B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


  Eight Months of Human Contact in a POW Camp
by Joseph R. Armstrong, 442nd Bomb Squadron


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High Point


I had been transferred from a distribution hospital in Frankfurt to one in Obermassfeldt for further surgery on my hand.

This hospital was staffed solely by English doctors and orderlies, most of whom had been captured years before at Dunkirk. There were very few medical supplies, such as anti-biotics and the only anesthetic was the inevitable chloroform.

The doctor to whom I was assigned was a British captain, and was very capable. He explained to me that the stench from my hand was due to osteomyelitis having developed in the shattered bone of my hand. His course of treatment was to remove as much of the shattered bone as he could, and then put my hand in another cast with no opening for drainage. He explained that the closed cast would help to prevent outside contamination and infection, as there was no medicine to combat this problem. He said to meet him at the dispensary at nine the following morning, and at the same time each day until he had removed as much shattered bone as possible.

The next morning at nine I arrived promptly, and he sat me at a wooden kitchen table. He told me the procedure he would use. The rifle bullet had entered between the right thumb and forefinger, shattering into fragments the thumb joint, cutting the tendon, and breaking my forefinger. His procedure was to take a length of gauze, and with a surgical pick shove the gauze into the opening of the wound until it would exit from the back of my hand, then take forceps and tug the length of gauze through the wound thereby catching in the gauze the loose bones and brining them from the wound. He apologized for not having any deadening agent, and said chloroform was too dangerous to use except in the major operations.

He took the steel pick with the gauze attached and inserted it into the wound. The pick hit the pulverized bones of the thumb joint, and the pain was so intense that I became faint and put my head down on my left forearm. As he tugged the gauze through the wound, each time it caught on a bone sliver and gulled it loose, I retched. Finally it was done and he said he would see me at nine the next morning. I told him I could not take the torture too many times, and how long would he have to do it. He replied that it would have to be done until the gauze was no longer bringing out bone slivers. It developed that it had to be done four additional times before the cast was put on my hand.

The anticipation of the nine o'clock appointment I had each morning was almost unbearable. I would wake about dawn and begin to perspire. As the time approached I began to walk up and down in the aisle between the beds. There was one POW with a shattered thigh. He was in traction with the weights handing in the aisle at the foot of his bed. Anyone brushing against the weights caused him intense pain, and night and day he would caution anyone approaching his bed to watch the weights, and tensely lay there until the danger was passed. In my walking, each time I approached his bed he cautioned me until I confined my nervous pacing to one half of the aisle.

At nine o'clock, with extreme reluctance, I went to the treatment room, sat at the desk and extended my hand. The doctor already had the strip of gauze cut, this pick and forceps ready. He again regretfully apologized for the lack of any anesthetic, and twisting the gauze around the surgical pick he probed through the wound opening. The end of the pick hit the shattered fragments of bone, and involuntarily I raised both feet and smashed them on the floor. The pick then went through to the rear of my hand, and catching the gauze with his forceps he began gently to move it through the wound in short jerks. I looked up, and down the doctor's face ran two tears. (Continued)

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