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Thursday, July 28, 2005

From Flat on My Back on a Tank’s Deck to Flat on My Back on a Gurney

This is the second part of the story I began on July 26.

So there I was, collapsed on the deck of my tank, with blood flowing from the cut on my left leg. I don’t remember feeling anger at the driver—just shock that I was injured and bleeding.

Within minutes of Backache, my M-60A1 tank, coming to a stop, Hugh, my company commander, was beside me on its deck. He made a tourniquet out of something and tied it around my leg above my knee. It was at about this point that the pain first began to really hit me. I remember looking up into the cloudless German sky and seeing the sun and a big bird circling high above me.

Hugh had flown helicopters in Vietnam before coming to Germany to command “B” company of our armor battalion. As I learned later, after applying the tourniquet to my leg, he radioed that “big bird,” which in reality was a helicopter. The chopper landed and several men carried me to it. I remember the pilot telling Hugh that he did not have enough fuel to fly to the army hospital in Wurzburg, so he’d take me to the brigade infirmary at Schweinfurt.

Some of what happened after this I learned later. The pilot radioed Schweinfurt that he was coming in with an injured man and asked that medics meet him at the dispensary helipad. Unfortunately, when our chopper arrived at the dispensary, he couldn’t land because another helicopter was already sitting on the pad. With his fuel running short, he decided to land in the PX parking lot and radioed the dispensary requesting an ambulance meet us in the parking lot.

Once we landed, we waited several minutes, but no ambulance came. The pilot again contacted the dispensary and was informed that they couldn’t locate an ambulance driver. Thus, the pilot requisitioned a PX delivery truck. The crew of the helicopter moved the boxes in the back of the truck around so that I could be put on its floor. I was driven to the dispensary in the back of the truck as I used both my arms to keep the stacked boxes from falling on top of me.

At the dispensary I was placed upon a gurney and taken to an examining room. The MD on duty was a German civilian contracted by the army to supplement the military doctors. He cut my fatigue pants and looked at the wound. He shook his said and mumbled something in German which I didn’t understand, even though I had studied German at the Defense Language School in Washington, D.C.

The doctor then called for a nurse and together they cleaned my wound and put a bandage around my leg. Then both left the room. About half an hour later, another nurse came in and told me that “as soon as we can find an ambulance driver” I would be driven to the 3rd Infantry Division’s hospital in Wurzburg. Since the trip to Wurgburg was a long one, I asked about being flown in a helicopter. The nurse said that would be best, but the only helicopter they had available was grounded, besides which they couldn't locate a pilot. No driver and no pilot? I came close to feeling panic.

The pain in my leg was by then more than I could tolerate and I asked her if I could have some medication. She replied that no MD was then on duty (the German doctor had already gone home) and she couldn’t give me anything without an MD’s orders. I think I growled something at her.

This has been part two of the story. I’ll post the next part soon.

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