Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dogs of War

Dogs were active participants in World War II, many as combatants, helping their masters spot enemies, delivering messages and orders under fire, locating the wounded, or guarding against infiltrators and saboteurs. Other dogs served as mascots, an important role for morale, comic relief, and companionable friend. They served with airmen, marines, sailors, and soldiers.
A working dog and his/her handler spent 8-12 weeks training. Their jobs included: sentry duty, scout dogs, wire laying, pack and pull dogs, mine detection, messenger dogs, and sled dogs.
The top two preferred breeds were German Shepherds for their keen nose, power, courage, adaptability and trainability; and Doberman Pinschers, for their nervous energy, speed, power, keen nose, tractability and exceptional agility. Dobermans were the second most desired breed for scouting and sentry duty. Also accepted were Collies, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Eskimo, Alaskan Malamute, and Siberian Husky. The Eskimos, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies were used for sledge or pack use only.
Chips, a German Shepherd Sentry Dog serving in Europe, was the first canine in military history to be awarded the Silver Star for heroism and Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, but his medals were revoked by the War Department because medals were meant for humans, not dogs.

The Doberman Pinscher Club of America obtained a large proportion of the dogs enrolled with the Marine Corps. The majority of the first dogs shipped overseas (the 1st War Dog Platoon) were Doberman Pinschers; the remainder were German Shepherds. For a dog to be accepted into the Corps, it had to be one to five years old, of either gender, 25 inches high, and a minimum of fifty pounds. All dogs were tested to make sure that they were not gun-shy or timid. Marine Corps dogs were confined to scout dogs and messenger dogs.
 The 3rd Marine War Dog Platoon helped liberate Guam from the Japanese. The Marine Doberman Pincers and their handlers served as sentries, messengers and scouts. Twenty-five war dogs gave their lives in the liberation of Guam and were buried there in a War Dog Cemetery with name markers.

On one night, Rex (a Doberman Pinscher) alerted to the presence of Japs in the vicinity. At daybreak, the Japanese attacked. They lost their element of surprise, because the dog had already warned of their presence. Elsewhere, Jack (another Doberman) frequently alerted on a tree near a command post. When it became light enough, a B.A.R. man shot a Japanese sniper out of the tree. This sniper could have done real damage, but thanks to Jack, the sniper was eliminated.
When hostilities ended, war dogs were returned to their civilian owners after they had undergone a complete demilitarizing process.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Conscientious Objector Wins Medal of Honor

            When I was in the Seventh-Day Adventist school system, I read an SDA-published biography about Desmond Doss, an Adventist Conscientious Objector who won the Medal of Honor. A movie is now in the works, Hackshaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield as Doss. Who was he, and what did he do?

            Throughout his military training, he had been subjected to the ridicule and hate his fellow soldiers. He came close to being court martialed or discharged as unfit for military service.
            On May 5, 1945, he saved 100 men on Okinawa, according to an army estimate. Doss didn’t believe the number could be so high. “Couldn’t be. It couldn't have been more than 50. I wouldn’t have had the time to save 100 men.” 
In deference to him, the army split the difference when it came time to write up the citation for his Medal of Honor was written.
The citation reads:
He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.
On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover.
The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm.
With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station.
Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.

Aboard the hospital ship off the coast of Okinawa, Doss realized he’d lost his Bible. His wife had given it to him on their wedding day. It brought him solace through months of combat at Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. Now it was lost somewhere on the top of the Maeda Escarpment. He asked someone, “Please get word back to my men.  I’ve lost my Bible.”

On October 12, 1945, President Harry S Truman hung the Medal of Honor around the neck of Corporal Desmond T. Doss. He told him, “I would rather have this Medal than to be the President.”
He got a surprise when he returned home. His request to find his Bible had been heeded. His men, who once derided the young Christian who refused to compromise, had returned to the rocky Maeda Escarpment and searched until they found, and mailed home, Desmond's Bible.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When Britain Saved the West

In 1940, Great Britain’s defeat by Nazi Germany came perilously close. No one else stepped up to confront the Nazi threat. This is the theme of Robin Prior’s When Britain Saved the West. I was privileged to read an Advanced Reader Copy of this book that should release at the end of June. 

