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Cold injury article repeated

Hubert (Tony) Kempka writes that some members might be interested in an article called "Cold injury," by Leon Horowitz, M.D., that was printed in an earlier issue of the Checkerboard.

Kempka was a victim of non-freezing cold injury (NFCI). He says C/395 went on line on Nov. 9, 1944. They took over existing foxholes and it was wet and cold. On Nov. 16 Kempka couldn't walk and was evacuated to the battalion aid station in Elsenborn, Belgium.

The doctors had no idea what was wrong. They put salve on his feet and big purple blisters formed. They decided that was no good and he was evacuated to the rear and wound up in a hospital in England with thousands of other GIs with trench foot.

Kempka said the cure was lying in bed with feet exposed to the air. It took him four months to heal and get back to his company. By that time they were in the Ruhr valley.

In 2000 he began having trouble with his feet. He's had four toes amputated and the last amputation was his right leg in April 2003.

The article is reprinted here:

In the Battle of the Bulge and the Vosges Mountain campaign, as well as the Battle for Chosin Reservoir in Korea, GIs met an enemy for which they were poorly trained (if at all) and inadequately equipped(if at all), resulting in injuries which, in most cases, persist until today. The enemy referred to was not the opposing army, but rather the cold, wet weather.

The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest on record in Europe to that time; while the GIs at Chosin Reservoir barely survived (many didn't) temperatures of 35 degrees below zero. Survival depended upon individual ingenuity rather than training or equipment.

Freezing cold injuries (FCI) of hands, feet, nose, and ears are easily recognized and their after-effects, frequently amputation, are obvious.

However, non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) is not easy to diagnose and its after-effects are frequently subtle, long-lasting, and progressively severe, so that now, more than 50 years later, many veterans are suffering with symptoms that they are not aware are due to NFCI. This was the more frequent cold injury in WWII and the one we will deal with here.

Non-freezing cold injury affects the hands and feet and is caused by daily exposure to cold and wet and the inability of GIs, with inadequate clothing, to keep warm and dry slogging through rain, mud, slush, and snow, frequently on forced marches as POWs.

This has been referred to as "trench foot" (a holdover from WWI) and "immersion foot." The injury usually does not appear in battlefield records because it was unrecognized at the time of occurrence but its long term effects are easily recognized by veterans and by VA physicians trained in what to look for.

Veterans today experience symptoms relative to injury to nerves and blood vessels of the hands and feet, frequently made worse by the near starvation, forced labor, and forced marches while a POW.

Symptoms include pain and burning of the feet (I have frequently remarked to my wife, "My feet are on fire"), frequently worse at night so that they cannot even stand the weight of a blanket or sheet. Sleep disturbances may result.

Tingling and numbness of the soles and toes as well as the hands and fingers may alternate with increased sensitivity to touch. There is increased sensitivity to cold with white blanching of the skin associated with pain, "Raynaud's phenomenon."

There may be increased sweating of the hands and feet as well as swelling. Weakness and decreased strength may occur. There is frequent fungal infections of the toenails and ingrowing of the big toenail.

Joint stiffness and arthritis may occur as well as loss of range of motion. Changes in the color of the hands and feet is frequently seen along with thick callous of the heels and sides of the feet. Veterans have frequently moved to warmer climates to avoid cold exposure.

Veterans applying for service connected disability compensation as well as the physicians examining and evaluating them need to be aware that these problems can intensify 30, 40, 50 years after exposure.