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tonight on "war stories" -- they put their own lives in danger to rescue their fallen comrades. >> am i going to die? i said, yeah. not today. >> warriors of medicine. for them, there's nothing sweeter than cheating death. >> there's no feeling like it in the world to save a human life. >> a special breed. their will tested at every turn. >> we would take tm no matter what it was. >> next on "war stories." good evening.
i'm oliver north and welcome to "war stories." with war come casualties. tonight, we focus our "war stories" cameras on the brave men and women who care for those of us who get wounded on the battlefield. these are the warriors of military medicine. they're the medics, corpsman, nurses and doctors who often risk their own lives to save the lives of others. i'm here tonight because a navy corpsman braved enemy fire to save my life in vietnam. we're here at the national museum of health and medicine at walter reed army medical center in washington, d.c. a place where some of the best medicine in the world is practiced. they've come a long way since leeches were part of treating sick and wounded troops. now it's high-tech surgery usually within minutes of being wounded that saves the lives of thousands of countless service personnel. it will always come back to the basics. training someone who's willing to brave enemy fire when an
american is wounded on the batt battlefield. someone whose eyes may be the last you gaze into. someone who can save your life. ♪ >> this is the battlefield. a place where throughout history weapons of war have always killed and maimed the young and the brave. but this hell would become a place of hope for those felled by enemy fire could count on medical assistance being just minuted away. this is the help of the day's men and women of our armed forces stake their lives on every day. but it wasn't always this way. >> 18th century medicine, of course, it wasn't very good.
>> dale smith holds a phd in history of medicine. he's chairman of the medical history department in bethesda, maryland. he knows battlefield medicine from a to z. if a soldier was wounded in the revolutionary war, what kind of medical treatment is available to him if he had a ball from a british musket in him? >> what you freely got is rough and ready exploration, crude amputations, a lot of what we would say were infections. they, of course, had no germ theory. >> few doctors had anatomical training. leeches were used to bleed the patient to health. >> it's not really a crazy idea. there are well designed beast but they would have reduced the pressure reducing the fluid and the pus would not hurt as much. >> leeches didn't save lives or prevent infection. 4 out of 10 patients died. >> three times as many people die of infectious disease as
enemy action in the war. more physicians died of disease in the revolution than line officers killed in battle. being sick was a bad thing. even for the doctor. >> one of the biggest killers was smallpox and under one famous general the continental army was part of medical history. >> there was a 18th century medical procedure. george washington at valley forge ordered the whole of the continental line sven lated so they would not be sick with sma smallpox. deliberate acquiring of smallpox so you got a mild infection. and washington had a healthy army in the latter part of the war. >> by the war of 1812, the entire army and navy were vaccinated with a 'ra of staying healthy but vaccinations and forever lead medical examples. by the 1850s, women began to
enter the battlefield equation in europe. 34-year-old florence nightingale was shocked by the conditions of hospitals treating the wounded in the crimean war. five out of six soldiers died of typhus, cholera or disintear. >> the lessons of florence nightingale cross the atlantic and something to replicate? >> we were very concerned about our general hospitals in the civil war. and nightingale nurses beginning to establish nursing schools in america. you only have to think about walking across a field to realize that war has gotten uglier by the 1860s. >> bloodiest single day in american history is the battlefield just outside of washington, some people call it sharksburg. depending on the side you were
on. what was unique about that bat snl. >> part of it is the weapons that killed the action ratd because they were much more lethal. >> over a scant 12 hours, 30,000 troops from the confederate an union armies became casualties. nearly 4,800 died in the fighting and 3,700 more succumb and wounds and weapon. >> it is there for the first time a system we call the letterman system, the organized system of medical care is put into effect. and so instead of every wounded man taking five or six people off the battle line, letterman puts people into remove the people so the rest of soldiers stay and fight. >> 37-year-old jonathan letterman was a union surgeon from pennsylvania. his system not only evaluated patients but doctors, as well. >> he says, some of you are good at surgery and some of you aren't so good at surgery. the doctors are chosen for the
particular stage of activity. the guy gets off the battlefield quicker. and he's taken to a known place of assembly, a field hospital, where he's given over to a surgeon who can decide what's wrong with him. does he need action? can he wait? this is the kind of sorting that we will learn to call triage in the 20th century. they have the idea but they don't have the word yet. it's a brilliant system. it is now used by every army in the world. >> 1 out of 5 soldiers died in civil war hospitals which were mainly tent compounds while amputation was a standard treatment anesthesia was not. >> they didn't want anesthesia because it dulled the pain and pain was the body's natural response and it helped you get well. and so, a good strong soldier shouldn't need anesthesia. he should endure the pain because it was good for you. by the end of the civil war, letterman made anesthesia available and ordered people to use it.
