GROUNDED AND WOUNDED, BUT ALIVE
When I came to, I was on the ground. The parachute was on top of me. My face and eyes were covered with blood from the scalp wound, and I was fighting the chute, which was hanging over me like a shroud. Finally I got the parachute off of me, but I couldnt move. My left leg was broken and my right leg was paralyzed from the wounds in my side. The engineer of the bomber, one of the four men that I later found got out alive, came over to me and offered to help. The other six died in the explosion or were killed by the enemy fire from the fighters. I told him that there was nothing he could do to help me. I said, "Save your own skin and get out of here." He did. One of the men who got out was named Fontecchio, the radioman. I met him later in the Paris hospital. I did not know at this time that he had gotten out of the plane.
After the engineer left, three Frenchmen picked me up. They were driving a little Renault-type vehicle with a trailer attached. The trailer had a wood burning stove that produced methane, which powered the car. It was a small car, because when they loaded me into the back, I completely filled the back seat.
My wounds consisted of: Seven entry-wounds from the lower rib cage to the groin area on the right side, posterior and anterior; scalp wound; and a broken leg.
During the trip, I kept going in and out of consciousness. I can remember the Frenchmen trying to push the car because the methane gas did not provide much power. When there was a hill they had to get out and push.
They took me to a farmhouse where the local doctor lived. He undressed me to determine the extent of the wounds. I remember being embarrassed because I was naked on his kitchen table. The local townspeople had gotten the word that an American flyer had been shot down, so they came to the doctor's house to see this novelty.
I also remember dried vegetables hanging from the ceiling (onions, garlic, and others stem-type vegetables). This was their carry-over because it was December and they had no gardens.
When the doctor realized I needed more help than he could give me, he called the Germans. I came out of unconsciousness to see a belt buckle with the words "GOTT MITT UNS" and I realized that there was a German soldier there. I passed out again.
I remember a ride in a horse-drawn vehicle, which must have been the German ambulance. The next scene I remember is being in the operating room in the 'La Zarette', a field hospital. The room was one step removed from a front-line MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. It was located in a hotel, in Dax, France, which had been taken over occupied by the German Army and was being used as a hospital.
By now, seven hours passed since I had been shot. I remember the doctor leaning over me, a short stub of a cigar in his mouth. He had a face like a bulldog with red hair and a crew-cut. He asked me if I could roll over or something, and I answered "If you think I can do it, I'll try." Then once again, I passed out. I never saw that doctor again, but he was the one who had operated on me.
The operation took until 0100 hours January 1, 1944. The doctor removed the shrapnel and repaired the damage to the intestines. There are still three pieces of shrapnel in my body that were never removed.
He stitched up the side wounds and made an incision from the navel to the pubis. He left four drain holes, which were packed with gauze strings about two feet long.
Every day they would remove the long strings of gauze and repack the drainage holes. This took care of all the infection they could not wash out.
I was completely unconscious until January 10th. Returning to consciousness, I noticed a German soldier standing at the foot of my bed. I said something to him, which he didn't seem to understand. I assumed that the German soldier in the bed on my left was wounded, but I don't recall seeing any wounds. He did help in the translation. This soldier was a man in his late thirties. I think the translator was placed there to take note of anything that I might have mumbled while I was unconscious or asleep.
The man at the foot of the bed was a German dentist who had assisted at the operation. He thought I would not survive the operation, let alone live this long. The dentist would visit me almost every week. It is from him that I learned the details of my operation, how long it took, and things like that. I don't remember specifics of any thing else we talked about, but I do remember sharing my tobacco ration with him.
The cast for my broken left leg was applied directly to the skin. There was no gauze wrapping placed between flesh and plaster. As my leg atrophied from lack of use, the leg hairs were stuck in the plaster were plucked slowly out and caused extreme itching. When the cast was taken off, all my leg hair was embedded in the plaster.Back Next