A Family Mantra
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Don't go up empty-handed," he would say to me, as well as my siblings. This mantra applied to everyday situations, and actually in every direction. In, out, up, down…it didn't matter. There was laundry to be carried up stairs. Garbage to go outside. Extra rolls of toilet paper to go downstairs. School books to go in our room. Of course, being children, we groused and grumbled. It made for a neater and more efficiently run household, that's for sure. But in retrospect, I now believe that this advice held a deeper meaning, which as an adult I'm just beginning to understand.
I am a forward gunner by training, and a medic by default. My plane was shot down over Germany in May of 1943, and within a few weeks, I found myself transported with a truckload of other sergeants to what was known as one of the toughest prison camps in all of Germany. Needless to say, we were all scared shitless.
The guards from the transit camp rudely ordered us out of the open truck, and pushed us into formation. I noticed a small group of prisoners casually stroll over to the truck and begin to unload the duffle bags that had been provided to us by the Red Cross. Although our stay at the Dulag Luft was frightening and unpleasant, it was nice to see this little bit of humanity provided to us. At least we would be able to start our permanent stay with our own deck of cards and shaving supplies.
A fat sergeant holding a clipboard waddled over to us, and told us to step forward as he called our name. To tell you the truth, he didn't look very menacing. As he concluded, a German officer holding a riding crop came out of a building and hurried over. He walked up and down the line silently. This must be the Kommandant, I thought. Sure enough, he introduced himself.
"I am Kommandant Klink. For you the war is over. This will be your home for the duration. I am strict but humane. If you follow the rules, you will not get hurt and…"
His speech was interrupted by an American colonel who seemed to appear out of nowhere. He got right into the Kommandant's face. It was obvious the colonel was not cowed by this high-ranking German officer. I'm sure I was not the only man wondering what the American colonel was doing at this camp.
"Forget to invite me to the party, sir?" The colonel stepped back a foot, and wrapped his arms around himself. He then turned to face the formation, and in unison we all saluted and stood at attention.
This seemed to annoy the Kommandant, who had not warranted this respect. "This is Colonel Hogan, the Senior POW Officer. Any complaints or concerns go through him. After this morning, there should be no reason for any of you to have any communication with me. Schultz, find bunks for these men." At that, the Kommandant turned and made his way back into his office.
But I digress. Yes, I was a gunner. However, after a week in camp I had to report to the infirmary to get a bad splinter removed. While there, I met Anderson, Sergeant Wilson's assistant. Well, we hit it off. In conversation, I mentioned that my father was a doctor and that I often joined him on house calls. To make a long story short, he convinced me to hang around and learn the ropes from Wilson. "We can always use more help," he said. This seemed like a fine idea, and after getting the okay from the colonel, I joined the medical staff. After discovering what really went on in camp, I decided the infirmary was safer than going outside the wire. Besides, foreign languages and I never got on well.
The infirmary was kept well-organized and reasonably clean. The same could not be said for most of the barracks. Aside from making sure all tunnel entrances were well-hidden, the prisoners became quite careless. Laundry was often hung across the room, and the dirt and mud from the compound seemed to find its way into every nook and cranny. Tunnel work made the barracks worse. As the lowest man on the totem pole, I was unfortunately charged with making barracks inspections on behalf of the medical staff. This did not sit well with the inhabitants.
"Hey, leave us alone. Don't you know an Englishman's home is his castle," said a private as he stubbed out his cigarette on the floor.
"If this was an English castle, their next address would be the Tower of London," I joked with the barrack chief.
"They've been digging out tunnel five for a week," he explained, as if that was an excuse.
"Get us maid service," one of the residents suggested. That got a laugh out of his bunkmates.
I grinned. A little levity never hurt anyone, particularly in this environment. I had seen the camp population grow deadly serious very quickly. They were used to turning on a dime, and thinking fast. But, I did have a job to do. "By the authority vested in me by Wilson, Uncle Sam, and Colonel Hogan, would ya at least clean up the floor? The cleaner it is, the less time the krauts will spend in here if they pull a surprise inspection. And Wilson doesn't want to treat anyone for tetanus or typhus."
