157th Infantry Regiment Crest , 45th Infantry Division, Second WorldWar

Dr. Peter Carl Graffagnino
Part Three

157th Infantry Regiment Crest, 45th Thunderbird Division, Second WorldWar

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The following is used with the permission of Bob Graffagnino. They were originally published in the Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, either as editorials, or in his column titled "The Doctor's Lounge". Bob, Dr. Graffagnino's son, is seeking to publish his father's writings, many of which can be found at http://graffagnino.com/doctorslounge/.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", May 1969, Vol. XVI No.5, p.20

Exercise In Nostalgia

As you read this we could be standing in the brick and cobblestone plats between the two main buildings of the old, boys school in Sczubin. The chances are it will look much the same as it did when we first saw it in May 1944. Beyond the Oder, villages in Eastern Europe and Poland do not change much with the passage of years.

In 1944, Szubin was the site of Oflag (Offizierlager) 64, the German prison camp for captured ground force American officers below the rank of full colonel. But it had a longer history. When war in Europe became certain, the Poles themselves had closed the school, built some barracks on its 10-acre grounds and converted it into a billeting area for Polish cavalry. After the blitzkrieg in 1939, the Germans ringed it with barbed wire, added more barracks and turned it into a POW camp. They even renamed the village, Altburgund. Before June 1943, when it became a camp for Americans, the French, British and Russians knew it as prisoners also.

Since the war, a small nucleus of former prisoners has kept an alumni-like organization in existence. On infrequent occasions there have been reunions. (We attended one in New York in 1950, a rollicking, drunken bash at Toots Shor's with entertainment supplied by a talented group of ex-prisoners who, during camp days, had improvised a stage and theater in one of the barracks, and helped to relieve our boredom with the plays and variety shows.) About four years ago, at another reunion in Chicago, the idea of a travel junket to revisit Sczubin was conceived. Finally, this year, after a couple of abortive attempts to arrange one in the interval, the tour will take place.

At peak occupancy, there were some 2000 American prisoners in the Szcubin camp. From the list sent out of those planning to make the present tour (about thirty, not including wives), only six or seven names are familiar to us. The returnees will be a mixed group; they will range in age from 45 to 70. Nearly every one will have a different story to tell about how the war ended for him as an individual, for some were left in the camp and were there when the Russians overran it. Others dropped by the wayside at different places in Poland and northern Germany on the eight week long march to Berlin and Luckenwalde. Nearly every one, also, will have his own recollections of the camp itself. Some will remember the many tunnel digging and escape projects, some the amateur theatricals, some the volleyball and softball games. All will remember the endless hours of daylight during the short summer season, the endless hours of darkness during the long winters, and the interminable, grinding days of dull, chronic hunger when food was our chief preoccupation.

It should be an interesting exercise in nostalgia. Not one of us, who remained in or left the camp in the snow and sub-zero weather late in January 1945, would have entertained the thought of ever wanting to see it again. It was not the kind of garden spot where you'd willingly choose to spend a vacation.

But time mellows all, and curiosity overcomes even the least sentimental of us. The chance to see for ourselves whether memory is accurate, or whether it all could have been as miserable as it once seemed, has been too good to pass up. So instead of heading west into the sunset for a medical meeting in Hawaii, we're off in the opposite direction to Poland. At least the snow might be melted by now.

(c)The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", May 1971, Vol. XVIII No.5, p.11

Sloppy George

The odds finally caught up with George when a German machine-gunner did him in. It happened at Anzio, thirty years ago in February 1944. I can't remember the exact time of it now, but it may have been on the same day that our group was captured while trying to evacuate a bunch of wounded through the German lines. Actually, I didn't hear about it until four months later when a couple of 2nd Battalion men, picked up later in the Italian campaign, turned up at our POW camp in Poland.

George was sloppy. He didn't make an impressive looking soldier. His uniform never fit; his permanently wrinkled shirt hung loosely from sloping shoulders and bunched at the wrists; his trousers, always dirty, half in and half out of erratically laced leggings, bagged in all the wrong places. His clumsy GI shoes stayed scuffed and dusty. Except for an unkempt thatch of pale straw hair poking out over owlish eyes that peered through steel-rimmed spectacles, his head practically disappeared within his combat helmet.

It probably never occurred to him, but George had to be the most educated and intellectual soldier in the Regiment. He had gone to Phillips Exeter, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, and had just finished law school there when he volunteered for basic training. Whether he had considered (or could have been considered for) officer candidate school was doubtful.

At any rate, George seemed happy as an enlisted man and, for two years, served uncomplainingly as the intelligence corporal in our Battalion S2 section. He was methodical and diligent in his work, and there was never a hint of disdain, superiority or antagonism in his relation or attitude toward any of the officers who headed his section from time to time. He was pleasant and even-tempered, and his quiet, philosophical manner made him seem almost shy. His good mind and his great language fluency in German made him invaluable to the Battalion; his thorough and unemotional interrogation of prisoners produced results. He never shirked an assignment, and on patrol and reconnaissance missions he appeared oblivious to danger and, on occasion, even reckless.

Although he was always friendly and often humorous, it was extremely difficult to draw him out in conversation. The only man in the Regiment who really got to know George was his last boss, Jack Weiner, the officer in charge of our Battalion Intelligence. Weiner, a product of Chicago's Southside and a University of Michigan football scholarship, was dark, heavyset, handsome, energetic, loud and extrovertish; a constant comic with an unending store of Yiddish jokes. (It always tickled George that Weiner was married to a redheaded, Irish nurse from Murphy, North Carolina.) In the months of combat through Sicily and Italy, a deep bond of affection had developed between them.

When the Battalion earned its Presidential Unit Citation during the Battle of the Caves on the Anzio beachhead, George stuck to his work and did an outstanding job. There were only two hundred survivors of that ten-day ordeal, and the stories of individual heroism were so plentiful it wasn't unusual that the one about George, cut down by a burst of machine-gun fire while trying to rescue Weiner, got overlooked and quickly forgotten.

But there must have been a touch of irony and a twinge of bitterness when the official notice of his having been killed in action was delivered to his family in the States. Especially to his father, George Sylvester Vierieck, Sr., the famous, anticommunist, pro-German intellectual, spending the war in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, where he had been jailed for years as a suspected Nazi sympathizer.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1963, p20

Singing Strings at Sagan

Twenty years ago this month we were walking along a cobblestone road toward the small rail station in Sagan, a village in Silesia. Accompanying us was a bored and silent German soldier who intermittently pulled a bit of cheese and some sour, black bread from his metal cannister and munched away in dispirited fashion. We were headed back to the ground force officer's Prisoner of War camp, Oflag 64, in Poland, about a two and a half day journey under the conditions of rail travel at the time.

Since being captured on the Anzio beachhead almost nine months earlier, our supervised travel had taken us by supply truck to Rome, by motor lorry to a camp near Siena, by rail to Bolzano and northern Italy through the Brenner Pass into Munich and a larger POW camp in nearby Moosburg. After a few weeks there we had traveled by rail again to the camp at Sczubin, a small Polish town near Bromberg.

For the first few weeks in Poland our spirits had remained good, but gradually over the next months the bare subsistence diet and steady preoccupation with thoughts of food along with the monotony of prison camp routine had dulled our consciousness to a low level of gray uniformity. When a request came for a medical officer to be sent to the large Air Force camp, Stalag Luft III, in Silesia, we had volunteered willingly. The change of scenery had only a temporary effect on brightening our outlook, and within a short time an overpowering depression aggravated by the inactivity of close confinement and the frustration of holding daily sick-call with nothing to offer the ailing (most of whom were malingerers fighting the same boredom as we) settled in for good. In November when the opportunity came to leave Luft III and return to the camp in Poland, we had seized it, but with little hope other than that change of any kind would be welcome.

At Sagan we had lived in a low, one-story wooden-frame barracks within the main barbed-wire enclosure, but separated by more barbed wire from the three main compounds of the camp. Our medical lazaretto housed a medical and a dental treatment room, living quarters for three medical officers, one dental officer, several enlisted medical orderlies, and about a dozen two and four bedrooms for the hospitalization of non-surgical patients. Any cases of serious illness or those requiring major surgical treatment that we picked up at our routine sick calls had to be sent to a larger prison camp hospital about 30 kilometers away, which served several camps in the general area.

One of the factors contributing to our discomfort at Luft III was the other American medical officer there (the senior medical man and the dentist were both British). He was a young Ist Lieutenant, loud, brash, and typical of a personality later to be described as "the Ugly American." Although he had been in the Army only two months and in combat for less than a week before being captured in North Africa; he was an authority on military tactics and a severe critic of the way the Allies were conducting their campaign against the Germans. In kriegie terminology he was also an "operator' who utilized the meager added privileges of his position as a doctor, (protected personnel along with dentists, chaplains and war correspondents under the Geneva Convention) to his best advantage.

Using a hoard of rations, clothing, and medicines culled from the extras in the medical parcels supplied by the Red Cross for hospitalized patients, he lived in relative comfort through barter and bargaining with the Germans. He enjoyed such seldom seen items as cigars, loaves of white bread, wine, and special cheeses, and had amassed a large souvenir collection of rings, watches, cameras, laces, linens, china and other odds and ends that turned up sporadically in black market transactions. There was little compassion in his nature and his dedication to medicine was predicated only on its usefulness as an occupation of status adaptable to personal advancement. He had welcomed us enthusiastically when we arrived at Sagan, but with a slight reservation since our rank, as Captain was a step higher than his own as Lieutenant.
It was logical that the two Americans should room together, and for several weeks we shared quarters pleasantly in spite of our differences in outlook. The aggravation that finally broke up our close association as roommates arrived one day in the form of a violin. It had been bargained for through one of his several civilian contacts and represented an outlay of some long woolen underwear, a pair of GI shoes, two packs of American cigarettes and a can of powdered milk.

Before long we discovered that our roommate was a far better businessman than he was a musician. He could sing only in a monotone, had little conception of rhythm or harmonies, and in fact was almost completely atonal. As a boy of eight, however, the violin had been inflicted on him unsuccessfully for six months, and in maturity he had often regretted "not keeping on with his music." He regarded the violin as a great prize and attacked it with a ruthless determination, picking up where he had left off in his practice some twenty years before. Apparently he had never gotten much beyond the finger exercises and a halting rendition of Humoresque, but he was methodical and persistent and devoted two hours each afternoon and one hour each night to the instrument. Being tone deaf must have helped, since the noises and scrapings he produced were indescribable; they were also intolerable to normal ears.

After a week of tortured listening, and getting no reaction to our hints that perhaps the violin was a faulty one, the rest of us agreed that some action was imperative. At the insistence of the British dentist who lived in the adjacent room and who was an accomplished accordion player, we prevailed finally through persuasion and military rank and moved the offending instrumentalist into a small patient room at the far end of the barracks. There he continued to saw away daily. This turned out to be an effective means of shortening the hospital stays of patients, for only the hardiest of our malingerers were willing to remain on the sick list for more than a couple of days thereafter.

As we walked away from Stalag Luft III that day in November, the violin noises at the start of another afternoon practice session filled the air and followed us down the road. Our German guard stopped eating his bread and cheese momentarily, shook his head in helpless dejection, and muttered to no one in particular, "Ach, Goth Krieg ist besser."

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1966, p20

Winter Scene, 1945

Our mild present winter recalled the memory of a contrasting one twenty years ago. At that time our enforced domicile was Barracks 8A, Oflag 64, the German prisoner-of-war camp at Sczubin, in what used to be the old Polish Corridor. The winter months at latitude of 54 degrees have some fairy tale qualities, but most of them are better appreciated outside the confines of barbed wire enclosures. When good weather prevailed, the days were crisp and clear, but remarkably short. Darkness persisted until well past nine in the mornings, and returned again by four in the afternoon. Snow was everywhere, and in the rural village setting near which we were penned there was a quiet beauty and hush that blanketed and obscured even the drab realities of a prison compound. The nights offered spectacular lightings of the dancing aurora borealis here at this proximity to arctic regions.

In late January of 1945 we were concerned less with the beauty of our surroundings than with the prospect of imminent liberation from our prolonged confinement. The German war effort was collapsing, and the eastern front had disintegrated before the Russian advance. The German garrison that was guarding the nearly 2000 American officers in Oflag 64 was increasingly apprehensive about its own safety since the foremost salient of the Russian push was aimed almost directly at our camp. Worry was evident on the faces of our captors, and their preoccupation resulted in considerable relaxation of camp routine and discipline. We kept an operational map of the European fronts posted on the bulletin board in the main administration building, and whereas earlier we had always been careful never to alter it except in conformity with official German releases, then we were openly changing the battle lines once or twice daily in accordance with the BBC bulletins received over our clandestine radios. The German guards and officers were frequent visitors to the board, apparently trusting our information more than their own news reports which inevitably proclaimed heroic battles and great German victories stemming the barbaric Russian advance.

As the Russians drew nearer and the sound of distant artillery could be heard for the first time there was great rejoicing within the camp. Within a few days we confidently expected to see the Russian tanks and vehicles appear, the camp gates opened, and our careers as prisoners ended. But for most of us it did not happen that way.

Twenty-four hours before the calculated arrival of our liberators, the German garrison, on orders from Wechrmacht headquarters, clamped down on discipline, assembled the prisoners, and announced that for our protection they were evacuating us to a safer camp near Berlin. Only the sick and incapacitated were to be left in the camp. With two German doctors supervising, the American doctors {there were over two dozen of us by this time) were instructed to hold sick calls and weed out all prisoners who were unfit to march.

In the hurried preparations for evacuation; there was great confusion and much indecision among the prisoners. Try to stay in the camp, or march out? Since the Russians were our great buddies at the time, all of us would have preferred to stay. But there was also the uncertainty, not only of what might be in store, but of a possible desperate German reaction and reprisal (they still had all the guns) if confronted with a general revolt and uprising of the prisoners. After surviving one to three years of prison camp existence there was a hesitation on the part of many of us to jeopardize our own personal survival by some heroic but premature resistance that could result in disaster. Especially with the end of the war in sight.

Many of the prisoners did choose to feign illness and turned up on the sick list. In the confusion, and in addition to the truly ill and bed-ridden {among whom was war correspondent Wright Bryan. managing editor of the Atlanta Journal), we were able to leave over one hundred "sick" officers in camp along with five or six doctors to care for them.

On the morning of January 21, the rest of us marched out. A holiday, picnic atmosphere prevailed as we assembled in the bitter cold and gray light of morning and started through the opened barbed-wire gates. The temperature was 16 below zero, and we were bundled up in all of the clothing we owned, layer on layer and of countess variety, to the limit of what could possibly be worn and still permit motion. Most of us had knapsacks or lugged wooden suitcases and, in addition, were slung with blanket rolls containing other possessions worn on our backs or in horse-collar fashion over a neck or shoulder. Some had fashioned makeshift sleds of tin can strips and wooden bed slats, which they pulled behind them., piled high with canned food and odds and ends. POW's are like pack rats, and everything we had ever saved, accumulated, scrounged, or made from scraps and empty food tins was draped on our coats or dangled from some pocket, belt or button.

