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Explanatory


FIRST AID ON FOUR FRONTS IN
WORLD WAR I
308th Medical Detachment
Letters written by,

Sgt. 1st Class
William D. Conklin


MEDICAL DETACHMENT, 308th INFANTRY - AT CAMP UPTON AND IN FRANCE

Interwoven as it is with the history of the Companies of the 308th Infantry, the story of the Medical Detachment of the Regiment can hardly be told as a connected narrative In those far-away Camp Upton days, we were all neatly packed together in that right-little (though scarcely tight-little) Infirmary on 4th Avenue; but almost from the day we marched off the Channel boat into the A.E.F. at Calais, we became more and more a Detachment of detachments, down to the last indivisible personal unit.

First, near Zutkerque, we fell apart into Battalion Detachments; next, in Lorraine, each Medical Officer took unto himself a little outfit of his own; and finally, on the Vesle, it became imperative to distribute at least half the men among the Companies., for first aid purposes., the rest remaining on duty in the various Aid Posts. Consequently, the "history" of the Medical Detachment is a thing of shreds and patches as inevitably as were its personnel during some of the exigencies of the service. And if it were not for the fact that in these latter days we can foregather occasionally, and tell each his own story, of what happened to him when he was with Co. A on the Vesle, Co. F in the Argonne, Co. M on the advance toward Grand pre, or perhaps in those sizzling Aid Posts at Les Pres Farm and Ville Savoye, hardly one of us would know that the rest of us had been through the war.

Yet it is curious to note how unifying the fact of an Infirmary or a Battalion Aid Post can be. To return to it after an absence is more than rejoining an organization--it is like returning to a familiar clubhouse. Perhaps this partly accounts for so many of the old crowd drifting back to us from hospitals, one by one, having had to fight to keep from being put on duty in some, Convalescent Camp or Base Hospital, or sent back to the States as casualties.

However that may be, 28 of the 48 enlisted men who came across on the "Cretic" are together again (scattered through nine towns of the Regimental area); but only one officer is left who was with us then--Capt.,Allie D. Morgan, who has not missed a day of duty since he was assigned to the Regiment March 4. 1918. Associated indissolubly with the Infirmary bond is the peculiarly intimate relation that may exist between a Medical Officer and the enlisted personnel under his command. It is primarily a military relation, but it becomes far more than that, after months of service side by side, provided officer and men have worked together in true cooperation. It will be among the unpriced souvenirs of the war for us of the Medical Detachment that some of our officers have been more like elder brothers to us than C.O.'s--this in an army organization, without detracting from discipline.

Since Sept. 9, 1917, when 17 enlisted men, commanded by Lt. Noss D. Brant, arrived at Camp Upton from the Medical Training Camp at Ft. Oglethorpe., Ga., and were assigned as the nucleus of the 308th Infantry Medical Detachment, the changes in personnel of both officers and men have been so many that it is impossible to mention any but the outstanding names. Even in the days before we took possession

of the Infirmary,, when we bunked in odd corners of barracks, and our medical supplies., housed in two cracker boxes, were carried into a company mess hall at sick-call time, even then Lt. Brant was Regimental Surgeon, and Lts. Edgar S. Everhart., Lawrence D. Floyd, and Stanley L. Freeman were his associates. (Lts. Everhart and Floyd, and Lts. John J. O'Donnell and Richard B. Whittaker, were transferred before the Regiment sailed, Lt. Beamon S. Cooley went to France but was gassed on the Vesle.)

. Those were weeks crowded full of preparation for us, as they were for the Companies. In December., when we had gained our full quota of officers and men, Capt. Brant (as he had become) was suddenly ordered to join a Red Cross Hospital unit with which he had long before affiliated himself, and although every effort was made to keep him, the nullifying order from Washington arrived too late. He had shown himself a tireless worker,, with large executive ability, and personally very likeable.

His successor was Capt. William J. Condon., who was with the Regiment from Jan. 4. 1918, without interruption until he was wounded on the Lorraine Front on July 14th. Capt. Condon held a special place in the regard of men who came to him with their physical troubles, for he was as considerate of them as if they had been his private patients. After arrival in France, he was best known in the lst Battalion, of which he became Surgeon, in addition to serving as Regimental Surgeon. He was with the lst; Battalion at Badonviller at the time of the initial barrage and raid, the morning of June 24th, and because it was impracticable to bring the wounded down to the town,, he went out to a position constantly exposed to enemy fire

in order to administer first aid, His coolness and indifference to personal danger at this time won him a citation in the first Division list of officers, and men commended for gallantry. Three weeks after the Badonviller episode, While on a round of visits to his Aid Posts, he encountered heavy shelling on the road between Pexonne and Badonviller . One shell burst at the entrance of a house where he had taken refuge and he sustained a compound fracture of the right leg.

