From the Log of a Battalion Surgeon attached to the Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood

bw_trenches

6 June, 1918:  The battalion was ordered to make the attack. At 1900 the companies moved out of the ravine and proceeded to the town of Champillon where they went into line northeast of the town at 0345. The battalion immediately attacked, and, soon after, wounded started coming into the battalion station, on the outskirts of the town of Champillon. Champillon has been under continuous heavy bombardment. As soon as the station was established, liaison between the regimental and First Battalion aid stations was made. Ambulances of the French sanitary unit came up bringing litters and supplies. Despite heavy shelling ambulances have been able to make the aid station. This simplifies evacuation of wounded. Hospital corpsmen went “over” with their companies and performed their duties admirably.

Advance dressing stations established just behind first line where wounded were collected and ambulatory sent to the battalion station. Litter cases transported a distance of about 500 yards. At the battalion station examinations and sorting done. Evacuated from battalion go through regimental aid station where a check on each case is made. Returning ambulances bring fresh supplies, litters and blankets, so at no time have we been short of these necessities. Some cases of diarrhea developing. Only a few evacuations because of sickness made. The Second Battalion station located in Lucy le Bocage. Their position enabled them to care for all casualties of their battalion in line. Lucy likewise was under heavy shellfire and gas. A direct hit made on this station set the building on fire, necessitating evacuation. A new station soon established in a cellar, and evacuations continued from this point. The Third Battalion, acting as brigade reserve, dug in in the nearby woods. During this engagement regiment suffered heavily from shellfire and gas, but forced enemy to give ground. Enemy losses obviously heavier. Enemy wounded and prisoners came through all stations in greater numbers than our own. Everything practicable was done for them.

The character of the wounds encountered here fall chiefly into the tearing, lacerating, crushing, and amputating types, accompanied by all degrees of fractures, hemorrhage, and destruction of soft tissue. Injuries of the extremities were most common, followed by those of the abdomen and chest. Despite massive injury, shock has not been common. This is probably due to early treatment, given by company hospital corpsmen, and undelayed evacuation through the regiment to field hospitals.

Great attempts have been made to control hemorrhage, immobilize fractures, secure adequate dressings on all wounds, give morphine, antitetanic serum, hot coffee, cover patients with blankets, and promptly evacuate them from the area. Prisoners recently captured were temporarily employed as litter bearers, facilitating treatment and evacuation which otherwise would have been delayed.

Arrangements were made by the battalion supply officers to get one cooked meal to the first line every night. This meal, with coffee, is brought up under heavy shellfire and rationed out to the men. In addition to this cooked meal, the men receive two iron rations. Water details supply the lines with fresh water (chlorinated) as frequently as possible, under the most difficult circumstances. As a whole, the men are standing up under these conditions well.

2–6 June: Repeated attacks by the enemy repulsed. Our men had seen little of active fighting until this time and had not realized the horrors of war. They have played with death during these first days of June. ––(They could not have realized the seriousness of the situation. It was not until later that they understood that during these days the fate of Paris and the Allied cause depended on them and that a second Marne, although less bloody but as momentous as that of 1914, was being fought. It was the turning point of the war. From this time until the Armistice, the Germans never went ahead again).

All medical personnel have been superb in meeting and disposing of the unprecedented tasks with which they have been confronted. Without thought of rest, relief, or restoration, devote themselves wholly to their gruesome labor.

The Marine brigade has undergone its first real baptism of fire.

The heroic acts that numerous hospital corpsmen have performed during furious assaults in the open and in the most advanced positions have thrilled the entire command, and, in no small way, contributed to the effort that has so far led to our military success.

A seriously wounded patient who came through this station told the story of a pharmacist’s mate, second class, Frank C. Welte, who died today.

Welte was attached to the Twentieth Company which was holding the first line lying between Le Bois de la Château and the town of Lucy le Bocage. His company, with the Forty-fifth and Forty-seventh, was ordered to attack the advancing German forces at 1500 today. The objective lay in a northerly direction, across a wheat field, and involved the southern section of the strongly fortified Bois de Belleau.

Bois de Belleau is an almost inpenetrable tangled forest with rock formations admirably adapted for defense. The surrounding country is dotted with woods and fields of ripening wheat, with red patches of wild poppy. The terrain, which favored the enemy, is generally level except for a few wooded hills. These afforded commanding positions for the enemy to sweep the roads and open country with shell and machine-gun fire.

The attacking troops, moying across the open wheat field, were subjected to murderous flanking fire from machine guns, and many men went down.

Welte was swamped with many wounded while in this open field, about 130 yards short of the woods.

He had dressed four wounded marines, calmly writing their tags, and had started on the fifth man when he was struck in the back and right heel, while kneeling over his patient. Fragments of a bursting high-explosive shell painfully wounded him. He continued dressing his patient and filled in the diagnosis tag when his head was pierced by a machine-gun bullet. He gave his book of diagnosis tags to his patient, asking him to “turn them over to the chief” when he arrived at the battalion station. With the delivery of the tags to the patient, Welte died. To the moment of death he thus carried out the last and most important detail of his duty, with coolness, deliberation, and devotion.

Hospital corpsmen have helped maintain the high morale of the troops. When a man’s mind is weakened by physical and nervous exhaustion, frequently it is the hospital corpsman who talks it over and boosts the weary one up, so that he can take new hold and continue his unpleasant task. A platoon was charging a machine-gun nest in Belleau Wood. Several unsuccessful attempts to take it had been made, with heavy losses. The handful of men left had drawn back prior to making another charge. The company hospital corpsman, with considerable blunt emphasis to add to the forcefulness of his demand, yelled out in the thick of the hand-to-hand fighting, “Get that gun! I’m here to take care of you!” The gun was captured shortly afterward in a deadly grapple.

A gallant Marine officer, with only a handful of his original platoon, captured the town of Bouresches—a key position of our front. He cited the hospital corpsman attached to his force, and pointing out the effect the hospital corpsman’s presence had on the morale of the men during the assault: “At a time when the losses threatened to prevent the success of the operations, the heroic conduct of this man steadied the lines and spurred the attacking platoons on through the barrage.”

In an aid station located in a little stone farmhouse, about midnight, there were a number of wounded lying about on straw or propped up against the walls waiting their turn for dressing and evacuation. The Boche was laying down a barrage between the station and the woods while attempting a counterattack. The orchard in the rear of the building and the courtyard in front were being plowed up by the raining shells. The old structure was swaying, and those laboring unceasingly within over the wounded had a secret conviction that their work would be suddenly concluded at any moment. The medical officer and several hospital corpsmen were setting a compound fracture in a Thomas splint and dressing other multiple wounds. No word was spoken; the closer the shells fell to the building the faster the group toiled under candlelight.

When morning broke the barrage had lifted. The station was untouched. The night’s grist of wounded had been cared for and sent back to field hospitals. Subsequently, the regimental chief pharmacist’s mate asked the medical officer if he had been aware of the proximity of the bursting shells during the night and the threatening death to those in the station. The medical officer replied that he had been acutely conscious of all that had occurred, but more important, he had realized that each hospital corpsman, although he knew the nearness of death, never showed the slightest sign of fear. He had observed them carrying on without hesitation, comforting and quieting the nerve. worn wounded, and the sight had filled him with pride and confidence in their ability.

~~~~~Lt. George G. Strott, Hospital Corps, USN.  The Medical Department of the United States Navy with the Army and Marine Corps in France in World War I.  (Washington, DC: U.S. Navy Department, June 1947), pages 46-8.

Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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