109th Medical Battalion - 34th Infantry Division
109TH MEDICAL BATTALION
UNITED STATES ARMY
NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGN
8 November 1942 - 15 May 1943
[Caveat: Place names and person names are transcribed exactly
as read from a less-than-ideal copy of the original document.]
The first units of the 109th Medical Battalion to see action in the
North African campaign were the officers and men of [Medical Collecting]
Company C, and the 2nd Platoon of [Medical Clearing] Company D. Company
C was under the command of Captain Thomas E. Corcoran with the following
officers associated under his command: Captain Francis Galle, 1st Lt.
James T. Godfrey Jr., 1st Lt. Edward Vance Platt, and Warrant Officer
Austin L. Knapp. The 2nd Platoon of Company D was under the command of
Captain John J. Lepore, with him were the following officers: Captain
Jesse L. Saar, 1st Lt. Sidney M. Schnittke.
The story of the activity of these men properly opens the account of
the African campaign in so far as it pertains to the 109th Medical
Battalion, although at the time they constituted detached Medical units
detailed to service the 168th Combat Team. Captain John James Lepore
who was on this mission in command of the 2nd Platoon of Company D, has
given a short account of their experiences as follows.
"At 0800 hours on November 8th we landed on White Beach about three
miles north of Sidi Ferruch, we came ashore in British assault craft.
This beach which was two miles north of the prearranged landing point,
necessitated a hike of approximately four and a half miles to the spot
where the clearing station was to be established. Due to the landing of
all organizational equipment on vehicles which had not yet come ashore,
it was necessary to obtain emergency medical and surgical supplies from
the British. These supplies were transported from the beach to the
clearing station by the men."
"The station was set up in the basement of a winery in conjunction
with the medical dressing station operated by a British Field Ambulance
Unit. After consultation with the commander of this unit it was decided
that they would operate a walking wounded post while we should take care
of the clearing station."
"A few casualties arrived the first day, but the following day we
were kept very busy with the treatment of a large number of wounded. On
the second day our surgical service was augmented by a British Surgical
Team under the command of a Major Glazier. The serious patients, after
treatment, were evacuated by ambulance to the French Military Hospital
"The following day, Monday, the entire unit moved to one of the
buildings of the MUSTAPHA CIVIL HOSPITAL in Algiers, to which casualties
immediately began to arrive in large numbers. All of the casualties who
had been evacuated to the French Military Hospital, were returned to us.
During the ensuing five days the capacity of the hospital which was
originally one hundred beds, was swelled to over three hundred. Not
only cots, but also litters had to be used to accommodate them, and the
halls as well as the wards were filled. This group of patients included
both American and British forces who participated in the invasion of
"On the 20th of November orders were received [by] the Clearing
Company to move to BOUZAREA, we took up our station in a Normal School
building. At this same location were situated the Regimental
Headquarters and the 2nd Battalion of the 168th Combat Team. All
patients with the exception of those not seriously wounded from the
168th Infantry Regiment were transferred from the Civil Hospital to the
94th General Hospital, British."
"A clearing station was maintained at the site in BOUZAREA until our
departure and return to the remainder of the Division on January 3,
On the date of January 3rd, the Headquarters staff and the larger
part of the 109th Medical Battalion landed at MERS EL BEBIR on the north
coast of Africa.
We were met on the long dock, which the ships use at MERS EL BEBIR,
by Captain John R. Connell, and an advance party who had made provision
for us to occupy a site the other side of ORAN, below the Mountain of
the Lion, toward ST. CLOUD, as a bivouac area.
It was eighteen thirty hours when we reached our camp site below the
Mountain of the Lion, but such was the congestion in the port area that
sleeping bags and tents, and barracks bags which had been left in the
dock area to be picked up by trucks, did not reach us until 0230 hours
of the following morning.
Four days after the landing at ORAN, which was in the Sunday-Monday
period, for we were not effectively set up until the following days, the
whole Battalion was reunited. It was on the Thursday of that week that
Company C and the 2nd Platoon of Company D rejoined the outfit.
The latter part of the week in the ORAN bivouac was characterized by
continuous rain, and rather bitter cold. It seemed that Northern
Ireland is by no means the land of deep and succulent mud. The area
became so churned up by the passage of trucks, and vehicles, that in
order not to sink up to the knees in a black African morass, we had to
build walk ways of rock from the kitchen areas to Headquarters, and so
on. Even so it was a wet and black business getting around in it.
On Saturday the ninth of January the 109th Medical Battalion moved
out of their area near ORAN, and entrained for a city to the west of us
named TLEMCEN. This was accomplished in the middle of the night.
The Artillery Barracks at TLEMCEN compose a most impressive block of
Moorish buildings. On the inside there are muddy halls, completely
devoid of any furniture, and well inhabited by lice. The latrines were
primitive to a degree, consisting in a small series of metal-doored
cells with a cement foot elevation in the middle, and a hole in the
floor. The medics were the last to reach this picturesque area and were
of course unable to find any beds or lights, since what there were had
already been commandeered, and were also assigned the undesirable duty
of cleaning latrines. We did so, and by closing up half of the
latrines, and digging a new plumbing system, and daily renewing the
function of the remaining ones, we managed to improve conditions so that
it was quite livable by the time we had to move.
