Dusk and Jerries descended on the roads behind, cutting off the rear. The Heinies came out from the wooded hills where they had fled when the armored fingers sped over the roads beneath. So fast did the armored columns roll in those first days following the Third Army's Rhine crossing, that rear and Service elements, as well as the wood-flushing infantry, were miles behind and often when night came, units found themselves cut-off, rear and forward.
Company "C", 8lst Medical Battalion, Armored found itself just in such a situation when after an all day mounted road march, they were still unable to catch up to their supporting command. Stopping in one of the typical German villages to await the morn and further orders, they made themselves as comfortable as possible, setting up their clearing station, "just in case", as they were wont to say.
Radio contact with forward elements was all out lost at this moment and a medical jeep was discharged to reconnoiter the road ahead. There they found evidence of a recent battle, but no sign of their forward troops, save for friendly units bivouacked alongside the road. On the way back they sighted live wounded Jerries and double-timed back to dispatch an ambulance to pick them up.
Night was closing in fast. Behind, sniper fire had hit two of our boys from an ordnance outfit, while up ahead, two G.I.s from a Tank Destroyer group fell victim to the wooded sniper.
By seven o'clock the clearing station was a beehive of activity. Of the dozen patients, two of them, an American and a German, were suffering from serious belly wounds. As they had done many times before, the doctors and technician quickly administered to and dressed the wounds of all casualties and they were then carried to the waiting ambulances for evacuation to the rear and more definitive treatment. The Heinies were placed in one ambulance which had only to go some 15 miles to a German hospital that the outfit had passed earlier in the day, while the remaining 2 ambulances were to evacuate the Americans to a ARP, more than 50 miles back.
It was 2300 while the Medics were cleaning up the station preparatory to kitting the sack, when in rushed the Lieutenant commanding the Army Ambulance platoon and exclaimed, "my ambulances are come back with the patients"!.
After questioning the drivers it was learned that all three had run into road blocks and sniper fire and turned back. They had used precious time trying to get through using different routes, but to no avail. The Germans had closed in and for the time being at least had succeeded in sealing off the roads to the rear.
Coming out of a quick huddle it was decided that no more attempts at evacuation would be made that night, but instead the patients would have to be kept at the station. Friend and foe alike were made comfortable to await the next day, but for the American and the Kraut with the belly wounds things weren’t exactly looking up.
After a hasty but thorough examination, Captain James P. 0'Boyle, the clearing Platoon Leader and a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, straightened up and shook his head as people sometimes do when life and hope are fading fast, "these boys can’t wait until morning", he said, “we'll have to operate tonight" During four months of combat an operation was never necessary, in fact, according to regulations, surgery was definitely not to be done in a clearing station; neither the proper instruments or equipment were provided in the T/E, but this was an emergency; two lives were at stake.
And now things began to shape up, a room had to be scrubbed, surgical lights installed, instruments had to be on , and, sterilized, technicians were assigned their duties, many details seemingly unimportant that could spell either success or failure had to be attended to.
In an hour’s time the Medical Section under T/3 Lawrence I. Ruble from Keyser West Virginia had prepared the room which was to serve as surgery. Technicians in white were gathered together, silently awaiting the first patient.
The Kraut was first, being the more serious of the two and as he was gently carried in and placed on the operating table the curtain went up on what was to be the first operation of its kind in the annals or Company C, 81st Medical Battalion Armored.
It was 0200 hours when Captain O’Boyle and Captain Samuel Werlin assisting him, laid down needle and suture and declared the first case "fini”, as the patient was being removed to the "post operative" room., and as face masks were removed from Surgeons and onlookers alike, Captain O'Boyle was heard to mutter, "First belly I've been in, in 3 years."
The American Sergeant was in a much more serious condition than was at first supposed and the men of the Medical Section wasted no time in re-sterilizing instruments and once again setting up for Surgery.
After coffee and cigarettes, Captain O'Boyle and Captain Werlin moved in again for the second operation of the night. As Captain O’Boyle held the scalpel poised and ready for the initial incision, a church like silence fell upon the little room. All that was heard for the next hour were such comments as “forceps", "retractors", “sponges", etc.; the slow, but steady breathing of the patient was accentuated through a mask; of ether, it was reminiscent of a metronome, as sure and experienced hands explored for damage to the bowel. After repairing a bullet hole in the small intestine, it was once again needle and suture and case #2 was quickly removed to the adjoining room where he could be administered fluids and watched over for the remainder of the night.
After Captain O’Boyle held a short critique for the benefit of red-eyed and yawning technicians, he complimented them on a job well done and with a feeling that this night; indeed, they had contributed something extra to the war effort; they disassembled the operating room and packed up the surgical truck for the next move.
As dawn broke, the Company radio finally made contact with the Combat Command. "Prepare to move" was the order, as the Company vehicles lined up and the ambulances with the night's patients reloaded and moved defiantly toward the rear; the sound of approaching troops could be heard through the still morning air. The coarse voice of tired foot-sloggers, good old Yankee slang - the Infantry had arrived, the road back was clear and the ambulances would get through!
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