I discovered I didn’t know much about Britain’s (and France’s) experiences in the early years of war. Here is what made an impression on me.
“Peace in our time,” Chamberlain announced. He’d do anything to avoid war, even hand Britain over to Hitler.
I’d heard the prime minister gave away Czechoslovakia because Britain wasn’t ready for war. He was bargaining for time to build up his military.
Not quite. Chamberlain had vetoed equipping the army and demanded cutbacks. He was quite comfortable giving the army the role of imperial policing, and lacking any influence in world matters.
Despite knowing of the widespread massacre in Poland, all Chamberlain would do was drop leaflets over Germany. By doing so, he believed they’d win the war by spring of 1940. The Germans, he thought, were depressed by Hitler’s bullying and once they read his leaflets, they’d throw out the Nazis.
Both Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax thought negotiations with Hitler were possible, and they wanted to discuss terms for European equilibrium. Neither realized how out-of-step they were with the British people.
Churchill understood any peace with Nazi Germany would not be worth having. He would rather go down fighting than be enslaved by Germany.
The British Expeditionary Force went to France with so many unknown. They were subject to clumsy French command structure, poor planning in deployment, no radar, and no knowledge of the capabilities of the armies on their flanks. One bright spot: not all their equipment was inferior to the Germans’.
When the BEF evacuated through Dunkirk, the Germans showed a lack of coordination and energy in stopping them. Two weeks of hard campaigning through the Low Countries and France had worn them down.
France kept asking the British to send them planes. They actually had more, but because of ineptitude, disorganization, and defeatism, they sent more than twenty squadrons to North Africa. Petain told Prime Minister Reynaud if no more British help was forthcoming, he should hand power over to Petain and he’d make peace. Churchill went so far as to suggest Britain and France unite in one country. The French weren’t interested. Most Vichy government members looked forward to an imminent British collapse. Both wanted the U.S. to bail them out.
Germany’s failure to capture the BEF, failure to subdue the RAF, and their inferiority at sea led to the cancellation of their plan to invade Britain. Instead, they attacked the British people in the Battle of Britain. By bombing the civilian population, Hitler believed morale would plummet and the terrified, cowed population would demand peace terms. The Germans could win the victory without an invasion.
They began with a first phase of reconnaissance flights to test the RAF’s strength. The RAF used this time to hone their skills. Poor intelligence told the Germans they had finished off the RAF fighters. Herman Goering was an ineffective Luftwaffe leader. He had no grasp of details and spent too much time maintaining his position in the Nazi hierarchy.
London was bombed for 56 consecutive days. No country had ever been subjected to the level of aerial bombardment as Britain. Despite 13,000 killed, 18,000 severely wounded, 24,000 fires started, 40,000 homes destroyed or damaged per week, the vast majority of Londoners went unscathed. London was too big a target to destroy.
The Luftwaffe was never developed into a strategic weapon. It had too few planes and they carried inadequate bomb loads.
Churchill promised his countrymen that Germany would receive a greater measure of destruction. The Germans complain about the Allied indiscriminate bombing of Germany, but they ignore their own actions toward other countries.
Churchill continually pressed President Roosevelt for aid, hoping the United States would enter the war. Roosevelt made pretty speeches, but nothing happened. He claimed the Congress or the American people didn’t want to become involved with war. He was willing to risk a Nazified Europe. His cabinet members pressured him to do something, and the American people grew discontent with his lack of leadership. Ironically, Hitler helped Britain by declaring war on the U.S. after Pearl Harbor, believing the U.S. would declare war on Germany when Roosevelt had no such plan.
The popular view of one-mindedness between Churchill and Roosevelt was created by Churchill when he wrote during the years of the Cold War. Such a view was good for morale. His constant theme during World War II was Britain was fighting by themselves, but not for themselves alone.
Britain and France wanted the U.S. to bail them out after they allowed themselves to be militarily and politically unable to deal with Germany. Had they remained vigilant in the 1930s and paid attention to what their neighbor was up to, could the war have been avoided?
Robin Prior’s When Britain Saved the West is full of information that debunks popular myths, such as Germany bombed London because the British bombed Berlin. It is highly detailed, sometimes too much. So many names are served up during the British Parliamentary debates on what to do, reading is bogged down. Also in detailing all the units and their roles in the Dunkirk evacuation. Despite this, When Britain Saved the West is a fascinating book that sheds new light on World War II.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Polio, an Enemy During World War II

