Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not All Wounds Are Physical

National Archives

PFC Dylan Jackson ran into the medical tent, Doc Milbury looked up from inspecting a soldier's feet and gestured, "wait."

"I told ya Gus, ya gotta take care of your feet. Put this ointment on after you clean 'em, and change your socks, every damned day. If you get trench foot, you can lose your feet, man. You want to be a cripple?"

Pvt Gus Belsha shook his head, "I know Doc, I know, it's just we've been up on the line for a couple of weeks now..."

"No excuses," Doc Milbury walked over to a corner of the tent and dug through a box, coming up with a pair of GI socks, "take these and change them tonight. Wash the old ones out as best you can, dry your feet as best as you can, every night at least."

"Thanks Doc."

As Pvt Belsha put his socks and boots back on, Milbury looked over at Jackson. "What's up Dylan?"

Pvt Jackson, a medic in training, came over and whispered into Doc Milbury's ear, "You have to come with me, it's Sgt Jenkins, I think he's lost it."

Doc Milbury grabbed his medic kit and said, "Alright, let's go."

The company had been running the urban combat course all day. The Army had taken over a small Belgian village which had been shelled multiple times. No one lived there now, so the Army decided it would be a good place to try and teach the men the tricks of the trade in fighting for a city. Aachen was there, the brass had decreed that the Big Red One, supported by the 3rd Armored Division, would be attacking, and taking that city.

But the large number of green replacements who had recently joined the division necessitated a lot of extra training. Some of the new men had barely put a hundred rounds through a rifle in their earlier training. They knew how to take orders, but that was about it, leave them on their own and they'd die.

1Lt Nathan Paddock had been talking with the company commander, Captain Alphonse Josephson, when his platoon guide ran up.

"Begging the captain's pardon, but we need the lieutenant." Cpl Jimmy Winston gasped as he said this, he had run the entire way from the platoon's bivouac.

The captain looked at Winston, then at Paddock, "It's okay, I think we're done for the day. Any questions Lieutenant?"

"No sir, I'll also get you those ammo counts you wanted."

Captain Josephson walked up the main street of the small ruined village as Paddock turned to the young corporal. "What's up Jimmy?"

"It's Sgt Jenkins, sir, we have a problem."

1Lt Paddock looked at the platoon guide and asked, "Problem, what problem?"

"He's lost it sir, he's in that shed next to the platoon CP, he's crying and stuff, he says he deserves to die for what happened to the new kids in his squad."

"Oh shit, let's go." The two men took off running back to their bivouac.

Doc Milbury was already there, it looked as if he was talking with Jenkins through the closed door of the shed, but Paddock didn't hear any response from inside.

"Greg, it's Paddock, what's going on?"

From inside they heard the ominous sound of a clip being inserted and the bolt sliding home on Jenkins' Garand.

"Jesus Lieutenant, I am so sorry about getting those guys killed the other day, it's eating me up inside Sir. What am I gonna do?"

"Don't do anything Greg, let's figure this out. Maybe you need a pass to go down to Paris for a week or two, see the sights, get laid, Hell, we can fix this. You and me buddy, together." Paddock looked over at Cpl Steve McDonald, the other NCO in Jenkins' squad. He walked over to the lieutenant and leaned in, whispering...

"We had a letter for Bill Crawford this morning, the dumbasses at battalion forwarded it to us. Greg got it and looked at it. It was from Crawford's wife, she had a baby, a boy, she wanted to know what Crawford thought of naming the kid for his grandfather. Sorry L.T., but Greg broke down when he saw that."

Sergeant Gregory (NMI¹) Jenkins sat there in the darkness of the shed, he had never felt this low in his entire life. He had loaded his M1 out of boredom, after he had done so, he did, for the briefest of moments, think about killing himself. But as a practicing Catholic, a little voice in his head whispered that that was a one way ticket to Hell, and it would kill his parents back home in Montana.

But the men outside the shed didn't know that, and it suddenly struck him that he should say something...

