23. The Medical Detachment



The Medical Detachment

The Medical Detachment


LTTLE has been said of the work of the "Medicos" attached to the Battalion except in jest. While it is true they did not shine outwardly in drill formations and on the line of march, yet, in their own field, their accomplishments were such that they always gained and kept the respect of all with whom they came into contact.

Our own little Detachment is no exception. It consisted of one commissioned officer, a captain and fourteen enlisted men - a sergeant first class, a sergeant, a private first class and eleven privates.

The history of our Medical Detachment dates back to June, 1917, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Fort Benjamin Harrison was used as a training center for the Medical Department where officers and enlisted men received their basic and military training prior to assignment to definite organizations and units. Skeleton units of enlisted men are called cadres and are intended to train recruits. It was here that Dr. Willard D. Preston who was to become the Bat-talion Surgeon met with Whitey Lindner, Arthur Baldwin, Willie Christian and Johnny Butler. These men formed the enlisted cadre as did Joe Mickle, Homer "Nigger" McGee, Harry Sneff, Bill Russell, Pop Schaeffer, Sgt. Goldstein, Sgt. Lafferty and others for the other companies of the Battalion.

Captain Preston and his men arrived in Camp Upton shortly before the arrival of the draftees, begging your pardon, selective service men. Following closely on their heels came Clarence King, Max Hershkowitz, Sid Hyman, Kossin, Romeo Nichols and Charlie Lewis, as well as one or two others whose names do not come to mind.

It is interesting to note the qualifications of the men who were destined to take care of the health of the Battalion. Captain Preston relinquished a lucrative practice in Attica, N. Y., where he held positions of County Physician of Wyoming County, surgeon for the Erie Railroad as well as affiliations with the leading hospitals in Buffalo and Batavia. That, dear friends, is giving up something by way of an income in order to serve his country in the time of its need. The answer was, possibly, that he had an attack of "war fever" for the reason that he had seen prior service in the Philippines and never got it out of his system. It should also be stated that, at that time, he had a wife and two small children. Lindner came from 14 somewhere in New Jersey" and was an electrotyper; Baldwin was a chiropractor from Fort Wayne Ind.; Willie Christian was supposed to be a deputy sheriff from the hills outside Richmond, Va.; Johnny Butler, a chauffeur from Richmond, Va.; King, a shoe salesman from Boston, Mass.; Hershkowitz, Hyman and Kossin were licensed dentists practicing in New York City; Nichols, a dirt farmer from the "hillbilly area" in West Virginia, and Charlie Lewis owned a drug store in Brooklyn, N. Y.

Hyman and Kossin had applied for a commission before being selected" by Uncle Sam and, in a short time after arrival in camp, their commissions came through and they went to Camp Gordon as First Lieutenants. King turned to being an amateur detective and remained behind as a witness in a supposed spy case which he claimed to have unravelled. That is another way of not going overseas.

That is the way the personnel of the Detachment remained until a few days before we went overseas. At that time the Battalion received men from outside to fill in the vacancies that existed according to the tables of organization. The companies received their "filler ins" from Cortland, Tioga and other counties in Central New York, but the Medical Detachment, to be different, received theirs from Camp Devens, Mass. What men they were! Orlowski, Kizarsky, Kalnek, Keawalsky and a couple of others with about the same basic training. They first had to understand you and then the next step was to understand them, but, bless their hearts, could they "yeat" bread. Nothing else mattered to them. In civilian life they were factory workers and farmers and that is where they should have remained.

The story of how Butler and Christian enlisted in the Army should be told. It seems that, at this time, they were both in the ranks of the then unemployed and went on a binge in Washington, D. C. While strolling along, they observed that famous wartime poster captioned "Uncle Sam Needs You!". It had a patriotic effect upon them and, when sobered up, why, they just found themselves members of this man's army.
In December, 1917, under the supervision of the Division Surgeon, written and oral examinations were held for promotion to the grade of Sergeant, Medical Department. This was open to all Medical Department personnel in the Division. Lindner, Baldwin and Lewis participated and all three were successful. That makes it one hundred percent. Either our candidates were good or the examinations were easy. At any rate, we now have three sergeants. Christian was appointed private first class by Captain Preston and also became his orderly.