Malaria was a common, well-known malady that struck servicemen in World War II. Less well-known was polio.
Polio, or infantile paralysis, was thought to be a childhood disease. It conjured frightening images of crippled children struggling to walk with braces, people locked in Iron Lungs that breathed for them, and death. But polio will strike anyone, anywhere.

World War II saw high numbers of polio cases affecting both civilians and military, at home and abroad.
Polio’s cause was unknown in the 1940s. People believed that good hygiene and sanitation would prevent the disease. The common house fly was a suspect. After all, malaria and other diseases were borne by insects. In fact, polio spread through human feces. It flourished with poor sanitation. Ironically, the clean environment of the United States and Western countries shielded people from viruses needed to build up their immunity.
Diagnosing polio was difficult because it began by resembling the flu. Fever and headaches would soon be joined by acute pains in the legs, back, and neck.
Western Europe did not present an environment for contracting polio. Only forty-nine servicemen were diagnosed with polio in the European theater during the war. In the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East, the Philippines, and in the China-Burma-India theater, polio became a serious problem. Medical officers at first dismissed the possibility of polio because the native populations were unaffected. The native people, however, had developed immunity in their environment from childhood. Americans proved to be susceptible.
Compounding the problem was the availability of quality medical care. And if a victim had bulbar polio which restricted breathing and swallowing, the patient required a respirator, scarce in remote locations.

A polio patient encased in an Iron Lung is visited by his children.

Forms of treatment had included quarantine, splinting muscles to relax them, and injections of serum taken from recovering patients, which proved to offer no benefit. In 1940, an elderly Australian nurse, Elizabeth Kenny, came to America with a new treatment. She had treated a polio patient in 1911 following the advice of her mentor: “Do the best you can.”
Her treatment for the primary symptom of muscle pain was to wrap the muscles in strips of woolen cloth soaked in hot water. She mistakenly thought the muscles were in spasms, and the heat treatment would relieve the pain. Her lack of knowledge led to a breakthrough.
The Kenny method caught on, and therapists also performed range-of-motion exercises to retrain the muscles. One problem arose with the wartime manufacturing ban on home laundry machines. The need for moist heat prompted the War Production Board to lift the ban so the Electric Household Utilities Company could provide the needed equipment.
Hydrotherapy also proved beneficial. The buoyancy of thermal water enabled patients to perform some exercises with their otherwise paralyzed limbs. The military included occupational therapy as well. Occupying the minds of wounded or paralyzed servicemen with crafts or other tasks kept them in a more positive frame of mind, rather than dwelling on their misfortune.
If the patient had the bulbar polio and his chest muscles were paralyzed, he needed to be placed in an Iron Lung, a cylindrical steel drum. The head and neck remained outside, with the rest of his body enclosed in the air-tight compartment. Pumps controlling airflow would decrease and increase the air pressure within the chamber, and on the patient’s chest. When the pressure was below that in the lungs, the lungs expanded and atmospheric pressure pushed air from outside the chamber in through the person’s nose and airways to keep the lungs filled; when the pressure rose above that in the lungs, air was expelled, mimicking the breathing. Iron Lungs were expensive, about $2,000, and they relied on electricity. Having them available in remote locations was impossible.

Roosevelt is featured on the dime partly because of his efforts in the founding of the 
National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later renamed the March of Dimes), 
which originally raised money for polio research and to aid victims of the disease and their families.

Having contracted the disease at the advanced age of 39 in 1921, President Roosevelt's personal quest for mobility led him to transform an old spa at Warm Springs, Georgia, into a hydrotherapy center for polio survivors. It became one of two primary centers for servicemen who contracted polio during the war. The other was in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
With the introduction of the Salk and Sabin vaccines in the 1950s, the threat of polio in the United States quickly faded.