The time at TLEMCEN was spent on an already familiar training
schedule. Our stay at TLEMCEN provided the men with many opportunities
to talk French, and [make] some friendly contacts with people in the
community. French classes were held for the various companies of our
command, and by a liberal use of the hands and facial expressions, our
men managed to do very well whenever they were permitted to leave
quarters. It was towards the end of our stay in TLEMCEN that Major
Paulus was advanced to his well earned rank of Lt. Colonel and the
officers celebrated the event with a delicious dinner and suitable
On the first day of February the Battalion moved out of TLEMCEN, by
truck convoy. Travel was by easy stages, stops were made at SIDI BELL
ABES, at ORLEANSVILLE, at L'ARBRE, at a station near BLIDI SETIF, and
GUELMA, and the last part of the trip was made by night driving through
mountains without lights to reach MAKTAR in the midst of a snow storm.
The 109th was six days on the way, and as they progressed eastward the
terrain became more and more rugged. It was on the way through GUELMA
that the roads separated for the officers and men of Company C, who were
assigned as a collecting company to the 168th Combat Team. At the same
time Company A, was assigned to the 133rd Combat Team. This was on
[February] 5th, Company B, accompanied Headquarters Detachment, and the
two platoons of Company D, into the area beyond MAKTAR.
Unfortunately due to being in different areas they lost contact with
the rest of the Battalion. It was quite a little while later that Lt.
Colonel Gerald C. Line came through the clearing station to tell his
story of what happened to our comrades of Company C. The battalion
historian made it a point to visit Division Headquarters, and the
following is an excerpt taken from the record submitted by Lt. Colonel
Line of the action in which the men of Company C were captured by the
enemy. We submit the same without any change in the wording of the
report, omitting the greater section of the same which did not have to
do with the 109th Medical Battalion, and appended below it the list of
officers and men engaged in that operation.
Taken from report of activities of 168th Infantry in the SI BOU ZID FAID
area 17 February 1943. Lt. Colonel Gerald G. Line, Executive Officer.
Filed with C. O. 168th Infantry, February 24, 1943.
I. The following report of activities of 168th Combat Team under
command of Colonel Thomas D. Drake for period of 14th to 17th February
1943 in the SI BOU ZID FAID area.
II. Disposition of 168th Combat Team including a number of units,
among them: Company C, 109th Medical Battalion (T-6052)
14th February 1943
About 0730 hours a report was received from the 3rd Battalion that
many tanks were advancing on DY LESSOUDS. At approximately 0830 hours
word was received at Regimental Headquarters, that 2nd Battalion of
168th Infantry, located in vicinity of DY LESSOUDS was completely
surrounded by enemy tanks.
At approximately 0930 hours a phone message was received at
Regimental Headquarters from C.C.A. [Combat Command A, 1st Armored
Division] that plans should be prepared for withdrawal of 3rd Battalion.
This information was passed to Colonel Drake, and to Lt. Colonel Van
Fleet, commander of 3rd Battalion. The Colonel's decision was for the
3rd Battalion to remain in position for the day and retire [at] night,
as a daylight retirement appeared impossible, that the Headquarters and
Headquarters Company would withdraw to GARET HADID, and take up the
defensive position on this high ground.
At 1100 hours conversation over the phone from Headquarters to
General McQuillan was interrupted with announcement "No More Over This
Line, We Are Leaving".
Colonel Drake immediately notified and ordered that all units carry
out his plan of retirement to GARET HADID area. The Headquarters of
Company C, Medical Detachment was ordered to start moving back
immediately. But no communication could be secured with the team
bivouac area or Company C, 109th Medical Battalion. The latter two
units, as far as is known, never received word of the retirement.
BATTLE CASUALTY REPORT
Company C, 109th Medical Battalion
21st February 1943
Verified by ROBERT E. RION, 1st Lt., Infantry, Personnel Officer
[Army Serial Numbers omitted]
REPORTED IN GERMAN HANDS:
1st Lt. James T. Godfrey Jr, MC
REPORTED IN ITALIAN HANDS:
Capt. Francis Gallo (NMI)
1st Lt. Harry H. Abrahams, MC
1st Sgt. Darlyl G. Betten
Cpl. Uhl A. Haworth
T/5 Burdette A. Bergman
T/5 Leonard A. Wallenmeyer
PFC Lawrence Buckley Jr.
PFC Marion De Vries
PFC Roy M. East
PFC William A. Lindemen
PFC Bernard E. Lynch
PFC Edwin P. Martin
Pvt. George L. Addington
Pvt. James P. Caparell
Pvt. Jerry J. Ellerbroek
Pvt. Clarence L. Prosser
Pvt. Harold E. Simmons
Pvt. Marvin L. Thompson
NOT REPORTED OTHERWISE THAN MISSING:
Capt. Thomas E. Corcoran, MC
WO(JG) Austin L. Knapp
S/Sgt. William B. Craig
S/Sgt. John P. Ondrejka Jr.
