September 25, 1918 – Full diary entry:
“Left the woods tonight on foot with light packs.
Sgt. Harper made me a litter bearer.”
(This is the first of two diary entries labelled “September 25th.” This one was originally written in the space for September 20; Robert has written a 5 over the zero.)
This assignment to be a litter bearer was, potentially, a life-changing (maybe life-saving) point in Robert’s life. Over the next six days in the Meuse-Argonne, soldiers in the 140th will receive nearly 1,300 wounds and 225 of them will be killed. As Robert will note in upcoming entries, being a litter bearer was not necessarily any safer than being in the attacking forces. Still, as a grateful descendant, reading this does make me think about how Robert’s story could have been different.
From a Field Operations Report written by the U.S. Army Medical Department (this is specifically describing conditions in the trenches, but the description of how wounded soldiers were transported is too good not to use here):
The problem of evacuation of the wounded from the front in the mountains back to the field hospitals presented at all times almost every imaginable difficulty. The character of the terrain rendered any plan of uniform evacuation impossible…
From the front-line trenches it was always necessary to carry the wounded back by hand; in most instances not even a litter could be used, the men being transported on the backs of the litter bearers. Litter bearers ordinarily worked in squads of four, the litter being carried on the shoulders of the four men. Occasionally it was possible to use a wheel litter, where the paths were not too rough and not too steep.
From battalion aid stations to the dressing station it was occasionally possible to send up narrow double-decked French litter ambulances carrying two patients recumbent. This ambulance, however, was unsatisfactory because of its weight and unwieldiness, and also because on the steep paths it always required two mules. The pack carrier, or cacolet, was tried out, but was soon abandoned because of the pain that transportation by it gave the wounded man.
The terrain worked against medical support. Two roads were available for use as supply and evacuation routes… Fifth Corps, especially, had a difficult sector, with woods, ravines, and no roads suitable for evacuation…
Along the evacuation routes, the division sanitary trains, with the help of the Red Cross, set up evacuation points and rest stations. These were places where the ambulances and litter bearers brought the wounded while waiting transportation further to the rear. The corps surgeons placed their hospitals midway between the division and army hospitals. These hospitals were for the slightly wounded patients that could return to duty within three days.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.