(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
Medical Support of the Fifth Division in World War II (Part 2)
By Harold L. Potter (1998); Presented to the Sojourners group, near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Edited and audio recording by Jim Potter
Army Medical Service Corps officer insignia lapel pin
The Fifth Division had a very distinguished combat record during World War I. The Red Diamond Division of WWI was remembered by many civilians of Luxembourg. General Pershing once said that the crossing of the Meuse River in France by the Fifth Division in WWI was one of the most brilliant military feats in the history of the American army.
(Above paragraph is end of Part 1)
The Division had been activated on October 24, 1939, at Fort McClennan, Alabama. It consisted of the 2nd, 10th, and 11th Infantry Regiments, four Field Artillery battalions, 7th Combat Engineer Battalion, 5th Medical Battalion, 5th Signal Battalion, Tank Destroyer (TD) Battalions, and Companies from various services.
The story of the Medical Services in Combat can be gleaned from the experiences of the Fifth Infantry Division in WWII. The Division moved to Fort Benjamin Harrison in May 1940, and to Fort Custer, Michigan, in December 1940. Personnel took part in the Tennessee maneuvers in the fall of 1941, then started being deployed overseas to Iceland in September 1941 and early 1942.
In WWII, the Red Diamond Division again established an outstanding record as part of General Patton’s Third Army by its relentless pounding of the enemy in the ten months drive across France and Luxembourg into Germany and Czechoslovakia. A total of 25 rivers were crossed by the Division in this drive.
The 3rd Army was actually a secret army at the beginning. You did not see it listed in the newspapers at first. It seemed like that was the way General Patton liked to operate. We know that he liked to surprise the enemy. When the Third Army formed early in July, there was nothing in the papers for at least three weeks. It could only be kept quiet so long before it came out and the units were disclosed. The first action was about July 10, 1944.
We crossed the first of our 25 rivers in July in Normandy.
I should say something about our organization at this time. The principal fighting unit was considered the Division. Each regiment in the 5th Division represented a Combat Team (CT) and since there were three Regiments in the Division, there were three Combat Teams fighting separately. Each Regiment was also supported by Division units of other branches. Since there were three batteries of 105 mm howitzers in the Field Artillery, each Combat Team had a battery of Artillery. Similarly, each Combat Team included Combat Engineers, Medical, Tank, and Ordnance. Other branches, including Reconnaissance Troop, Quartermaster (QM), Military Police (MP), and Signal Corps, had only one company in the Division so they were not able to divide up and furnish personnel to each Combat Team.
As a 2nd Lt., at the start, my primary duty was an Ambulance Platoon leader with responsibilities to evacuate one Combat Team, and my secondary duty was as Liaison between my Battalion Commander, who was a medical officer, and the Commanding Officer of the Combat Team, who was the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Regiment. My duties as liaison were primarily being available to receive moving orders and to be ready to have a spot to set up our Collecting Station and the rest of our company. If possible, we would take over a building where the company soldiers could lay their wire for electricity in the station. If we could not arrange a building, we had to improvise and sometimes set up tents.
As the Ambulance Platoon leader, I had to constantly set up shuttle systems whereby when one ambulance left for the Clearing Station, another would move up and take his place down the line, etc. The number of vehicles in the shuttle on any given day would depend upon the severity of the fighting and potential for causalities. This was because one of the principal rules in parking the vehicles was to make certain that they were spread out so that one shell could not hit more than one vehicle.
My duty as liaison officer proved to be very interesting because I had access to the map room in the 11th Infantry Regimental Command Post (CP) where I could watch the development of the war on the battle map. Since the 11th Infantry was more or less leading the way, their maps were about as full of current information as possible. For both of my duties, I was assigned a jeep and driver. We traveled all over the Division’s area every day unless the Infantry was crossing another river.
Before going further, I should summarize how the Medical Service was set up in Combat. When a Combat casualty was started down the evacuation chain, each doctor either sent the casualty further or stopped his evacuation progress after treatment. In the meantime, he was receiving treatment according to his injury. The Division personnel were responsible for the first two echelons of evacuation.
The first echelon was performed by Division personnel through the Collection Station. Depending on his condition and the mobility of the Medical personnel, he would be prepared to go much further back for quick treatment and then return to his unit for duty. If he was sent further back, he would be transported by Collection Station ambulances to the Clearing Station. If he was evacuated further, he would normally go by Clearing Company or Army ambulances to hospitals in the Communication Zone or back to the Zone of the Interior (Z.I.).
Field hospitals, mobile surgical hospitals, evacuation hospitals and numbered station hospitals were all located to the rear of the Combat Zone. Militarily speaking, mobility depended upon the type of hospital and the local conditions. Many casualties who were seriously injured were prepared for evacuation by train or ship to the Zone of the Interior.
You will note that I am not attempting to go into treatment of casualties because this has changed considerably since 1945. One thing we were still learning at the end of World War II, was how to use Sulfa drugs in treating contaminated gunshot wounds. Sulfa was still new, and doctors were still experimenting with it at that time.
– TO BE CONTINUED –
The following document found in the two links below, is an insightful WWII document. It was prepared from reports written by Medical Officers recently engaged in combat experience.
WWII Medical officers Tips from Combat Experience
WWII Medical officers Tips from Combat Experience p2
Harold L. Potter was born near Rolla, Kansas, in 1920, the son of Clarence and Cleo Crandall Potter. He lived in the center of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and moved to Hutchinson with his family in 1934. Potter graduated from Hutchinson Junior College prior to his military service, and earned a BSBA degree from Washington University, St. Louis, in 1947. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II. He entered active duty as a private in December 1940 and transferred to the reserves after the end of World War II. He was discharged as a major in 1964.
While stationed in Illinois at Mayo General Hospital in 1943, “Hal” met Nell Armstrong of Galesburg. She was a civilian employee in medical supply. Hal and Nell married in July 1945 after Victory in Europe (VE Day), prior to Lt. Potter being trained for the Pacific theater, including the invasion of Japan.
Happy writing and reading,
Sounds like a lot of responsibility!
Jim Potter says
Yes, lives were constantly on the line during a war. Dad was very responsible. I can only imagine what it was like.
Gloria Zachgo says
And while you imagine what it was like, you paint a picture for others. Thanks, Jim.
Jim Potter says
Thanks, Gloria. I’m sure it happens in every generation. Important events become less important and then largely forgotten. That’s the way it works.
Hal Ottaway says
This is all so interesting, and thank you Jim for sharing this with the rest of us. What brave men and women these were. thanks again so very much.
Jim Potter says
Thanks, Hal. Exceptional people, yet they believed they were ordinary.
Karen Y says
It’s so very wonderful that you are preserving these memories for us and thus honoring your Dad.
He and so many others are due our respect and honor and thanks for sacrificing their lives in order that we can enjoy this precious freedom. It is too often taken for granted!!
Jim Potter says
Thanks, Karen. It’s a honor to honor him and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.