S/Sgt. Dale L. Reichert
S/Sgt. Ivan L. Sanders
S/Sgt. Keith B. Smokstad
Sgt. Dennis E. Berry
Sgt. Merrill J. DeVries
Sgt. Kenneth P. Saylor
T/4 John O. Davis
T/4 Arron D. Gaulke
T/4 Charles L. Slavens
T/4 Charles I. Summers Jr.
Cpl. Francis E. Haglund
Cpl. John D. Jones
Cpl. Murray T. Prichard
Cpl. Francis L. Wicklund
T/5 Donald K. Chiquet
T/5 Gerald J. Fetter
T/5 Morris B. James
T/5 Benjamin Salvatore
T/5 George E. Strawser
PFC Grant D. Collins
PFC Joseph P. Creegan
PFC Herbert P. Echter
PFC Charles F. Foster
PFC George Habben
PFC Harry J. Hass Jr.
PFC Robert J. Houghton
PFC Luther C. Hutchinson
PFC Martin C. Johnson
PFC Paul J. Jordan
PFC Russell C. Lathrop
PFC August E. Nein
PFC Fred H. Otte
PFC Winfred A. Tidwell
PFC Leopold S. Vaccaro
PFC Harvey J. Vack
PFC Lloyd A. Walhaug
PFC Max G. Zavitz
Pvt. Michael Belansky
Pvt. William F. Bregin
Pvt. Chester S. Campbell
Pvt. John W. Carlson
Pvt. Bernard J. Carlton
Pvt. James A. Compton
Pvt. Leo E. Earl
Pvt. Leo L. Gagliardi
Pvt. William Giambalvo
Pvt. Raymond Habben
Pvt. Clarence V. Haeglin
Pvt. William H. Jopp Jr.
Pvt. Alex Luskevich
Pvt. Bub P. Martin
Pvt. Paul W. Martin
Pvt. Martin C. Osten
Pvt. Louis E. Palma
Pvt. Edwin A. Ristow
Pvt. Tony L. Robles
Pvt. Robert J. Smith
Pvt. John M. Spiegal
Pvt. Richard P. Thompson
Pvt. William J. Vovra
Pvt. Frank C. Zisa
On February the seventh the Headquarters Company with Company A, and
the two clearing platoons of Company D, pulled into MAKTAR in the
night, and found the mountains in that bitter cold section of North
Africa covered with snow. It was raining and snowing alternately in
that first week which the men experienced in the field.
Perhaps the night of February 16th will stand out more than any
other of the African campaign in the memory of the 109th Medical
Battalion. It was immediately following the German breakthrough in the
KASSERINE PASS area. Word was sent out from Division Headquarters that
the clearing station, and Headquarters, and Headquarters Detachment of
the 109th Medical Battalion were to move to an area on the road from
ROHIA to THALA, leaving not later than the time of 1818 hours in the
afternoon. Actually the instructions did not reach us until 2245 hours.
The period of two hours and fifteen minutes which followed found the
ward tents taken down, the kitchen packed, and the men's personal
equipment piled on top of the normal load so that by 0115 hours the
Battalion was on the move. We proceeded a distance of approximately
thirty miles on rough and slippery roads, without lights, and at 0300
hours the clearing station was erected in the dark, on a bleak and windy
plain below the mountains behind, ten miles north of ROHIA. Casualties
began to come in almost immediately and among them some of the Fighting
French. The men of the hospital, both officers and enlisted personnel,
pitched in with every ability at their command to bring warmth and
medical treatment to these casualties, and they worked through a full
day immediately following an uninterrupted night.
Due to the intervention of the Allied Air Force, and a successful
stand by the British and American tank forces outside of THALS, the
German advance was brought to an abrupt standstill. The furthest they
reached in our direction was a cactus patch, just south of SBIBA. The
34th Division moved into defense positions on the SBIBA-ROHIA sector.
It would be of interest to record the casualties received in and
passed on through the clearing company from the dates of February 16th
to February 22nd. There were 850 wounded men received, of them 15 died
on the way to or before they reached the clearing station, 5 died while
with us, and the remainder were either returned immediately to the
lines or went back to the medical installation at LEKEF, to which we
were clearing the cases that needed a larger period of treatment or
operative procedure which we were not able to render them on the field.
Seven dead were buried in a British cemetery along the road towards LE
KEF at EBBA KASSUR. In the absence of the regular Chaplain of the 109th
Medical Battalion, who had been kept in a rear area hospital with
jaundice, Chaplain Markham of Division Headquarters, and Chaplain
English, of the 125th Artillery [Battalion], were most helpful. Rations
of cigarettes and fresh oranges were received through the agency of our
own supply detail, and the American Red Cross distributed daily to the
patients who were most grateful to receive them.
The Division with its medical support maintained itself in this
position for about four weeks from February 16 to March 18. Daily
communications were kept up with the different collecting companies.