"Sorry L.T. I don't mean to hurt myself or anyone else, it's just that when I get anxious, I practice loading and unloading old Gertie. It don't mean nothing L.T., I just need some alone time or something. Man, I got those guys killed, Crawford's kid is gonna grow up without a dad. I did that L.T., f**k I am so damned sorry."

Cpl Winston looked at his lieutenant and mouthed, "Old Gertie?"

Sighing, Paddock just looked at Winston and whispered, "Lots of people name their rifles. Just like tank crews name their tanks. Airmen name their airplanes."

Winston just shrugged and said, "Okay."

"Hey Greg, we'll leave you alone then, okay. Don't do anything stupid, all right?"

"I won't L.T., I swear."

Taking Doc Milbury out of earshot of the shed, 1Lt Paddock asked, "I hate to lose Jenkins to this shit. Is there anything we can do to get him off the line for a week or so?"

"Not really lieutenant. Remember that guy Patton slapped in Sicily? Same kind of thing, the man just broke down. A few days R and R² will sometimes help. But it ain't something the Army wants to acknowledge."

"Hey Doc, L.T.?" PFC Jackson spoke up. Both men turned to look at him. "Cap'n wants to set up a rifle range, teach the new recruits how to shoot, he needs an NCO for that. Isn't Jenkins a pretty good man with a rifle?"

1Lt Paddock nodded, then clapped PFC Jackson on the shoulder, "Good idea little Doc! Jenkins can go back with you, I'll write it up for the captain, I know he'll go along."

Doc Milbury turned to look at Jackson as the officer walked away, "Heh, 'Little Doc,' I like that, I think you've got your official nickname now Dylan."

"I suppose that's better than what the battalion surgeon calls me."

"Yup, it most definitely is. Word'll get back that the doughboys call you 'Little Doc' and old Doc McPherson will probably stop referring to you as turdhead."

"One can only hope," PFC Dylan 'Little Doc' Jackson muttered, "one can only hope."

Captain Josephson liked Jackson's idea, who 1Lt Paddock gave due credit to, he also liked the young medic's new nickname.

Sgt Greg Jenkins went back to the company area, the captain got his rifle range set up, and Jenkins helped the new men zero their weapons in, something they hadn't learned in boot camp, and they had the chance to get more familiar with their weapons. Jenkins was able to keep busy and put the incident of the meeting engagement behind him.

After all, as 1Lt Paddock had told him, "You didn't kill those men Greg, the f**king Krauts did. We need your experience with these younger men. Get your act together, I need you Sergeant."

"Okay Sir. I'm okay, still feel bad, but..."

"You don't think I feel bad about every single man we've lost so far? You don't think the captain doesn't feel the losses? It's war Greg, and war is Hell on Earth. Stay alive, do your best to keep your men alive. Someday, we'll all go home. This f**king war can't last forever."

Sgt Jenkins nodded, he knew the lieutenant was right, but he was still going to write a letter to Bill Crawford's wife. He owed him that much.

¹ NMI = No Middle Initial, a very Army thing. Have to fill all the slots on the paperwork, even the one for middle initial, if you didn't have one, you were supposed to enter "NMI." So of course your name showed up like that on a lot of Army paperwork.
² R and R = Rest and Recuperation, and a lot of other unofficial names.


  1. Something they hadn't learn in bootcamp...
    Should be hadn't learned...
    Don't mind me, just looking over yer shoulder, maestro!

    1. didn't learn in boot camp. Active voice is better.

    2. True, I tend to mix active and passive voice. Not sure why.

  2. BZ, Little Doc and BZ you too Sarge! Good installment and good to address the mental strain which affects the more humane folk. The SOB's never seem to be bothered.
    One thing though, "Boot Camp" is more a Naval term, pretty sure even back then the Army calls it "Basic Training" or just "Basic".
    I may be a sea-service type but my family has been Army since before there was one.
    Boat Guy

  3. Hey AFSarge;

    I heard it called basic, or boot camp. either one one works , "Fresh out of basic or Fresh out of Boot" I heard both when I was in, they overlapped when I was in. Guilt is a hard thing to deal with and not all the soldiers could deal with it. you dealt with a touchy subject very well. I liked the Socks thing, I remember a Willie and Joe cartoon where willie or was it Joe...I can't remember which one told the other "You saved my life, Here is my last pair of dry socks...." Very important Socks were.