We headed south initially, and the march (which for some of the group eventually covered 234 miles in sixty days) began briskly. Although we marched in platoon groups stretched out m long columns of two abreast, our appearance was anything but military, and certainly not in keeping with our status as gentlemen and officers. We were a ragged, attenuated horde straggling and shuffling along like an endless procession of decrepit refugees. The more literary among us were reminded of Tolstoy's description in War and Peace of the Napoleonic army's retreat from Moscow, except that in place of dejection and despair our mood was one of excitement and anticipation. The snow lay everywhere, three and four feet deep over the fields and valleys with drifts reaching as high as eight and nine feet. The heavy, blowing snowfall of the night before had ceased and the daylight was bright and clear under the hazy sun. The packed, dry snow on the uncleared rutted roads screeched audibly under the tread of hundreds of marching feet, and our disorderly, strung-out procession, contrasting darkly against the brilliant white, looked for all the world like an unending, disjointed serpent, emitting smoke from every pore, shrouded in the misty haze of the condensing vapors of our labored breathing.

But as we said, there was no despair, only excitement. Our hopes and spirits were high, and no searing, penetrating cold that stabbed with every breath and numbed our hands and feet, could change them. We were outside of our pen of barbed wire for the first time in months or years, on the open road, unconfined, and unmolested by the dejected and miserable armed guards who marched beside us. The scenery was ever changing. We had no real idea about where our icy feet were taking us. But there was joy and jubilation. We were on the move and somehow, headed home.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1965, p20

WINTER SCENE, continued

As we marched out of the prisoner-of-war camp in Poland in the sub-zero cold of late January 1945, we knew little of our destination, nor what the Germans planned for us. The march had been organized hurriedly by our German captors in an attempt to evacuate the camp before the rapidly advancing Russians could overrun it. Oberst Schneider, the portly, officious commandant of the German garrison, and his executive officer, Hauptman Menner, a kindly and apologetic Viennese, bustled impatiently around the camp's barbed-wire gates until the last of the departing prisoners had cleared, and then sped off in their small, battered car, scooting and skidding past the marchers to reach the head of the column. The only other transportation available, a decrepit wood-burning truck that followed the column, carried on its open back platform, supplies and mess equipment, along with a dozen or so grumbling guards to serve as relief relays for those who marched beside us.

The countryside through which we moved was blanketed under deep snow, and above a steely hoar-frost haze, the skies were bright and the air was quiet and still. We were bundled in clothing with our heads and faces swathed in makeshift hoods of blankets, scarves and sweaters, but the cold was still penetrating and bone-chilling. The condensing vapor of our breathing crusted in fine, icy crystals on our lashes and eyebrows and along the edges of the woolen coverings over our mouths and noses. There was no way to crowd more than a few layers of socks into a pair of GI shoes, and it was our feet that suffered most.

In contrast to the unhappy armed guards who slogged along beside us, we were in high spirits. Most of us were burdened under packs and blanket rolls loaded with an accumulated hoard of canned and packaged food that we had squirrelled away over the months from Red Cross parcels for just such an emergency. On that first day of marching, however, the discomforts of our staggering loads and chilled bodies were counteracted by the excitement of being out from behind barbed wire and on the open road again. The terrain was new, and our interest in the changing scenery was keyed to a fever pitch of alertness by constant speculation about opportunities to take off on our own and escape.

We headed south initially in the general direction of Posnan, a rail-center about 65 miles away, but after covering about six miles, our direction was abruptly changed to west ,and then again, in a short time, to north. Oberst Schneider, scouting on ahead in his car, had learned that the Russians had cut across below us.

For the next seven days we marched, covering ten to eighteen miles a day. There was no let up in the cold, but the weather remained favorable, with only an occasional light snowfall. We travelled mainly on the secondary rural roads, over a zigging and zagging route, northward and westerly, our direction changing from day to day according to the whim of Oberst Schneider and the reports he received on his scouting excursions ahead of the column. It was evident that the whole area was in a state of confusion. At times, and particularly on the larger highways, we encountered streams of civilian refugees moving in the same direction as we, at other times they passed us in the opposite direction.

Znin, Wyrzysk, Kenia, Szamocin, Schneidemuhl, Krojanke, Zlotow - we moved through towns, villages, farm settlements, many of them almost deserted, and nearly all of them with strange, tongue-twisting Polish names. We slept outdoors in straw piled on the snow, in barns, abandoned farm homes, warehouses, meeting-halls, cattle pens, deserted barracks, whatever shelter was available in the vicinity when night came. We ate up our hoarded supplies of personal food, the daily ration of sour, black bread (Goon bread, to the POW's), and the occasional tinned beef issued to us by the Germans. At the end of a day's march there was sometimes a dipperful of watery stew, compounded from vegetables, barley and horsemeat, doled out by the Germans into whatever containers we had.

As the days passed we marched more grimly and determinedly. The enthusiasm and expectation of the first days on the road had dulled and disappeared in our fight against constant cold, fatigue and hunger. Each morning as we were reassembled and moved on, a group of fifty to one hundred prisoners was left behind. Old infirmities and war wounds, sickness, and plain exhaustion took its toll on men already undernourished and unaccustomed to prolonged exertion after the months or years of prison inactivity. By far the greatest incapacitating ailment was the recurrence of old trenchfoot and frostbite. The Germans allowed one or two of the doctors (more than two dozen of us had started with the column) to remain with each group left behind.

All during the march we walked with Arthur Mallory, our double-decker bunkmate for the last five months at Sczubin. Mallory, a Citadel graduate, had been a company commander in another regiment of our own 45th Division, and had been captured in the same convulsive battle on the Anzio beachhead almost a year before. Every night, whether huddled together in the straw piles, burrowed into a haystack, or sheltered in some barn, we argued the merits of leaving the column, joining a sick group, or hiding out. But by day we were always marching again. There was safety in numbers. There was compulsion too. Even though our hands were blue and numb, our feet frozen, our limbs exhausted, we were determined to walk as long as others were walking. There was also a medical conscience that would not let us abandon the men and the two or three remaining doctors who still marched with the column. Although there was nothing we could do medically for the sick ones, we were conscious that the continued presence of even one sorry, unmilitary, pill-roller somehow boosted the morale of the others.

Once at nightfall we were herded into the barns and outbuildings of a large estate at Charlottenberg. The manor houses a spired and turreted mansion with gingerbreaded gables and piazzas, set in an icy wonderland of snow and crystalled trees, shimmering in cold, blue moonlight, looked like a fantasy from an Andersen fairy tale. With Mallory we lined up for chow, the inevitable thick barleyed soup that was being measured out from a makeshift kitchen under a porte cochere of the main house. Somehow the two of us slipped unnoticed into the house itself. We ate our porridge in an elegant music room, lavishly furnished in Victorian style, and after eating set out to explore some of the ground floor rooms. In the library we came unexpectedly upon a group of unfamiliar German officers busy over maps. We identified ourselves, and, on a pretext of some official nature, requested permission to look through the house for drugs and medicines. Whether it was our boldness or the Germans' preoccupation with their own worsening predicament, we were allowed to go on.

We slept that night on the thick rug of a drawing room floor, and no feather bed could have felt better. In our exploration, we had discovered three more levels above us with enough rooms, closets, and passages to hide a hundred men. We debated long and hard that night whether to conceal ourselves and hide out, and in the end had fallen asleep, undecided. In the morning, we rejoined the others and marched on.

