Wearing a white armband with the red cross signifying that a soldier is a medic, did not guarantee their safety in combat. Bombs raining down from the sky could not distinguish the target as a medic when they fell, nor could bullets shot from the guns of the enemy. Nevertheless, they ran into the line of fire at the cry of, “Medic!!” Of course, they were scared. They knew that, at that moment, their life expectancy was about one minute. They had to dodge the bullets and bombs just to do their job. Most of us can’t imagine the fear they must have felt. Still, in that moment, they were the only thing standing between the wounded soldiers and certain death. Soldiers were stunned to see a medic running through the machine gun fire just to put a tourniquet on the battered arm of the wounded soldier. The medic risked his own life to save the lives of others.
The medics received the same combat training as the other infantrymen, but they didn’t carry a weapon. Imagine finding yourself in the middle of a war zone and all you have with you is a first aid kit. The idea, I’m sure, is that the soldiers will protect the medics, but can they really. The soldiers are fighting for their own lives. It’s not that they don’t want to protect the medics or their fellow soldiers, but rather that they can’t. They are too busy fighting off the enemy.
Often the men who went in as medics were volunteer conscientious objectors. I don’t know if they realized that a conscientious objector didn’t get out of the war, but rather just didn’t get a gun…for shooting or for protection. Something like that would make me reconsider conscientious objection. I’m not one that wants to kill people, but self defense is another thing entirely. When medics went through their training, the other soldiers were rather negative toward them, often calling them “pill pushers,” but all their disdain disappeared when they saw the medics in action on the battlefield. The medics were right there beside the soldiers in the foxholes. They were with them as they advanced during offensives. Then, while the fighting raged, they went between lines attending to the wounded. They disregarded the danger to themselves, and did their duty. The tools of their trade were limited. Often their examination would be followed with a tourniquet and a morphine injection, before cleaning the wound and sprinkling sulfa powder on it. Then they bandaged the wound and dragged the wounded soldier off the field…all in a matter of minutes or less.
Medics were protected by the Geneva Convention, but the Red Cross that was displayed on their helmet, was a practice that was abandoned during the Vietnam War. Believe it or not, the cross on the helmet became a target for the enemy. By then, medics also had weapons…just for protection, but my guess is that they were probably glad they had it, but not so in World War II. Armed or not, many were severely injured or killed while attending to the wounded, and that made them a unique kind of hero.
The mind of a soldier, in any branch of the service, is a mind that many of us do not understand. They go into situations that would send most of us running for the nearest hole to hide in, and then…when they write home or call home, they make light of the things they are doing…if they tell their family about their missions at all, because they don’t want to worry their loved ones. Often, if the family finds out about the missions they were on at all, it is years later. Maybe it is that they had to wrap their own minds around the things they had done, before they could tell anyone else about it. My dad, Allen Spencer was that way. In the letters he wrote home to his family, and especially his mother, his words were always very upbeat, very careful not to say the wrong things…things that might make them fear for his life, more than they already did. My nephew, Allen Spencer Beach, my dad’s namesake, is much like his grandfather in that way.
When Allen joined the Navy in 2009, it was to be part of the Naval Air Force. Part of his training was parachuting from a plane. At some point in his training, Allen injured his foot, and while the injury itself would not have stopped him from continuing in his chosen field, it delayed training long enough so that he wouldn’t be able to catch up with his class. It was at this point that Allen decided to become a medic. All of that information was known to most of his family at that time. It was certain parts of Allen’s work after that time that was only known to his family a number of years later. After the 7.0 earthquake that occurred in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Allen was one of the soldiers who was sent in to assist. I think most of us saw pictures of the devastation there, and the loss of life, but I seriously doubt that the news media showed us some of the worst parts of the devastation. It would be too much for many people to bare. I’m sure that is why Allen, like his grandfather, couldn’t tell his mother everything he did or saw. He had to process it himself, and put enough time between the event and his mother’s knowledge of it, so that hopefully she would not worry too much. I also have to wonder if his experience in Haiti is what made him decide to become a medic after his foot injury.
