The Pittsburgh Press (August 16, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Somewhere in Sicily, Italy – (by wireless)
Army ambulances carry four stretchers each, or nine sitting wounded. When they reach a clearing station, they back up to the surgical tent and unload.
The men lie there on their stretchers on the floor of the tent while the aid men look at their medical tags to see how severe the wounds are, in order to handle the worse ones first. Those who don’t need further attention are carried right on through to the ward tents to wait for the next ambulance going back to a hospital.
Those who have graver wounds are carried into the operating room. Two big Army trunks sit upended there on the dirt floor. The trunks contain all kinds of surgical supplies in drawers. On top of each trunk is fastened a steel rod which curves up at each end. The wounded man is carried in his litter and set on these two trunks. The curved rods keep him from sliding off. Thus, his litter forms his operating table.
A portable surgical lamp stands in a tripod over the wounded man. A little motor and generator outside the tent furnish power, but usually the doctors just use flashlights. One or two surgeons in coveralls or ordinary uniform bend over the man and remove his dressings. Medical-aid men crowd around behind, handing them compresses or bandages with steel forceps from a sterile cabinet. Other aid men give the patient another shot of morphine or inject blood plasma or give him a drink of water from a tin cup through a rubber tube they put in his mouth.
Lots of morphine used
Incidentally, one of the duties of the surgical ward-boys is to keep the sweat wiped off the surgeon’s face so it won’t drop down onto the wound.
Just outside the surgical tent is a small trench filled with bloody shirt sleeves and pant legs the surgeons have snipped off wounded men in order to get at the wounds more quickly. The surgeons redress the wounds, and sprinkle on sulfanilamide powder. Sometimes they poke for buried shrapnel, or recompress broken arteries to stop the flow of blood, or inject plasma if the patient is turning pale.
They don’t give general anesthesia here. Occasionally they give a local, but usually the wounded man is so doped up with morphine by the time he reaches here he doesn’t feel much pain. The surgeons believe in using lots of morphine. It spares a man so much pain and consequently relieves the general shock to his system.
Wounds hard to look at
On my third day at the clearing station, when I was beginning to feel better, I spent most of my time around this operating table. As they would undress each new wound, I held firmly to a lamp bracket above my head, for I was still weak and I didn’t want to disgrace myself by suddenly keeling over at the sight of a bad wound.
Many of the wounds were hard to look at, and yet Lt. Michael de Giorgio said he had never seen a human body so badly smashed up in Sicily as he had in traffic accidents back in New York, where he practiced.
One stalwart fellow had caught a machine-gun bullet right alongside his nose. It had made a small clean hole and gone clear through his cheek, leaving a larger hole just beneath his ear as it came out. It gave you the willies to look at it, yet the doctors said it wasn’t serious at all and would heal with no bad effects.
The nerviest fellow I saw had two big holes in his back. You could have put your whole hand in either one of them. As the surgeons worked on him, he lay on his stomach and talked a blue streak.
‘Got five’ with a grenade
I killed five of the sonsabitches with a hand grenade just before they got me. What made me so damn mad was that I was just out of reach of my rifle and couldn’t crawl over to it, or I’da got five more of them. Jeez, I’m hungry! I ain’t had nothing to eat since yesterday morning.
But most of the wounded say nothing at all when brought in – either because they see no acquaintances to talk to or because they’re too weak from their wounds or too dopey from morphine. Of the hundreds that passed through while I was there, I never heard but one man groaning with pain.
Another thing that struck me, as the wounded came through in a ceaseless stream on their stretchers, was how dirt and exhaustion reduce human faces to such a common denominator. It got so everybody they carried in looked alike. The only break in the procession of tired and dirty men who all looked exactly alike would be when an extreme blond was carried in. His light hair would seem like a flower in a row of weeds.