By the ninth day we had covered over100 miles, and less than 800 of us were still marching. The skies were leaden, the winds biting, and, as we marched, the snow flurries increased. In mid-afternoon we were struggling forward against a howling blizzard, and the cold was almost paralysing. The country was flat and open, and there was no protection from the blowing, driving snow.

For miles there was nothing behind to which we might return, and, as far as we knew, no hope of shelter ahead. We kept moving slowly, and just as our endurance was at its end, we came upon an unnamed hamlet, a group of four or five deserted farm cottages lined along each side of the road. We stumbled into the unexpected haven, overcome with exhaustion and relief.
We were divided into groups and billeted in the houses. In a short time we had a fire going in the open hearth and had foraged and found enough stored vegetables and potatoes to concoct a hot mush. After eating we stretched out on the bare, earthen floor in front of the fire and slept. The blizzard raged on outside, and finally subsided during the night, but none of us knew it. We slept a sleep of the dead. It was the most comfortable night we had passed since starting the march.

When we awakened in the morning, there was none of the usual noise and bustle of previous mornings; no clatter of hob.nailed boots, no prodding with gun.butts, no shouts of "Raus!" or "Schnell!" The snow had stopped, and as we poked about, cautiously at first and then with more boldness, we discovered that our German guards were gone.
During the night, Oberst Schneider and his weary, dispirited men had pulled out and deserted us. We were free.

We spent the day organizing and planning. Food parties discovered and rounded up some pigs and chickens, and kitchen details went into action and prepared a feast. With a day of welcome rest, food, and warmth, our fatigue disappeared and our enthusiasm returned. Unfortunately, there was no place to go. We were isolated in a vast expanse of winter wasteland in the middle of nowhere. The weather was colder than ever before with the temperature almost 30 below zero. We reasoned that, since the Germans had deserted us, the Russians must be close by, and therefore our best bet was to remain where we were and wait to be found. So we stayed.

With nighttime came the sound of motors, and we hurried out of the houses. Our Russian vocabulary was limited to two words, Tovarich and Vodka, and we were eager to use them. Our jubilation was short-lived, however; the Germans had come back. Oberst Schneider had run afoul of a motorized SS Latvian unit, and had been made to return to take us hack into custody. He was frightened and almost apologetic; with him this time were fresh troops and an SS Major who did not smile. We remained in the houses again that night, but once again as prisoners.

The brief taste of freedom, however, had stirred the prisoners. Some were rebellious and unruly, and a few skirmishes broke out between the men and guards. Although there were enough of us in each house to overpower the few armed troops who guarded us, again caution prevailed. The end seemed too near. We had come too far, and had survived too long, to risk it. There were some impulsive ones, and there were some bitter ones, half-crazed with disappointment, who resisted. From this house or that one, an occasional pistol shot, or the rattle of an automatic weapon, kept us awake most of the night. We left a handful of wounded and three or four dead when we marched away in the morning.

When the marching group, with some aid from a shuttling truck, reached Stettin some days later, we were quartered in marine barracks on the shore of the Dammacher See. We were given a day or two of rest, but even so, when it was time to resume the march, there were almost 150 men who could not continue. Along with Lt. Col. David Gold, we were the last two doctors with the group. He assigned us to remain with the 150 whom the Germans had agreed to move by rail. The rest marched on, and Col. Gold marched with them.

The next day we were taken by truck to the rail yards and loaded into two cars, a slatted box-car for cattle, and an open coal car, for which a tarpaulin covering had been provided. The accommodations were crowded and not very luxurious, but it was better than walking. We were headed for Berlin, and although Stettin is less than 100 miles north of the capitol, we were four days reaching the rail yards there - the German rail system was having its problems at that time. We marvelled then, and have since, at the obstinacy and unreasoning discipline of the German mentality that was concerning itself with moving two carloads of prisoners, while its homeland was disintegrating around it.

In the Berlin rail yards, our two rail cars sat out three days and nights, back in the almost forgotten sounds of war. There were day bombings and night bombings, and some of the nighttime fireworks were spectacular displays. Miraculously there were no hits or near-misses in the vicinity of our sidetrack. And then one day we were moving again.

Our final destination was Stalag VIII C, the large central collecting camp at Luckenwalde, about 40 miles southeast of Berlin. It was there that the Germans were funnelling all of the prisoners evacuated from the many camps in East Germany. It was there, almost four weeks later, that Col. Gold and the battered remnants of the original walking column arrived, still on foot. And it was there where we sat and waited for the war in Europe to end.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "Of General Interest", Apr 1965, Vol. XII No.4, p.14


In February thirty-five years ago we were walking, some 1000 American prisoners of war, across the frozen plains of northern Poland. Our German hosts had evacuated Oflag 64, the American ground-force officers' camp near Bromberg, a scant twenty-four hours before the rapidly advancing Russians overran it. Presumably the idea was to "save" us from the barbaric Russian army, but probably there was also some imagined bargaining value in retaining us as prisoner-hostages under German control as the war's end approached. All of us would have preferred being left in the camp to await liberation by our then Russian allies, but the Germans had the guns and we were in no position to argue.

Actually, we did leave about a hundred or so prisoners in the camp - infirmary patients, some doctors, men who couldn't walk or who feigned illness, and a group of others who hid out in the half-dug, escape tunnel projects, or somehow managed to get lost in the confusion of the hurried departure.

As we walked, day after day, the marching column grew smaller and smaller. We were not properly clad to withstand continuous daily exposure to such unremitting cold - temperatures that ranged from 40 below zero during two days of blizzard winds, up to a warmer 10 below on milder days. We wore regular government-issue woolens and overcoats, supplemented by odds and ends of sweaters, combat zoot-suits, knitted caps and gloves, and makeshift head and face coverings of blankets and whatever else we could salvage from our meager prison possessions. Unfortunately, our feet gave the most trouble; there was no way to keep them warm in regular GI shoes, which could not accommodate more than one or two extra pairs of socks. Consequently, each morning as the march progressed, after sleeping out in ditches, haystacks, or in deserted, unheated barns and sheds, there were always thirty to forty men with frozen feet who could walk no longer, and who had to be left behind to whatever fate awaited them.

After fourteen days of marching, about half the column made it to Stettin, some 160 miles away toward the west. We left the column there to look after another hundred men who had an accumulation of ailments and infirmities. Later we were moved with them in two small rail cars [one a slatted cattle car, the other an open coal car] to the Berlin rail yards, and, after a few stationary days there, moved again to Stalag III, the large collecting camp at Luckenwalde, some 30 miles south of the capital. What was left of the walking column, which continued on from Stettin, eventually turned up, still on foot, at Luckenwalde three weeks later.

There were about fifty of us packed into each of the rail cars, which sat for two or three days and nights on a siding in the Berlin rail yards. Routinely, every night, the allied planes came over and plastered the rail yards with bombs. Most of us, confined in the cars except for two short relief-function periods morning and evening under the watchful eyes of armed guards, were resigned to the hopelessness of our predicament. It became a matter of enduring another terrifying night huddled together, hoping the bombs would miss our siding, and praying that sometime soon the cars would get moving again toward a safer location. Immobilized by self-concern, we were too cold and numb and intimidated to do more than suffer silently, and hope to stay alive.

It was an experience in cold and hunger and misery that few of us have forgotten. However, all of this rather long introductory description [most of which was recorded in a couple of Bulletin articles back in 1968] serves only as background for an amusing story to illustrate that one man's memory of and reaction to the same experience do not always coincide with those of another.
Last year, talking to and comparing notes with another former POW who marched in that same column out of Oflag 64, we were surprised to discover that he, too, remembered the two cars and the nights in the rail yards of Berlin. He wasn't in the coal car with us, but in the other open cattle car. Sure, he remembered being cold and miserable too - but wasn't it a wild and hilarious time? Wild? Hilarious?

