|From left, Dr. William McConahey, Jim Flowers, and|
Claude Lovett. Lovett rescued Flowers in Normandy,
and Dr. McConahey treated him in a field hospital.
I met Lt. Jim Flowers, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism in Normandy, at the very first reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion, with which my father served, that I attended, in 1987. A few years later, after interviewing Flowers at length as well as several survivors of his platoon, I wrote "They Were All Young Kids."
At the 1992 reunion of the 90th Infantry Division -- Flowers rarely missed a reunion of the "Tough Ombres" because he believed it was the division, rather than his own battalion, that recommended him for the Medal of Honor, which was then reduced to the DSC, the nation's second highest military honor -- I met both Claude Lovett, the infantry lieutenant who rescued Flowers, and Dr. William McConahey, a battalion surgeon in the 90th.
McConahey wrote a memoir shortly after the war, while the events were fresh in his mind, titled "Battalion Surgeon." In his chapter about Normandy he described meeting Flowers. He also told a dog story. Following is an excerpt from his book:
Reprinted with permission from “Battalion Surgeon,” privately published, copyright 1966, by William M. McConahey.
"During these battles I treated hundreds of wounded soldiers and I saw many incredible things. Here I might mention three of the cases that stand out in my mind.
"The first concerned a young tank officer, a second lieutenant. When his tank had been knocked out by an 88 during the fighting for Hill 122, one of his feet had been virtually torn off. He had pulled himself out of his disabled tank, and a passing aid man had stopped the bleeding and bandaged the wound. Then an enemy counterattack threw back the Americans, so for two days the wounded man lay out there in No Man’s Land. During the seesaw fighting back and forth many shells fell near him, and one large piece of steel shattered his other foot. The young fellow pulled off his belt and applied a tourniquet to the leg.
"Later, when one of my litter squads found him and brought him in and I heard the story, I expected to see a moribund patient, but such was not the case. He was calm, cheerful and not in shock. In fact, he was in excellent general condition, although both feet hung in tatters and would have to be amputated.
"When I remarked to him that he was in surprisingly good condition, he smiled and said, 'Well, Doc, I just had the will to live!'
"In the second case a 19-year-old boy was wounded on patrol one night. He was the leading scout of a small patrol which ran into some heavy enemy machine-gun fire, and he fell with a compound fracture of the femur (thigh bone). He knew no one could find him in the darkness, so he crawled a half-mile back to his own lines. Don’t ask me how he crawled on a broken femur, but he did, and he was not in shock when he arrived at the aid station some time later. He said he needed no morphine, but I gave him some before I splinted his leg.
“'Is the chaplain here?' he asked.
"Then, as Captain Ralph Glenn, the Protestant chaplain with our battalion, stepped forward, the boy said, 'Chaplain, I know that God spared my life out there tonight. Won’t you please read from the Bible to me?'
"So, as I worked, Chaplain Glenn read to the lad.
"The third is a dog story. One evening a soldier was shot in the shoulder, so he started to walk back to the rear to the aid station, but he became lost in the darkness. Finally he crawled into an abandoned foxhole to wait for morning. A short time later he heard a noise and was ready to shoot, when he saw that the noise was made by a little dog. The friendly mongrel jumped into the foxhole and curled up beside the boy, where he stayed all night long.
"The next morning, after daylight, the soldier started off again in what he thought was the right direction, but the little dog tugged at his legs and made quite a scene, apparently trying to get the boy to go in the opposite direction. This the boy finally did. As it turned out, the dog led him back to the American lines. Had he kept on in the direction he had selected, he would have walked into the German lines, to death or some wretched prison camp.
"After we had dressed the soldier’s wounded shoulder and laid him on a stretcher, the little dog jumped up on the boy’s abdomen, lay down and would not leave. Since the soldier had formed a strong attachment for his benefactor and did not want to leave him, we loaded the stretcher – soldier, dog and all – into the ambulance and sent them on their way to the hospital."
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I received an email from Diane Hamant in 2000 asking how she could find someone to interview her father, who served in the Marines in World War II. Bob Hamant lived in Cincinnati (still does), and the 712th Tank Battalion was having its annual reunion in Cincinnati, so I suggested that she bring him by the hotel, and I'd interview him.