The evacuation of Capt. Condon necessitated an immediate shifting of officers. Capt. James F. Wagner, who had been 3d Battalion Surgeon since May 25th, when Capt. Henry Pleasants left Mondicourt to become Division Sanitary Inspector, was appointed Regimental Surgeon. Lt. Walter G. Trow had been Surgeon of the 2d Battalion since the evacuation to hospital, from Warluzel, of Capt. Stanley L. Freeman, Lt. Trow was promoted to Captain in July and shortly afterward transferred as Surgeon of the 306th Infantry. During his nine months with the Regiment, he had gained the esteem and affection of all who knew him. Lt. Charles C. Rose had already joined us, in June, and Lt. Harry Feldman, in July.

Before we left the Baccarat Sector, Major Gerald G. Burns, Dental Surgeon, had taken charge of the Division Dental Laboratory., leaving his former associates, Capt, George A. Hewey and Lt. Harold J. Loomis, who remained with us until October. Capt. Hewey, who found it impracticable on the Vesle and in the Argonne to do much dental work., was often of the greatest assistance to the Regimental Surgeon. During one trip to investigate conditions in an Advanced Aid Post, he was with Lt. Feldman and Lt. Powless when the latter was fatally wounded.

Lt. Josiah A. Powless, who was proud of being a full-blooded Indian, joined us in the middle of August at Chery-Chartreuve. He made friends instantly among men and officers wherever he went, and would delightedly hail them from afar at each now meeting. His was a picturesque figure, with no heroic pretensions., yet when, on Oct. 14th, near Chevieres, word came that Capt. James M. McKibbin, while dressing the wounds of a line officer and sergeant, had been severely wounded, he left his Aid Post and hurried to the side of his colleague. On the return, after he had arranged for the evacuation of Capt. McKibbin (who had been with the Regiment but tan days), Lt. Powless himself was seriously wounded. Both died in Base Hospitals, Capt. McKibbin on Oct. 24th and Lt. Powless on Nov. 6th, and both were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Our Detachment casualties on the Vesle had first brought us to a realization of how much the war was likely to change our personnel. From that Front, Lt. Gooley and six enlisted men--Weekley, Huttner, Shapiro, Chester, Mager, and DuBois--were all evacuated, gassed. Lester Umstot died in an ambulance Aug. 18th from a shell wound in the lung, received at Les Pres Farm when he was leading a sick man to the Battalion Aid Post. Capt. John A. Winstead, who had joined us three weeks before, was evacuated sick Aug, 27th, and on the same date Lt. William A. Lieser reported for duty. Lt. Lieser was wounded in the Argonne and died Oct. 4th in hospital, largely as the result of shock,

In the advance near Blanzy, on Sept. 5th, Lt. Carl F. Koenig was fatally wounded. His encouragement of the troops and his personal bravery had been of the greatest aid to Capt. Harrington, the 3d Battalion Commander. He was later cited in Division Orders, as was Sgt. Charles Matelusch of the Medical Detachment, who found the Surgeon lying in a shell crater, dressed his wounds under heavy enemy fire, and personally attended to his evacuation--by litter across an open field to the ambulance. At this time Stowie Fisher was capture following another Medical man, Benton Baker, to the American Prisoners Camp at Rastatt; and on Sept. 6th one of the officers whom we shall longest remember, Lt. (now Capt.) William McIlwain, reported for duty.

The Argonne Offensive, also, took a heavy toll of the enlisted personnel and officers of the Detachment. "Abie" Shapiro was killed instantly Sept. 29th on his first night after joining Co. H to give aid to the wounded, A day earlier, big Bill Baxter had been wounded and evacuated after a series of deeds on the Vesle and in the Argonne that won him the D.S.C. Otreba also was wounded on the 28th and Hinman on the 30th. On Oct. 5th, when his little first-aid shack was blown to bits by a shell, with two men killed and five wounded, Jack Gehris was among the latter. But he waited until he had cared for the others and arranged to get them to the Battalion Aid Post before bothering about himself. This and other work while with Co. F earned him the D.S.C. And Co. F men do not forget, either, the work of Staroselsky who is just plain "Starr" to most of us, and who is going to leave off the Russian ending himself when he gets back to his dear sweet Anna and his watch-making.

