Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Whither Go The Dead?

Fair Use
One thing many people tend to forget is what happens to the dead and wounded in the aftermath of battle. Death in battle is very messy and certainly not glorious. At least for the dead, their suffering is at an end, for the wounded the nightmare was only beginning.

Of course, I'm speaking of olden times. While being wounded is still horrible, at least these days there is the possibility of fairly rapid transport to a field hospital. Not to mention the often immediate care from a medic/corpsman to stabilize a wounded trooper while awaiting evacuation.

Once the battle was done, what happened? Often one army would retreat and the other army would pursue, leaving the battlefield, and the many dead and wounded, behind them, left to the often not-so-tender mercies of the local civilians. These folks were typically not very pleased to have two contending armies in their neighborhood, trampling crops, stealing chickens, and being "rude" to the local ladies.

The dead and wounded would be looted, stripped of nearly everything on them. Those wounded who protested would often be quickly dispatched without mercy. Not only the local civilians but the stragglers (men too cowardly to face battle themselves) from one army or the other (sometimes both if the armies remained in place) would stalk the field, looting the dead and the soon to be dead without any compunction whatsoever.

War has always been brutal, but it was even more so back in the day. This video gives a good background on what became of the dead after a battle.



Gruesome, I know. But between the horror of the battlefield and the tidy graveyard lies the business no one wants to know about. Like the video says, the Graves Registration (now known as Mortuary Affairs) troops of the United States don't receive enough recognition for what they did, and still do.

A soldier knows that his duties might require the sacrifice of his/her life. One comfort in the United States military is that we try very hard not to leave our dead and wounded behind. It happens, but huge efforts are made to evacuate the wounded and recover the dead.

It's the least we can do for our fallen comrades.




34 comments:

  1. My father is now buried at Jefferson Barracks in Saint Louis.
    Thanks to those folks he and his comrades aren’t still on the side of some mountain in eastern India.

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    1. I had no idea that the crew had been recovered. Amazing and something of a comfort I would think.

      Like the man said, not enough recognition.

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  2. When I was at CENTCOM we were worried about what to do with our dead that might be killed by chemical weapons, and how to deal with specialized mortuary affairs. Bury them in place in special body bags was the consensus, coming back for them after the war was over and we had improved capabilities.

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    1. BTW, I just read your post-game post and commented.

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    2. Damn, NBC warfare would need some special handling. (I was on an NBC decontamination team in NATO, the stuff you learn...)

      Sounds like you had a good plan. The Old NBC Sarge approves. ;)

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    3. Saw that and responded. (I don't miss much, well I do, but usually not new comments, I live for comments.)

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  3. My late father did a stint with "Graves Registration" while in the CBI WWII. He taught my sister and I his philosophy about jobs.

    "All jobs are jobs of work. Some are more unpleasant than others. Always remember it is just a job of work that needs done".

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  4. Knew someone who was involved in the Guyana cleanup after the Jim Jones cult mass-suicide/murder. Dude could not abide the smell of decay after that. It just changed him.

    As to being wounded after a battle, if you had good friends sometimes the nicest thing they could do for you, back before antibiotics, was finish you off if your gut was perforated. The world was not nice before decent medical treatment.

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    1. If you had time and if the sergeants/officers weren't looking. Those sorts of "niceties" usually occurred after the battle was over.

      Wounds in the arms or legs, lop 'em off. Anywhere in the head or torso, the surgeon wouldn't even look at you. Save those you could, leave the others to God.

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    2. The invention of Triage during the Napoleonic Wars was one of the true medical miracles. The lightly hurt but survivable get patched and wait until after the majorly hurt but survivable get treated, while the majorly hurt but unsurvivable get moved far away, downwind and hopefully behind a terrain feature.

      Getting the soon-to-be-dead far away from the hurt-but-will-live saved many lives. Far away to either die or survive.

      Amazing how few people today truly understand the world before antibiotics, good painkillers and safe blood/plasma transfusions.

      Rather have a bad head injury than a festering belly wound. Rather not have either, actually.

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    3. Military medicine owes a nod to Dominique Jean Larrey, a surgeon in Napoléon's Grande Armée. He came up with a number of innovations for treating the wounded, including a purpose-designed field ambulance. But yeah, getting treated for a would without benefit of anesthesia? One argument I've seen is that people were generally tougher back then. It's all they knew, pain and suffering.