>> nursing was a man's job in the civil war outnumbering the women 3 to 1. poet walt whitman did some of his best writing while serving as an army nurse. 2,000 women from the north and south did volunteer and improve camp conditions. civil war is the scene of the first woman to receive the medal of honor. what did she get it for? >> a civilian working for the army medical department. the medal of honor only medal in the civil war so what did she did? nobody made a record. >> her name was mary walker and at 30 she was hired as a contract surgeon for the union army and wore men's clothing on the field. some believe she also worked as a spy and earned her four months in a confederate prison. >> the dispatches that come back say she served valiantly. the controversy, if you will, is she was not really in the army. and there's always been a tension about awarding civilians
medals. even if they do heroic things. she certainly provides inspiration to women in the military in today's world. >> between 1860 and the turn of the century, modern medicine as we know it came into existence. bacteria is now known to cause infections. doctors and nurses were wearing white gowns and practicing aseptic surgery. but by the time world war i started in 1914, there were new ways for mankind to annihilate each other. machine guns mowed down troops and from the sky airplanes became weapons and the germans brought a new kind of hell to the front lines. poison gas. particularly terrifying is must tard gas. its ability to pen tratd anything including masks and cloetding left some 4,000 victims to choke to death, another 16,000 wounded or permanently disabled.
>> in world war i, how long did it take a casualty who's been wounded on the battlefield to be in a surgery? >> the idea of the golden six hours, but it took six hours from the time you made a wound and it got contaminated for that wound to become septic. for the bacteria to get out of the wound and go through the body. so what the system in world war i tries to do is get a wounded man to the surgeon within six hours. in 1914, they can't do it. but slowly, system gets puts together. motor ambulances are invented. rail is used. still a lot of prime mover has four legs. >> by the end of the war the warriors of medicine taught new lessons, blood transfusion and surgery brought to the front lines. and for the first time in american military history, more people died of enemy action than disease.
beginning of the blitzkrieg, the lightning war. an army that's literally a war machine in a series of machine-like drives. >> world war ii exploded in 1939 when the germans invaded poland. ♪ stateside, america wasn't yet involved but every branch of the military was busy training men and women to treat their own. by 1941, 200,000 were enrolled in medical training. the army and army air corps had doctors, nurses, dentists and medics. sailors and marines are navy
doctors, nurses and corpsman. and like the rest of our military at that time all medical personnel were segreg e segregat segregated. most black troops were taken care of by black nurses and doctors. drugs and penicillin were introduced. mortality rates plummeted. by world war ii, if you're wounded on the battlefield and make it back to an aid station, you stand about a 95% to 97% chance of survivoring? >> exactly. the progress has been phenomenal. if you get wounded, you stand this improved chance to survive. once you're in the hands of medicine. >> one of the people who wanted to lend a hand is 26-year-old hatty brantly of texas. >> i determined to be a nurse early. i read an article about the nursing frontier nursing service in kentucky. >> hatty was intrigued by what she read and medicine wasn't the
only allure. >> and it just stirred my heart because these nurses rode horses. i wanted to ride a horse if i could be a nurse and ride a horse. it would just be ideal. so i thought, well, i'm going to be a nurse and save the world. >> after nursing school, she joined the army. after two years, hatty's chance to see the world finally came. >> we could go overseas after two years duty and they gave us a sign-up sheet to say where we would like to go. well, i selected the philippines because there was some of the older nurses who had been to the philippines and talk about what a wonderful place it was and i thought i'll see hawaii on the way. >> hattie got her wish. it was a plum assignment for her and 9 other army and navy nurses. >> we had chinese house boys to took care of us and wait for us and get the laundry and did