After a bit of grumbling they promised to straighten up, and I headed over to the next to the last hut. After that inspection was complete, I had one more to do. I wasn't looking forward to this. This last hut was inhabited by a group of independent-minded men. They took the most chances of any of us, and they had the most to lose. The last thing they wanted was to have a medic in their face about neatness. But despite the fact that Colonel Hogan resided there as well, I played no favorites. I gently tapped on the door and waited for someone to answer.
"Hey, Doc." Garth stepped aside and let me in. All the medics were called doc by everyone in camp. I wondered how they kept us all straight. "Someone sick?"
"Inspection," I answered, showing my clipboard. After quickly glancing around the hut, I sighed in frustration. "Come on, guys. You're not making my job any easier." There was no sign of contraband, but the common room was so disorganized, I couldn't figure out how the men kept their possessions straight. The clutter would invite a closer inspection of the barracks if the Germans decided to conduct a sweep. "What if the colonel sees this mess," I said hopefully. "Don't you think he'd have a fit?" Thankfully, I hadn't been on the receiving end of his temper. I had heard rumors that Newkirk was almost kicked off the team for an indiscretion.
"Ah, he doesn't care, as long as the operation stays secret. Anyway, he can talk his way out of anything. Besides, medically, everything in here is fine," Garlotti said as he deftly ran circles around me when I tried to inspect his bunk. "The rest of the stuff is our business."
"There's a place for everything, and everything has a place," I noted as I made some checkmarks on my clipboard." Another one of my father's favorite sayings. "Where is everyone? In the tunnels? No don't tell me. I don't want to know." I hadn't seen the core group outside, so they must have either been in the tunnels, or out. We had time before the next roll call, so I wasn't worried.
Goldman sidled over and followed me around. "Kinch is down below if you need to see him."
That told me the rest were outside the wire. I stayed out of Hogan's office, which I am sure was clean and well-organized, and was about ready to leave, when I heard knocking coming from the bunk entrance. It flew open, and a clearly rattled and out-of-breath Carter scrambled up the ladder.
He was so distraught; he didn't realize I was standing right there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the boys quickly leave the hut, probably to head over to the infirmary to tell Wilson.
Carter ran right past me and opened the door to the colonel's office. I was about to head down the ladder to see if I could help, when I heard him start cursing.
"It was right here the last time. Where is it? Oh, crap."
I assume Carter ran out of the office, since by the time I hit the floor of the tunnel, he was almost on top of me. Newkirk was on a table, writhing in pain from what looked to be a gunshot wound in his shoulder. Kinch was holding him down, while Hogan was attempting to staunch the bleeding with a couple of clean (thankfully) bandages that Kinch kept in a small first aid kit next to the radio. LeBeau had disappeared, while Olsen hovered by.
"Wilson's coming, Colonel," I said as I approached the table. "What happened?"
Hogan backed away and I gingerly lifted the bandage to check the wound. I could see metal in there, which would need to come out. I decided to wait for Wilson to show up before checking for an exit wound.
"Buckshot. " Hogan replied. "Some civilian started shooting at us. Carter, did you get the sulfa?"
"I couldn't find it," Carter answered meekly. He then backed off to the side.
"What do you mean you couldn't find it?" Hogan kept his voice down; but he was clearly angry. "We're out of penicillin."
They had delivered the last few doses of the antibiotic to a member of the underground a few days ago. Several men had been shot by a patrol, and London hadn't been able to make a drop since then.
"I know, sir. I looked everywhere. It should have been in your foot locker. That's where it was the last time. Just like you said. When LeBeau was shot. And I brought it right down. Remember? But then the wound was just a scratch, and then we got penicillin for Danzig and LeBeau, but they were okay."
Hogan put his hand on Carter's chest then said, "Stop."
Carter quickly shut his mouth.
"Find it!" Hogan ordered. "I would have put it back in my foot locker. That's where it belongs."
"I'll check," Olsen said as he headed for the ladder. "Sometimes you need another set of eyes."
