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A Navy Corpsman on Guadalcanal

John Francis Richter

©2000, 2009 John Francis Richter

    This story was submitted by John Francis Richter, who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

     I can only offer info (medical or otherwise) affecting MY limited world of five Marines on a 75mm Gun Half-Track that for the greater part either camped or operated in mostly isolated areas: Guadalcanal was a jungle-like, hot, damp mosquito-infested island blessed further with
heavy downpours and lightning flashes that at times could not be distinguished from the flashes of enemy Naval guns! An island that rocked to-and-fro as a broadside of 14-inch shells from a Jap battleship sunk deep within its innards. An island that trembled almost daily from
heavy enemy bombings (and head-bashing falling coconuts!). An island continually invaded by an increasing number of Japanese troops, predetermined to have their say.

    "Front-line" battle wounds were treated with the topical application of a moderate coating of Sulfanilamide Powder "sprinkled" directly into the open wound. Sulfathiazol Tablets were given orally (if it was not an abdominal wound) for the additional fight against bacterial infection. Then a dry padded "battle dressing" was applied. If the patient was in extreme pain, a quarter-gram of Morphine Sulfate was injected intramuscularly (into the deltoid if practical). The morphine solution was in a small, squeezable tube affixed with a sterile needle, ready for immediate use.

    I carried in an emptied Jap gas mask case (quite big) various first aid items ranging from simple BandAids to Morphine Sulfate. Many other items necessary to maintain a healthy fighting crew were also carried in that case, or in my "Unit One"(canvas pouch with shoulder sling).

    Symptoms of Malaria (chills, fever and chills, fever, etc.) were referred to the Regimental Aid Station as were any and all cases that I could not handle in isolation. Preventive medicine consisted of Atabrine Tablets administered semi-weekly to suppress malaria symptoms; salt tablets prior to or after excessive perspiration. Proper hygiene was usually the "whore’s bath," accomplished with helmet filled to capacity with rainwater. The all-purpose helmet also substituted as "washtub" for our delicate undergarments (which in time rotted away!)

    As the cry went out "There's fungus among us," I admonished the men to keep themselves as dry as possible. (You could hear their sharp, snide retorts echo throughout that clammy, steaming, rain- drenched jungle: "YEAH"!! "RIGHT"!!)

    One member of our crew was reluctant to leaving his private foxhole at any time. He ate, slept, etc. there until his sparse clothes began to mold.

    After several unsuccessful attempts to entice him out, we forcefully took him to the Regimental Surgeon for evaluation. He was immediately replaced.

    Evacuation of casualties by Field Hospital was initially by Higgins Boats to off-shore ships. Later with the availability of the airstrip on Guadalcanal, military transport planes evacuated patients to rear area hospitals, some distance from the island.

    I used my shelter-halved "Sick Bay" area as Headquarters for poker playing, gripe sessions and sea story telling. In addition to medical treatment for various conditions, I also believed in dispensing MEGA-DOSES of much needed "Positive Thinking" to help neutralize the debilitating affect of surrounding and neverending CHAOS!

    During an enemy air raid, our newly formed coastal defense position was completely leveled, wounding "Smitty" and blowing yours truly out of my shallow foxhole. Smitty, a no-nonsense type of Marine, whispered in my ear as I treated his extensive wounds: "Doc! I think I 'DID IT' in my pants!!"

    Knowing of his macho image, I reassured him that under similar circumstances, "doing it" in one's pants is par for the course, and besides, none of the crew now knew nor need ever know it happened to him!

    With this assurance, the apprehensive tension on his face suddenly disappeared as he was then transported to a medical facility in the rear. (As if there ever was a "REAR" on Guadalcanal!!)

John Francis Richter
HM1 USN (Ret.)
Guadalcanal/Korea Alumnus Semper Fi

Visit Gyrene Doc, John Richter's web site