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Report of Captain Willis P. McKee, Medical Corps 326th Airborne Medical Company, 101st Airborne Division, APO 472

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Operation Overlord

REPORT OF CAPTAIN WILLIS P. MCKEE, MEDICAL CORPS
326th AIRBORNE MEDICAL COMPANY,
[101st AIRBORNE DIVISION], APO 472

 

Home Address: Eminence, Kentucky, Medical School: University of Louisville, Kentucky.

    

    We were authorized by division to qualify one platoon as a medical company.  That was 50 enlisted men and 6 officers authorized to qualify as paratroopers. Did not say how they were to be emp1oyed. In plans submitted to Chief of Staff for the employment of these paratroopers it called for 15 enlisted men and. one officer to jump with each regiment, with 85 containers full of medical equipment, which contained everything necessary for doing major surgery. During the forerunning months we experimented with practically everything that was in our T/E, ampules, plasma, etc. and carried all dressings and bandages before we left in canvas bags in which everything was packed and wrapped in oilskin ín case they dropped into the water. They carry two colman [Coleman] stoves and sterilization instruments. The plan was originally to jump all our men in one plane. Just before we left one battalion was given a separate commission so sent 5 enlisted men and one officer with 2nd battalion and 10 men and 1 officer with rest of the regiment. My own particular experience was the fact that the Air Corps dropped me where I belonged. I dropped 20 yards from the assembly area at 1.14 a.m. near Hiesville. I had 10 men with me and 5 equipment supplies. At 5 o’clock in the morning all our men had assembled with equipment, and had 15-20 casualties collected. None of own 45 enlisted men were jump casualties. When daylight came we moved 300 yards to a little French farmhouse, and set up in there. We were equipped to do much more than we really had occasion to do.  We did many debridements and used a good deal of plaster. Only two patients were given Pentathol as I was the only doctor there and the enlisted men were not sufficiently qualified to do this. We stayed at the farmhouse until the afternoon of D-1 at which time we rejoined the rest of our company, which had come in by glider and by sea. Most of it was seaborne. The seaborne personnel got in about 23:00 hrs, but vehicles and equipment did not got in until 09:00 the next morning, D-l. However, most of them came in by glider and they were doing major surgery at about 10:00 on the morning of D-Day. Therefore if our airborne medical company had cone in seaborne they would not have been in operation until the afternoon of D plus 1. We were fired on on the drop and there was light rifle fire. Some of the German prisoners asked when they came in why we were 24 hours late, but they were not sure exactly were we were going to drop.

    From our experience we feel it is quite definitely proven that an airborne company is quite a good thing. Crash casualties were amazingly low according to statistics and that is amazing in view of the unfavorable terrain. We had four more glider loads that came in at 9 o’clock on the night of D-day. We were more unfortunate with these than the early morning landings as they landed in about 250 German troops and quite a number of them were killed or captured. It was the mission of our regiment to clear the area between Hiesville and the sea.

    Most of the enlisted men who jumped with us were volunteers from our own medical company had been with us for some time, but we accepted volunteers from the company and get a lot of litter bearers and drivers to get our quota. It was a problem to get these men trained technically when all they been trained in was first aid, and as litter bearers. The first problem was getting equipment together and assembling men, which in the darkness took approximately 3 hours. Care of casualties on drop. Their own medical companies could take care of casualties from then on. I had 41 casualties. The problem of transportation can always be taken [care]


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of. The first transportation we had was a mule cart with a flag. On 4 o’clock in the afternoon of D-day a battery of artillery moved in and they let me have one of their jeeps. We evacuated casualties through the [4th Infantry Division] Clearing Station. Casualties were mostly fractures, sprains and glider casualties from the 82nd division. We were not set up to do major surgery because of the lack of assistants. We did a great number of debridements and put plaster on fractures. We had 5 equipment bundles. One was entirely orthopaedic, set of plaster and splints; one entirely full of plasma; two general treatment units containing novacain, sterile bandages and dressings of all types and instruments. In addition, each man carried a set of about 12 instruments.

    In the French quarters we were given plenty of room, and there was running water.

