: http://www.civilwarhome.com/casualties.htm ). Of the 618,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War, 2/3rd’s of them died of disease (414,152) and only 1/3 died in combat (204,070).

Then there were an additional 24,866 soldiers who died in prison due to disease and mistreatment as POW’s by both Union and Confederate forces!Outside of McKinley Kantor’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel of a Confederate POW camp in SW Georgia,  Andersonville (see: http://www.amazon.com/Andersonville-Plume-MacKinlay-Kantor/dp/0452269563/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362578878&sr=1-1&keywords=andersonville ), much of  the darker story of neglectful treatment of POW’s in the Civil War, on both the Union and Confederate sides, is rarely told today in general American History texts covering the 19th Century. See the Camp Sumter/Andersonville POW Prison story ( http://www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/camp_sumter.htm ), where 45,000 union POW’s were imprisoned (see:http://www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/camp_sumter.htm ), and where 13,000 died of a variety of diseases (see: http://www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/causesofdeath.htm ).

Andersonville’s decrepit conditions were chronicled in the diary on P.O.W Newell Burch. Burch of the 154th New York Infantry, was captured the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and imprisoned at Belle Isle and then Andersonville. He is credited with being the longest held Union Soldier during the Civil War, a total of 661 days in Confederate hands (usgwarchives.net). His diary is currently possessed by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The breakdown of casualties to disease and battles was quite interesting. Again, the stunning statistics of disease in war (over 66% of Civil War soldiers died in bed not in battle) that is often airbrushed out of our American histories, only telling the “glory” side of war.  More Civil War soldiers died of dysentery and diarrhea alone (way over 200,000) than were killed in all the battles and battlefields of the Civil War. Yet, you don’t see that kind of detail dealing with sickness in Civil War museum exhibits or re-enactments of battles…no field hospitals are built in rear areas in these re-enactments, nor any effort made to tell the general public the story of disease that accounted for the deaths of 2/3 of all the Civil War deaths in the Union and Confederate Armies. Many Americans are ignorant of this fact as we near the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

The “other war” against disease in conflicts is the kind of military history that is not talked about a lot in our “battle-centric” telling of war stories. Fundamentally, I sense, especially among military historians a problem in methods of historiography which focuses on battles as the easiest and most interesting things to report in a conflict, as well as an easy way to add up winners and losers by territory conquered or numbers killed (KIA) or  wounded (WIA). Meanwhile, lurking in the background are less jazzy statistics, like death dealing diseases in rear area cantonments, that cumulatively would trump the numbers of any combat casualties of a particular battle, campaign, or war.

Thus, we often ignore this larger background story of disease in war that dismally claims massive numbers of victims by a 2-1 margin in rear area field and general hospitals and POW camps, because it may have little to do with a 2 or 3 day battle like the Battle of Gettysburg. Unless a disease struck in the middle of a battle (like the 1918 Flu Pandemic did at the height of the Meuse Argonne Campaign in WW I, where General Pershing’s AEF was being decimated by this malady that made so many troops ineffective in  that battle), little is ever said in the course of a war about the role of disease in a war (except that written by medical historians and buried in medical record archives of the Army and Navy). Only in long Civil War sieges like that of Vicksburg or St. Petersburg, or the discovery of terrible health conditions in POW camps, would reports of sickness creep into a battle history, and then only in a sentence or paragraph of historical commentary, before getting back to what really was interesting…the movement of the chess pieces of armies and stories of bravery of solders, marines or sailors in combat.

Yet at the end of the war, when you add all the casualties related to cause of  death, we are shocked to discover the overwhelming numbers of those who lost their lives to disease…and a fair minded person asks, “where did that come from?” This big under-reported story of disease during the progress of a war is often ignored in our battle-centric focus of war reporting and military history inquiry, causing this “end of war statistic” to jump out at us after the war is over… but the military histories have already been written excluding this stark fact.

This dismal and boring aspect of disease in war largely goes under-reported in war…just like the story of logistics in war…the thousands of logistics ships and convoy escort ships that kept our forces going for four years to Europe and across the Pacific in WW II (a really big story of one of the main reasons we won WW II, which was lost in the historical glitter and clutter of reporting only 2 day to a week battles at sea…at Midway, Coral Sea, the “Slot” off of Guadalcanal, and Philippine Sea…or the terrible Pacific Island campaigns fought by sailors and marines that each took several weeks to a month per island). My eyes were opened to this little told “boring” logistical history, when I served on the USS Sacrament (AOE-1) that kept a whole aircraft carrier battle group going in beans, bullets/bombs and ship and jet fuel and supplies and mail  for a deployment in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Sacramento_%28AOE-1%29 ). Wars and combat operations would grind to a halt in weeks without this logistical tail working well. Rarely is that story told in our histories.

