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September 2020
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US Army

My Transfer to Combat Medic Status

My Transfer to Combat Medic Status

 
I was a Combat Medic during WWII: I had just started my pre-med studies at the time of my drafting and had completed a single term.  I was “asked,” after two months of regular infantry combat, to accept transfer to combat medic status.  Medics were in constant short supply as they have the highest infantry casualty rate of any front line soldier.  Needless to say I was not particularly happy with this request as I had been surviving quite well as a 60mm mortar gunner.  I had even achieved a degree of fame for my accuracy—which was the reason behind my Company Commander’s obstruction of my transfer.
 
On December 16th, the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, he could no longer do this – so after months as a regular infantryman on the front lines, fighting near Aachen, Germany, I was transferred to the 9th Infantry Division, 47th Regimental Surgeon’s Unit, commanded by Major Donald Roberts, for a three days first aid course.
 
As the Battle of the Bulge was beginning the Regimental Aid Station was quartered in the Ardennes Forest, in a commandeered house.  We were transported in trucks to the area, which had been overrun by the Germans.  The 9th Infantry Division had been rushed into the northern corner of the Bulge with instructions to hold the corner and not permit any further falling back.  The positions we entered were “empty” 99th Division positions, which had been “emptied” by either casualties or surrender when the Germans initially overran the area.
 
I soon learned that we would be very busy in the Aid Station treating German Paratroopers who had inadvertently been shot or wounded either during the drop or after capture.  Wounded prisoners were then brought to the Regimental Aid Station for treatment.Usually they were shot in fighting prior to capture – occasionally one would be shot accidentally after capture.  Thus, in the beginning of my medical career, all my patients were Germans!
 
I discovered that U.S. Military Intelligence was ecstatic about the paratroop drop as the first two prisoners they captured were the German Colonel in charge and his Aide de Camp.  They carried with them several shoe boxes of index cards which listed the names of all the men in the drop.  This made it possible for us to check off prisoners as we killed, wounded or captured them thereby giving us an excellent idea of what percentage were still at large.  In a few days most of the German drop was eliminated as effective soldiers.
 
Because of the activity in the aid station my three day first aid course was extended until two days past Christmas.  During this extended time I saw an interesting set of American casualties – they had come to the Aid Station complaining of blindness.  The story eventually unfolded that we captured German V-1 launching platforms – which were for the “Buzz bomb.”  With them were large drums of a clear liquid labeled “Alcohol.”  Unfortunately this was WOOD alcohol and not grain alcohol.  Wood alcohol breaks down into formaldehyde when it enters the body, attacking the optic nerve, initially, and then the brain itself.  The troops which had drunk the wood alcohol – usually with cans of grapefruit juice – would find themselves initially afflicted with blindness.  They would then often ultimately die from the attack of the formaldehyde on the brain structures.
 
So, to my amazement, I did not see many American wounded – but I did see a fair number of American casualties.  At the end of 10-11 days – during which I had an extremely pleasant Christmas (with turkey!), I was transferred back to “K” Company, 2nd Platoon.  We were located in the lovely town of Kalterherberg, Germany.
 
In late December the front line of the Bulge had been stabilized and the Germans were being pushed back.  Kalterherberg was a beautiful, tiny town of pastel colored houses with three feet thick concrete walls.  They were ideal for maintenance of our defense.  All of the villagers had been evacuated from the town – by either the Germans or the Allies – and we were using the houses in the town as our defense points.  We had also stationed units in the fields to the east – our out-posts should another German attack occur.  I especially remember the beautiful Catholic Church which had been left with all its door standing open.  It seemed to be in excellent condition despite the snow which had drifted in onto the floor.  There was an amazing spiritual stillness as I walked into the church and I sensed that even under these terrible conditions there was a presence of the Divine Spirit on this, the front line.
 
I remember two prominent characteristics about Kalterherberg: one of them was the unlimited supply of beef.  We had steak almost every day when we were living in the houses because of all the cattle which had been killed in the fields surrounding the town.  They had of course been frozen -–due to the cold weather!
 

The other was the highly beneficial fighting.  We would send combat teams, usually of platoon size, to attack German outposts.  I was a participant in one such team – I was the Medic.  We had about 18-20 men in the unit and succeeded in killing or wounding about 20 Germans and capturing another 20 – with only one minor casualty.  This was a source of great jubilation.  The General comedown from Division headquarters and immediately presented the Lieutenant, Donald Ingram, and the Platoon Sergeant Steven Milotich (who had led the attack), with Bronze Stars.  I also noticed – it was about two or three weeks later – that we were mentioned in “Star and Stripes” under “Attack Activity”!

 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 1991
George L. NICKLIN

"K" Company

47th Infantry Regiment

9th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium