Kansas Collection Books
Contributed by Pam Rietsch and transcribed and produced by Connie Snyder



CHAPTER XXXII.

MEDICAL DETACHMENT

   The personnel of the Medical Detachment approximated fifty-six enlisted men, seven surgeons, and the chaplain. This personnel was subdivided into a detail for Regimental Headquarters and a separate detail for each of the three battalions. One surgeon and five enlisted men (one driving the medical cart) with two first-aid men attached to each company made up a battalion detail. In addition to this personnel of the Medical Detachment six men from each of the line companies acted as litter bearers. First Lieut. W. A. Beckemeyer was in charge until about the time of leaving Camp Funston.

   During the training and organization period in Camp Funston, the entire detachment continued to live together in the Regimental Infirmary. The men did nearly all of their work in this same building. Separate details did not serve their own special organization but all co-operated under the direct supervision of the regimental surgeon.

   From the very first day in Camp Funston, the "medics" were a busy lot. As soon as a rookie could get his cold shower, usually within a few minutes after arrival in camp, he fell into line for his first inspection at the hands of the "medics." Men who had been used to consultation with the family physician back home were surprised at their first experience with these new army surgeons and their assistants. They seemed to lack all sense of modesty or even of respect. Every rookie looked alike to the "medics." In fact, these "medics" did not appear to be interested in men as men but in the various parts and organs of man. As the sons of Adam passed along in line, a clerk took their names. Without looking into his victim's face the surgeon commanded, "Say ah." And thus the examination continued to the man's very toes. Hundreds must go through the same process; there was no time for private practice or special consideration.

   But this impersonal attitude on the part of the "medics" was quite necessary in the early days of training. It was a part of training that might well be classed under the head of discipline. Many a man felt at the end of the first strenuous week that he was afflicted with all the diseases ever advertised and in a few cases the strain of military activity did develop latent weaknesses, of which the men themselves had been unaware. It was not unusual for a man to report on sick call, convinced that he was physically wrecked and ruined only to be advised at the the Infirmary, "Get a larger pair of shoes," or "Take these O. D.'s." And when he returned to his barracks he was notified that he had been marked "Duty."

   In spite of their hard-hearted and hard-boiled attitude the men of the 353rd Infantry loved their comrades in the medical detach-


254      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

ment. There was no doubt about it. A more vigilant and determined outfit never existed. They battled disease day and night. Measles, mumps, and even meningitis, they kept in check and at the same time kept most of the men on the drill fiele. Napoleon had said that an army moved forward on its stomach, but these "medics" insisted that an army lived on sanitation and they had their way. The results of their care appeared in the general physical improvement of the entire command and by the time final inspections were over in Camp Funston the men of the 353rd Infantry were ready to go "over the top."

   With the arrival in France came the separation of the medical detachment into its various details. While the different battalions were having intensive training in the Reynal Area, the men of the medical detachment were also busy preparing for their part in the future service and at the same time looking after the physical welfare of their respective battalions.

   The first taste of the real thing came on August 31st in the Lucey sector when a hostile raiding party attempted to clean up an "L" Company platoon along the Metz road. This instance brought to the men of the medical detachment their first experience in delivering first-aid under fire. It was mostly the enemy who needed attention. They were prisoners, but in friend or foe, suffering must be relieved. This experience lasted only a few minutes yet the conduct of the first-aid men gave full assurance of future service.

   The initial test of efficiency, however, came in the St. Mihiel Offensive and the following days of exploitation and consolidation of positions. Each detail had its test during the regiment's hundred days at the front. But, since the Third Battalion led on to the final objective of the offensive, the first real ordeal fell to the lot of the medical men with that battalion.