Wilson had arrived with some sterile instruments, and between the two of us, we determined all of the buckshot was still embedded in Newkirk's shoulder. "This has to come out, Newkirk. But, you should be fine."
"Go ahead." Newkirk gritted his teeth and prepared for the pain.
Wilson gave Newkirk a shot of morphine and then a clean cloth to bite down on. "You got the sulfa ready?"
"Can't find it."
Wilson turned to face me. "What do you mean they can't find it? We're supposed to have an emergency supply upstairs. Go back over to the infirmary and bring some back," he told me. The sergeant then began grumbling about disorganized flight crews as he began to gingerly get the shot out of Newkirk's body.
Wilson didn't like to store medicines down below due to the dampness, but I couldn't figure out why Wilson didn't have any sulfa in the medical bag that traveled with him. I took the tunnel route to the infirmary, and told Anderson what happened while he fetched the infirmary's supply. Now that I knew that Newkirk would be okay, my stomach had calmed down. "It was probably left somewhere down in the tunnels. That day was such a mess; I wouldn't be surprised if they forgot about it," Anderson told me.
I thanked him, and quickly made my way back through the tunnel. Wilson was still working on Newkirk when I returned. I showed him the packet. "Here, you need the practice," he said as he handed me his instrument. I took it from him, and then took a deep breath.
Colonel Hogan was holding Newkirk's hand. As I dug into the wound, the corporal squeezed hard and grimaced. "Almost done," the colonel said quietly. "Hang in there."
I took out the last piece of lead, and let Wilson check my work. "Great job," he grinned as he started to stitch up the wound.
As I bent down to retrieve the bloody gauze and rags that had been tossed onto the floor, I was joined by Colonel Hogan. "Good job. I know we can count on you."
"Thank you, sir," I replied, my heart swelling with pride.
"I'll need you to…" Suddenly, Colonel stopped talking. I followed his eyes to the wall closest to the table, where he had spotted a box. "For crying out loud," he muttered to himself. A second later, he stood up, holding a box of sulfa in his hands.
"Look at that!" Carter exclaimed. "You found it! Now how did that get there?"
"It was left there." Kinch commented. "That's obvious."
"That was months ago." Now that the crisis was over, LeBeau had returned. "Carter, you forgot to take it back."
"No I didn't. I handed the box over to the colonel when I came back. Remember?"
"I wasn't there," Kinch said. "I was in the infirmary with the flu. Baker was covering. He was busy trying to get the penicillin delivery."
"Don't blame me, I was the one shot," LeBeau said, conveniently forgetting that he had only been grazed.
Newkirk couldn't answer, being groggy from the morphine.
"It doesn't matter who left it there," Colonel Hogan said quietly. "It needs to go back where it belongs."
If I wasn't mistaken, the colonel looked embarrassed. Wilson and I exchanged a glance. "You know," I started to say. "My father always said, "Don't go up empty-handed. And there's a place for everything, and everything has a place."
"Words to live by." Wilson patted Newkirk. "We're done here. He should be fine. But, you'll have to get him upstairs. I'd call London and try and get more penicillin, sooner rather than later," he added.
"I'll talk to them." Hogan walked over to the radio. As he passed by, he gave me an odd look, and then a slight grin. "Your father is a smart man," he told me.
"Thank you, sir." I then whispered. "And your secret is safe with me."
Stays at the transit center usually lasted about a week. Before being sent to their camp, prisoners at the transit center were issued a Red Cross satchel that held basic supplies, including toiletries, a bible, a deck of cards, etc. (Various internet sources)
There are numerous sources on the internet, including government documents, that detail medical conditions in prison camps. wwwdotb24dotnet is a good one. Also check the veteran's administration. The information I found there has information on statistics and death rates, comparing the European theater to the Pacific theater.
I'd like to thank Bits and Pieces and Jennaya for giving me the confidence to post my two entries.
Danzig and LeBeau were injured in the sixth season episode "That's No Lady, That's My Spy." Could never figure out why they didn't call for a medic. You would think they would have emergency meds down below, so I made up the dampness excuse.
And yes...I stole the advice from my own family. Wish mine would follow it.