John, who might easily have stepped out of the television cast of Hogan's Heroes, was a happy, extrovertish first lieutenant then; a manic, wheeler-dealer type who had spent most of his time back in the prison camp horse-trading cigarettes for food and whatever else caught his fancy. He was one of the rare ones who stayed busy constantly during his year of captivity, never seeming to have a depressed moment. Before leaving the camp, and in preparation for the march, he traded everything he possessed back into tobacco, filling his back-pack and pockets with cigarette packages, and stuffing many more into the space between his combat coveralls and his woolens beneath, to the point where he could barely waddle. He still had a good supply left by the time we reached Berlin.

When darkness came, and while the rest of us were hunkering down in fear and wishing the night would end, John had bribed his guards with cigarettes and was on the loose wandering all over the rail yards. He looked for German troop trains, and, when he found one, would boldly climb aboard and parade up and down the aisles, a vendor hawking his wares in atrocious German, trading cigarettes to the German GIs for bread and cheese and jam and schnapps. No one seemed to mind his audacity, not even the one indignant German officer he ran into who wanted to know what the hell was going on and booted him off his troop train. [But not before an exchange of liverwurst for two packs of cigarettes.]

So you see, even a bleak experience has its lighter moments. It may all go to prove that misery is what you make of it, and that it helps to be born with a little self-confidence and a sense of the ridiculous.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Feb 1980, Vol. XXVII No.2, p.10

Luckenwalde, March 1945

Reading the exaggerated prose of militant minority spokesmen and their liberal sycophants, as they describe oppression, hunger and disgraceful living conditions throughout America, sometimes makes us wonder if they can really be serious. They seem unaware that freedom and comfort (health, even) are relative commodities. Even after twenty-five years of indulgent living during a period of unprecedented affluence, it still isn't difficult to recall how it once felt to live an oppressed and regimented life under utterly miserable conditions in the prison camps of Germany as World War II neared its end.

By that time, most of us who had been prisoners for a year or more accepted crowding, primitive sanitation, constant cold and gnawing, chronic hunger as a regular part of existence. We knew, or at least we hoped, the war would end eventually, and that a better future lay ahead. But there was always a feeling of helplessness, and an uncertainty of how it might end in particular for us individually. It didn't pay to plan beyond the next tomorrow.

For the 130 of us who arrived at Luckenwalde's Stalag IIIA, 35 miles south of Berlin, early in March 1945, just the prospect of sleeping under a roof again seemed fortunate. We had survived a two-week march across northern Poland in howling blizzards and temperatures of 20 and 30 below zero. We had endured a long eight days of rail travel from Stettin (now Sczecszin), half of us jammed into an open slatted cattle car, half in a coal gondola covered by a torn tarpaulin. So, shelter, a straw pallet of our own to stretch out on, and the comparative warmth of barracks life was an unexpected windfall.

Viewed from more fortunate times, Luckenwalde was an incredible experience for thousands of Allied prisoners. As the Russians advanced, the string of prison camps in East Germany and Silesia were abandoned, and prisoners, on foot until they could march no longer, were funneled westward toward Stalag IIIA. By March, with over 17,000 men of all nations there, and more arriving daily, the already over-taxed camp organization was completely overwhelmed. More than 4000 newly arrived American enlisted men were living on bare ground covered only by soggy straw, under six circus-type tents, on a mud and snow-swept clearing. One large open-pit latrine and one water point served them all. By contrast, as officers, we lived in luxury, sleeping on bunks in barracks and with two aborts (latrine buildings) for our convenience.

The six barracks in our compound, occupied by Polish, French, American, British, Norwegian, Belgian and Serbian officers, were segregated by 7-foot double barbed wire from the rest of the camp. About 200 of us lived in the south end of Barracks XII, a long, one-storied brick and wooden building, in a room 100 by 40 feet. There was a similar room at the north end, and, between the two, was a wash room equipped with three stone troughs and two dozen iron spigots, which were eternally leaky, frozen, or not working.

Three ceramic-tiled stoves about eight feet high were spaced down the long axis of our room; they were the heating system, but at this point there were no briquettes or coal to burn in them. Our bunks were heavy, three-tiered wooden frameworks, built in sections of 12, each being two bunks long and two wide. The straw-filled mattresses of coarse fiber sacking, resting on four or five wooden bed slats, were odorous, dank and infested with lice, bed bugs and fleas, contributed by countless occupants before us. (We added new crops of our own.)

We had rearranged the bunk sections into cubicles around a wooden table for 24 men, with a wooden stool for every two. Ratty lines of twine and string, stretched between bunks and rafters, were draped with washing and laundry that never dried. The dirt- and soot-covered windows let in a minimum of light during the day and, by night, the eight weak light bulbs dropped from the rafters (two or three were always burned out) glowed as dim blobs of orange in the smog and smoke-filled room.

Primarily, body heat kept us warm, but also our home-made tin can stoves (heatless smokers, we called them) in which we tried to burn scraps of cardboard, twigs, and shavings from the bunks and bed boards in an attempt to heat water or warm food, undoubtedly helped. In addition, our fat lamps - tin cans filled with margarine, grease and a floating cloth wick, which we lit at night after the 9 o'clock lights out - contributed something. The barracks atmosphere, at all times, day or night, was far thicker than any pea soup fog. To normal nostrils the odor must have been indescribable - a suffocating, miasmic blend of unwashed bodies, grease, sour food, dirt, smoke, filthy bedding, and damp brick flooring. Periodic airings, even on windy, sunshiny days, had little or no effect on it.

Red Cross food parcels had ceased to exist, though most of us still had left - squirreled away - a few cigarettes, raisins and prunes, and some powdered coffee, tea and milk. Breakfast was at 7:30 A.M. when a tub of hot water arrived from the central kitchen. It consisted of ersatz coffee, a few soaked prunes or raisins, and a slice of sour, black German bread pathetically "toasted" on a tin can stove. After roll call at 8:30, we policed the quarters, which meant straightening out the ragged, gray blanket on the straw pallet, sweeping the cubicle and airing the barracks as a gesture to health. The rest of the day was our own until the next roll call at 5:00 P.M. Lunch, the one German meat served each day, consisted of a dipperful of stew or soup made of cow bones, stringy horse meat, rotten cabbage, rutabagas and barley, six shriveled, boiled potatoes the size of walnuts, eaten through with black rot and worm tunneling, and another slice of bread with currant jam. For the evening meal, hot water, ersatz tea and bread again. At a generous estimate we managed about 700 calories a day.

Under such conditions there was not much we could do but exist. We accumulated sack time, we talked and swapped stories, argued and griped, played cribbage and cards, worked at tinsmithing. When the weather permitted, we walked outside within the limited confines of our barbed wire enclosure; sometimes we just stood on the rise next to one of the latrine buildings and watched in fascination the new, German jet fighters, which occasionally whooshed by overhead. But mostly we planned menus; long, detailed twelve-course meals that someday we hoped to eat again.

Sex was never a topic of conversation; we had discovered long before that it ranked far down the list of man's basic drives; we concluded that Freud had never been cold or really hungry. It was a depressing, monotonous, gray existence. Yet we were thankful to be there instead of still undergoing the hardships of the month before. In comparison to those in the other compounds of the camp, like our own enlisted men, the Italian forced-labor prisoners, and especially the Russians (in five years some 15,000 of them were said to have died at Luckenwalde in two typhus epidemics and from tuberculosis), we were a privileged minority. And, of course, all of us at Luckenwalde were infinitely better off than many displaced German civilians, or the Jews, Poles and political prisoners in such camps as Buchenwald and Dachau.