The third day of the famous pocket, "Seagoing". George Walker was wounded while with Co. G and lay for three days with some 50 holes in his back till he could be evacuated, Bragg (with Co. G) and "Baron" Sirota (with Co. D) were left effective in the pocket, and night and day they answered the agonized "First Aid'!" call, running through the woods to dress the wounded, besides enduring all the privations, dangers, and apprehensions of those critical six days. Both were sent to the hospital Oct. 8th, completely exhausted, and the "Baron" was finally reclassified unfit for duty. Since then, on the personal recommendation of Lt.-Col. Whittlesey, they have been awarded the D.S.C.

When the pocket was opened up, Saul Marshallcowitz, our own "Bozo," who had been with Co. H and had done much to Justify his oft-repeated claim that he was the "best worker from the bunch." was missing. The rumor was that he had been wounded and taken prisoner, and this was later confirmed. In the Argonne, Capt. William A. Morgan., Capt. August G. Hinrichs, Lt. Charles W. Sellers, and Lt. Clanton R. Athey were with us for comparatively short periods. Lt. Feldman, after three months of exacting duty at the front, went to the hospital sick at the end of October.

At Angecourt, our farthest point of advance on the last great drive, where we took care of men from at least five divisions besides our own., Capt. Wagner was notified of his promotion to Major. Great was the rejoicing that reward had arrived at last for his months of unflagging effort to overcome obstacles that to another might have looked insurmountable. That the net result was of incalculable value to the Regiment will be generally acknowledged; but only the other Medical Officers and those others who were close to him realize in how steady a hand he held the multitude of minute and confusing details of his work, how eager he was to be constantly in touch with every Aid Post, so far as practicable, and how instant was his re-sponse to every demand for a workable plan in a crisis.

Take, for instance, the problem presented when, 60 hours after the Argonne drive started, troops had advanced into the heart of the Forest and the farthest point that an ambulance could reach was the crossroads at La Harazee. Five kilometers up in that worse-than- jungle were wounded men urgently in need of evacuation. The men of the Band of the 308th Infantry were pressed into service as litter bearers, supplemented by men from the 306th and 307th Ambulance Companies and volunteer riflemen from our own Regiment, and for 36 hours the wounded were brought down by long litter carries, each trip requiring 12 hours. The stretcher bearers, some of them of slender physique and unprepared for the strain., often arrived at La Harazee faint and exhausted, but after a short rest they returned with empty litters, and carrying medical supplies. It was heroic work they did for us in those days. In the midst of French artillery, at the crossroads ambulance stand, and afterward up in the Forest, the YMCA and Knights of Columbus were thoroughly on the job with their cigarettes and chocolate for the wounded.

When the narrow gauge was opened up, and later when the road from Le Four-de-Paris became usable by day, the situation was relieved, But even then, if it had not been for the constant watchful-ness of the Regimental Surgeon, supplemented by the co-operative effort of the Ambulance Companies, and the faithful and courageous work of the S.S.U. drivers--who did such a magnificent job on four fronts., evacuating upward of 2,000 men for us--the Regiment's story would have been even more tragic.

The day the Companies were rescued from the pocket, the wounded were dressed by teams, each under a Medical Officer, who left the German hospital camp early in the morning; the ambulances came up to within a few yards of the point where the wounded had been collected; and all were evacuated by early afternoon. Major Wagner's carefully laid plans and energetic execution of measures to coordinate the first-aid work of the Detachment helped to bring us through the Vesle and the Argonne. He never spared himself nor considered his own convenience or safety at the Front., constantly endangering his life for the sake of assuring himself that all was going well; and through it all he remained confident, self-possessed, and ready, with the least easing of the strain., for a hearty laugh over some amusing incident of the day.

In one instance his bravery won him a Division Citation--when on Oct. 5th he faced machine-gun fire in the Argonne north of the Aid Post at L'Homme Mort to minister to a man who had been deserted by his bearers and lay bleeding to death 100 yards from the firing line. It is one of the ironies of fate that he should have come unscathed through service on four fronts and long afterward should have sustained injuries that necessitated his evacuation to a Base Hospital and severed his connection with the Regiment, On March 31., 1919., at Vire-en-Champagne, a government truck crashed into the ambulance in which he was riding (visiting units of the Regiment) and he sustained a fractured collar bone.

The 1st Battalion was happy when it saw Lt. Morgan don his Captain's bars, after the Armistice was signed, and the 2d Battalion equally rejoiced in Lt. McIlwain, promotion, in March, 1919. Just how much the men of the Regiment owe to Capt, Morgan, Capt. McIlwain, and Lt. Feldman (rejoined February), who were all with us during the storm, -and-stress period of the Regiment's existence; how much these officers are admired by those who know them; and with what particular affection they are regarded by the Medical Detachment personnel--all this can only be hinted at. Each of them was cited in Division orders for bravery,

Capt, Morgan, as Regimental Surgeon while Major Wagner was on duty at Camp Hospital #9 at Chateau-Villain., from Christmas, 1918, till the end of January., 1919., demonstrated his ability as an executive and greatly widened his circle of friends, After the Major was injured, he was again appointed Regimental Surgeon.