    We rejoined our medical company on the evening of D plus 1. Our installation was not attacked at all during the day. The assignment of my regiment was to secure causeways loading up from the beach and take the town of St. Marie du Mont.

    That is the story of myself and my 10 men.

    The other doctors who jumped with their regiments and their group of men were not so lucky as the Air Corps dropped them off their course. They were to augment medics of other regiments.

    The five men who had been previously detached from my company completed their mission in that they all treated wounded and got to work immediately. Three of the men landed on the regimental chaplain’s location and they had set up an aid station in a farmhouse, where they treated 50-6O casualties. They ran out of rations however, so one of the men killed a cow so they could have beef steak and soup for dinner. There was another instance of three men setting up station with their chaplain. The Germans came by and left them alone. These are specific instances that illustrate they really did worthwhile work.

    We had 9 enlisted men and one Medical officer missing inaction, and these were dropped off their course. All the rest of their men returned to their company within the first three days, and were all right. Other groups were not able to assemble and work as a group, as they did not recover their equipment that had been dropped in bundles. They carried about 30 lbs of medical equipment on their persons, however, which was for emergency treatment of wounded. This was augmented by the fact that every parachutist, even combat troops, carry a medical aid kit. They used those kits, but most of the work was done by aid men, and not by casualties to themselves. There was just moderate ack-ack fire.

    The chateau at Hiesville which was set up at 10 o'clock on D-day remained there until D plus 3 and that was bombed the night after they had left. This caused the loss of about 30% of our equipment. Eleven casualties were either killed outright or since, and there were about 15 wounded.

    The assignment of the 2nd Regiment: The 501st Bn plus an extra battalion out of my regiment. Their mission was to secure the bridges leading into Carentan, and the 502nd Bn of the 3rd Regiment had the mission of securing two other causeways. Two of them were assigned to the regiment to which I was attached. All of our missions were completed successfully. The 82nd landed at St. Mere Eglise. I talked to the Commanding Officer and several of us visited the installation. It was all glider-borne.

    We had quite a struggle in the first place to get the surgical team airborne due to the fact that our Commanding Officer and Division Surgeon were definitely not air-minded, and they felt that they should bring the company in by sea. There is no


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doubt in my mind, and this is proved from the glider personnel that came in at 4 o'clock on D-day that all men should come in by plane. I am not as impressed by the Parachute Platoon Medical Company as Airborne Medical Troops. It is safer to jump than come in by glider. The first 46-48 hours are the most important for a medical company to be in because beach units follow up. The first glider to come in started echelon treatment at least 36 hours earlier than if the whole company had come in by sea. It is a good morale factor for combat troops, because wounded immediately start asking for doctors. Word soon got to them that there was a hospital operating in which they could deal with everything. Another advantage of airborne medics is that they can carry much more elaborate equipment than a glider and except for my group the others did not recover any of their equipment that had been dropped. I definitely think that if we drop a parachute platoon, it should be dropped with our Division Headquarters altogether rather than split up with regiments, because then we should have enough personnel to start operating 2nd echelon medical care.

    I had contact with our Divisional Surgeon who was with our company throughout the operation. He came in seaborne at 11 o'clock on D-day. We had roughly 351 of the men who had been with us since activation on 15 August 1942, since when they had been functioning with medical groups. Most of them were older men, about 32, 33, or 34, and not physically qualified as parachutists, and that accounts for limited personnel who could be used to jump. We were all glider outfits until last November when we qualified one platoon. There were no physical limitations for glider troops. Only about 8-10 men had any degree of technical training out of 45. One man was a medical technician, and he was actually skilled. They had more than basic training because they were trained as soon as we knew we were to come in by parachute.

    The functions of the 10 men with whom I jumped: We had broken down our numbers into two 2-man teams as litter bearers, but that was impossible to adhere to owing to the nature of the terrain, so 6 or 7 men were litter bearers and two were in the operating room. 1 was a runner and acted as liaison man with Regimental and Divisional headquarters, which was about three quarters of a mile away. Originally we had planned on the basis of 15 men but that came down to 10 as previously described, when 5 of my men were sent down to Carentan. Three of them joined up with the Chaplain mentioned previously and treated 50-60 casualties, chiefly cleaned up wounds, out on sterile dressings and gave plasma and morphine when necessary. Each man jumped with two units of plasma on his person.