The duties of the Detachment, while in Camp Upton, were mainly routine. Morning sick call was the most important. It was their duty and function to see that the men of the 305th Machine Gun Battalion remained in good health for the reason that only the healthy were eligible to become cannon fodder. This was done with the aid of crowbar needles shooting all kinds of injections, experimental and otherwise, and the administration of those dear old standbys, iodine and compound cathartic pills-C.C. pills to you. What wonders these two items! Remember the fractures, fallen arches, sore throats, etc., that were cured by them? Many a man came to the infirmary for some "pills" and did not want any of those damn C.C. pills. He didn't get them - but ask the wise guy what he did get. They forgot Charlie Lewis was a pharmacist and knew his pills. Yes, they would then come back and ask for the dear C.C. pill again. Personal inspections once a month but more about that later. Inspections of the barracks, quarters and mess halls. Instruction to the companies on first aid and the use of the first aid pack. To separate the able-bodied men who preferred bunk fatigue to squads right, details, and stump pulling expeditions from those actually indisposed was quite a problem at times. A sore back or muscle is not being sick but just being a softie and this hardening process is just training. While the men of the Detachment pulled a couple of stump roots it was not part of their training. They just weren't sissies. They did some drilling, mainly a hike out beyond the vision of the barracks to a nice shady tree and there enjoyed a smoke and felt sorry for the rest of the Battalion for the hard work they had to do. It was very sad.

Nothing special, other than routine, happened in camp. There was a slight epidemic of mumps and we lost two men on account of pneumonia. For the severe winter of that year we were most fortunate. No history can be complete without some mention of the Cleaver Club. It happened shortly after midnight on a Saturday. It was a cold night. The curse of drink had its effect. The drinkers wanted food. The soldier on guard did not approve of it. Kitchen knives, cleavers and blows of the pelvic bone of the steer cut the air. Result: the guard woke up Charlie Lewis for first aid. Due to the absence of Captain Preston, Captain McKibbin, of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion, its surgeon was sent for and gave Charlie Lewis his first real experience in first aid. It took something like twelve stitches on the scalp to stop the bleeding of one of the injured. No, the man did not die. The net result of that episode was two men sent to the hospital, a flock of court martials and one man dishonorably discharged from the service.

Going over on H.M.S.S. Megantic first started its real work in the rendition of first aid. Quite a number of the warriors of the Battalion buckled in the knees, lost their appetites, gave up whatever they had or what they should have had over a small matter of fresh, invigorating sea air that was coupled with only a few waves that did no more than lift the boat out of the water, wash the decks and break the chinaware. The Detachment rendered first aid as best it could -which, modestly, was nobly done -but when some of them wanted to have their hands held because they thought they were going to die, well, that was expecting too much of a purveyor of C.C. pills. It simply wasn't dignified.

The Detachment, being a part of Headquarters, was the first to board the boat. When they got on board they kept on going, going and going right down to the bottom of the boat where the ship's sweat is simply ship's sweat and where rats are rats. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Our dignity was lost.

In the training area the Detachment really had an easy time of it. The men were in good health, took to their training seriously and morning sick call was at a minimum. It was a long walk to the infirmary.

Then came the now famous battle of Watten. It was the first real march with a full pack and equipment as well as personal belongings. Farewell to the fancy sweaters, mufflers and socks that Sister Susie made. That extra baggage took its toll but not so bad that it couldn't be properly handled by the first aiders, as we were now called. It was a grand lesson not to carry a piano in your pack.

The Detachment was now split up, two or three men going with each of the companies; Nichols had charge of the water wagon and Sgt. Lindner at Headquarters with Captain Preston.

An added duty of the Detachment was that one of its members had to be part of the advance party in selecting new sites for billeting for the purpose of making a chemical analysis of the water for its fitness for drinking and cooking purposes. No water could be used unless so passed upon. Water was delivered by the horse-drawn water cart and stored in Lyster bags and then only after proper chlorination. Who wants some freshly chlorinated water?