You are then struck with the challenge of historiography…how we select what we report on and what we ignore in our telling of military history. My sense is disease has not been given equal billing…or at least paid its due, in many of our American war chronicles of military history. It would make a great topic at a convention of military historians…and hopefully the presenter would not be thrown out of the presentation room for pressing for better reporting of this often lost story of the “other war” with disease that goes on in every one of our conflicts. The diseases change from war to war, but the challenge remains: Today we still face the danger of a variant of the 1918 flu pandemic bug getting away for us with CDC estimates of 100 million casualties…or “super drug resistant bugs” that can overwhelm a military hospital full of wounded military personnel and kill through infection many servicemen in record time.

As a former Navy Fleet Hospital Chaplain for a 500 bed combat zone fleet hospital,  I am impressed with this side of war that a lot of chaplains in military hospitals, as well as military doctors, nurses and medics/corpsmen, see with great regularity. It is not the glory side of war, but the gory side of war…with field and general hospitals filled with wounded warriors and service personnel stricken with all manner of death dealing diseases, soon forgotten as the battle moves on…and the story quickly moves on to the next battle or campaign.

The big lesson of history in our wars is the critical role our military medical departments play in dealing with wounds of war and infectious and debilitating diseases of the battlefield that can swallow large portions of armies and navies over the course of a war. It is a cautionary tale to military leaders not to neglect paying attention to disease in war that easily can kill more service personnel than any combat they may encounter. The record of history is clear that to ignore the medical aspect of military operations is to traverse into a deadly kill zone at one’s own peril with often devastating consequences. Only as we report this “other war” against disease and it becomes part of our military histories and learning from past conflicts, will we remain vigilant and prepared to fund and support efforts to deal with future medical challenges of disease on the battlefield.

Well, I have waxed long on the topic of disease getting better billing in our military histories. You are welcome to float this topic at a convention of military historians, but I am not sure what kind of reception you will receive. The “glory story of war” bias is alive and well among many military historians who see reporting diseases during wars as a distraction from what really is important in military history…reporting battles, campaigns and politics of war.

All I would hope would happen is an act of inclusion of reporting on disease among military historians…not exclusion …not diminishing the acts of valor or sacrifices of combat…but including better reporting of the role of disease in war in keeping with the scope and dimension of the problem… in the larger sphere of military history reporting.

©2013 David Thompson

Guest Blogger: Chaplain Dave Thompson on World War I Flu and Combat Deaths, as Seen Through a Wisconsin Lens – and, a World War I Memorial

Chaplain Dave Thompson, USN, RET, has become something of a regular correspondent. Regular Readers may remember that the 1918 Influenza pandemic is one of my core interests, so when Dave sent this piece on flu and combat deaths among Wisconsin soldiers, I took notice. Now you can, too. Jim also mentions efforts to create a World War I Memorial on the National Mall in Washington,DC.
 
archives (1)
 
 
Herewith, Chaplain Dave:

I came across an interesting document yesterday demonstrating the impact of disease to combat deaths of a 50:50 ratio in WW I. The Gold Star List is quite a document and testament of the huge role disease played in WW I.  “Wisconsin’s Gold Star List: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Nurse casualties for WW I”, was written in 1920 shortly after WW I and spells out in detail the cause of death of all Wisconsin service personnel in WW I (see: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/worldwarone/wisconsin/ ). The Wisconsin Gold Star list encompasses soldiers, sailors, marines and nurses who were casualties from that state by county listing in WW I (click on any county to look at the list).

The Wisconsin WW I Gold Star List takes cold national statistics of 50,280 combat deaths, 57,000 deaths to disease (with 52,199 being  American  troop deaths due to the pneumonia/influenza epidemic of 1918), and the remainder due to suicide and accidents to make up 116,000 deaths  of American Service personnel in WW I… and it personalizes these large casualty figures into cause of death and assigns real names to people who “just lived down the block” from our relatives, before going off to war and never returning. It helps us better remember all those who lost their lives in World War I due to combat action or the Great Influenza/pneumonia Pandemic of 1918.

What makes Wisconsin WW I Gold Star List so unique is, outside of North Carolina, to my knowledge, no other state did this kind of historical retrieval of information on WW I casualties and put it in one organized place like this for states to commemorate WW I (usually the names of Army personnel are buried in Army division casualty lists and are not organized by state to see the impact of World War I upon a state and counties and cities within their boundaries.

