How Much Do You Know About Military Medics in WWII?

John Miller

What was the purpose of WWII battlefield medics?

Medics weren't doing major medicine on the battlefield. They were meant to stabilize wounded soldiers long enough for transport to the rear, where surgeons could work their life-saving magic.

WWII battalions had about 400 or 500 men. How many medics did they have?

Medics numbered about 30 for a battalion of between 400 and 500 men. In the heat of battle, medics had to cover a lot of ground to care for their men.

How were combat medics identified in WWII?

In WWII, medics wore helmets emblazoned with the Red Cross symbol. The big red cross on a white circle made medics stand out so that enemy soldiers (supposedly) wouldn't shoot them.

What sort of sedative did WWII medics give to their patients?

Pain-stricken soldiers cried out for help on battlefields -- and medics often administered morphine injections to soothe their agony. Morphine vials were one of the medic's most valuable tools for alleviating suffering.

True or false, did Axis armies also have medics?

Yes, of course. Both the Allies and Axis deployed countless medics throughout the war, in an attempt to save the lives of their soldiers, in large part so those men could heal and then go back into battle.

In war movies, you see medics sprinkling white powder on soldiers' wounds. What was that stuff?

WWII medics liberally sprinkled sulfa powder on soldiers' open wounds. The powder inhibited bacterial growth in hopes of preventing complications from the already-awful effects of gunshots and shrapnel.

When medics encountered soldiers who were too wounded to save, what did they do?

Medics were forced to quickly evaluate the wounded under fire. Men who appeared to be near death were skipped -- so that the medic could save others who had a better chance of survival.

If a wounded U.S. soldier in WWII was treated within the first hour, he had a/an ______ survival rate.

Medics were incredibly helpful in keeping U.S. soldiers alive. If they treated their men within an hour of being wounded, 85% of them survived.

Compared with WWII, what was the the survival rate for wounded soldiers in the FIRST World War?

WWII medics had vastly superior gear and knowledge compared to their WWI counterparts. In WWI, treated soldiers were three times more likely to die than those in WWII.

Why did medics train with regular infantrymen?

In WWII, medics trained right alongside regular troops. They learned how to move through battlefields to make themselves (and their patients) less vulnerable to enemy fire.

What did medics do if a wounded man was still in the line of fire?

Bullets cracking overhead? You still have a job to do. Medics ran from the cover of foxholes to help wounded soldiers, no matter the risk to their own lives. It was a terrifying -- and often deadly -- occupation.

What did medics do upon encountering a wounded soldier?

Medics quickly evaluated wounded men, cleaned their wounds a bit, and tried to staunch any bleeding. But their job still wasn't done.

After stopping a wounded soldier's bleeding, medics were often required to do what?

With a wounded soldier stabilized, the medic's next job was to get the man to safety. That meant dragging him to help, an act that often exposed the medic -- and his patient -- to enemy fire.

At the beginning of the war, how did soldiers treat many medics?

At WWII's outset, combat medics were still a fairly new concept … and they were often mocked by the troops. Later in the war, though, troops respected the men who risked their lives to save the wounded.

In WWII, troops called medics by what nickname?

At the beginning of the war, troops derisively called medics "pill pushers." But when they realized medics' value, they called them "Doc," and they screamed for their help on battlefields all over the world.

True or false, did medics administer plasma to stabilize wounded WWII soldiers?

In the 1930s, researchers figured out how to separate plasma from whole blood. Medics were taught to administer plasma to gravely wounded soldiers.

Once a wounded man was stabilized, he had to be moved to a forward aid station, which was about _____ from the front line.

Forward aid stations were a few hundred yards from the front lines. Litter bearers were assigned to carry wounded men to the stations, but often, medics had to move patients themselves.

What did air medics do during WWII?

WWII was the first war to feature large-scale medical evacuations of the wounded. Air medics traveled aboard these planes, tending to the wounded until they landed.

Desmond Doss was a famous WWII medic. Why did he become a medic, anyway?