    The enlisted men carried in their equipment, among other things: Two units of plasma carried on their right leg in a canvas bag; modified marine kit; several debridement sets; two sterile hemostats, sphymanometer, pair of scissors, [scalpels] (each kit contained two or three); about 100 4"x4" dressings; a can of alcohol; 20 morphine ampules; four wire splints; tetanus toxoid; 30cc valve; bottle of Novatox (British type of Novacain); gas gangrene anti-toxin; aspirins; sodium amytl; container full of sterilized vaseline gause. These are only some of the items carried in their equipment.

    I jumped with 200 lbs of equipment on my person but did not use any of it due to the fact that we recovered our bundles which we started using almost immediately. If I had been isolated from my group and had not recovered my bundle, then I am certain I would have found use for everything I had. My bundle contained everything that the enlisted men’s did, plus some extra instruments. In addition, I carried records, station logs, soaps, etc. Except for a package of sterile instruments, all operating instruments were in the bundle dropped from plane.


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    By D plus 1 all of us were already operating and we operated continuously four operating tables in the chateau until the night we were bombed.

    I put one man and four litter bearers as the litter part of the 15 men. Another man in charge of the treatment section. The treatment section was divided up into two men as orthopedic assistants and these know something about plaster; two enlisted surgical assistants, one an anesthetist, one in charge of sterilization, who was to keep all instruments sterilized around the operating room, two men as sick room attendants to take care of the casualties.

    Our French farmhouse was typical of that part of the country, built in U-shape with stables, garage, etc., connecting with the living quarters. We told the family we were going to start a hospital there and they moved everything out for us, except for their one bedroom and a living room. They took us [as] a matter of course, but did not seem particularly overjoyed. We set up operating room in the milkhouse which had concrete floors, windows which could be easily blacked out, with a pump with spring water. We set up a litter on two boxes and used that as an operating table and set up sterilizers and arranged drugs around on shelves. We dropped one bundle containing four litters. We only treated casualties in the milkhouse. We used a living room for putting casualties on the floor on parachutes which were collected by two of our men. They were very warn and are excellent for this purpose. We used another room in the building which was originally the cider room. Two other rooms also, which had been used at some time as stables, but not recently. They had brick floors.

    About 8 o’clock on the afternoon of D-day, the jeep I had acquired from the Artillery company was used to evacuate casualties. By 4 o’clock the next morning we had cleared out all of our casualties and we were waiting for transportation to go back and join our company. We did not rejoin the company, however, as a Division started landing in a nearby field and there were a lot of casualties there.

    The glider casualties were rather more serious than our first lot, which had consisted chiefly of fractured ankles and a few gunshot wounds of the extremities. The glider casualties were mostly skull fractures, and badly fractured legs and arms, and concussion. One man was dead when he arrived. He had been picked up about 30 minutes after his injury with a badly compounded fracture of the leg, but he had bled to death. He was a glider pilot. Another glider pilot was evacuated to a company and died the following day. He had a skull fracture.

    The general nature of wounded was small arms fire early on D-day, and after that about 50-50 shrapnel and bullet wounds. We did not have penicillin in our kit. We would have had use for it in several cases. It had not been authorized for our unit at all. There was some available with the company, however, and this was used both locally and mixed with sulfa powder.

    The French people stayed out of our way and left us alone.

    We realized there was a place for an airborne medical company during the first hours of the assault.

    We were very fortunate in getting the surgical team we did. They were all volunteers and they were given choice of 82nd or 101st and they chose the latter. We had four men who were definitely air-minded, and came with the idea of qualifying as parachutists. They were not allowed to go to jump school so they used glider.


SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 112, Entry 1015, ETOUSA Records, Box 5: 326th Airborne Medical Company [101st Airborne Division], Report of Captain McKee.