This document really brings the cost of war home to Wisconsin residents, who knew these people or their families. Many grand-children and great-grandchildren will recognize their loved on from such a list and it makes more personal for all American the cost of World War I in human lives.

Also, what makes Wisconsin a rather unique study of casualties is: It gives a much more balanced reporting of casualties at home in WW I U.S. military training camps where some  30,000 service personnel died of the flu, as well as  identifies  flu/pneumonia deaths and other diseases WW I servicemen suffered with the AEF in Europe, along with combat casualties and death from wounds and accidents.

Any objective reader of these lists can see the stark, almost equal proportions of casualties between those who lost their lives to disease (mostly to pneumonia, which  was the last stage of the influenza that raged through our armed forces in 1918 during WW I)… as well as listing those who lost their lives due to combat action with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe WW I.

The 32nd Red Arrow Division from the Wisconsin National Guard was involved in heavy fighting in Europe involving its citizen solders in heavy combat, unlike many other states that never got their National Guard units overseas. The 32nd Division suffered the 3rd highest casualties  of AEF Army Divisions in WW I, 13,261 casualties (2,250 KIA & 11,011 WIA) in WW I. They were in the thick of the fighting  in the Meuse Argonne Offensive when the Great Influenza/Pneumonia Epidemic struck our AEF forces in Europe in 1918.

The 32nd Division was also used in post-war occupation duty in Germany and some of its subordinate units were used in an expedition to Russia to support the White Russian Army against the Red Army in 1919 (suffering casualties to disease, including the last wave of the influenza/pneumonia epidemic in 1918-1919). They came home to Wisconsin in the summer of 1919, serving much longer after World War I than many other Army units and WWI soldiers who were not part of occupation duty and were demobilized much earlier.

The Gold Star List records deaths due to combat action (killed in action or “KIA” or Died of Wounds or “DW”), accidents, suicide, murder, and death due to disease or “DD,” spelling out the specific disease that claimed their life…including many influenza and pneumonia deaths caused by the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

I have taken 10 samplings from around the State of Wisconsin to demonstrate how both disease (mostly the influenza/pneumonia epidemic in 1918) and combat contributed to this list in almost equal proportions (see: sample below):

(1)  Ashland Country (Northeastern Wisconsin): 39 casualties, with 23 dying of disease (19 by influenza/pneumonia  and 4 by other diseases)  and 16 dying from combat (14 KIA and 2 died of wounds).

(2)  Brown County (East central Wisconsin around Green Bay, WI):  46 casualties, with 28 dying of disease (23 by influenza/pneumonia and 5 by other diseases) and 18 dying from combat(12 KIA and 6 died of wounds).

(3)  Dane County (South Central Wisconsin near the State Capitol in Madison, WI) : 142 casualties, with 77 dying of disease (60 by influenza/pneumonia and 17 by other diseases)  and 65 dying from combat (52 KIA and 13 died of wounds).

(4)  Douglas County (Northern Wisconsin around Superior, WI on the border with Duluth, MN): 51 casualties, with 27 dying of disease (23 by influenza/pneumonia and 4 from other diseases) and 24 dying from combat (15 KIA and 9 died of wounds).

(5)  Eau Claire County (North Central Wisconsin near Eau Claire, WI): 50 casualties, with 29 dying of disease (27 by influenza/pneumonia and 2 from other diseases) and 21 dying from combat (19 KIA and 2 died of wounds).

(6)  Fond du Lac County (South Central Wisconsin near Fond du lac, Wisconsin): 77 casualties, with 34 dying of disease (28 by influenza/pneumonia and 6 from other diseases) and 43 dying from combat (29 KIA and 14 dying of wounds).

(7)  Kenosha County (southeast corner of Wisconsin near Kenosha, Wisconsin on the Illinois border): 43 casualties, with 23 dying of disease (21 by influenza/pneumonia and 2 from other diseases) and 20 dying from combat (13 KIA and 7 dying of wounds).

(8)  La Crosse County (southwestern Wisconsin near La Crosse, WI on the southeastern border of MN): 55 casualties, with 29 dying of disease (24 by influenza/pneumonia and 5 from other diseases) and 26 dying from combat (14 KIA and 12 dying of wounds).

(9)  Milwaukee County (south eastern Wisconsin near Milwaukee, WI): 387 casualties, with 165 dying of disease (118 by influenza/pneumonia and 47 from other diseases) and 222 dying from combat (183 KIA and 39 dying of wounds).