    1. An infantryman needs to care for his feet like a tanker takes care of his vehicle. Otherwise you're not much use.

      I've read the dry socks thing in many places over the years. Trench foot is nasty!

  4. The mental/emotional realm is a tough place to operate.

    Good stuff as always Sarge, thanks.

    1. Thanks Shaun.

      It's often overlooked in the history books.

  5. Some people the guilt doesn't get. Some people it sets in forever. Major Wittlesely, in charge of nominally 9 companies of the 77th Battalion during WWI was so eaten by guilt for all the troops lost in the Argonne Forest in October, 1918, that he took a cruise after the war from America to Great Britain, and one day just walked off the ship.

    But redirecting the guilt? That's a smart darned idea.

    And, yeah, change your socks. Swamp feet (a very Florida and Louisiana version of Trench Foot) will eat your feet up accompanied by a really wide range of nasty smells. In the Pacific Theater, those that could were ordered to soak their feet in fresh salt water and scrub them with clean sand.

    A very strange fix, but one that sometimes worked (and still works) is soaking the feet in a clorox solution - rather hard on the feet but it kills the bacteria quicker than the skin. Not recommended for open sores. And it's a measure of last resort. But it will kill nail fungus and other foot fungi.

    Great story. Looking forward with trepidation to the next segment.

    1. Aachen, the Hürtgen, the Ardennes, there will be a lot on the guys' plates this fall.

  6. I've had to type this 4 times now...sigh. Another fine episode. Those of who were NCO's wonder how we'd react to losing men, from time to time. Reading this was one of those times, dusty/smokey in here. "I wouldn't venture out there fellas. This{writer's} got talent." (Stolen modified movie quote)
    Weird observation... For several years these tired eyes have seen your profile pic as a exotic brunette in profile, wearing a grey officers cover with a gold embossed red band. Always wondered about the story behind that. Now, in the last year or so when you comment on some other blogs the pic is bigger. I now see it's you standing in front of a unique airplane. Still can't unsee the brunette in the small pic. Like I said, weird. (now don't hit preview or click anywhere else than publish)

    1. Well my hair was brown when I was younger, I've been to exotic places...

      But yeah, I get that, my eyes ain't what they used to be.

      Even commenting is a crap shoot with this new interface...

      Oh, and thanks.

  7. That’s funny I was just talking with an old Internet acquaintance, a retired Air Force colonel who was the chief test pilot of the B1B

    He was mentioning that he had an Air Force friend of many years and it wasn’t for some years before his friend confided that he was a POW in Stalag Luft 3.

    His friend told him that after the real “ great Escape“, the SS came in to supervise the prisons displacing in the Air Force

    He said it went from tough to real tough.

    It wasn’t for some years that he talked about this.

    Years ago I read a book called goodbye Mickey Mouse. It’s out of print but the author spend a great deal of time talking about the mental scars of being in the eighth Air Force

    And how many suicides and self-inflicted wounds they were back in England just to avoid going on one more mission

    1. Goodbye Mickey Mouse is a superb novel, Len Deighton is one of my favorite writers.

      You can still get a copy in paperback over at Amazon.

  8. Sarge, I have to tell you your writing has rekindled my interest in WW II. Thanks.

  9. Been watching the Ken Burns series, The War, on PBS. While it has a decidedly "everyone in the war were horrible, including us" tone, it's doing a decent job in a number of areas. Focus is on men and women in four towns - Sacramento (CA), Mobile (AL), Waterbury (CT), and Luverne (MN) both in the war and at home. I sear some of the pics you are showing are stills from some of the films used in the show. Also, lots of good pics of German and American armor in the show.