Company A, being in support of the 133rd Regiment, Company B in support
of the 135th, and Company C, which was completely reconstituted, in
support of the 168th Regiment. Word was received on February 23rd of
the tragic capture of Capt. Thomas Corcoran, and Company C in the
retreat from FAID PASS. A new Company C was reconstituted on March 7th
under the command of Captain John R. Connell with Lieutenant Isadore
Bernstein and Lieutenant Elmer G. Geronsin, MAC, associated with him.
Men were drawn from the other collecting companies to join with those
who had fortunately escaped the attack to make a new Company C.
On March 19th Chaplain Kumm at last returned to the Battalion, after
some difficulties surmounted in getting back to them. He celebrated the
event by making a round of all units on the first day after his return,
and it was with a grateful heart indeed that he took up his tasks once
Up to the date of March 21st, we remained in our locations near to
ROHIA, and activity on the front was almost entirely in the nature of
patrols. We were receiving intermittent casualties, but none of too
serious a character, the Battalion saw something of enemy air activity
from time to time, but we were pretty well assured the Germans were not
bombing hospital installations when, on the day after the move of
February 16th, three German Messerschmitts passed directly over our
installation, one peeling off in a dive, but did not bomb or strafe the
red cross. There were moreover other occasions when enemy planes left
In the retreat from the MAKTAR area, a number of our vehicles had
been assigned to transport duty of the infantry units, while on such
duty they were not of course under the protection of the red cross.
Credit should certainly be given to the transport section of the
battalion, at no time were vehicles out of commission for more than
twenty-four hours. Trucks were hit by shrapnel, one ambulance received
a direct hit from a German shell, which passed through the vehicle from
side to side, fortunately at the time it was not carrying patients, and
the driver was in a declivity a little distance from the machine. But
when the shelling was over he got back to his vehicle and drove it back.
II - The Battle of FINDOUK
The period of time following the retreat from MAKTAR was
advantageously used by the 109th Medical Battalion in reorganizing and
reforming our collecting companies, and setting up a more efficient
combat organization. It might be of interest to set down these changes
whereby this end was accomplished.
On March 16th Captain John Parke was promoted to the rank of Major,
and on the 17th Lieutenant Alex R. Josephs was promoted to the rank of
Captain, and was made the Adjutant of the Battalion. The roster of
Headquarters officers therefore went as follows:
Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel Edward W. Paulus
Executive Officer Major John Parke
Adjutant Captain Alex R. Josephs
Plans & Training Officer Captain George S. Kuntz
C.O., Headquarters Detachment Captain Theodore E. Murphy, MAC
Bn. Transportation Officer Warrant Officer Vernon E. Johnson
On March 24th, 2nd Lieutenant George H. Miller Jr. was assigned to
Headquarters Detachment. On March 15, Warrant Officer John P. Jaeger
was assigned to the duties of personnel Adjutant at the rear echelon
which at that time was located at KALA DE DJERDA.
The clearing company [Company D] was divided into two platoons under
the general command of Captain Loyd K. Sheperd, the 1st Platoon was
commanded by Captain Arthur W. Welling, with Captain Jesse L. Sarr Jr.,
Captain Leo G. Severa, and Lieutenant Archibald Fishberg in support. On
April 24th Captain Leo M. Curtis was assigned to the 1st Platoon.
The 2nd Platoon was commanded by Captain John Lepore, who had with
him most of the old campaigners who had come through the ALGIERS
landing, namely Lieutenant Sidney M. Schnittke, Lieutenant Edward V.
Platt, and Lieutenant Milton W. Barry. Lieutenant Walter Berlin was
assigned with the Chaplain, Lieutenant Earl G. Kumm, to the 2nd Platoon
of the clearing company, and on April 12th Lieutenant Sidney M. Schnittke
received a well earned promotion to the rank of Captain. It was on
March 31st that we received a very capable addition to the surgical staff
of the 2nd Platoon in the person of Lieutenant Ross E. Hobler, who had
cared for a number of our officers and men when they had been sick and
assigned to the 64th Station Hospital. He arrived among us as an old
To Company A, under the command of Captain Roger M. Miskel [were]
assigned 1st Lieutenant Theodore Perl, and 2nd Lieutenant Ezra Davis,
who arrived at Headquarters on March 22nd and was detailed to service
with Company A on March 24th.
With Company B, commanded by Captain Donald C. Deters, was Captain
Merritt A. Auld, so that these two old campaigners went into action
together, and with them were associated 1st Lieutenant William P. Appel
and Warrant Officer Francis A. Murphy. Lieutenant Albert A. Kurland was
transferred to the 3rd Battalion Aid Station of the 135th Infantry
Regiment on the 1st of February, 1943.
As previously mentioned, Company C was reorganized on March 6th at
SBIBA under the command of Captain John R. Connell with 1st Lieutenant
Izadore Bernstein and 1st Lieutenant Elmer Geronsin, MAC. On April 20th
Lieutenant Isadore Bernstein was promoted to the rank of Captain. New
recruits to Company C included 1st Lieutenant James A. Herrod on April
1st and Captain William Wright who was assigned from Headquarters to
Company C on May 31st at the same date Lieutenant Herrod was transferred
to the 133rd Infantry.