(10) Waukesha County near Waukesha, WI in southeastern Wisconsin, a western suburb of Milwaukee, WI): 61 casualties, with 43 dying of disease (38 from influenza/pneumonia and 5 from other diseases) and 19 dying from combat (15 KIA and 4 dying of wounds).

A fair and balanced picture of WW I casualties in this sample of 10 representative Wisconsin Counties is that 478 service personnel died of disease (381 died of the influenza/pneumonia epidemic of 1918) and 474 died of combat…almost in equal numbers,

This state sample from Wisconsin squares pretty much with national statistics of the close to 50:50 ratio between casualties to combat and those to disease in WW I.

Hopefully the newly created  WW I Centennial Commission created this year and any WW I Memorial that may be created on the Mall in Washington, DC might reflect this balanced perspective on WW I casualties and tell the story of WW I to reflect the losses both in combat and to disease in The Great War.

This is an interesting and valuable document that tells in a more balanced way the terrible cost of war and the role disease (especially The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918)… as well as combat… and how it played out in this conflict, which claimed the lives of 116,000 servicemen (many whom have yet to be properly recognized in a National WW I Monument or in our many county, state or national museums covering World War I.

I hope you find this interesting and helpful information to include in the WWI story, as we prepare for the Centennial of WW I and consider an effort to have a National WW I Monument built on the Mall in Washington DC by 2018.

Guest Blogger: Tom Farrell on “Corpsmen on Mount Suribachi”

This week, we welcome CAPT Tom Farrell, MC, US Navy, Ret, as our guest blogger. Tom has been working on identifying the Navy Corpsmen present at the iconic flag raising on Mt Suribachi in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Herewith, Tom Farrell’s “say” in the matter.

CORPSMEN ON SURIBACHI: PARTICIPATION IN THE TWO FLAG RAISINGS

Corpsmen of Suribchi

Corpsmen of Suribchi

Thomas C. Farrell, Jr.
Captain MC USN(r) 
Raymond Jacobs
Sgt USMCR

 

“Clifford Langley was not there.” James Bradley1, thus began my search for the identity of the second corpsman that accompanied John Bradley on 1st Lt. Schrier’s patrol to the summit of Mt Suribachi.

February 23, 1945, LtCol Chandler Johnson Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment after receiving a briefing from Captain Arthur Naylor that a patrol lead by SGT Sherman Watson, had successfully reached the summit of Suribachi, ordered 1st Lt. Harold Schrier to lead a 40 man patrol composed of elements of the Easy company Third Platoon and personnel from other 2nd Battalion elements up the mountain. After ascending to the summit, the patrol raised a small flag brought along on a pipe at 1030 hours. This was the first flag raised on that day and the event was photographed by Marine photographer Louis Lowery. The subsequent raising of the second, larger flag 2 hours later yielded the famous scene captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The fact that there were 2 flags raised and confusion as to whether Rosenthal “posed” his shot generated a debate. The first flag on Suribachi’s summit was an immense morale booster to the embattled Marines below. Its unfurling lead to loud cheering and  signaling from the Navy ships offshore. The Rosenthal photo had a massive positive PR benefit to the Corps and as it was the centerpiece of the upcoming 7th War Bond Drive, Commandant Vandergrif ordered all mention of the first flag raising to cease. This directive lead to an institutional ossification during which individuals in the Lowery photos were routinely misidentified in the official Marine Corps records.

My interest in the identity of the first flag raisers peaked after examination of the Lowery photo showed an extra set of hands and helmet in the photo not identified as to owner.

Thanks to the kindness of COL Walt Ford2 at Leatherneck Magazine, I was able to obtain 14 of Lowery’s photos of the event. Using available sources, I tentatively identified all the individuals in the photos. I then sent them to Raymond Jacobs3 (patrol radioman “f” Co), Charles W. Lindberg 4 (“E” Co flame-thrower) and Keith Wells 5(XO “E” Co) asking them to confirm or change my initial identities. I now had eyewitness confirmation of true identities of the participants (see photo#1). It was now clear that individual identified as Schrier holding the flag pole was actually John Bradley!