My sister, Caryl Reed, also found out, after the fact, that at one point, her son, Allen was training to be a medic for the Marines. Had he been needed, Allen would have become a medic on the front lines in a war zone. Here again, Allen knew that there needed to be enough time between the event and his mother’s knowledge of it, so she would not have nightmares. When she found out about that, all my sister could think was, “Thank the Lord that he didn’t have to go.” It was a mother’s second worst nightmares…the first being that her son actually goes to the front lines. A soldier has to push their own fear down as deep as they can, and make light of things with their loved ones, because they can imagine the anguish for their family, if they knew that truth…that they are in situations that really scare them, and they have no control over it. It is the experiences we live that help us to decide the direction our life will take. For Allen, what began as a career as maybe a pilot, has changed to a career in several different areas of medicine. From corpsman, to training as a field medic, to studying to be a hospital administrator. Allen left active duty in 2014, and lives in Washington DC, while his wife, Gabby finishes her service, and he finishes his studies. I know he will have a bright future. Today is Allen’s birthday. Happy birthday Allen!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Many little girls want nothing more than to be just like their mommy, and my cousin Shirley was no different. In her eyes, her mom was the most beautiful, sophisticated, elegant, and yet strong woman in the world. Her mom, my Aunt Ruth Wolfe was her hero. She was everything Shirley ever wanted to be. Aunt Ruth was so good at so many things. It’s strange to me, that while we saw Aunt Ruth a lot when I was a kid, somehow I didn’t know about all the things she was capable of doing. I knew about some things of course, like her gardening and cooking, but that is something lots of people are good at, so it didn’t seem unusual. While those things didn’t seem unusual to me, finding out years after her passing, that she was an artist and a musician as well, was surprising to me. Aunt Ruth was one of those people who could pick any instrument and play it like she had been taking lessons for years, and yet she hadn’t. Hers was just a natural talent. Shirley remembers the old horn she found. She took it to her mom, and within two days, Aunt Ruth could play it. Shirley is pretty sure it was a Trumpet.
Shirley tells me that Aunt Ruth had the voice of an angel, but because of her shyness, very few people ever got to hear her sing. Sadly, I don’t recall ever being privileged enough to hear her sing. She could yodel too, but only her husband, my Uncle Jim got to hear her do that. I just never realized that she was so shy. How could I have not known that? I guess she just wasn’t shy around me and the rest of our family. Shy was something Aunt Ruth never was with us. Our families loved to get together, and when they lived here in Casper, we saw a lot of them. There were picnics and camping trips to the Big Horns and Casper Mountain. Another thing I never knew about Aunt Ruth is that she was claustrophobic. When camping, she had to sleep with her head outside the tent. Where Aunt Ruth went, of course, Uncle Jim went too, so when she slept with her head outside the tent, so did he. That gave their kids something to tease them about. They were dubbed the star gazers. On one trip to South Dakota, the family went to the Rushmore Caverns. They were worried about how Aunt Ruth would do there. She made it further than expected, even going through Fat Man’s Misery, but just couldn’t make it the whole way. I’m sure my sister, Allyn Hadlock could totally agree with Aunt Ruth when it came to claustrophobia.
Over the years, she learned many things about medicine, which is another thing she and I have in common. She could care for cuts, even deep ones, without scarring and without benefit of a doctor. From setting broken noses, to cuts deep enough to almost run from heel to ankle, she could do it all. I suppose that is also what made living on the mountain top in Washington state feel safe and cozy to her. While she didn’t really like the snow and cold, she did love her mountain, and being so close to her family. While Aunt Ruth loved spending time with our family too, she was nevertheless, a Gypsy of sorts, and liked to go and see new places. The gypsy in her would eventually take the family to Nevada, California, and finally to Washington state. Shirley tells me that she was the happiest when she was traveling. After they retired, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim traveled to Oklahoma, and wintered in Arizona and several other places where it was warm.
She gardened, canned, cooked, baked amazing cakes and then decorated them too, and she sewed their clothing. She was the kind of woman the Bible calls a blessing to her husband and family, and so she was. Today would have been Aunt Ruth’s 89th birthday. Shirley says and I agree, that her laughter is what she misses the most. It lit up her world. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Ruth!! We love and miss you very much!!