It would be unfair not to mention, also, for their faithful work certain officers who have been with us altogether or chiefly since the end of the war: Capt, Robert R. Cutler (Surgeon successively of 1st, 3d, and again 1st Battalion), Capt. Robert H. Lott, and Lt. Arthur H. Hauber, all M.C, Capt. Joseph J. Millard, D.C., and the following, now transferred: Lts. William P. Sammons, Alexander W. Fordyce, and Joseph Price, M.C., and Frank P. McCarthy, D.C.

If you ask a rifleman ten years from now whom he remembers best from the Medical Detachment, it would quite likely not be an officer., but some man who was with his company in a very tight place and gave him first aid, sandwiched between shellfire and machine-gun bullets, Perhaps he would recall Howard Tilton, who did such fine work with the 3d Battalion; or Phil Kiningstein, with Co. A; Ed Hughes, with to. B; Chester, for whom Co. E put in a citation; or DuBois, who came back after weeks in hospital and got a D,S.C. for continuing on duty for several days after he had been badly gassed near- Ville Savoye-- to mention only a few names at random, which it is hardly fair to do. As a group., these men who have been with the Companies constitute the strongest tie binding us to the rest of the Regiment.

If you ask a Battalion Surgeon who was of most aid to him at the Front. the answer is likely to be "my Sergeant." "Ernie" Meyer., with the lst Battalion., Jacque Fournier with the 2d, and "Charlie" Matelusch with the 3d--all of them with the outfit since the beginning--have seen veteran service in Aid Posts and in the open, the tried and trusted assistants of the officers under whom they worked, Fournier and Matelusch, and Conklin, also., were with the original group that came up from Oglethorpe to Upton in September, 1917. We do not forget how this group was broken when "Jimmie" Boynton, our Supply Sergeant back in camp, had to be left behind in the hospital suffering with an organic disease that prevented him from ever coning across, when his one big desire was to see service at the Front. And some of us remember "Sammy" Mintzer, who used to sit faithfully in the Infirmary pounding out memorandums day and night, and who got over here only to be reclassified and sent to duty far from the lines.

We are proud to recall that one member of the Detachment, William F. Lindorff, attained a commission. He attended the O.T.S. at Camp Upton., and while we were at Neuf--Maisons was made a Sergeant of Field Artillery, like other successful candidates. It was our good luck, that he was not immediately transferred, and he saw some lively service with Co. A on the :Vesle before his commission finally came through, He left us in September near Florent for further training at Saumur.

Of the men who have remained, Tilton, Hughes, KIningstein, and Henry Thompson have been Acting Sergeants at, various times, in Aid Posts and Infirmaries, They are four of the twelve who have never missed a day of duty since their arrival in France with the Detachment, April 21, 1918; the others., alphabetically listed., are Bishop., Conklin,, Hastedt., Jobes., Masters., McCurdy., Peterson., and Richking.

There are many stories that could and should be told that will circulate only as unwritten legends. Shall we ever forget the day, for instance, that we carried our entire medical combat equipment, besides our own packs, to the top of the chalk cliffs of Dover, and down again? Or the night the "Medical" held the line at Badonviller and Village Negre-the Infantry, both American and French, and even the ambulances, having all withdrawn? Or our flyer in ward management., when we undertook to run the transport hospital on the "Cretic.,11 under the eyes and nose of a Field Hospital outfit?

And while there are many men., too., who should be mentioned if space were not limited, there must be a word for the Medical Department replacements who came to buck up our depleted personnel and who so quickly fell in line for the job on hand-with a minimum of training but with all the good will and resolution in the world. One group of five B's--Bankroff, Berry, Bolsinger, Breckenridge, and Bunckley-- arrived fresh from the States the morning the 78th relieved us. With no previous experience in hiking, laden with the heaviest of full packs and soaked with rain., they marched that day from Lancon to Malassise Farm, back to Lancon, up through the Argonne to Chene Tondu and on to Abri du Crochet, slept that night in pup tents planted in mud'. and were as good as new the next morning. To them and to all the others who in the same spirit have contributed, each according.- to his ability., toward the sum total of the work that we came over- here to do, the Medical Detachment as, an organization owes unmeasured gratitude.
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