Two Navy corpsmen accompanied the patrol (plus stretcher bearers, number unknown.) The first, John Bradley PhM2c was assigned to 3rd Platoon “E” Company. The second assigned corpsman was Clifford Langley PhM2c but he was wounded on February 21, 1945 and was not part of the patrol. The identity of the second corpsman remained obscure until recently. John Bradley in an oral interview for the Naval Historical Center (www.history.navy.mil)6 recalled that he and “another corpsman by the name of Zimik (?) Pharmacist mate 2/c were the corpsmen attached to that patrol.” The publication of James Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers 7contained Rosenthal’s Gung Ho! photo. A debate over the identification of some of the individuals eventually led to the recognition of Gerald Ziehme PhM2c as a member of the patrol. His wife Judith told me that “Jerry said Bradley grabbed him and pulled him into the photo.”8 He had volunteered to go as “he had neither a wife or child” though assigned to headquarters from a replacement battalion.

Three Marine Divisions (3rd, 4th, and 5th) took part in the Iwo Jima invasion (Operation Detachment). Integral to the divisions were 100 Navy Surgeons and approximately 1000 Navy corpsmen. Casualties to these medical elements were: Surgeons 23 (2 killed ) Corpsmen 827 (201 killed ) 9. The nature of the conflict to include large amounts of artillery led to an overall killed to wounded rate of 8% overall versus 3% for WWII in general. The corpsmen’s casualty rate exceeded even that of the Marines. Four corpsmen were awarded the Medal of Honor, two posthumously. John Bradley earned the Navy Cross on February 21, 1945 for conspicuous bravery attending to a gravely wounded Marine while under intense enemy fire.

Typical of WWII veterans, the two corpsmen went on with their lives not discussing their experiences. Bradley did participate in the 7th bond tour, the dedication of the Marine Memorial and played himself in The Sands of Iwo Jima but otherwise resisted attempts at interviews and it was only after his death that his son learned through saved memorabilia of his father’s accomplishments. In fact James Bradley was unaware that it was his father misidentified as Schrier in the Lowery photograph until we showed him the other Lowery photographs. Ziehme did not seek public recognition until he was labeled an “imposter” after his attempts to correct the Gung Ho! photograph identities. His reaction was to hire a lawyer and a forensic photographic expert to confirm his presence in the Gung Ho! Photograph 10.  His wife Judith also told me that Jerry and John Bradley would often run into each other awaiting care at the Veterans Administration Hospital and remained friends.

While Iwo Jima and the two flag raisings remain primarily a Marine Corps icon, it is our hope that this article would highlight some of the contributions Navy Medicine, particularly the corpsmen, made to this epic battle. Navy Corpsmen are “The Jewels of Navy Medicine” and the respect we as Navy medical personnel receive from our Marine comrades, we owe in no small part to their devotion to duty and sacrifices. “THE MARINES HAVE FOUND THEIR FEW GOOD MEN-NAVY CORPSMEN!”

I invite your attention to the following materials.

Corpsmen On Iwo Stanley Drabowski Jan-Feb Navy Medicine 1995

Surgeon on Iwo  James S Vedder Presidio Press 1984

REFERENCES:

  1. James Bradley  Personal communication
  2. COL Walt ford USMC(r)  Personal communication
  3. Raymond Jacobs  Personal communication
  4. Charles W Lindberg  Personal communication
  5. Keith Wells  Personal communication
  6. Naval Historical Center  www.history.navy.mil
  7. Flags of our Fathers  James Bradley Bantum Books May 2000
  8. Judith Ziehme  Personal communication
  9. The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II  Volume II FMFRP 12-12 U. S. Marine Corps 22 November 1989 (NAVMED P-5021 1953)

Guest Blogger: Commander David A Thompson, CHC, USNR, Ret, On the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918

Today, I welcome a guest blogger, retired navy Chaplain David A Thompson. He is researching the 1918 Influenza epidemic. 

Since starting this research, I have had a lot of living relatives of WW I vets come out of  the woodwork to tell their stories of their loved one’s death or survival of the flu in the military in 1918: One 85 year old woman shared with me her dad served with my dad at Camp  Dodge…and was, as a admin NCO [administrative non-commissioned officer, ed.], directed to order over 700 coffins for the dead and had to  help contact families of  dead and dying soldiers. Another clergy friend shared his mother’s dad died of the flu in the Army, meanwhile at home his mother lost her mother, three brothers and a sister to the flu …and was orphaned…all in two weeks in the Fall of 1918! Another Army chaplain friend shared how his dad was with fledgling Army Air Corps in France and was tasked by the CO [commanding officer, ed.] in ministering to dying soldiers due to the flu and ghost writing letters of condolences to families for the CO in lieu of lack of a chaplain. All these children/grandchildren of WW I vets, are now in their later 60”s-80’s like me (I’m a young 66).