Replacements were received through Headquarters in the following
order: On March 31st Captain John P. Jones and seven men, and of April
3rd forty-two replacements almost all of whom were assigned to the
We were in defensive positions throughout February 22nd to March
26th, the Headquarters being in a valley directly below the mountains
behind ROHIA, the two platoons of Company D being in the open a mile and
a quarter to the rear of them, and Companies A, B, and C in the valley
in support of their assigned regiments between ROHIA and SBIBA. During
this time the most that we saw of the enemy was some air action, for
there was approximately sixty miles between our lines and that of the
enemy, in which area reconnaissance patrols were constant. On February
19th, Company A received its first battle casualty from among our own
personnel, Private Lee Gomez was injured by the explosion of an enemy
mine. The ambulance in which he and PFC Marvin V. Wolterman and PFC
James F. Shoemaker were riding was destroyed and the award of the Purple
Heart was made to Private Gomez.
On March 4th, while riding in a truck to the clearing Company D for
breakfast, PFC Lyle N. Doane and Privates James Anderson and Lyle V.
Rasmusson were strafed by an enemy plane and wounded by 20mm cannon
Oddly enough this was before the Division got into its heaviest
action. While in support of the attacks on FONDOUK and MAKTAR we
received no casualties to our ambulance drivers or to other operators of
transport vehicles, and this most certainly [was] attributed to greater
experience, and a very efficient care of vehicles, and missions, for the
men were increasingly under fire.
On March 26th, a sudden change of plans of operation occurred, we
moved from the defensive to the offensive. Orders were received to
Headquarters for the Battalion to move forward to the HADJEB area in
support of our attack on FONDOUK. This move was accomplished at night
time. In the afternoon the 168th Regiment moved off in the direction of
SBEITLA, and Company C naturally moved in support of them.
At night the 168th Regiment made a complete change of front, and
moved through the KEF EL ALIMAR Pass to the area of HADEB EL AIOUN.
They were replaced in the southerly area by the 133rd Regiment which
moved off into SBEITLA. In the meantime the other two regiments, namely
the 168th and the 135th, moved through HADJEB under the cover of night
for our opening attack on FONDOUK Pass. The two collecting companies, C
and B, moved up in support of them.
The arrangements for the movements of the clearing companies were
that we were to pull out at 0100 hours on March 27th, and the ward tents
were not to be taken down until after dark on the night of the 26th. A
clearing station was set up by the 2nd Platoon of Company D in the
battle pitted area beyond Hill 620, and before the men came up the ward
tents were erected and the hospital unit was in working order.
We began to receive casualties at once, some of them seriously
wounded, and our surgeons were busy throughout the following day,
Saturday, March [27th].
The 1st Platoon of the clearing stations set up in a field about 150
yards to the east of the cross roads outside HEDJEB EL AIOUN. Across
from them on the other side of the road was the Battalion Headquarters.
The 2nd Platoon moved up to reinforce the 1st Platoon of Company D
the following morning, although Captain Lepore and Lieutenant Berlin had
already come forward for the work was proving pretty heavy for the
surgeons and attendants at the clearing station. During the FONDOUK
action. Company C evacuated 219 patients to the clearing station, and
Company B, in support of the 135th Infantry, 583 men. In addition there
were of course instances of wounded being brought in from strafing on the
roads, from Engineer and Quartermaster Corps men, and from the
Artillery. Company A remained back at SBEITLA with the 133rd Infantry,
but on March 29th they sent up two ambulances with drivers to assist
Company B in the evacuation of their wounded. We were sending back the
more serious cases, and all men not capable of being returned to the
lines, to the 15th Evacuation Hospital, just beyond SBEITLA. However on
April 3rd conditions became so busy at the 15th Evacuation who were
receiving wounded from the 1st Armored [Division] to the south of us, as
well as from the 34th Division, that they had to pull ambulances out of
our end of their service, and for that night wounded had to be
accommodated in every available space, so that our four ward tents, our
evacuation tent, and our administration tent were filled. That was the
night that most of the surgeons worked continuously without sleep in
both the surgical tents, and Captain Shepard and the Chaplain were up
all night tending to the admissions, and caring for those who had to be
put up as best we might devise under the circumstances.
The following is an excerpt from the history of Company B, taken for
this period from March 26th to April 14th.
"On March 26th, we accompanied our Division, plus heavy
reinforcements of artillery and armored units on a surprise attack on
FONDOUK Pass. Our route of march was from SBIBA to HAJEB EL ARIOUN, and
then forward on the KATROUAN-HAJEB highway. Our station set-up was
about five miles east of HAJEB, but as the action increased in violence,
enemy long-range artillery sought our location, and caused us to move
our station a mile to the rear just beyond their fire. On March 28, the
enemy struck directly at us for the first time. As casualties were
heavy, and our road network good, we were running ambulances directly to
the Battalion Aid Stations during daylight hours, and bringing all
casualties directly back. This practice had to be abandoned on the
afternoon of the 28th, as mortar and artillery fire found our range,
hitting four ambulances and putting two of them out of action. We
remedied this by withdrawing our ambulances a short distance to the rear
in a protected area, setting up forward ambulance relay posts. Serious
casualties were brought back to the relay post during daylight hours,
either by peep or litter squads. At dusk we would move a convoy of
ambulances to the Battalion Aid Stations in sufficient numbers to bring
out all casualties. As estimated by the Battalion Surgeons, ambulances
would remain at the Battalion Aid Stations until dawn at which time they
would return to the relay post. This method was continued throughout
the first phase of the FONDOUK battle and proved very satisfactory as we
suffered no further loss of vehicles in this sector. Due to our heavy
casualties and slowness of blackout driving, we were reinforced by
Company A, 109th Medical Battalion, to the extent of two ambulances with
drivers to use for rearward evacuation."
