The X-ray is accomplished very quickly. I lie back on a table, and a technician slides a flat under me. Another technician swings a huge and fearsome gadget around on a stand, adjusts it until the gadget hangs over my center of gravity, and clicks a switch, "That's all, Joe," he says. "Next".
Back on my bunk I smoke and read an ancient copy of The Saturday Evening Post. I got another shot of penicillin and two sulfa-pills. Two ward boys bring our supper around on a small rubber-wheeled cart. After supper I sleep until the man with the long needle awakens me. I smoke a cigarette and doze until I hear my name called. "You're ready for surgery," says a tall medic in a white gown and skullcap. I follow him down to the operating room. This is a long room, where thirty-odd surgeons work at the same time. I climb obediently onto a table and stretch out. Beside the table is a tall gadget something like a hat-rack from which hang x-ray films. A technician in spotless white removes the dressing from my hip, paints the surrounding area with some red liquid, and waits for the surgeon to inspect the wound. The surgeon is a dark, thin-faced young man with circles under his eyes. He looks at the x-ray film a moment, then probes gently in the wound. A nurse hands him a hypodermic, and he makes four careful injections. My hip becomes numb. "Look the other way, Joe," the technician tells me. I hear scissors snip, metal grates on metal, and the surgeon grunts. "OK. Thick dressing and plenty of tape." The nurse and technician do things with gauze and tape. "OK, Joe" the technician says. "Can you make it back to your ward by yourself?" I climb and slowly walk upstairs to my bunk.
On the morning of my third day at the evacuation hospital I get my last penicillin shot, and shortly before noon the ward boy tells me to get ready to travel; I'm going to another hospital. Eight of us load into an ambulance, and a medic hands to each of us a manila envelope. "Hang onto these," he tells us. "Got your x-rays and clinical records in them. Turn them in at the next hospital." Rain falls steadily the two hours it takes us to go to St. Mihiel. The convalescent hospital is a big cluster of tents not far from the village. The ambulance stops close to the entrance to a big tent with red crosses painted on the top and sides. We file in through the doorway, and a clerk looks at the contents of our manila envelopes. We go through a passageway into another tent; there a technician removes our dressings and a surgeon looks at our wounds. He scribbles on a slip of paper and gives it to me. "Give that to the 1st Sergeant of the company you're assigned to." Outside, I look at the slip. It says: "Surgery 0900 27 November, No exercise. JJS, Capt. M.C."
I find D Company, report at the orderly tent, am assigned to Tent B-8. I throw my blankets and helmet on the empty bunk, next to a short red-headed sergeant from the 6th Armored, who smokes a cigar and reads the Stars and Stripes. The other four men look up from their hands. "Another Pilgrim," the tallest one says. "Where you from, Joe?"
I give my hometown, state, and outfit. The five identify themselves, and the tall man explains: "Too much trouble remembering names. Always call a man by the state he's from. Had a guy from West Virginia here, but he went over the hill; went back to his outfit. Guess we'll call you West Virginia." He pauses, and adds hopefully, "You play Hearts?" I admit that I do. The tall man grins happily. "Good. I'm so tired of playing rummy I'm about due to blow my top. Nobody's got any money, so we can't shoot crap."
Here, for the first time in the four years I've been in the army, I have nothing to do but eat, sleep, read, smoke, and play cards. Sounds like a soldier's paradise, but in a few days I'm fed-up and restless.
I go to surgery on the 27th, and my wound is sewed up neatly as the seam on a football. Next day I request and receive a pass to Verdun. In St. Mihiel an MP flags down a truck and gets me a ride to the Finance Office in Verdun, about the same distance from Parkersburg to Palistine. At the Finance Office I present my paybook and draw a thousand francs. I find a café two blocks from the Meuse river, and have some mediocre French beer. A sergeant from the Blue Ridge Division sits down at my table and I learn that he's from Gassaway, W. Va. He knows a place where we can get a meal. We go there and get excellent soup, followed by baked rabbit, and drink a bottle of wine. In the afternoon we walk around the town, and buy a bottle of perfume for my mother and a few dozen souvenier postcards-vintage 1917. We find another café where the beer is better and I make friends with a big black-and-white tomcat and an old and very warlike Frenchman with dragoon moustaches. The tomcat sits on my chest and purrs, while the old Frenchman smokes my cigarettes, buys us beer, and tells us what ought to be done with the Boche. He has a grisly imagination, this old man.
On Dec. 8 the surgeon pulls my stitches, and three days later I am marked Duty and transferred to another company to await shipment. The morning of the 13th some hundred-odd of us are loaded on trucks and hauled to the Replacement Depot at Jarny. There I am issued a nice new dufflebag, and some sixty pounds of clothing and equipment. By dint of fast-talking I manage to get an M-1 rifle and bayonet instead of the carbine, which the T/E says I must carry. But I have an ex-infantryman's prejudice against the carbine, and I like the bayonet for those rare occasions when the war gets personal. I draw a full belt of M-1 clips and two extra bandoliers. That night we bed down in old French cavalry barracks. After three weeks of sleeping on cots, the stone floor is hard and cold.
They break us out at 0600, feed us quickly, and load us on trucks. We roll at 50 miles an hour to the front. I reach my division train's headquarters in the afternoon. A master-sergeant checks our shipping orders and calls the roll. "You can wait there in that barn until we get transportation for you back to your battalions. You all got blankets and mess kits? I'll call you when chow goes."
Men going to infantry and tank battalions leave that afternoon; most of the division is out of the line for a rest. But the artillery battalions are still in position along the Saar, firing. I sleep in the barn that night. In the morning a weapons-carrier hauls me to the division ration dump, where I find my battalion ration truck, and get a ride back to the battalion.
My battery is in position north of the road between Budingen and Hilbringen, just across the Saar from Merzig and the main belt of the Siegfried defenses. The ration truck stops beside our kitchen truck; I throw my dufflebag out and jump after it. The battery is lined up for chow. "Huh," says the mess-sergeant. Yuh never know what's going to come up with the rations any more…. How you feeling, Sergeant?" I shake hands all around and enjoy every ribald word thrown at me. These guys are glad to see me. And to me these muddy, bearded, grinning faces are beautiful. Getting back to your outfit is the next best thing to coming home.
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* Much thanks to Rob Floerke, son of Vernon Floerke for contributing this series by Paul Gawthrop, discovered in his dad's Wartime scrapbooks.