Combat Medics Who Brave Fire Deserve Combat Badges, Too

by Ernie Pyle
Reprinted with the generous permission of the Scripps Howard Foundation

IN FRANCE: The last time I was with the front-line medics - a battalion detachment in the Fourth Division - they showed me a piece in the Stars and Stripes about Congress passing the new $10-a-month pay increase for soldiers holding the combat infantrymen's badge.

This combat infantry badge is a proud thing, a mark of great distinction, a sign on a man's chest to show that he has been through the mill. The medical aidman were feeling badly because the piece said they were not eligible for the badge.

Their captain asked me what I thought, and so did some of the enlisted aidmen, And I could tell them truthfully that my feelings agreed with theirs. They should have it. And I'm sure any combat infantryman would tell you the same thing.

Praise for the Medics has been unanimous ever since this war started. And just as proof of what they go through, take this one detachment of battalion medics that I was with.

They were 31 men and two officers. And in one seven-week period of combat in Normandy this summer they lost nine men killed and ten wounded. A total of 19 out of 33 men - a casualty ratio of nearly 60 per cent in seven weeks!

As one aidman said, probably they have been excluded because they are technically noncombatants and don't carry arms. But he suggested that if this was true they could still be given a badge with some distinctive medical marking on it, to set them off from medical aidmen who don't work right in the lines.

So I would like to propose to Congress or the War Department or whoever handles such things that the ruling be altered to include medical aidmen in battalion detachments and on forward.

They are the ones who work under fire. Medics attached to regiments and to hospitals farther back do wonderful work, too, of course, and are sometimes under shellfire. But they are seldom right out on the battlefield. So I think it would be fair to include only the medics who work from battalion on forward.

I have an idea the original ruling was made merely through a misunderstanding, and that there would be no objection to correcting it.

You must hear about my new stove. You may remember that last winter in Italy we mentioned how practical and wonderful the little Coleman gasoline stove was for soldiers in the field. Well, that remark had repercussions.

It seems the employees of the Coleman Stove Co., in Wichita, Kan., were very pleased. It made them feel that they were doing something worthwhile for the war. So in appreciation they decided to make up a special stove as a gift for me.

We kept hearing about it over here for weeks, and waited for it the way children wait for Christmas. The other correspondents were as excited about it as I was.

At last it came. Boy, you should see it. It is an exact duplicate of the regular stove, except that this one is all hand-made and chromium-plated and has my name engraved on it, like a loving cup.

One of the correspondents said, "You can't light that, it's too pretty."

An Army colonel said, "They should have sent a fireplace and a mantle along for you to exhibit it on."

For days there was a line of soldiers and correspondents at my tent wanting to see the stove. Twice we got ready to light it while photographers took pictures, but at the last minute we couldn't bear to, and put it away. The boys all kidded me and said they bet I never would light it.

Necessity finally drove me to it. That was in Paris. I had given my old stove to a friend, thinking I wouldn't need one any more. But the eating situation in Paris was drastic at first, and we had only the rations we brought with us individually.

So at last I had to break down and light my stove in a hotel room in Paris. Some of the boys had joked and said it was [so] beautiful it probably wouldn't work. But it did. It practically melted the hotel walls down.

So to all of you who had a hand in the stove, my thanks and gratitude. But if this keeps up I'll have to be careful about admiring in print any locomotives or steam-shovels.

Ernie Pyle