On the Baccharet Sector another change in the status of the personnel occurred. The Division Surgeon held another examination but this time for promotion to the grade of Sergeant First Class. Charlie Lewis made it. With this new rating he earned the title of "Doc", became the First Sergeant and came back to Headquarters from Company D. Incidentally, Charlie Lewis, with his new rating, became the highest-paid non-com in the Battalion. Shortly thereafter Baldwin made it and, since only one was permitted by the table of organization, he was transferred to the second echelon in charge of a prophylactic station. Boys will be boys.
Those famous all-night marches caused no end of trouble for the Detachment. During the marches, someone, every now and then, couldn't take it and would fall out. A medico would stay with them and trail behind if necessary. After the march, with everyone pretty tired, the work of the Detachment really began. It was then the cry of "First aid!" was really heard. The noble warriors of the Battalion would be having quite a little trouble with their feet. Improper fitting of shoes and Sister Susie's socks would cause many a bad blister. All they had to do was call "First aid!" and rest. The Detachment men would respond to the call, render first aid, and, often, had no rest because it was time to be on the march again. This was particularly true after the early marches. The tables were now turned and the Detachment men were busier than the rest of the Battalion.

While it is true we carried no rifles as the rest of the Battalion did, yet our packs were equally as heavy and cumbersome. We had to march step for step with them and lost out on the rest between marches. Were we now being appreciated? We certainly were! There was no more jesting about painting one's throat with iodine as a cure for all ailments.

It was also now part of our work to see that proper latrines and pits were built and, upon leaving an area, to supervise the proper coverage of these openings so as to prevent any disease from being contracted, particularly from flies. This also included disposal of the remains of the mess, if a mess kitchen was available, and of the tin cans, if not.

There is no need of going into details of the work of the Detachment during actual combat. Anywhere any of the companies went, two or three of the medicos were there with them, with the same risks of exposure, discomforts and danger, doing their duties as best they could with the result that they won the everlasting gratitude and goodwill of the Battalion.

Two items of interest should, however, be mentioned.

The first was what may be termed the Battalion's most serious setback f rom a point of health and efficiency. This was caused by the wave of dysentery, which was common to the entire area, and, unquestionably, due to improper temporary burials, particularly of animals. Who is there that will ever forget that stench? The hard part of it was the lack of available medical supplies to cope with the situation and the inability to obtain them. Some of the men lost as much as twenty pounds, not to forget that they were all non-effective as far as service with their companies was concerned. Equally unfortunate was the fact that they could not be evacuated to the rear as some of them may be lost to their outfits forever. First, the lead and opium pills ran out, then the paregoric pills ran out, followed by anything else that could possibly be used to ease the situation. Finally, in desperation, Captain Preston ordered men to kitchens, if and when they were available, to get some burnt toast in the hope that the charcoal present would be of some help. Sometimes it did help, but more often it did not.

The other item to be mentioned concerns sex morality. We all know about the sudden physical inspections occurring once a month. We also know of the temptations that came across one's path. The net result was that no enlisted man of the Battalion contracted any disease that would shock the senses of any of the folks back home. Bear in mind that the enlisted personnel amounted to 732 in number. Compare with that the same number of men in civilian life, and then be proud of that record. No, the Medical Detachment cannot claim credit for it even though they administered the prophylactic treatments. The number of treatments were remarkably few and, while they may have been efficient, one could not continually beat the inspections. No, the answer is, and was, that the men, as a whole, felt it their duty to their country and self-respect to remain clean and efficient.

Sgt. Lewis was wounded on October third, 1918, and was lost to the Battalion for the rest of the war. He was replaced by Sergeant First Class Gilman, from the Division, who remained with the outfit until after the Armistice, when Sgt. Baldwin replaced him on his return to the outfit. Butler was wounded shortly before the Armistice and was returned to the outfit.

Captain Preston was ordered back home by the demand of the population of Wyoming County upon the War Department as being essential. We must not forget that an epidemic of influenza was raging in the States at that time and, due to the number of physicians in the Army, the medical service was fairly well crippled. This may have been a good break for the Captain but his absence was felt by the Battalion. Who is there that did not like the old "Doc"? His work and esteem must have reached home ahead of him for, when he ar-rived there, he received a promotion to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel. There was nothing honorary about this rank for he was last paid and discharged as such. After all, the pay does count.

Nothing but routine work occupied the attention of the Detachment after the signing of the Armistice. The old conditions were again maintained. The companies still had to drill - they now called it discipline -and the Detachment watched them.

Nothing eventful happened en route back home or in camp awaiting discharge, except in that famous parade up Fifth Avenue, Lieutenant Colonel Preston and Sergeant First Class Lewis put on the uniforms they had discarded and marched with the Battalion.

Thus endeth the history of the Medical Detachment of the 305th Machine Gun Battalion, 77th Division, A.E.F., with no apologies and no regrets.

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