"March 29, all vehicles are now back in action, casualties are still
running high, but evacuation was prompt and uninterrupted."
"March 30, our company area was strafed by a German plane at 1030
hours. The strafing plane swooped in low from out of the sun leaving a
trail of explosive bullets across our entire area. The first burst
knocked one ambulance out of commission setting it on fire. Two bullets
hit our station tent, exploding on contact and riddling the tent and
equipment, making replacement necessary. Fortunately, all men were in
their foxholes at this time due to enemy bombings just ahead of our
area. No casualties were suffered within our company due to this
action. This action was done in clear disregard of the rules of land
warfare, as set out at the Geneva convention. The station tent was
clearly marked with a red cross on a white background 5x4 feet, and also
a large red cross panel 12x18 feet was laid out in clear view. March
31, the action still continues, but casualties have decreased. There
was considerable enemy air activity."
"April 1st, action is quieting down and casualties much lighter.
April 2nd, the Division made a withdrawal of a few miles, and set up a
defensive position. We remained in the same place as during the action.
April 3rd, 4th, and 5th things were rather quiet. Action confined to
patrol activity, and spasmodic artillery fire. April 6, preparing for
heavy action, picked out new station site near southwest end of MOUNT
TROZZA. April 7, moved to new site, action and casualties light as
yet. April 8, moved station four miles forward to speed up evacuation.
Action and casualties very heavy. A terrific amount of artillery is
being used, and all our activity is on the part of the Allies.
Afternoon brought the much sought breakthrough, and gave us the
opportunity of clearing the field of the dead and wounded. April 10,
moved our station forward near FONDOUK Pass, mopping up and collecting
of prisoners is being carried on. Very few casualties are coming in.
April 11th, 12th, and 13th there was very little action. Our total
casualties handled during the FONDOUK action was 583 men. April 14th we
loaded up and started to move to the Division assembly area."
From the Company C history the following excerpt is taken which is
descriptive of the part which the latter played in the FONDOUK battle.
"March 26th, Division began move toward DADJEB. PFC Pettengill,
driving an ambulance, attached to the 168th Medical Detachment, won the
dubious honor of suffering the company's initial and only battle
casualty. A peep in the detachment's new area struck a Bouncing Betty,
one of the balls of metal striking Pettengill in the calf of the leg,
necessitating evacuation beyond the clearing station. March 26th,
company following the 168th Infantry moved about ten miles south of
SBIBA, taking off early in the following morning to arrive four miles
east of HADJEB and establish the aid station. Casualties light."
"Began the first phase of the assault upon the hills south of
FONDOUK Gap on March 31st, the first wounded prisoner came through the
station, getting besides excellent medical attention, a thorough
searching for souvenirs."
"March 31st, in the vicinity of FONDOUK, Tunisia, the 1st Battalion
Aid Station of the 168th Infantry was subject to heavy artillery
shelling, during that time Corporal Spofford and PFC Jobes were on
special duty. Many shells landing directly in their area, they were
forced to take cover in foxholes. Shells were landing twenty yards in
front of their ambulance, shattering their windshield, damaging the body
of the vehicle, punctured two tires and the radiator. They left their
foxholes while shelling was still in progress, leading two patients, one
seriously wounded, and began the return to the collecting company.
Three quarters of a mile from the aid station, the ambulance stalled,
due to damage, in full view of the enemy. PFC Jobes went in search of
another ambulance while Corporal Spofford remained in the ambulance
administering first aid. Upon arrival of commandeered ambulance, they
reloaded the patients, and returned to the collecting station."
"By April 4th the strength of the company was 96 enlisted men and
four officers. Ten ambulances were available for duty. On April 7th
replacements were transferred to 135th Medical Detachment, one of them
being T/5 Leo D. Snapp, who shortly thereafter was crushed to death in
his foxhole by an Allied tank."
"April 10th, during the second phase of the attack upon FONDOUK, the
company moved to the left flank of the Division, at the foot of DJEBEL
TROZZA, but because the 168th Infantry was not actively engaged, few
casualties passed through the station. Three ambulances were attached to
Company A to assist that organization with the relatively heavy
casualties it was being called upon to collect."