That interview became my audiobook "A Marine on Tinian," and here 13 years later I'm just getting around to transcribing the interview.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in World War II and subsequent wars, dogs saved a lot of lives. Most of these were highly trained guard dogs or bomb sniffing dogs. The dog in Dr. McConahey's story was just an ordinary pooch, but it saved a soldier's life, as did the ordinary dog in Bob Hamant's story, which follows:
Bob Hamant: I had a dog on the island. She was just great. One of the Jap dogs had pups and I got one of them. She hated Japs. She just hated them. A buddy of mine's up doing guard duty, and he's up in one of the gun pits up there for a .50 caliber was stuck way up in the air, so if they opened up with them they'd be over the top of the camp. And he had the dog with him. And he said he's sitting up there, it was pretty calm, we had no trouble whatsoever for a long while. And he said "I was about half asleep," he says, "petting the dog. All of a sudden the dog jumped up and started growling and I turned around," he said, "there was a Jap standing there." He had climbed that thing. He said, "When I stood up, he took off," went down that thing, he says "I didn't even, my gun's laying over on the side," he's just relaxed, but if it wouldn't have been for that the Jap easily could have killed him, so he says "Your dog saved my life."
So I took the dog home with me. I smuggled her aboard ship. Then the captain found out that there’s dogs aboard ship. He says, “Everybody’s got a dog, bring him over to the port side of the ship.” Well, the sailors didn’t like this captain. They said, “Don’t take your dog over there. He’s got a corpsman over there, give him a shot, he’s gonna throw him over the side.”
So I took my dog downstairs, they had a prison down there, so I asked one of the guys down there if he’d watch her because they’re not gonna look in there. I left her down there for a day. Then the sailors, I don’t think any dogs showed up, but he wanted them. So the sailors came around and they said the captain’s got a cat that he just adores. So they stood outside, they said “If the dogs go the cat goes, the dogs go the cat goes.” Then there were different orders. So we put her back in the back gun turret and there was a guard back there because there was a guard dog, so all the dogs had to stay back there, hell, they got better food than we did. But he didn’t want his cat to go, and he knew we’d get him.
I brought her back in to California, and got on the train and they had just issued us winter clothing, all we had was summer clothing, it’s Christmas time when we were coming home. So the conductor said, “Wait a minute, what have you got there?” Oh, hell. I turn around, the dog’s tail’s sticking up through the split in the back of the coat. He says, “Tuck that tail in.” So I tucked it in and went aboard. We got her home all right, with not too much more trouble.
Aaron Elson: What kind of dog was it?
Bob Hamant: A little dog, black, and it had a funny tail, it went up and it looked like he had a flag on the end of its tail. And she turned out to be a real good dog, and we got her home and found out she was pregnant so she had pups. She had never seen women before, and she bit everybody except my mother and my girlfriend, which is now my wife. Didn’t bite either one of them but the rest of the women that came by, my aunts and all, they all got a bite on the leg, because it took a long time to get her used to women.
Diane Hamant: Do you want to tell him about the MP on the train?
Bob Hamant: Yes, some MPs came through, and everybody on this train is going home, they’re drinking. And most of the guys on the train are sailors. So they were all playing with the dog, and two MPs came by who thought they were somebody, and they said, “Where’s that dog now? He’s got to go off the train.” So one of the sailors ran up, he said “Take him up to the next car. Don’t worry about it. Just keep him in the next car.” So about ten or fifteen minutes later, why, he says, “Okay, you can come on back now.”
I said “What happened to the MPs?”
He said, “Oh, they decided to get off the train.” That’s what they said. They threw them off the train. Well, there was a word for it but I won’t put it on the record, but that’s what they called them anyway. They didn’t need to, the war’s over I mean, what the hell’s he’s still trying to be a GI. So they left, and I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever after that. That’s my dog story.
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Since I've voluntarily cut back to working part time so that I can catch up on digitizing and transcribing all the interviews I've done, as well as write new books and create new audiobooks, finances are a little tight, to say the least. If you like this blog and have read some of my books, which are very reasonably priced for Kindle, I hope you'll consider donating a small amount to my "Last Hurrah" crowdfunding campaign. The rewards are great, equivalent to what you might pay if you ordered one of my audiobooks through eBay or amazon. But even a $3 or $5 donation, a comment in the comment section, a share, a tweet, will help to increase the campaign's visibility and introduce my work to a wider audience. Sincerely, Aaron