A typical letter was shared by a writer friend in St. Paul about an Uncle  who was in the Navy who died of the flu pandemic in World War I :

“Dave, thank you very much for your email. I hope you do tell that important story. It reminds me of one from my own family. My father was a World War II navy veteran. His oldest brother, a gifted athlete, had enlisted in the navy in World War I at 18. He was sent to a naval station in South Carolina where he was assigned to train marksmen while preparing to ship overseas. You probably know what’s coming. Flu swept through his barracks and he came down with it. A telegram was sent to the family in Illinois, but by the time my grandfather, who worked for the railroad as the salvage yard manager, had boarded the train to go East, he was traveling not to see an ill son but to claim his body. He accompanied the coffin and, at one point on the trip back, realized the car it was in was being decoupled. He immediately got off the train and waited with the car for a day until he could see it was safely joined to another train headed to Illinois and that he was with it. My aunts always said that the family never really recovered from Ted’s death. When I was going through my father’s things after his own death, I found his mother’s gold star and a pipe in a leather case with Ted’s initials scratched into it. I felt it was a legacy that needed a special home and one day realized it should go to my cousin’s daughter, who was serving as an officer in the navy and had grown up a mile from that South Carolina barracks and whose grandmother was Ted’s closest sibling. I also put copies of the clippings about Ted together for my children and niece and nephew so that he could stay part of the family life and heritage.”

David McCullough illustrates problems with the flu on the home front, that worried WW I servicemen, in his book Truman. He wrote that Captain Harry Truman (later President Truman) serving as an Army Field Artillery Officer in the 35th Division in France with the AEF [American Expeditionary Force, ed.], hearing of the influenza epidemic in his home town in Missouri, “became so alarmed he hardly could contain himself.” His sweet-heart Bess, her brother Frank, and two friends all had the flu. Truman wrote home, “everyday someone of my outfit will hear that his mother, sister, or sweet-heart is dead. It is heartbreaking almost to think we are so safe and so well over here and the one’s we’d like to protect more than all the world have been more exposed to death than we.”

It was a terrible time for deployed soldiers and sailors, as well as those in training camps in the US, who were  filled with anxiety and concern for family and friends back home who were ill with the flu (25.8 % of the civilian populations) and thousands (675,000) dying back home.

Since there were no ‘footprints” in VA hospitals of wounded warriors from this terrible flu epidemic in WW I (you either got well in 6 weeks or you were very quickly dead), only mute testimony of these flu deaths related to the military (as well as civilian population) is found in US civilian cemeteries or ABMC military cemeteries in France and England (see: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/su.php ) and Brookwood American Cemetery, 35 miles southwest of  London, England (see:http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/bk.php ). The Meuse Argonne American Cemetery (see: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ma.php ) located 150 miles northeast of Paris, France with 14,000 graves, also has many flu casualties buried there. It was during the Meuse Argonne Campaign when the pandemic hit the AEF in full force in October-November 1918 during this battle (over 20,000 + AEF troops died of the flu in this 6 week period of this campaign), while  30,000 died in CONUS [Continental United States, ed.].

Military flu casualties in the US were buried in VA or thousands of community cemeteries in the US, like the one in Texas noted here (see website:  “WW I Casualties from Fayette County”  from a county in Texas that documented so many flu victims among WW I veterans in its county cemeteries http://www.fayettecountyhistory.org/deceased_WWI_veterans.htm ). Most CONUS Navy flu casuloaties were buried in this matter…bodies shipped home by train for quick 15 minute graveside services with only immediate family and clergy without military honors, due to quarantine.

In discussing the WW I Centennial Commemoration of WW I with the American Legion National HQ, there may be an interest in mobilizing American Legion Posts in every county across our nation to dig into county WW I records (like they did in Fayette County, TX) to find veterans who died in the Great  War due to combat or to the flu and tell their story during the WW I Centennial Commemoration in 2018. Such an excavation of WW I veteran records with photos and cause of death will bring to life for the public the sacrifices of WW I veterans and the impact upon our forces of the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918.

©2013 David A Thompson

I Love Archivists (Again…)! The Navy’s WW II V-12 Medical Program

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again – and again: I love archivists! They are the keepers – the restorers, sorters, preservers – of our documentary and artifactual past. Without archivists and their work, we risk having no “history” upon which to build an informed future.