Out of sheer perversity we wish, at times, that some of our loud, militant critics, the Huey Newtons, Cleavers, Seales, Hoffmans, Jane Fondas and Angela Davises, who find life in America so degrading and unbearably inhuman, could spend a year of living under ordinary prison camp conditions.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Feb 1971, Vol. XVIII No.2, p.9

Poland Revisited

"What I like about Americans is that they are always so relaxed." Tadeusz Dominik, a thin, wiry man of about forty, dressed in sandals, dark pants and a sleazy, open-necked purple shirt, waved a hand to include all his countrymen, and added, "The Polish people are always worried and so tense." If he had been more familiar with current slang, he would probably have said "up tight."
The Poles have every reason to be up tight. For hundreds of years they've led a precarious existence as a nation of conglomerate peoples, caught between Russia and Central Europe. They have been buffeted, battered, occupied, reoccupied, divided, subdivided, liquidated, deported and resettled in almost every European war since the 10th century. At the end of World War II, when the western allies failed to support their independence, they disappeared behind the Iron Curtain where they continue to exist in uneasy equilibrium under Russian domination. They have no reason to be grateful or trusting of the West; they are even more distrustful of the Russian overseers who have "liberated" them before. The future offers little promise.

Four of us, tourists all, were sitting around one of the low tables in the no longer elegant lobby of the Hotel Europejski drinking bottled plum juice and brown beer. While waiting for the bus to take us to the Warsaw airport and the plane for Vienna, we had been trying to communicate (unsuccessfully) with a young Polish student until his professor, Mr. Dominik, arrived. In fact, during the five days we'd spent in Poland, the opportunities to talk directly with any Polish citizens had been limited.

However, Professor Dominik (he apologized for his un-Polish surname, theorizing that some time in the past his ancestors must have come from southern Europe) was eager to talk. He was head of painting in the School of Fine Arts at Warsaw University, and ten years ago had spent six months touring the United States on a Ford Foundation scholarship. In the next half hour he answered all questions freely - about the school system, about medical care, about housing, about his own Communism and new opportunities in the "People's Republic." He insisted that, on our next visit to Warsaw, he would personally be our guide and show us the real Poland.

Our stay in Poland had been most interesting. Thirty of us, all former prisoners of war (along with 21 wives), had returned to see the prison camp at Szubin which we left in late January 1945 when the Russians overran it. The group tour had been well planned and organized by the Scandinavian Airlines System in conjunction with Wanda Rudzinski, representing a Long Island travel agency, and the super-efficient Orbis Agency (Poland's equivalent of Russia's Intourist, which runs the major hotels, the busses, car-rentals, guide service, tours and tourist shops).

We had arrived in Warsaw on a Saturday afternoon, spent the night at the Europejski, and traveled by bus the next morning westward for 150 miles through the Polish countryside to the Hotel Mercury in Posnan, stopping on the way at Zelazowa Wola to visit Chopin's birthplace. We went by bus again the next day for 50 miles to Szubin, where we spent two hours at the old camp, Oflag 64, before going on to nearby Bydgoszcz for an official luncheon and speechmaking. We returned to Warsaw that evening over another route paralleling the Vistula to spend two more days there at the Europejski.

Of course, just the visit to the old camp itself in company with others who had shared past experiences was worth the trip. Most of the buildings were still there - and in much better shape than when we had occupied them, for the camp is still in use as a reform school for problem boys. Only some of the old wooden barracks, the double fences of barbed wire, the sentry boxes and searchlights were gone. The sole familiar face belonged to the ancient Pole janitor who, in our day drove the horse-drawn "honey-wagon" which pumped out the 12-holer open-air latrine and then spread the night soil on the fields across the road.

Nearly all of the countryside through which we traveled going from Warsaw to Posnan, Bydgoszcz and back (in fact, most of northern Poland from East Germany on the west to Russia on the east) is a vast, flat, fertile farmland. We were told that 85% of the farms are privately owned - at least, they are government allotted but privately run with the produce sold on the open market. But the acreage size of the "private" farm is only 15 acres, and no more than six in a family may live on it. The acreage of the 15% of collective farms was not disclosed, but the ones we passed were extensive operations, and only on these is any mechanized equipment in evidence.

Each farm has its small cottage, its chickens and pigs, its potato mounds, its small orchard, and its planted main crop or crops. (The raspberry farms are said to be most profitable.) They are farmed by hand and horsepower, and each seemed to have a standard all-purpose rubber-tired wooden farm wagon pulled by one or two horses. There is little commercial fertilizer industry in Poland, and nearly all of the neatly plowed and planted fields were dotted with lines of manure piles, and, in the evenings, solid farm women wielding pitchforks methodically spread them out. Each year most of the trees along the farm borders are trimmed severely back to the trunk, and their stubby, thicket-crowns of new growth are favorite nesting sites for Poland's many old-world storks. There is no wasted or unused land, and, in this section, practically no forestland except for small patches of neatly planted government forests. There are no super-highways, and no need for them, as the traffic load is minimal; but the two-lane main roads are quite good, well kept and free of litter.

There are no visible gas stations, only an occasional roadside pump in the larger villages or along the streets of the large cities, and nothing comparable to our own service station extravaganzas. At the infrequent rest stops along the roads there is sometimes a small government run concession stand where you may buy a pallid, weakly carbonated orange drink and stale cookies. Plumbing facilities are rarely present except for the woods, which serve both sexes (ladies to the left, men to the right, and step carefully).

Twenty-six years ago Warsaw was reduced to rubble. In 1944, on order from Hitler, the Germans had methodically destroyed 85% of the city by shelling, dynamiting and fire. As the Russian army approached, its generals had called for assistance and urged the Poles to rise and resist, but for the next 63 days the Russians waited patiently on the other side of the Vistula and did not move in to "liberate" the city until they were sure the Germans had done a thorough job. Still, today, Warsaw is very impressive. At least half of the city, and almost all of what is called The Old Town, has been restored from pictures and old plans exactly as it was in the past. The rest, too, has all been rebuilt, but with wide streets, parks and many large open plazas and squares.

On the outskirts, and on a number of city buildings whose outer walls survived sprays of rifle and machine gun, bullet marks can still be seen. New housing projects are scattered throughout with shining, modern, high-rise apartments; the open areas between buildings are paved with walnut-sized pieces of rubble painstakingly hand-laid in intricate design. The old, 100-block, walled Ghetto, into which the Germans had crowded 500,000 Polish Jews, is one of these pleasant open projects, and there is a hauntingly sculptured bronze monument commemorating the heroic leaders of the Jewish Resistance. There is a smaller, even more impressive, sculpture covering the sewer through which supplies and guns had been smuggled into the Ghetto, and, eventually, through which a handful of survivors escaped.

Warsaw is a compact, clean and orderly city, and now its population is back to more than a million. There are flowerbeds everywhere, and, when we saw them in May, they were filled with pansies in full bloom. Eighty-five percent (the standard statistical figure, it seemed) of its businesses, even the small shops, are government controlled. There is one large modern shopping mall and center in mid-town opposite the tall, monstrously ugly, Russian-built Palace of Culture and Science, where there is a large amount of merchandise, expensively priced and poorly displayed.