"On April 11th the company moved into an assembly area with the
168th Combat Team halfway between HADJEB and the recently captured
The FONDOUK battle naturally divides itself into two phases, for
those in the Headquarters and clearing companies the division was
marked by a move forward into an area about five miles northeast of
HADJEB EL AIOUN. The first phase lasted about a week, then came the
move to go back to the area from which we started out. Shortly after we
had resumed our positions near the crossroads north of HADJEB the second
Once more our Infantry doggies went up against that damned
saw-toothed ridge at FONDOUK. Again we had the casualties, but this
time the rumors were a little more encouraging, on the second day
American and British tanks broke through. On the third day the British
turned the flank of the German lines, attacking through PICHON, and the
135th reached the top of their sector on the fourth morning to discover
that the Germans had had enough of our artillery and had decamped during
Oddly enough, our casualties were not as heavy in the second attack
at FONDOUK. Many of them were shrapnel cases, and there were some
high-ranking officers who came through at the end of the action having
been right up in the front lines with their men, and many of them having
continued hours in action after they had received their first wounds.
We had some British tank casualties, the heroism of those boys was
amazing. You couldn't make them complain even when you had to strip the
burned skin off their hands and faces.
III - INTERIM
For a few days after hostilities ceased we found ourselves suddenly
in a vacuum. The German had beat a precipitant retreat northward, hotly
pursued by the British 8th Army. We were no longer at the front of the
fighting, we were suddenly left behind it. Company D moved its clearing
station back to the area which we had occupied in the days between the
first attack on FONDOUK and the second. The Chaplains were very busy
collecting casualties. In the height of the battle we had cleared 282
cases through the clearing station in one twenty-four hour period. Of
the 282 who came to us, just two died in that twenty-four hour period,
so our record for that time at least stood that if a man came to us
alive he had 99 1/3 % of a chance of being saved. To do this our
surgeons worked for hours without rest. and litter bearers, ambulance
drivers, and attendants went without sleep, and toiled day after day
We would like to add to our account of the FONDOUK battle the list
of men from the 109th Medical Battalion who received commendation for
brave conduct under fire, and citations for the same, of Company B.
PFC Sylvester P. Schuster
PFC Herbert F. Wiegel
Pvt. Walter P. Dorovich
The citation for these three men who were together in the battle
reads identically the same for each.
"For exceptionally meritorious conduct on *** March 1943, at ***
Tunisia, North Africa. While the First Battalion *** Infantry Regiment
were advancing (these men) were assigned to their unit as ambulance
drivers. During the attack the battalion area was heavily shelled by
enemy artillery. One of the shells set fire to the camouflage net
covering the ambulance. (These men) with utter disregard for their own
safety, and in the face of heavy enemy fire, left their cover to remove
the burning net from the ambulance. The courage of PFC Schuster, PFC
Wiegel, and Pvt. Dorovich, and their coolness under fire was a credit to
the Armed Forces of the United States."
"PFC Schuster resides in Jessop, Iowa; PFC Wiegel in Ida Grove,
Iowa; and Pvt. Dorovich [in] Hanshaw, Pennsylvania"
The 34th Division cut back, going on the road bypassing FONDOUK, and
up the narrow gorge to PICHON. From there we went still further to the
rear, going over the dustiest roads most of us had ever seen to an
assembly point just east of MAKTAR. Suddenly, as we had moved in the
first place, we went on again. The collecting companies [were] now
attached to their various fighting regiments, and it was more and more
difficult for us to maintain contact as the moves were made. Leaving at
night, the Headquarters and the 2nd Platoon of Company D passed through
MAKTAR, and then took the road to the northwest; we bypassed LE KEF,
going across to the west of it, and arrived around noon at SOUK EL
That evening, and by strange coincidence, it was April 23rd, Good
Friday, [when] we set up the clearing station just outside a French
village called LE CROIX, the Cross.
On Monday afternoon, April 26th, we went on again. This time we
took the last arc of our horse-shoe course from FONDOUK to MATEUR. The
point was that the last which the Germans had heard of the 34th Division
was when we were behind the British 8th Army at FONDOUK. Now, by
passing northwest to MAKTAR, then north to TABARKA, then west [?] to
BEJA, we struck the battle line on the northern flank. Our course was
almost that of a horse-shoe, and this last move on April 26th brought us
back to the firing line again.
IV - THE BATTLE OF 609
We made camp that night near a crossroad at a little railroad
station called KSAR MEZOUAR, it was a spot ideally located from the
standpoint of being readily available to transport from three
intersecting roads, but also ideally located for aerial interference
from the enemy, who would naturally wish to bomb a good crossroad near a
water point and railroad station. We were to discover that in very
The clearing company reached their destination at MEZOUAR on April
26th, and the following day the 1st Platoon joined us having come more
directly from the MAKTAR area. However we were not the first units of
the 109th Medical Battalion to take the field for the battle that led to
609 and MATEUR. The Headquarters Detachment were already engaged in the
field directly across from us, and the collecting companies had taken up
their stations somewhat in advance.
It is necessary now to break up the story once more into three
parts, since the men in the collecting companies were leading entirely
different lives from the men in the clearing company which supported
them. Here is an account of the men in Company C, who were in support
of the 168th Regiment.
"On April 25th, the 168th having taken up a position in the middle
of the line, 9th Division on the left, 1st Division on the right,
Company C moved into a battle station at J3655."
"April 26th, Captain James C. LeFon reported to the Company."