The Alumni Association of my medical alma mater – Albany Medical College – underwrites a half-time archivist to oversee the College and Medical Center collections. Her name is Jessica Watson, and she is a gem. Every week or so, Mrs Watson sends out a new number of “Facts From the Past”. These are short written pieces – usually accompanied by an image – about some historic personage, say from the Class of 1846. A few weeks ago, however, there was a pleasant surprise waiting in my in-box:

"First 'GI Doctor' Class to Receive Commissions"

“First ‘GI Doctor’ Class to Receive Commissions”

In 1943, the Navy introduced the “V-12″† Program.  Its purpose was to provide an ongoing stream of college-educated officers for the service. Both services also instituted medical, dental and theological programs. An important part of these programs’ design was the “accelerated” schedule of instruction that utilized summer and other vacation periods for instructional time. The result: a normal 4 year degree could be earned in 3 years. Accordingly, new classes began every nine months.V-12 ran until the end of 1945, with the last V-12 classes graduating early in 1946.*

Each of the ~56 medical schools enrolled in the program had a V-12 unit, typically with a junior naval line officer in command, to which the navy medical students were assigned for administrative purposes. Students wore navy (Midshipman?) uniforms, and received a junior enlisted man’s salary. According of one source, men in the Navy program were not required – or the requirement was not enforced – to perform military drill, in contrast to their Army colleagues. This apparently caused no end of amusement among the Navy doctors-in-training, as they watched their Army colleagues sweating on the drill field while they lounged in the comfort of their dormitories!

The Navy received an allotment of 25% of the slots in each medical school class; this could be expanded by about 3% if the 20% of civilian slots were not filled. Medical schools continued to use their method of selecting students.  Other than with the accelerated program of instruction, Navy policy was not to interfere with medical school administration and curriculum, with a couple of exceptions born of military necessity: a course in military medicine / surgery was added; and the usual class in tropical diseases beefed up. Once they graduated and received their commissions, the new medical officers were subject to a strict Navy requirement for “rotating” (vs “specialized”) internships.^ Here again, military contingency ruled the day: after their abbreviated 9 month internships, these men would be assigned to shipboard duty or duty in remote locations, where a general and well-rounded medical knowledge was required. No superspecialized young doctors in the jungles of Guadalcanal!

Altogether, about 4600 physicians and dentists graduated from the V-12 program. One writer asserted that at the end of the war, nearly a quarter of Navy medical officers were products of the V-12 Medical program.

† Also designated “H-V(P)”, a code I have yet to penetrate…
 
* The Army Special Training Program was an equivalent, and much larger, operation.
 
^ Rotating internships have the new doctors serving rotations for experience and training in the major areas of the medical arts: internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics; with additional short rotations – typically 2 – 3 weeks – in such areas as ear-nose-throat, dermatology, urology, orthopedics. “Specialty” internships place an emphasis in time, education and experience in one area, such as internal medicine or surgery, to the general exclusion of all other areas.
 

©2012 Thomas L Snyder, MD

Pearl Harbor Day – Navy Medicine on the Day of the Attack

“Men of the Navy Medical Department at Pearl Harbor were just as surprised as other Americans when the Japanese attacked on the morning of 7 December 1941…” Thus begins the narrative of “Pearl Harbor Navy Medical Activities”, a report from the Naval History and Heritage Command.(1)

The attack began at about 0745, and the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor had all treatment facilities and operating room set up and ready by 0815. In the first three hours, about 250 patients – the most seriously wounded or burned – were admitted. By the end of the day, 546 patients were admitted, and 200 ambulatory patients had been treated and returned to their duty stations.(2)

The hospital ship Solace, undamaged in the attack, began to receive casualties by 0825, and boats from the ship were soon picking injured sailors out of the oily and sometimes burning waters of Pearl Harbor soon thereafter, often at great risk to their crews. 132 patients were admitted aboard this ship and 80 men given first aid and returned to duty.

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

U. S. Mobile Base Hospital No 2 had arrived at the Navy base crates just 12 days before the attack. But its personnel were able to break out needed equipment and supplies to care for 110 patients that day.

The USS Argonne also set up to care for casualties, and later, with the help of medical personnel from other ships in the harbor, set up a sort of receiving and clearing station at the dock where she was moored. This open and uncovered area soon had about 150 cots set up for the injured and wounded. Under the direction of the Base Force Surgeon, these patients were moved to the Navy Yard Officers’ Club, a more protected place. By 1030, a functioning “field hospital” was operating there, stocked with necessary materials for the care of the wounded, injured and burned. The dock-side clearing station continued its work, however, sending the most seriously injured patients to the hospital; less severe casualties went to the Officers’ Club “Field Hospital” and to the Mobile Base Hospital.

In addition to these naval hospital and hospital-type facilities, a few patients were sent to the Aeia Plantation Hospital and the Kaneohe Territorial Hospital for the Insane. These men were later returned to duty, or transferred to the Naval Hospital.

