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Medics/Corpsmen with Carbines

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    Posted: Nov 29 2020 at 1:48pm


Medics/Corpsmen with Carbines



We know that the M1 Carbine was designed to be carried by military personnel not normally equipped with the main infantry rifle, and as a replacement for the handgun that they would otherwise be issued.


What is generally not known is that the issuance of M1 Carbines extended to medical personnel, who are normally considered “non-combatants.”


War Department Field Manual 27-10, entitled “Rules of Land Warfare,” is dated 1 Oct 1940.  Page 49, Section 181, paragraph 4b, under Sanitary Service (ed. note: Medical Service) states:


“Self-defense defined - Although the sanitary personnel may carry arms for self-defense, they shall not employ such arms against the legitimate enemy forces. These arms are for their personal defense and for protection of the wounded and sick under their charge against marauders and the like.”


The Japanese purposely targeted Allied medical personnel.  To that end, the Marine Corps’ Table of Organization of 27 March 1944 authorized 42 Carbines in each HQ Company of Infantry Battalions to be reserved for use by medical personnel.  (See the chart below.)


The 10th Mountain Division’s Table of Organization and Equipment, dated 4 Nov 1944 listed 64 carbines in a Medical Battalion, but without a study of the manpower specialities comprising the battalion, it is not known how many GIs in a Medical Battalion were actual medical personnel.  (The 10th Mountain Division fought in the Italian Campaign.)


I recently spoke with Fred Olson, who was a rifleman/BAR man with K Company/333rd Infantry/84th Division during 6 months of combat in Europe. (“The Men of Company K,” by Leinbaugh/Campbell, copyright 1985).


Although almost 95 years old, Mr. Olson’s memory remains sharp.  When I asked him recently if medics carried weapons, he said “Yes, of course.  I know several that were with us who carried pistols, but always concealed.” Although the German Army generally regarded medical personnel as non-combatants, “in combat, they didn’t give a sh- - , assuming they even noticed the Red Cross on the helmet or the arm band.”


Following the capture of Saipan, the 4th Marine Division published a detailed report on 2 Sep 1944 which included:  “It is recommended that all Medical Department personnel be armed with .45 caliber pistols.  The caliber .30 carbine proved to be cumbersome and awkward when handling casualties.  On many occasions, the necessity for being constantly armed was demonstrated.”


Many years ago, I was able to interview Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John H. Bradley, a Navy Corpsman who served in the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima. The (enlarged) photo below was taken on Feb. 23,1945, as he helped raise the first flag atop Mt. Suribachi.  Note the .45 holster just forward of his right arm.



In Mr. Bradley’s experience, Corpsmen attached to Rifle Companies preferred the M1911A1 pistol over the Carbine for practical reasons.  They had to carry twin medical bags across their shoulders, and frequently had to carry or assist wounded comrades off the battlefield.  Having a carbine could be burdensome.  Mr. Bradley told me that he used his .45 once on a Japanese soldier, who charged at him while he was attending to a wounded Marine.


Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class George E. Wahlen also served as a frontline Corpsman with the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima, where he earned the Medal of Honor.  From the book “The Quiet Hero” (by Gary W. Toyn, copyright 2007), page 120:  “George…had given away his carbine a few days earlier.  He had realized that he needed both hands to treat the wounded, and it was difficult to carry both his carbine and his medical bags.  Then, as if he needed further convincing, a day or so earlier he had to jump from his foxhole to get away from a mortar round.  As he jumped away, the barrel of his carbine caught on a branch and pulled him to the ground.  Luckily, he avoided injury, but when George found a BAR man whose weapon had been destroyed, he gladly gave the Marine his carbine.”


On the night of March 25th, about 300 Japanese soldiers made a last-ditch attack against the Americans, including a Field Hospital and billeting for medical personnel. 


Do any readers have other information on the use of carbines or other weapons by medical personnel in WWII?


Marty Black and Don Hillhouse               

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W5USMC View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote W5USMC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Nov 29 2020 at 4:19pm

Medal of Honor Recipient

Hospital Apprentice First Class Robert Eugene Bush

Stationed with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in action against the Japanese on Okinawa, Bush took shrapnel from three enemy grenades. Despite the losing one eye, he was able to do his job and while tending to his wounded platoon commander. While holding the plasma bottle he was giving the Marine officer, he unloaded first his pistol and then the officer’s carbine into an oncoming wave of Japanese soldiers. The Japanese retreated and Bush ensured his wounded were evacuated before administering to his own wounds.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Marty Black Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Nov 29 2020 at 9:54pm
Thanks Wayne...I was aware of Corpsman Bush's exploits on Okinawa, but I didn't remember him when I wrote that article. Thanks for your input! It's appreciated!

When my Navy squadron was deployed to Okinawa in the 1980s, I spent my off-duty hours exploring the battle sites, and one in particular was extremely interesting. Charlie Hill, at the north end of the Sugar Loaf Hill complex (6th Marine Division), was full of cave entrances and tunnels that had been blasted by flame-throwing Sherman tanks (photographic evidence exists).

Just inside one cave entrance that I explored, we found heat-exploded Japanese ammo - everything from machine gun ammo to AT gun ammo. Heat so hot that the gravel floor actually melted in places, like something you would expect to find at a nuclear testing site. The walls of the cave tunnels were scorched.

At least 10 yards beyond the entrance, in a side room, I found evidence of a (post-capture) Aid Station (which is also documented in one of the books on the battle). Despite the incredible violence and destruction inside the entrance, I found a totally intact glass plasma bottle in that side room, still with the rubber-cork cap and the little steel needle into which the rubber hose is inserted.

It sits here on a book shelf in my "Man Cave," along with a piece of melted earth that holds several Japanese bullets that blew out of the cartridge casings when the flamethrowers attacked the entrance.

If they could only talk!

While I think of it, in an adjacent tunnel, I found evidence of a Marine firing into a smaller tunnel that led downward into the depths of the hill. 30.06 casings and an empty M1 enbloc clip, as well as Carbine casings. Can you imagine firing rifles within a corridor of a stone cave? Certainly a boon for the postwar hearing aid industry!

The attached photo was taken at that spot, in total darkness. Hence, my "deer in the headlights" dilated eyes look. The photographer focused his camera on my flashlight beam. We were surprised that it turned out so well!

Regards, Marty Black

Marty Black
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Donnie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Nov 29 2020 at 11:28pm
Marty, great story and photo. Thanks for sharing. 

Oh, and if the actor Walter Brennen had a grandson, he probably look like you. Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Charles Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Nov 30 2020 at 10:31am
I was only 12 at the time when I and my family arrived in the Philippine Islands  in 1947 approximately 18 months after the liberation of Manila. The under ground Japanese bunkers were still smoking everywhere. We saw sniper body parts hanging from the trees.  
Co B 1st Batl.115 Inf. Reg.
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4.2 Heavy Mortar Co Retired
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