    Nitpicky comment - I've always said and heard that rifles are just 'zeroed', not 'zeroed in'. The latter just sounds funny to me, having zeroed a fair number of firearms in my time.

    1. I remember from the time it was on the air that one was a Japanese-American from Sacramento and stuck in Japan (for school?) when Pearl Harbor came. He was on the Yamato when it sank carrying 1000s of others.

      That bugged me to - the neutral tone Burns used. Tell that to the residents of Shanghai, Nanking, Manila...

      A good friend of mine is from Hong Kong - and his wife originally from Shanghai. They had to leave in a hurry because her father, a factory owner, was targeted by Mao. Settled in Uruguay. Her mother was from Shanghai and in her last months hallucinated about her time there under Japanese occupation, when babies were bayoneted and Chinese were killed for the sport of it.

      Sarge - the part where the weapons hadn't been zeroed in in Basic - you have to zero them if you have a hope of hitting anything. We did at Ft Ord. Don't know if they neglected that in Basic in 1944 to get them out, but if they did, it was a huge disservice to those recruits making their deaths more likely for not being able to hit things accurately.

    2. Tom - Not everyone in the book is a master gunner, they tend to misuse terms just like any civilian in unifrom might. So "zeroed" or "zeroed in" - I've heard both used.

      Don't care for any of Ken Burns' work.

    3. William - In the Air Force the process of zeroing is very rudimentary, you know which things to click to adjust your sights. Doesn't mean you're an expert in zeroing your weapon. Again, in World War II they needed bodies at the front so the process was somewhat hurried at times. Artistic license if you will. This isn't a textbook.

  10. If your weapon is not zeroed, then you are forced to use Kentucky Windage to hit anything. That's not a skill that you acquire with a few hundred rounds of shooting experience- but with a few thousand. Maybe. It is criminal to send men into combat not knowing how to zero their weapon.

    1. When you need bodies in uniform carrying rifles, you move the pipeline along. It ain't right, but in wartime shit happens.

  11. When I went through Basic, they taught us how to take a rifle set it to "factory zero", then set it to "our zero" by each clicks and they wrote it down in our helmets. Even now I still remember that settings ...well it was for the M16A1 anyway. For me it was down 2 and over 2 and the rifle was set for "my Zero". To prove that point, they had us do that with several rifles in basic for Mechanical Zero. AFSarge was correct, they shoved people into the pipeline, especially in 1944, the casualties were mounting from both the ETO and the Pacific and they turned a blind eye to a lot of thing and some of the people that they sent to the line shouldn't have been sent, but they did in the name of wartime expediency.

    1. Roger that.

      Thanks for having my six MrG.

    2. Hey AFSarge;

      Your stories are written very realistically and it shows the "truth", granted it is "Fiction" but it is "Historical Fiction" based on Facts. I have been reading a lot of WWII books since I was a kid and I have read and absorbed a lot of information and the stuff you have written has the "Ring of truth" for a fictional story if you know what I mean. It is well researched and it shows what I call the "Blemishes and warts" of what they call the "Greatest Generation". Not all of them were great, some of them were pretty bad people. I had commented that the Great depression forged a lot of people into steel, a soft people couldn't do what we as a society did, the soft people jumped off the building when they lost their savings, the hard ones soldiered on and made it through. I has done a lot of research into the "CCC", the Civilian Conservation Corp", such a thing would have only worked back then, where people were conditioned by sociatial norms not to take handouts, where "you work or you don't eat". Welfare was unheard of. A lot of young people got used to structure and living in barracks, and this helped them when they joined the service for WWII. It also taught them a trade and they send their extra pay home to their folks. I had blogged about it several years ago...Hope you don't mind my going off on a tangent.

    3. That generation certainly came up in tougher times.

  12. Waiting for the other 250 pages. I'd buy a hard copy in a heartbeat. You have some mad skills.


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