   During the advance a first-aid station was established in the Euvezin Woods. Both the First and Third Battalion details used this station for a time, but as the drive progressed the Third Battalion detail followed the advancing troops up closely to the fifth objective. Orders came at about dusk on the evening of September 12th to advance to Xammes. Captain Albright established his aid station in a shell-hole on the new line. Wounded were brought in from the Third Battalion and also from the troops on the left. Captain Albright and his men with fearless disregard for their own safety went out and brought the wounded to the aid station. Better shelter was imperative, and though the town of Xammes was a point of registration for German artillery, the aid station was promptly transferred to a cellar along its main street. Major O'Donnell established a Regimental aid station here also. Private Brown collected bedding from various buildings. The cook took charge of two goats and a hundred rabbits left by the Germans. Chaplain Gray measured out the stock of liquid first-aid. During the following eight days German artillery almost battered Xammes to the ground, but men of the medical de-


Medical Detachment      255

tachment stuck to their aid station. Whenever a bursting shell found a human target, the nearest "medic" would make his way across the field, administer first aid, help his man to the aid station or ambulance, and return again to the fox-hole to await the next call. Within an hour, twenty-eight men had been evacuated during the first morning on the line. Work of the medical men was heavy everywhere, but in this particular area danger was added to difficulty. Heroic action here set the standard for the entire medical detachment in future campaigns.

First Aid Station on the Romagne Road.

   Even more trying days were ahead for the "medics" who were with the First Battalion when the 353rd Infantry moved to the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The Germans began to drop shells on the columns as they advanced to their positions in the Bantheville Woods. Dead and wounded along the route told their devilish accuracy. It was dark and rainy. Many wounded crawled into the underbrush to escape further injury. It was difficult to find them and even more difficult to administer first aid. Throughout the night until three o'clock, the First Battalion Medical detail followed along the path. When the troops reached their positions, a first-aid station was established on a dirt road leading south to the Romagne Road, some six kilometers behind the front line. Litter bearers carried the wounded over the muddy, shell-torn path to the rear. The Germans added gas to their tortuous bombardment. Lieutenant Fox held on to his aid station until everyone of his assistants had been evacuated and he himself was blinded. Practically the whole First Battalion


256      Regimental History 353rd Infantry

detail had become casualties in their efforts to serve the men of their battalion. Capt. Benjamin Crawford, dental officer, succeeded Captain Fox and accompanied the battalion in the Meuse-Argonne drive of November 1st and continued in charge of the detail until after the armistice.

   Captain Albright now acted as regimental surgeon, and when the day for the final drive in the Meuse-Argonne offensive arrived, Lieut. Shirley F. Boyce was the only other physician left on the regimental staff. First Lieut. Lloyd R Boutwell took charge of the Third Battalion detail, and Lieutenant Boyce continued with the Second Battalion detail.

   On the night of the 41st of October, Lieutenant Boyce established his first-aid station in the very edge of Bantheville Woods. Approximately one hundred and fifty men were wounded by shell fire during the night. Privates Steubinger and Scott remained in the Bantheville aid station until noon to give them attention. Hardly had the drive begun on the morning of November 1st when the wounded came back in groups. Lieutenant Boyce and the rest of his detail followed the advancing battalion; by noon they had tagged 287 men. During the morning of November 2nd Lieutenant Boyce established his aid station in the edge of Barricourt Woods. Lieutenant Boutwell with the Third Battalion detail joined forces with the Second Battalion detail. The drive began at about one o'clock. Leading companies suffered approximately forty casualties each in getting out of the woods. Nearly all of the wounds were from machine gun bullets. It was rainy and cold. Canteens were empty and the men had been living on reserve rations. In spite of parched lips and wounds, everyone was cheerful. All hands were needed to relieve the suffering. German prisoners were impressed into the service as litter bearers. From the beginning of the drive at 1 p. m. November 2nd until the following morning without let-up, the "medics" administered first-aid and evacuated the wounded. It was a trying ordeal but once more the men of the medical detachment proved themselves loyal comrades of the fighting men.

   Long service in the line now began to tell on the vitality of the men in the regiment. Sickness increased. Day and night medical men were on duty nor were they beyond danger. On November 8th Lieutenant Boutwell was struck by a fragment of a bursting shell while he was attending a wounded man. Although mortally wounded bimself, he calmly continued his work until the last dressing was on, then fell unconscious. He died in a hospital a short time later. This was the spirit of service on the part of the men of the Medical Detachment of the 353rd Infantry.




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