(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
Robert E. Enders and the USS Bountiful
In the first part of this true story, titled Robert E. Enders: Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class, https://jimpotterauthor.com/robert-e-enders/ we learned how eighteen year-old Bob Enders joined the U.S Navy in 1942. He traveled from his home town of Lyons, Kansas to Farragut, Idaho for boot camp. At the Farragut Naval Training Station he also graduated from the Hospital Corps School. After working at a Seattle naval hospital, and shipping to San Diego to join the Marines, he was sent to Guam where he was welcomed aboard the hospital ship the USS Bountiful.
In this concluding part of Enders’ military story, I quote extensively from a book published by the U.S. Navy titled the U.S.S. Bountiful: Serving the Fleets at Sea. It resembles a yearbook in that it focuses on the ship’s service from April 1944, until August of 1945. It states. “Our task was to care for the ill and wounded sailors, soldiers and marines who so gallantly fought at Saipan, Guam, Pelelieu, Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.” (p 3)
The ship was “organized into various units such as Surgical Teams, Shock Teams, and Burn Teams. Others were drilled in methods of lifting men aboard ship, and speedily carrying them to the wards, with the least amount of discomfort.” The corpsmen, nurses, and doctors learned about the medicines, “with special emphasis placed upon treatment of shock and burns, and the preparation of patients for immediate surgery. A blood bank was organized so that it was possible to immediately give blood to those who needed it.” (p 6)
In modern wars I’ve heard how vital it is to get wounded warriors to surgery as soon as possible in order to help save lives. There’s even a contemporary military term called the “golden hour policy” that mandates a reduction of time between critical injury and definitive care for combat casualties in order to increase the survival rate. But I hadn’t realized that this standard of immediate medical care was successfully developed during World War II.
The USS Bountiful was one of the first hospital ships to be sent very close to the beachheads or fighting areas during an invasion to receive patients. Prior to the war, “Hospital Ships were protected by remaining well behind the advanced forces. At Saipan, however, she was permitted close to the landing operations in order that the injured men could be brought quickly to the ship without delay. On many occasions, men were brought aboard within 30 minutes after they had been shot. Not infrequently, blood and plasma transfusions were given on the way to the ship. This method of using Hospital Ships was a radical departure from older operations, and of course, was largely experimental. It brought the patient close to skilled surgery and adequate medical care with a minimum delay. Shock could be combated before it reached an irreversible stage. Hundreds of lives were saved in this maneuver, wherein otherwise many men might have died. (p 7)
“The use of Hospital Ships in the immediate war zones, or danger zones in the direct battle areas unquestionably increases the risk to the ship. However, the ship has stood for hours amidst shot and shell, and the big ‘battle wagons’ have shot all around her. Overhead, our planes have fought the Nipponese and shot them down, but not once, excepting small bits of shrapnel, or a stray bullet, was she harmed. In no instance at Guam, Saipan, or Leyte, did the Japs ever attempt to harm her, or delay her activities.” (p 7)
However, Bob recalls hearing about a Japanese submarine firing two torpedoes at his ship prior to his tour of duty. Sure enough, in the USS Bountiful book, the event is mentioned. By the way, the hospital ship wasn’t camouflaged. It wasn’t trying to hide. It was painted white with a huge red cross on each side of the ship as well as on its largest towers.
I asked Enders if the American hospital ship ever administered medical care to people from countries other than the U.S. It made sense to me that the ship would care for all Allied troops but I wasn’t sure about civilians, and I was especially curious if Japanese soldiers were ever treated.
I was surprised to learn that Axis troops in mass were cared for on at least one occasion. This event was before Enders was assigned to the ship. Again, I reference the book, USS Bountiful. “On one occasion the Bountiful, as an act of mercy, received one hundred wounded Japanese and Korean soldiers. These men were … dirty, wounded, ill, and almost starved, with foul, untreated wounds. They had been sadly neglected by their own medical groups. Several died from tetanus, a disease which is non-existent in the U. S. Navy, due to prophylactic measures. Others died from gas gangrene. They were frightened and evidently believed they would be taken away and killed. It took hard and aggressive work, and bitter work at that, to clean them up, inoculate them against tetanus, amputate their gangrene limbs, give them transfusions, and above all, to see to it that they received the same humane care as did our own men.” After leaving the battle area the ship headed to a base hospital with their casualties. ( p 7-8)
Enders explained to me that some of the Allied casualties weren’t delivered to land-based hospitals because many were patched up and sent back to the battle front the next day.
Facts about the USS Bountiful (click to open)
One of the duties of Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class Enders was sitting in on consultations between the doctor and patient. Afterwards, Enders documented each interview.
Enders made it clear to me that “we had the best ward there. When officers needed medical care they were sent to our ward because it was the best. I’d get the meals for them. They were better meals than we had.”
“Better meals?” I asked.
“We didn’t associate with officers,” answered Enders, summing up the two different worlds that exist in the military.
“We took care of the patients. I had a patient, he was getting worse and worse. I told the doctor, ‘We’ve got to do something. That guy’s getting worse every day.’
“‘Okay,’ the doctor replied, ‘get him into X-ray.’”
After the X-rays, “we took him back to the ward. We had to hold him up, he was so weak. The doctor got a needle this long (Enders holds his hands about two feet apart). I thought he was going to kill the patient. He stuck it in his back and got the fluid out of the sack around the heart.
“He got well immediately.”
Once the war with Japan ended every single man and woman in uniform, except the career officers, wanted to know how soon they could go home, but it depended on a point system. Everyone had to wait their turn.
Enders remembers that he finally returned to the states from Japan in seven days on a CVE, also known as an escort aircraft carrier, which was small and slow. From California he was flown to an Oklahoma airbase where he was discharged. “I got out on January 26, 1946,” recalls Enders, feeling the huge relief of becoming a veteran.
His tour of duty was over.
Enders just wanted to be home and farm. While he was at sea he hadn’t spent much money. He recalled, “Aboard ship I didn’t do anything except sleep. I never played cards or rolled dice at night. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t have a spicy life at all. If we went to Oahu (Hawaii), which was rare, I usually went sight-seeing. We’d rent bicycles but that wasn’t very often. I stayed on the ward. After I ate supper at night, I went back to the ward.”
So when Enders got home, he bought a John Deer tractor from a dealer and paid cash. As with all returning veterans, he had priority in employment, housing, and purchasing hard-to-get items.
Home from the war, Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class Enders put aside his uniform with the intention of enjoying the freedom of farming. Instead of caring for the ill and wounded in the Pacific military theater, he raised wheat and milo while feeding a hundred head of cattle northeast of Lyons, Kansas.
The only waves he encountered back in Kansas were the welcome waves of golden wheat.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
The Kansas Authors Club http://www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County, (part of District 6) we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, email@example.com