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Ambulance rides I have taken

By ROBERT W. THRASHER

L/395

The other day I passed out for the first time in my life, while I was sober, anyway. I knew I was feeling awful, and was sitting in my car talking to a minister. When I came to, he was praying for me. Someone called an ambulance and they took me to the emergency room.

After two days of many tests and examinations, they told me to drink more water. I told them that when I could afford something else, I quit drinking water. One day they hooked about 20 wires to my head and watched my brain activity. They saw nothing. I could have told them that.

On my way to the hospital I remembered the other two times I rode in an ambulance. One time was 20 years ago when I got ran over by own tractor. It happened early in the morning, and no one knew where I was. I knew no one would even look for me till about nine that evening, and they didn't. That was the longest, hardest day of my life. The ambulance took me to the emergency room about midnight, and the ambulance crew was the most "anticipated" people I have ever met in my life.

The third ambulance trip happened 58 years ago. It just popped into my memory. It happened during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. We were constantly in the snow and were wet all the time, including shoes and socks. We didn't have overshoes, just leggings, which were canvas and leaked water like a sieve. I don't remember ever getting snowshoes. I'm sure the rear echelon people in London and Paris needed them more. I dried my socks by putting them on my belly under my shirt. It was a very pleasant experience when you were outside all the time.

One morning after spending all night in a wet snow, I was sick as a dog. The platoon medic (God bless his soul), said I had pneumonia and sent me to the rear. The German Army was attacking everywhere. The ambulance driver would tell me to look up to my right or left and there would be German and American planes in a dogfight. Other German planes were bombing and strafing.

The roads were jammed with Belgian civilians going to the rear. They were on foot; they didn't have vehicles, and wouldn't have had fuel if they did. They were taking Great-Grandma, babies, and what possessions they could on their backs in the snow. They wouldn't even look at us and I don't blame them. I admired the Belgians more than any other Europeans.

The Germans came through their country in 1940, looting and destroying. We came through Belgium just a few weeks before this, and Belgium was destroyed again. The civilians would hug and kiss us, give us wine and cognac, and Victory signs, and we let them down; and here came the Germans again, looting and destroying. And in a month we came back through Belgium, driving the Germans out and again re-destroying what was already destroyed. If Belgium were a wine, nobody would have wanted the 1944 vintage.

The ambulance, under blackout conditions, finally came to a stop in the dark. The doors were flung open and dark figures, speaking German, started pulling my stretcher out. I knew I had been captured and since I couldn't walk far I probably would be shot. But I soon learned they were POWs working as hospital orderlies.

The hospital was several tents standing in the snow near Liege, Belgium. Liege had railroad yards that supplied our Army. At that time, the Germans had what we called "buzz" bombs, which were big rockets with a pulse-jet engine. When the rocket was close to its target the engine would shut off and then it would glide into the target. The Germans would send a rocket every few minutes trying to destroy the supply dump. A rocket engine was shutting off near our tent every few minutes night and day.

When you heard the engine shut down you kind of held your breath till it exploded and you were safe for a few more minutes. The night nurse in our tent was terrified of them and would cry all night. They should have sent her farther to the rear, back someplace where they wore overshoes.

I just stayed there two or three days; they filled me full of penicillin and sent me back to the front. They must have done a good job because I've never had pneumonia since. I've never lain in a snow bank all winter since then either.

Before I got back to my squad I have a short and incomplete memory so full of symbolism I don't need to explain it. The memory is like a sharp black and white photograph. I have a partial memory of getting out of a truck just at dawn; someone must have given me a rifle and pointed to where my squad was. I started toward them and was in a large, open, snow-covered field. Suddenly a German fighter plane popped up out of the valley below and came straight toward me. It was flying just a few feet off the ground. When it was a few feet away the pilot tipped it up on one wing and we made eye contact as he went by and disappeared. My memory ends there for that period of time.

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