The Medical Detachment


L. Wardlaw Miles
The Medical Detachment


The Medical Detachment started on September 9th, 1917, with seventeen enlisted men under Lieutenant Brant, as Regimental Surgeon, and Lieutenants Everhart, Floyd, and Freeman as his associates. In January, Captain Brant was ordered to a Red Cross hospital and succeeded by Captain Condon, who served without interruption until wounded by shell-fire, near Pexonne on July 14th. Captain Condon proved a most capable as well as a most considerate officer and is warmly remembered by officers and men. His coolness and indifference to personal danger at the time of the Badonviller raid of June 24th won him a Division Citation for gallantry. Captain Wagner, previously 3rd Battalion surgeon, succeeded Captain Condon. Lieutenant Koenig became surgeon of the 3rd Battalion and Lieutenant Morgan of the 1st.

The Detachment suffered many casualties on the Vesle. Lieutenant Cooley and six enlisted men were all evacuated gassed, and Private Umstot died in an ambulance August 18th, from a shell wound received at Les Pres Farm, when he was leading a sick man to the Battalion Aid Posts. In the advance near Blanzy, September 5th, Lieutenant Koenig was severely wounded at a time when his encouragement of the troops and personal bravery had been of the greatest aid. He was later cited in Division Orders, as was Sergeant Matelusch, who found Koenig lying in a shell crater, dressed his wounds under heavy enemy fire, and personally attended to his evacuation by litter across an open field to the ambulance.

The Argonne offensive took a heavy toll of the enlisted personnel and officers of the Detachment. "Abie" Shapiro was killed instantly September 29th, on his first night after joining Company H to give aid to the wounded. A day earlier big Bill Baxter had been wounded and evacuated after a series of deeds on the Vesle and in the Argonne that won him the D. S. C. Otreba also was wounded on the 28th and Hinman on the 30th-On October 5th, when his little first-aid shack was blown to bits by a shell, with two men killed and five wounded, Jack Gehris was among the latter-But he waited until he cued for the others and arranged to get them to the Battalion Aid Post before bothering about himself. This and other work while with Company F earned him the D. S. C. The third day of the Lost Battalion, Walker was wounded while with Company G, and lay for three days with some fifty holes in his back till he could be evacuated. Bragg, with G, and Sirota, with D, were left to carry on in the Pocket, and night and day they answered the imperious "First Aid! " call, running through the woods to dress the wounded, besides enduring all the privations, dangers, and apprehensions of those critical six days. Both were sent to the hospital October 8th, completely exhausted. Later on the personal recommendation of Lieutenant Colonel Whittlesey, they were awarded the D. S. C. In the Argonne Captain Morgan, Captain Hinrichs, Lieutenant Sellers, and Lieutenant Athey were with us for comparatively short periods. Lieutenant Feldman, after three months of exacting duty at the front, went to the hospital sick at the end of October,

On October 14th, Captain McKibbin was severely wounded near Chevieres while dressing the wounds of an officer and a sergeant. Lieutenant Powless, a full-blooded Indian and a most picturesque though unpretentious figure, hurried at once to the side of his colleague. On his return, after arranging for the evacuation of Captain McKibbin, Powless was himself seriously wounded. Both officers died in Base Hospitals, Captain McKibbin on October 24th, and Lieutenant Powless on November 6th, and both were posthumously awarded the D. S. C.

Two officers, both cited in Division Orders for bravery deserve particular mention, Lieutenant Feldman, and Captain Morgan. And finally Major Wagner's work, particularly in the Argonne, deserves the highest praise. Its net result was of incalculable value to the regiment, but only the other Medical Officers and those who were close to him realize in how steady a hand he held the multitude of minute and confusing details of his work, how eager he was to be constantly in touch with every Aid Post, so far as practicable, and how important was his response to every demand for a workable plan in a crisis. Such a problem was presented when, sixty hours after the Argonne drive started, troops had advanced into the heart of the forest and the farthest point that an ambulance could reach was the cross-roads at LaHarazee. Five kilometers up in that jungle were wounded men urgently in need of evacuation. The men of the regimental band were pressed into service as litter bearers, supplemented by men from the, 306th and 307th Ambulance Companies and volunteer riflemen from our own regiment, and for thirty-six hours the wounded were brought down by long litter carriers, each trip requiring twelve hours. The stretcher bearers, some of them of slender physique and unprepared for the strain, often arrived at La Harazee faint and exhausted, but after a short rest they returned with empty litters and medical supplies. It was heroic work.

When the narrow-gauge railway path was opened up, and later when the road from Le Four de Paris became usable by day, the situation was relieved. But even then, if it had not been for the constant watchfulness of the regimental surgeon, supplemented by the cooperative effort of the Ambulance Companies, and the faithful and courageous work of the S. S. U. drivers, who did such magnificent service on four fronts, evacuating upward of two thousand men for us, the story would have been a tragic one for the regiment. The day the companies were rescued from the Pocket, the wounded were dressed by teams, each under a medical officer, which left the German hospital camp at L'Homme Mort early in the morning; the ambulances came up to within a few yards of the point where the wounded had been collected, and all were evacuated by early afternoon. Major Wagner's carefully laid plans and energetic execution of measures to coordinate the first-aid work of the detachment helped in a like manner to bring us through the Vesle and the rest of the Argonne. He never spared himself nor considered his own convenience or safety at the front, constantly endangering his life for the sake of assuring himself that all was going well; and through it all he remained confident, self-possessed, and ready, with the least easing of the strain, for a hearty laugh over some amusing incident of the day. In one instance his bravery won him a Division citation-when on October 5th, he faced machine gun fire in the Argonne north of the aid post at L'Homme Mort to minister to a man who had been deserted by his bearers and lay bleeding to death one hundred yards from the firing line.

It is fitting to close an account of the 3o8th Medical Detachment with the venerated name of Captain McIlwain, a Westerner by birth who was warmly adopted by "New York's Own" and who will always be cordially remembered by these associates as Doc. This Grand Old Man (as irreverent juniors were wont to call him) joined the Regiment when it was in battle, and soon won his way to men's hearts by his cheerfulness, disregard of danger, and devotion to duty. For his splendid work on the Vesle Captain McIlwain was cited in Division Orders, and perhaps many a prayer was offered for him by those he attended.
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