poems

Out Of Combat

2/28/12

The wounded lay on litters along the beach, waiting to be evacuated. The litters, with occupants, were carried out into the water to be deposited onto rubber rafts which were moved out into deeper water where the loaded litters were transferred to Higgins boats which, with the load of wounded, headed out to the convoy of transports and combat vessels farther offshore.

The boat he was aboard pulled up to the stern of a destroyer where the litters were hurriedly deposited on the low fantail and pulled aboard by crew members as the Higgins boat powered away.

Next stop was a make-shift surgery in the destroyer’s officers’ wardroom where numerous wounded awaited help and attending crewmen did their best to provide aid and comfort.

In the center of the room was a table with a wounded marine on a litter. Two crewmen, one on each end, held the litter and the marine securely on the table as a navy doctor administered to his wounds. The doctor was supported by a sailor on either side who helped him remain on his feet. He had been at this task a day and a half with an infected foot.

Casualties lay on the deck. A few sat, leaned back against a bulkhead. He watched as an attendant attempted to help a wounded marine swallow a spoonful of soup. The casualty’s mouth and neck were torn and bloody. A bullet had pierced the side of his face and his neck through his mouth. The soup went into his mouth, but leaked out the hole in his neck as he tried to swallow.

He was offered a slice of canned peach from a bowl containing three small slices. His only nourishment for a day and a half was a bit of shattered coconut. He was famished. At first sight of the food he was angered that it was all he was offered. As he gulped the piece of peach he yearned for more. But as he swallowed, he was amazed that it was all he could take of the food. He declined the other two slices.

When his litter was lifted to the table, he was told there was no anesthesia. As his trousers and shirt were cut away, the sailor holding the head of his litter offeredhis hand for him to squeeze. The other crewman handed him a bullet to bite on.

The doctor spoke to him quietly, explaining what he was doing as he examined the shattered leg and torn hand and arm.

He suffered more anxiety than pain. One of the effects of shock is pain-dulling numbness. In addition, before evacuation he had by mistake received a double dose of morphine. He was able to follow with some interest the doctor’s discourse.

He was told his leg was being put in a temporary cast for transportation to his next destination, one of the troopships in the convoy. It was most important that the cast come off immediately for further treatment of the fractures and other damage to the leg.

The hand and leg also would receive further treatment. The doctor emphasized again the importance of removal of the leg cast and said he was attaching a note to that effect to the cast.

During his time on the table, the destroyer at intervals shook with the firing of its big guns, requiring the crewmen holding the litter to cope with the shock and lurch of the vessel.

It was several days later that he was able to convince the medics on the transport to remove the cast. When they did, they rushed him to the surgery ward where he spent the rest of the voyage to Pearl Harbor and Aeta Heights Naval Hospital.

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