The author of this piece requested that we identify her only as “Ann.”
â€œThe main objective of the medic was to get the wounded away from the front lines. Many times this involved the medic climbing out from the protection of his foxhole during shelling or into no-manâ€™s-land to help a fallen comrade.â€
Determined to escape the life of a South Texas dirt farmer, he had taken a job at a petroleum refinery and married by the time he was drafted in 1941. In his wedding photo he bears a noticeable resemblance to Mickey Rooney, minus the cocky leer, and his farm girl bride leans into the frame to disguise how much taller she is. At the age of 20, he became the third of four brothers to serve in WWII. For reasons of personal belief, he could not carry a weapon; for reasons of personal belief, it was impossible for him to refuse to serve. He became a medic, an aid man, armed with sulfa, morphine and bandages. He was about five foot five, stocky and square like his farmer father, and he could hoist an oil barrel or a wounded boy with astonishing ease.
â€œOnce with the wounded soldier, the medic would do a brief examination, evaluate the wound, apply a tourniquet if necessary, sometimes inject a vial of morphine, clean up the wound as best as possible and sprinkle sulfa powder on the wound followed by a bandage.â€
He never spoke about his duties during combat. He was wounded repeatedly, once returning to Texas long enough to father his first daughter, but he did not mention these incidents in letters to his wife. She discovered the Purple Hearts in his bag when he came home for good.
â€œThen he would drag or carry the patient out of harms way and to the rear. This was many times done under enemy fire or artillery shelling.â€
Under artillery fire, lack of height became a natural advantage. He once described to his second daughter the sound that corpses make when stepped on, the hiss of escaping gas, and the difficulty of keeping his footing among the bodies while carrying a wounded soldier. She did not question him about the war again.
â€œIn most cases, the Germans respected the Red Cross armband.â€
Landmines did not. The only exploit his family ever heard described in detail was the one that finally sent him home. When his best friend, another medic, triggered the land mine, he was knocked unconscious. He woke up under fire in no-manâ€™s-land among the scattered remains of his companion, missing part of his own left foot. He tied a tourniquet. He injected himself with morphine. He waited most of a day before another medic could reach him. The Army at last sent him home; he acquired another medal, but the VA would not pay for the shoe inserts he would need for the rest of his life.
In the next forty years, he built a house at night, worked during the day, raised four daughters, went to church when he couldnâ€™t get overtime, rose to plant supervisor, retired from the refinery and opened a small grocery store, where his grandchildren would read comic books and play with cigar boxes. At night he would do his books, watch Mexican boxing, play with the latest baby.
In the next forty years, he also experienced most of the ineffectual psychiatric remedies available for what was likely post-traumatic stress disorder, compounded by a family history of depression and anxiety. His symptoms, when acute, were called breakdowns. He refused psychoanalysis; he could not afford it and did not have the time. In the fifties he underwent repeated electroshock treatments; in the sixties he stopped taking the VAâ€™s prescribed tranquilizers because the side effects made him dangerously clumsy at the refinery. In the early seventies another unexplained incident precipitated his retirement and a hasty move to another town. His daughters were unaware of most of these episodes.
In the nineteen eighties, after four decades of silence and pain, he stopped fighting. Admitted to the local VA hospital, he lingered in a haze of fear and confusion for months until he died. His second and third daughters, after fighting to examine his medical records, came to believe that he had hoarded his medication and overdosed when he had enough. He would have known how much was necessary. His daughters found the idea oddly comforting. He hated doing nothing.
This was my grandfather, Fred Walters. I loved him.