About 60% of casualties that day were burn cases, some from burning fuel oil; many more, however, were “flash burns” caused by exploding bombs or gas fires. Traumatic amputations and compound fractures were frequently seen as well. Altogether, nearly 1000 men were admitted or cared for at Naval hospitals and organized facilities in one 24 hour period.

Many heroes that day were made…

(1) http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-5.htm, accessed 7 December 2012.
(2) “The History of the Medical Department of the United States navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictorial Volume” (Navmed P-5031), United States Government Printing Office, 1953, Volume 1, pp 63-66.
 
©2012 Thomas L Snyder, MD

Navy Medicine Guadalcanal Campaign

By this time in 1942 – 70 years ago – the vicious battle for the control for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands had been decided in the Allies’ favor, even though several battles were yet to be fought. This struggle was decisive: from now on, the Japanese would be fighting a defensive , and ultimately, losing effort.

With the American victory at the Battle of Midway in June and with the realization that construction of a Japanese airbase on Guadalcanal represented part of a strategic threat to Australia, CNO Admiral Ernest King convinced President Roosevelt to modify his “Europe First” policy(1) to permit a “limited offensive” to prevent this eventuality. This led to the US Solomon Island Campaign and the conquest of Guadalcanal.

The campaign to take Guadalcanal, the first major and extended effort in the Pacific, saw Marines and Army units fighting in extremely challenging jungle terrain, facing swarms of insects and mosquitoes, suffering from tropical rains and mud, experiencing frequently irregular food and ammunition supplies, all the while being continually threatened by a dedicated enemy who launched wave after wave of bombing, artillery, naval gunfire and infantry attacks.(2)

The landing force Marines were accompanied by Navy Battalion aid station units consisting of 2 medical officers and 20 hospital corpsmen. Medical companies, consisting of 6 medical officers and 80 corpsmen followed. Maintaining a position about 200 yards behind front lines, company aid men administered resuscitation fluids (typically plasma) and applied splints and dressings as required. Stretcher parties initially evacuated injured troops, but jeeps specially fitted as

Evacuation by Jeep, Guadalcanal. Source (3), p 69. Note plasma being administered (by soldier on the left) en route.

stretcher carriers were the preferred means of moving men to the rear, whenever this was feasible. Men had to be evacuated several hundred miles from the action before they could receive definitive surgical care because field hospitals on the island were subjected to virtually daily air or artillery attacks.

Initially, poor communication facilities and lack of centralized controls created chaotic evacuation patterns as wounded

Air Evacuation of Casualties, Guadalcanal. Source (3), p 72. This was a tremendous morale booster, even for the uninjured.

men were moved to ships offshore. As the battle progressed, air evacuation of casualties became feasible and then desirable. By mid September, just six weeks after the assault on Guadalcanal had begun, 147 men had been evacuated by air. During October and November, more men were evacuated by air (2,879) than by sea. Specially trained corpsmen and nurses tended the men during their flights to hospitals far away from the fight. Medical officers briefed on triage for air evacuation screened out wounded men with chest or abdominal wounds, as these generally did not tolerate air evacuation at high altitude.

In 20th century war, combat casualties typically outnumber casualties due to accident or illness. This was not the case at Guadalcanal, where tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever laid Marines and soldiers low in numbers much greater that by enemy action. Although Atabrine malarial suppressive treatment was begun very early in the campaign, malaria nevertheless became rampant. For instance, nearly 69% of the Second Marine Division fell victim to the disease. It was soon learned that the troops were throwing away their medication and it fell to medical personnel to stand in the mess lines to dispense the medication – and then to inspect soldiers mouths to see that they had actually swallowed  the pills! Despite this, “…it is safe to assume that every man who served on the island during the period of 7 August 1942 and 9 February 1943 fell victim to the disease.”(3)

About 7100 allied forces died to capture Guadalcanal. The island became a major transport and resupply for the duration of the war in the Pacific.

(1) “Europe First” was the US strategy to fight a purely defensive war in the Pacific in order to concentrate Allied efforts on the defeat of Germany and its ally Italy in Europe. With victory in Europe assured, then Allied efforts would shift to focus on the defeat of Japan.
(2) Potter, E B, Editor. “Sea Power – A Naval History”. Annapolis. Naval Institute Press. 1981. An overview of the strategic and logistical problems facing US and Allied forces in the Solomon Islands campaign, pp 302-305.
(3) The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II (Navmed P-5031), Volume I. Washington, GPO, 1953, p 73.