Housing is still in short supply, and apartments are assigned according to family size; a six-room apartment is a tremendous one. A young couple getting married is allotted two rooms, but must sign and go on a waiting list for three years. There is no pollution and no traffic problem in Warsaw. Automobiles are scarce enough that people gather in knots about any unusual car like the one from Switzerland parked by our hotel. There are no German or western-made cars to be seen; the most common car now is the Polish-made Fiat. (The Poles call one Russian-made car, "the Philosopher's Car" - if you buy one you think you own an automobile.) It is everyone's ambition to own a car, but only bureaucrats and officials can afford one. The Warsaw streets are safe, and there is no rowdiness; there are no "hippies." The women are liberated, equal and plainly dressed; they work as doctors, officials, and guides; they drive cabs, push wheelbarrows, lay sod, sweep streets, dig with shovels and mix cement. Everyone seems industrious and busy - but, like Professor Dominik said, tense. There is not much joviality or open friendliness. Generally, the Poles avoid tourists and strangers, and, it seemed, even each other.

Still, when you remember Polish history, that its boundaries have been constantly changing for 10 centuries, that some 250,000 Poles who fought with the west were never able to return home after World War II, that a million or so were eliminated by the Germans, another million by Russians, that an additional 3-1/2 million Polish Jews (who once made up 11% of Poland's population) have all but disappeared, and that a large number of its present inhabitants have been moved about and resettled by decree of the Russian dominated "People's Republic", you begin to understand why the children look serious, and why the adults are wary of strangers.
An old aunt of one of our group (still living as a pensioner in Warsaw) said, "Yes, things are much better now. We live in a nice large concentration camp instead of a small one."

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jul 1971, Vol. XVIII No.7, p.8

Return to Rome

ccording to most experienced foreign travelers, one should avoid a midsummer visit to Italy (to Rome, especially) like the plague. This year, in particular, a trip to the Holy City should have been more of a trial since, in addition to the usual crush of tourists, some two million pilgrims from all over the world were expected for the regular, quarter-century Holy Year celebration.

In spite of such warnings, Luther, Mary Will Wolff and I have just returned from Rome where we attended the 31st anniversary, 5th Army Reunion and a medical meeting of the Excelsior Surgical Society. Rome is always crowded, and adding even the pilgrims and the 5th Army returnees to its usual bustle and confusion didn't seem to make that much difference. Unbelievably, the weather, instead of being hot and suffocating, was pleasantly cool, clear and spring-like for the whole week we spent there.

General Mark Clark, who led the triumphant 5th Army into Rome in June 1944, was, again, the featured attraction this year. Now, at almost 80 years, he is still the straight, tall imposing figure, still the ultimate diplomat, and still capable of delivering in a forceful voice inspiring addresses modulated with just the right touch of humility and humor. A remarkable man.

We did not always feel so charitably toward the General. To many of us who had come up through North Africa and then served under Patton with the 7th Army in Sicily, our experiences with Clark's 5th Army in Italy left something to be desired. In later years, however, we've come to realize that the 7th Army's problems were almost non-existent as compared to those of the 5th. In Sicily the campaign was short, the weather dry, and we were chasing Germans whose only objective was to get out swiftly by deliberate plan - an objective they accomplished quite efficiently according to their own well worked-out schedule. Patton and the 7th Army undoubtedly took too much credit for the quick Sicilian victory. In contrast, the 5th Army faced Germans who were determined to resist, and who retreated only to reach their well-prepared line of defense.

In addition, the allied troops had to endure the miserable weather of two falls and winters, flooded rivers, knee-deep mud, and impassable mountain ranges without the benefit of modern helicopter service. The 5th Army Command also had to contend with the problems of coordinating the movements and pacifying the conflicting interests of such disparate troops as the British, Australians, Indians, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Free French, Moroccans, Algerians, Turks, Greeks, Italians, Italian Partisans, Brazilians and Poles. It also suffered the chronic lack of support of secondary front constantly competing for men and material with the build-up the invasion of Normandy, which came off just one day after the delayed capture of Rome. But to the lowly infantryman who had breezed jauntily through North Africa and Sicily, the discomforts, confusions, seeming-chaos and turtle-like progress up the Italian peninsula was a frustrating and inexplicable change. Unfortunately, General Clark (admittedly more of a diplomat and public relations expert than a specialist in military strategy and tactics) often got blamed for whatever went wrong.

Anyway, this visit to Rome, under the umbrella of General Clark and his 5th Army command group, was an experience that no ordinary tourist could ever hope to duplicate on his own. This was a 5 day gala that included a spectacular welcoming cocktail party at the Villa Maiani on a hill west of the city, with all of Rome, bathed in golden evening sunshine, spread out beneath it; an outdoor special audience with the Pope in St. Peter's Square (the first descent of a Pope from his balcony onto the square itself in 35 years); a reception at the Barberini Palace given by the Italian Minister of Defense; a colorful and emotional memorial service on July 4th in the American military cemetery at Anzio-Nettuno, followed by a two-hour luncheon at an outdoor terrace restaurant overlooking the sea, and followed, still later, by a diplomatic reception and party at the Villa Pariola as guests of U.S. Ambassador Volpe and his wife. A final cocktail party and banquet the next day reassembled all of the guests and dignitaries on the Via Vittorio Veneto at the Excelsior Hotel which had served as General Clark's temporary headquarters thirty-one years ago in Rome.

Medically, we were also well entertained. The small group of Excelsior Surgical Society members, all of whom had been in Italy during the war as part of the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Unit attached to the 5th Army, were guests of the Surgical Staff at Rome's Polyclinic in the University Medical School. Dr. Pietro Valdoni, the retired chief (whose name commands the same respect as that of a William Mayo) and Dr. Paolo Biocca, the present surgical division head, presented an excellent scientific program one day, and give us a comprehensive tour of the facilities there on another day.

In the second week, the various individuals and groups that made up the 160 or so 5th Army returnees, scattered throughout Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean area in pursuit of their own interests. Our small Columbus contingent, along with Dr. and Mrs. Charles Rife from Milwaukee, rented a car and toured, revisiting old spots remembered from the war years, and eventually headed north through Italy into Southern Switzerland.

One medical highlight of our personal excursion was a visit, in Pavia, with Dr. and Mrs. Aldo Moschi (who had spent last year here in Columbus learning the secrets of athletic knees from Professor Jack Hughston) and an extensive tour of the University of Pavia Medical School. Another was a visit to the luxurious Villa d'Este at Cemobbio on Lake Como, where Wolff, returning to the elegant quarters he once ruled over as sole American Commandant of the former Luftwaffe hospital, swapped stories with the concierge, who had also been there during the war years.

Except for a flat tire on the way back to Rome and the airport, the whole trip went off without a hitch. And if anyone tells us again that a visit to Italy in the summertime is not worth the trouble, there are three of us, at least, who will certainly disagree.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1975, p20

Goodbye to the C Ration

About two months ago the Army announced that the old C ration was to be no more; it would be phased out over the next three years. An Atlanta paper, commenting on the announcement, editorialized that no GI would ever mourn the passing of either the C or K ration. It was clear, however, that the anonymous editorialist had never been intimately acquainted with either of the original field rations. In regard to the C ration, he wrote that "they tended to such delicacies as powdered eggs, powdered milk and inedible sausage and ham," and of the K ration, that its main course was a small can of Spam, "a dish that will live in infamy." He viewed both with terror and as "food unfit for human consumption."

Well, while no gourmand ever went into ecstasy over either the K or C ration, the editorial judgment was much too harsh. As a former consumer of both during World War II, we feel an obligation to rise in defense and set the matter straight.