"April 27th, strength was four officers and 90 enlisted men. On
this day a TD [Tank Destroyer] unit, about a half mile ahead of us,
became the object of artillery fire, and several shells passed over our
area, most of them not exploding."
"In this location flares were dropped [at] several heights by enemy
planes, lighting up our area with an alarming brilliance. Though
anti-personnel mines were usually dropped in the light of these flares,
they were directed on other targets and none landed within a mile of us,
to our relief."
"May 2nd, the Company moved to J 3759, following the advance of the
Division on SIDI NAIR STATION and Hill 609. With the fall of 609 the
Division again moved by motor convoy east into another assembly area at
the foot of DJEBEL ANA, prior to their taking off on the attack upon the
hills about EDDEKHILA. Company moved to J 3739 into an old artillery
position, thought to be out of range of enemy fire. Remaining here from
May 5th to May 9th, we were surprised [in] the afternoon when artillery
fell within 50 yards of the kitchen and supply trucks, causing a few
uneasy moments for baker George Gilpin who had a cake in the oven and
was afraid on it 'falling'."
"During the fighting for the EDDEKHILA-CHOUIGUI Pass, the main road
from the station to the Battalion Aid Stations was mined and impassable,
necessitating using a trail along the foot of the hills on the right
side of the valley. This trail was under direct enemy observation, and
at times all vehicles passing over the road were fired upon by enemy
artillery. Few ventured out, but the ambulances continued during the
shelling and in the lulls, day and night, evacuating the wounded. The
drivers earned their dough, and all of them are deserving of citations
for brave and meritorious conduct."
"Following the capture of the hills guarding the pass, and the
completion of the Division's work, the 168th Combat Team moved into an
assembly area at the west end of the pass, devoting time to relax,
cleaning of vehicles and other equipment, and convoys to Tunis."
Of Company B the story seems to be shorter than is the account in
their company history of the FONDOUK affair, but Company B had the honor
to be in support of the 135th Infantry, who were the lads that took Hill
609. The following is the very modest account of their experiences
taken from their company history.
"April 24, at 1830 hours we started a move; destination unknown.
April 25th arrived at a new assembly area north and east of BEJA, about
12 miles. April 27th, combat team moved north and east into a line. We
moved in behind them and set up for action. Our road network was very
poor, casualties light. April 28th, we set up an advance collecting
station on BEJA-MATEUR road to facilitate better evacuation of
casualties from Hills 435, 490, and 609. April 29th, considerable
number of serious casualties are coming in from Hills 490 and 609."
"May 1st, we have a number of men sick from the dosage of atabrine
[anti-malerial drug]. A high fever is run with constant vomiting and
diarrhea. Average case runs its course from two to four days.
Casualties are lighter, and the hills are nearly won. May 2nd and 3rd,
hills are taken and prisoners being rounded up. Casualties during this
period were 348 men. May 4th and 5th, moved to new area, 12 miles south
of MATEUR. Some local action, many Allied planes are going over. May
6, moved forward a few miles. The 6th, 7th, and 8th of May are spent in
same area. Action is light and casualties small. Some artillery fire
concentrated in area just forward of us. May 10, moved back to
MATEUR-BEJA road junction."
Of Company A the record is even more concise, it is merely a series
of dates and locations, although the Chaplain may testify that, even in
his flying visits to Company A, he realized that a great deal was
happening at these named locations. Here they are.
"April 26, left area at 0800 hours. Saw Mediterranean Sea at
TABARKA. Arrived at destination, 10 miles east of BEJA at 1730 hours."
"April 28th, moved to area near SIDI NSIR, and set up station prior
to battle of Hill 609. First casualties from this battle arrived 2000
"April 29th, casualties heavy. Litter squads forward with
"April 30th, casualties still heavy, Artillery and plane action
"May 1st to May 5th, cleaning-up action in nearby hills by infantry.
Casualties light. End of fighting for 133rd Infantry."
On May 1st the clearing company at the crossroads near KSAR MEZOUAR
was straddled with bombs, one fell across the road at about the distance
of seventy yards from our installation, and fragments of shrapnel
passed through two trucks and a number of pup tents, and whistled
directly over the ward tents, where the men were lying, not on, but
under their beds.
As the advance moved forward, we went with it, setting up in a wheat
field just north of the road about six miles further up the valley.
Here we were treated to nightly shows over the ridge of hills directly
south of us, for the American artillery was doing itself proud, and the
reflection of their firing in the sky was, to say the least,
On the 2nd of May our men, having broken through Hill 609, moved on
up to a position below the hills just to the east of it. On Saturday,
the 8th of May, the Americans broke through the final ridge of hills at
the EDDEKHILA-CHOUIGUI Pass, and again our medical units moved forward.
This time the collecting companies went across the well-mined valley and
up into the hills beyond. The end came so suddenly it was hard to
A final resume of the work done by the Medical Battalion in the
African Campaign follows:
A. In the retreat to ROHIA
B. In the two battles of FONDOUK
C. In the battle along the roads to MATEUR and TUNIS
Total Casualties cared for 3,222.
Total number of fatalities 62.