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    4. "...the Jim Jones cult mass-suicide/murder."

      One of the C-141s in the squadron I was a member of brought the bodies of those people back to the states. Not an aircraft many wished to be assigned to on the overnight ( or ' grave ' ) shift.

      Paul

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    5. No amount of steam cleaning or bleach could get rid of the stench according to my acquaintance. He may have been exaggerating. I hope so.

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    6. "No amount of steam cleaning or bleach could get rid of the stench..."

      No smell, that I recall, just not many who cared to be aboard her in the middle of the night.

      Paul

      P.S.: Guess which shift I was on during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.


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    7. Can you blame them?

      What a giveaway! Mids?

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  5. I have a friend in southern Indiana who is a Vietnam Vet and his job in Vietnam was prepping the bodies for transportation back to the US. His PTSD is not from the battlefield but from his daily job.

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    1. The Graves Registration people had and have a horrid job, but a necessary one. Seems to me the job would be better the less tropical the climate would be.

      Yet another job I am glad I never had to worry about.

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  6. You are far too young to be having such morbid thoughts.

    In any case...

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. The old do not oft die in war, 'tis the young who do the dying.

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    2. OAFS does still seem to be stuck in Gloomy Gus mode, doesn't he?

      Snap out of it, Sarge. You need to post plane pics pronto!

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    3. No, no, no. I saw the video and found it of great interest. So few people see anything beyond the neatly arranged and carefully landscaped military cemetery. My goal in posting this was to let people know that there is a lot more to warfare than most people realize. It's history, a bit morbid perhaps, but essential.

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    4. Oooooo… Snappy recovery, takes it for the Win!

      Yeah, did a paper a long-long time ago on real-life Tournament first aid. Strapping punch-drunk knights to wooden frames to keep them sitting up, a screw-driven pull (not press) for extending broken limbs, spider webs, stuff like that. Past that, death watch for 3 days and if he ain't pushing up daisies by then, he'll recover-ish. Really, under non-antibiotic treatment the magic number is 3 days. Takes someone about 3 days to die of peritonitis or brain swelling or general body infection.

      And I've seen big burly 'knights' come off the field with a boo-boo and whine about it. Meh. If it's not hissing or squirting, then.. Disarm and Disarmor, Unrobe, Shower then Treat. Big Babies.

      One time I took a resounding blow to the faceplate and I hadn't kept my helmet padding up to snuff, so front edge of helm bit my right eyebrow. Didn't know it until I took the helm off. Blood, lots of blood, then I was suffocating as 5 bazillion idiot Assistants covered me. Got them sorted out and went to the Chirurgeon's Cabin. Where they pronounced I needed to go to the local ER. Me, in my dazed state, asked where that was. They, in their rational state, did not know. Fortunately, in my sword-shocked state, I remembered driving by the big blue Hospital sign with the arrow oh, about 30 miles away. They wanted to evac me. In my armor and fighting clothes. (First thing med people do is cut all the easily undone straps, which are a beyotch to fix.) I resisted, one of my friends went to my tent and got clothes and my car. Meanwhile the idiots wanted me to lay down for a somewhat gushing cut (that probably could have been butterflied closed) and I wouldn't until I was clean(ish). They tried to remove my shoes, which were full of water, sweat and gunk, pouring about a gallon of filth on the floor. I snuck over to the bathroom to "Pee" and while there stripped down and hopped in the shower (I wore compression shorts under the jock and outer wear, so modesty was saved, but then again, who cared.) So, yeah, I got to do the completely medieval thing of taking care of myself with the help of Mrs. Andrew. Got a couple stitches from the ER, still think to this day a simple butterfly would have done it, but I was hurting by then and couldn't catch one....

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    5. Had a cut over the right eyebrow myself, severed some important thingee back there, took a few stitches it did.

      Won't do that again if I can help it!

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  7. And now, thanks to this post, I have Drowning Pool's "Bodies" running through my head. All darned day long. Which, well, isn't bad, since I like the song...

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  8. Eugene B. Sledge's memoir "With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa" also touched this topic.....one that's not talked about by most military historians.

    - Victor

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    1. That's right, he did. I need to reread my copy.

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  9. The "Graves Registration" people cannot be given too much praise. I stand in awe of the work they do behind the scenes. A good friend here in the condo just attended the burial ceremony of his uncle who had been buried on Okinawa. Really hard to comprehend.

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