Outstanding book if you are interested in reading about military medical personnel experiences in combat. Captain Paul A. Kennedy's son, Christopher B. Kennedy did a fantastic job in gleaning an immense amount of information from his father’s diaries and other information to piece together practically a day-to-day dialogue of Cpt Kennedy's personal experiences as a forward combat medical / surgeon officer in the U.S. Army during WWII in the European Theater.
My father, Robert Wintersmith Robertson, M.D., was also a battlefield surgeon and served with Dr. Paul Kennedy in North Africa and Italy, especially at Anzio. I felt that I could have been reading my father's diary as I read "Battlefield Surgeon." Dad told me stories over the years about his service during WWII. Reading Christopher Kennedy's edit of his father's diary has brought new life to those stories related by my father. Thanks for making this material available!
The most accurate representation of events is a daily journal. Unlike fiction, creative non-fiction and even letters sent home that are subject to censorship, both government and in consideration of a family’s feelings, a journal is unvarnished truth, naming names, dates, times and describing personal feelings. In “Battlefield Surgeon” we have nearly three years of World War II, from the day his ship, the Santa Elena, passed the Statue of Liberty at 10:30 am on November 1, 1942 to September 17, 1945 when Paul Kennedy finally phoned his wife Marion from Miami, Florida.
Three Christmases away from home and family: 1942 in Casablanca, ’43 near Capua, Italy, and ’44 in Oberbronn, France, a town so near the border everyone spoke German.
Dr. Kennedy lets us know how things feel and enables us to feel it also. As a Catholic who attends mass and receives communion often, Captain Kennedy is in Vatican City on July 8, 1944, and gets to kiss the Pope’s ring in the midst of a world war—four days after eating what he thinks is steak only to find out it was horse meat.
Two months later, he enjoys two fresh eggs for breakfast then operates on a young soldier:
“A large perforating wound of the leg which got all the vessels and much tissue but which left the tibia intact. The kid pleaded with me to save it but it had to come off. I hate to face him in the morning—but I must. Little incidents to be told in a diary—or forgotten, perhaps—but what mountains of importance they are to each individual that owns them.”
Also an avid photographer, we see the stark results.
Kennedy describes “the 442nd Infantry Regiment (American-born Japs) are coming in Bruyeres from the north and we’re getting their casualties. One just died in the shock tent and another on the table. Sort of a mixed-up business—they’re dying for a country that is fighting like hell to put their people’s land out of existence.”
In addition to photos, his pencil drawings diagram wounds that leave the reader in awe how so many young soldiers survived, attributable directly to Dr. Kennedy’s skill.
On May 2, 1945, Kennedy enters Dauchau two days after the death camp was liberated. What he describes next is hardly ever spoken about in America history and a testament to why journals describe what really happened.
After seeing the diagrams and photos on the battlefieldsurgeon.com website and before reading the book, I was expecting a “medical” journal filled with dry information about wounds.
Instead, I read a human being’s personal journey through war, a skilled surgeon trying to save lives completely “frapped” up as he describes their bodies; a man who misses his wife and a newborn he’s never seen for more than two years, frustrated by the military’s “hurry up and wait” procedures; adept at using his skilled hands to pitch and take down huge tents in rain, mud, snow and heat; finding moments of solace in a medical mixture called “Yocky-Docky;” and so homesick that mail calls trigger moments of joy followed by deep depression.
Christopher Kennedy, the surgeon’s son, has skillfully edited everything—the journals, the drawings and the photos—into an illuminating historical record. He ensures “that the memory of my father’s goodness, dedication, and fundamental decency would never be lost ‘in the dark backward and abysm of time.’”
This outstanding book helps us all to face the realities of war.