Monday, February 11, 2013

The Physical and Psychic Wounding of Lee R. Christensen

Taken from Lee R. Christensen's book "You Knew Me As Buddy"


I reported for active military duty 3 March 1941. I separated from service 26 December
1945 after 4 years, 9 months, 24 days of service.

Three years five months after reporting for active duty I was on a foreign field face to
face and within artillery range of the enemy. During those 3 years 5 months I trained in the mountains, the desert, the swamps, off landing crafts, with the Navy, against pillboxes; was jumped on by paratroopers, rolled over by tanks.  My primary unit, the 229th FA Bn spent 9 months in combat. I was with them two different times totaling 4 1/2 months.

When the 28th Division crossed Omaha beach 22 July 1944, I was battery executive,
C Battery 229th FA Bn, in charge of the four howitzer crews and their 105 mm howitzers.
C Battery moved into firing position prepared to fire on the enemy for the first time at dusk 30 July. We fired our first combat mission 0700 1 August according to the battalion history.  I had not remembered we fired from this position. Our fire was in direct support of the 112th Infantry Regiment who were to take Hill 210 on the outskirts of Percy, France.  At 1130 I was told to report to Bn Headquarters, prepared to go forward as liaison officer, 1st Bn 112th Infantry.

I shaved, ate lunch, collected my gear, told my howitzer crews to shoot straight and fast and I would have them in Paris in a week. Then I reported to Bn ready and eager to move forward.

At battalion I was told I was replacing Captain Miers who had been wounded. His jeep
was waiting to take me to 1st Bn Headquarters. On the way forward I saw Lieutenant Colonel Huff, 229th FA Bn commander, and Major Hall sitting in the Colonel’s command car and I waved to them. As I drove by 112th Infantry Regimental Headquarters, I saw Captain Ferguson.

Waved but did not speak with him. He was Bn liaison to Regiment. My jeep, it was now my jeep, dropped me off on a sunken, tree lined lane between two hedge rows. I walked the 150 yards to where Murtaugh and Hensley - I knew them from my service in A Battery - were waiting with the radio. I was near the Infantry Bn Headquarters and with either the reserve rifle company or the Heavy Weapons company. There was a single widely spaced column of riflemen moving through a break in the hedge row and up the hill.

On joining my radio crew they told me they had no communications. They had laid
no wire and the radio was not working. I told them that unless we can talk to our Fire Direction Center we’re wasting our time here, I told the radio operator to get the jeep, go back to battalion and get a radio that worked. I also discussed laying wire to Regiment.

About then I heard an incoming shell. I hit the ground face down. I do not recall the
explosion. I do remember the sharp stabbing in my lower left rib cage. I knew I had been hit. I was terrified. I knew I had been hit and remember thinking “I’ve been hit but I’m still alive.”

I got to my feet. In a manner, less than heroic, I asked someone to look at my back.
The commander of the Heavy Weapons Company, I knew him by sight but not by name, said, “I’ll look at you Lee.” He sprinkled sulfur powder on the wound and put my compress bandage over it.

Murtaugh said he would get our jeep and take me to the aid station. I walked part way
down the lane, then stretched out in a foxhole along side a dead German while Murtaugh went for the jeep.

At the aid station I stretched out in the grass - it was in an open pasture - was given
morphine and waited. I recall being moved 2-3 times during the evening. At one point
Lieutenant Colonel Huff came by and saw me. I asked him not to end the war until I got
back. At another stop, probably the Division aid station, a chaplain I knew talked with me.

 By now it was dark. Then there was an ambulance ride, four of us. No one said a word. I do not know who my wounded companions were or of what army. By daylight I was in a field hospital.

At the hospital I was ambulatory. Even ate a few slices of canned peaches.
During the early evening, about 24 hours after I had been hit, I was taken into the
operating tent. As I recall it was a brightly lit tent interior with white sheets along the walls and ceiling making it even brighter. There were 12 or 14 operating tables.
It was daylight when I regained consciousness, back on a stretcher in a ward tent,
fully bandaged from hips to nipples, an IV bottle on its staff above my head, a tube in my left arm. But my most vivid memory on awakening was wondering why my right hand was bandaged. I could not recall being hit in the hand.

It was not until 3-4 weeks later when a nurse decided to replace what by then was a
dirty bandage that I saw the shell fragment that hit me. It was the size of the first two joint of my little finger, ragged, sharp and by now rusting. A keepsake from a thoughtful surgeon.

My field hospital stay is mostly a memory of long days, long nights confined to a narrow stretcher. Occasionally a patient around me would die; then a flurry of activity. 

Nightly a ward nurse would give me a rectal sleeping pill. I don’t recall any meals. Every other day a doctor would punch a long hollow needle between my ribs and suck out the bloody fluid. At one point I was transferred to a second field hospital as my first one packed up to follow Patton.

This transfer caused the most painful incident of my wounding experience. The second
hospital failed to pick-up on my removal and re-bandaging schedule. When at last they
removed the bandage the tape was fused to my skin. As they peeled off the tape it pulled skin and flesh with it.

After three to four weeks I was flown to a base hospital in England, near Perham
Down Salisbury. I remember clearly the pilot who flew me across the channel. He was
dressed for a night on the town except for house-slippers. Had on dress blouse, pinks, visor cap and house slippers. I remember thinking this man is fighting a different war than the one I left. On our arrival in England I forgot to notice if his lady friend met the plane.

My stay in the base hospital was mostly card playing, reading and ping-pong as my
mending accelerated. I was now ambulatory. An indication of my returning health was my first bowel movement in nearly five weeks.

About mid-October I was transferred to a rehab hospital - the Country Club we called
it - to begin the physical conditioning that would prepare me to fight again. We took short hikes, 3-5 miles, did calisthenics, played volleyball, and took cultural trips - one to Stratford- on-Avon. I continued to mend.

One reason for my rapid mending was my desire to rejoin my unit at the front. I was
then and I am to this day embarrassed by my short - measured in minutes - first combat
action. After three years five months of training, I’ve always felt I should have lasted more than 15 to 20 minutes. I owed both my Country and the enemy more than that.

I’ve titled this autobiographical drama, The Physical and Psychic Wounding of Lee
R. Christensen. I’ve described the physical wounding, the psychic is more difficult to define. But if you grew-up, as I did, reading Hubbard’s Message to Garcia, exalting in Lord Nelson’s “England expects every man to do his duty,” heroically fighting to the last man with the Spartans at Thermopylae, then, when your combat time comes you move forward into battle ready to close with the enemy and prevail for Flag and Country.

I was ready. I went forward with anxieties but not fearful. I was as the cliché goes
- gung ho, I lasted 20 minutes.

From the Battalion History
Early in the morning of 30th July the 229th FA Battalion moved forward to occupy our first combat positions...  At 0700 on the morning of 1 Aug ‘44 the battalion fired its first combat mission, battalion 60 rounds, in support of the 112 Infantry Regiment’s attack on hill 210 northwest of Percy, France. 
Additional Note:  Mt Pleasant’s Battery A 204th FA Bn was in the neighborhood and had been on the line for about a week. When the 3rd Army was activated at high noon 1st Aug the Bn was transferred to the 3rd Army and in combat frequently fired in support of the 5th Inf Div.