Doss was heavily criticized for being a conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun. But he eventually saved oodles of lives and earned worldwide respect for his heroics as a medic.

About how many people were certified as American medics during WWII?

About 830,000 people received medic cards in WWII. They treated about 14 million wounded soldiers.

Near the end of WWII, how were U.S. medics treated by enemy soldiers?

In the Pacific Theater, the war reached unimaginable proportions of horror. In rage, enemy soldiers often targeted medics, partly out of spite.

On Hacksaw Ridge, medic Desmond Doss singlehandedly saved perhaps _____ under heavy fire.

Once resented, now lionized, Doss brazenly raced through heavy fire and dragged wounded men on Okinawa, from an area nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge (also the name of a movie about his heroics). He saved as many as 100 men and sealed his legacy as perhaps America's most famous medic ever.

How did the U.S. military treat conscientious objector Desmond Doss after the war?

Doss' heroics on Okinawa are the stuff of legend, so incredible that no Hollywood movie could accurately portray the man's courage. He was awarded the Medal of Honor -- the only conscientious objector to receive the medal in WWII.

Front-line soldiers earned combat badges that gave them recognition and higher pay. Did medics also have these badges?

Combat medics also received combat badges that entitled them to higher pay and greater recognition. During the war, those badges were stripped -- but uproar from regular troops forced the government to reverse its decision.

Medics used vials of morphine to stop the effects of what phenomenon?

Wounded soldiers often suffered from shock. Morphine snapped them out of it … and also reduced their agony.

In WWII, for every 2.4 troops wounded in battle, how many died?

Being wounded in WWII was bad news. For every 2.4 soldiers wounded in a firefight, 1 died. Medics improved their odds of survival, but they weren't miracle workers.

In 1945, the U.S. unveiled the Combat Medical Badge, for what purpose?

In 1945, the government introduced the Combat Medical Badge. The badge was a way to recognize medics for their courage and sacrifice.

In 1943, as fighting raged on Vella LaVella, a famous medic named Rex Gregor was forced to perform an operation. What did he do?

During a violent landing operation, a troop's leg was mangled beyond saving … and he was nearly dead. Gregor, untrained in surgery, amputated the man's leg and saved his life.

During the war, medics helped to administer atabrine, which was good for what condition?

In the Pacific Theater, mosquitoes spread malaria to countless troops. Medics distributed daily doses of atabrine to combat the affliction.

During the D-Day invasions, there was no way to evacuate the wounded on the beaches of Normandy. What did medics do?

During D-Day, there was no way to rescue the wounded by sea. So medics did the only thing they could do -- they carried them forward, into enemy fire, in hopes of finding cover.

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About This Quiz

In the First World War, combat medicine was still fairly primitive. On battlefields, litter bearers simply picked up wounded men and ran them back to first aid stations in hopes of keeping them alive. In World War II, however, the paradigm shifted a bit – actual medics raced around on the front lines, dodging bullets and attending to the wounded on the spot. Their skills were often the difference between life and death. In this blood-soaked quiz, what do you really know about WWII combat medics?

Millions of United States soldiers saw combat in the Second World War. And millions of them were wounded by bullets and bombs. Without fast treatment, many of those men were doomed to die – but quick work by medics made it much more likely that the wounded would live to fight another day. Do you know how medics affected the survival rates of American troops during the conflict?

Medics weren’t always respected by the other men. Some saw them as cowards – others figured they were simply incapable of combat. But medics received much of the same training as regular troops, and they were exposed to the same hazards, too. In many cases, they were even intentionally targeted by the enemy. What do you know about the dangers that medics faced in WWII?

By the end of the four-year war, American officials fully understood just how valuable medics were to the war effort. They were “force multipliers” who encouraged soldiers to take more combat risks, because they knew that help was never too far away. 

Plunge into the bloody fray of this WWII combat medic quiz! Maybe you’ll survive the Axis onslaught – or perhaps you’ll be wounded by this impossibly hazardous battlefield test!

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