In the first place, the C ration, as most of us knew it in 1942, was a two-can meal; a heavy, main course can, and a lighter, second can of dry biscuits, powdered coffee or cocoa, and a few hard candies. There were only three variations of the main course: meat and beans, meat and potato hash, meat and vegetable stew. We found the C ration a great improvement over the earlier, standard field ration which usually consisted of a waxed-paper wrapped sandwich of dry bread and a slice of salami, thrown at you by the mess sergeant as you filed by. The main trouble with the C ration in combat, when you often had to eat it for days on end, was its weight and bulkiness. Besides being uncomfortable to carry, it was almost impossible to stuff a two-day supply of cans into an already crowded backpack.

The K rations, which appeared about the same time in 1942, were more suited to the demands of combat since they were one-unit meals neatly packaged into a double cardboard carton about the size of a Cracker Jack box. The outer cardboard layer was heavily waxed and waterproofed and could serve as a container for liquid if necessary, or burned to heat whatever needed to be heated. They were light, compact, and a day's ration of three boxes could easily be packed or stashed away into some pocket. If we remember correctly, the early K rations came in two varieties: a breakfast ration with a small, flat can of congealed powdered eggs with ham bits, and a dinner ration with a similar can of deviled ham or chicken pate. In addition, each package contained three oblong, hardtack biscuits, a small D-bar of rock-like chocolate, powdered coffee or lemon drink or bouillon, some sugar, and a flat package of four cigarettes [usually Wings, Avalon's, or Twenty Grands].

No such ingredients as powdered milk, sausage, ham, or Spam ever appeared in the K and C rations we consumed in 1942 and 1943. And as to Spam being unfit to eat, we disagree. Actually, we remember it with much affection; a slightly warmed, inch slab of Spam was the delectable treat we looked forward to once a week during our prison camp days [two slices on Thanksgiving and Christmas]. Compared with worm-eaten potatoes and a watery stew of horsemeat scraps, tough cabbage leaves and rotting kohlrabi, Spam was delicious ... but it came out of Red Cross parcels, not K and C rations.

There were times in combat when, for two or three weeks in a row, we ate nothing but C or K rations. All soldiers were gripers and combat infantrymen were no exception; of course we griped about the monotony of C and K rations, but even the dullest GI came up with ways to break the monotony. You liberated a small, carrying-size pot or pan from some peasant house, kept an onion or two always in your pack, scrounged whatever else you could find in the gardens or fields - peppers, fennel, tomatoes, horse beans, garlic, a real egg occasionally - and with a little heat, ingenuity, and a main course can, could concoct a very appetizing meal.

Not all GIs will be glad to see the old C ration disappear; some of us who remember it fondly will hate to say goodbye. The only real gripers about Army field rations were the "rear area bastards," conditioned to comfort and luxury foods, who were served them occasionally on plates in a permanent mess by some uninspired mess sergeant. C and K rations were the combat soldier's best friends. In a combat area, where most of the civilian population was starved for food, if you could no longer stomach them yourself, you could always trade them for anything - even wine and women.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Mar 1979, Vol. XXVI No.3, p.14

Rx By The Numbers

A footnote in the combat diary of the late George S. Patton tells of an incident during the World War II campaign in France when after several weeks of continuous rain, sonic dry weather was desperately needed to launch an important armored offensive. The fretful Patton called for his Third Army Chaplain and commanded him to compose a prayer requesting the Almighty to dry up the heavens so that they could get on with the business of killing Germans. The Chaplain protested but discovered in short order that it was practical to yield to the more immediate chain of command - and did as he was told. The rains stopped, the advance was successful and an impressed General Patton awarded the padre a Bronze Star for coming through with a "goddamned potent prayer."

A somewhat similar incident illustrating the influence of military mind and rank on the practice of medicine occurred at the Benning Station Hospital in 1941. General Patton, then commanding the 2nd Armored in training at Benning, appeared unexpectedly in the old EENT clinic. The medical officer in charge was busy in a treatment cubicle at the time, but hearing a terrible commotion going on in the waiting area, popped out to quell the disturbance. He discovered the colorful General in the center of a furious activity that had patients, nurses, orderlies, and his own entourage scurrying in all directions to bring the outside lawn benches into the clinic. Patton was a highly emotional and compassionate man. and the sight of a long line of ailing enlisted men standing and waiting their turn to be seen was too much for him. If they were sick enough to be off duty they were sick enough to wait in more comfort. Taking in the situation at a glance the medical officer had enough presence of mind to know that the sooner he got the General seen and treated the easier it would be on everyone.

The General had a sore throat, and submitting impatiently to examination he remarked that his own medics had been treating him for a week without success, and he was tired of it. He made it plain that since he had taken the trouble to come in from Sand Hill, he expected to be cured, and fast. The medical officer looked at the throat, and although he felt that the laryngitis was probably due to too many cigarettes and too much bellowing on the General's part, he wisely weaseled out by telling Patton it was a common condition caused by the fumes and dust of the heavy armored vehicles. The diagnosis apparently pleased the General. Frantically groping for some new and unused, spectacular remedy, the doctor spied a nearby ultra-violet lamp, and gave the General a special, if unorthodox, treatment. Patton left satisfied, and in no time at all the benches were back on the lawn and peace in the clinic restored.

Two days later a Captain from the 2nd Armored appeared in the clinic with high fever and badly abscessed tonsils. As the same medical officer prepared to admit him to the hospital, the Captain objected. "Couldn't you give me a light treatment like the one that cured General Patton?"

"Captain, you're sick," said the doctor, "and this is an entirely different condition."
"Maybe so," said the Captain. "but the General sent me over to get the lamp, and that's all the treatment he'll authorize." Poor Medics.

As an aside to the Patton stories above, we doubt that the General had any true and lasting affection for the Medical Corps. This was not unusual among the regular line officers, and in Patton, impatient and dedicated to action as he was, the attitude was even more understandable.
The medics were the step-children of the ground forces. They were seldom briefed on operational plans, and on moving into some bivouac area were accustomed to hearing the executive officer groan; "My God, we forgot the medics." Whereupon they would automatically bed down for the night in the only unassigned swamp available. To the line officers we were a necessary but bothersome encumberment in peacetime training and field maneuvers, performing inconsequential and often annoying duties on generally healthy young males. In war time the medics were belatedly glamorized by the press correspondents, and did enjoy at times great affection and respect particularly among the actual combat troops. It was, however, an affection that diminished in inverse proportion as the distance from front line to rear increased.

Even though General Patton was a front line soldier and quite attached to his own personal surgeon (Charlie Odom, from New Orleans) who accompanied him throughout the African, Sicilian and European campaigns, the attitude of a lifetime was hard to overcome when it came to praise for his medical troops. After the Sicilian campaign, our regiment, along with all the units of his Seventh Army, was read the following congratulatory general order, excerpted here:

Soldiers of the Seventh Army:
Born at sea, baptized in blood, and crowned with victory . . . you have added a glorious chapter to the history of war. Every man in the Army deserves equal credit. The enduring valor of the Infantry and the impetuous ferocity of the tanks were matched by the tireless clamor of our destroying guns.The Engineers performed prodigies in the construction of impossible roads over impassable country. The Services of Maintenance and Supply performed a miracle. The Signal Corps laid over 10,000 miles of wire, and the Medical Department evacuated and cared for our sick and wounded.

The Infantry was enduring and valorous, the tanks were impetuously ferocious, the Artillery was tirelessly destroying, the Engineers were impossibly prodigious, Supply was miraculous, the Signal Corps outdid itself, and the Medical Department also ran.

Poor medics.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1964, p20

The above is used with the permission of Bob Graffagnino. They were originally published in the Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, either as editorials, or in his column titled "The Doctor's Lounge". Bob, Dr. Graffagnino's son, is seeking to publish his father's writings, many of which can be found at http://graffagnino.com/doctorslounge/.


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