everything. clean our house, made our beds. did everything for us. >> but all that changed on december 7th when the japanese attacked pearl harbor and a few hours later the philippines. >> every time the bombers would be coming, while the patients yell at me get under the desk. i couldn't. leave them. they couldn't get under the desk. >> the refusal to abandon the patients may have saved her life. >> bombed on that desk where i would have been under it if i had under it which i wasn't anyway and we never knew how many patients were killed. >> as the japanese overrun the troops, they were moved to the peninsula. they quickly set up field hospitals. >> we were out there doing our duty and we had plenty of casualties to take care of and we were doing extreme nursing care so there wasn't any time. the line falling back. the japanese down the peninsula. we had fear. we did the surgery and took care
of the resuscitation and then as soon as sometimes before they could be moved we moved them. >> the japanese army was relentless and cut off the battan peninsula. the nurses were sent to hospital tunnels at the headquarters in manila bay. >> we looked like something no self respectful cat would pick up. we were running out of medicine and in those days they use ds fore form and ether. it was a minimum of whatever was available. we were just working under such hardships that creature comforts didn't mean much. you didn't think about what you were giving up. you were thinking about the situation and the terrible injuries that loss of the patients. >> none of them knew the u.s. was planning to surrender, april 9th it happened. a month later, hattie and the nurses were turned over to the
japanese. these captured war films show how they were forced to pose for pictures before being sent to prison. >> i was there two years, nine months, 28 days and 12 hours. living without freedom. we were told to stay with our patients and continue our work. we would have done it without being told. things from bad to worse. supplies were less, fewer. our food was cut. our rations were cut. we were on 500 calorie diet. we never had enough to eat. >> hattie and the rest of the nurses were released in february 1945. some were put on tours and hattie continued her career for another 30 years. >> i wanted to be a nurse. i wanted to be at the bedside. and i stuck to it. thank goodness. >> how we came to count on the chopper for rescue when minutes matter most, next on "war stories."
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in the blis ri summer of 1950, north koreans invaded south korea drawing the united states into yet another war but this time military medicine had a new weapon in the arsenal. the m.a.s.h. unit. how was it really in the korean war? >> you had a new hospital. the mobile army surgical hospital. 60 beds. trained surgeons. good nurses. nurse anesthesiologists. all packaged and ready to go. >> one is cleveland's 29-year-old ruth flanders finishing up a stint in the army reserves. she's shipped out as an
operating room nurse to korea. there in an m.a.s.h. unit close to the front lines she quickly discovered the was a very moving experience. >> moved 29 times the unit i was with. one location too dangerous, they send us back or whatever was the most convenient and safest. >> the brutal carnage she witnessed was too much for some of the nurses who transferred out. >> we had one nurse but she was very young in our unit. she couldn't take it. she just could n't get the work done and she just couldn't. just rolled up into herself and so they evacuated her. they tried to get the older nurses because it was some of the severe injuries and maiming and it really does affect you. >> ruth and the unit lived by a clear goal. >> keep them alive. that's what the m.a.s.h. would do. it was primitive in that
everything was made from gas generators. i was a shortest one and so the carpenters c carpenters built me a stool. we did as much as we could and send them on down the line. i worked 16, 18 hours. stay there until someone would relieve you. that was it. most everyone had something to drink in their foxhole. i used to keep my beer in the foxhole because it was deep and hard to get out of. >> korea in december 1950. looks cold, don't it? colder than the heart of a commie. maybe that's exaggerating. it is only 17 below. >> the climate in korea was frequently unbearable with bone-chilling winters and hot, rain-soaked summer. >> certain temperature you can't operate and your fingers don't work. space heaters are not adequate and too dangerous for the patient to be that cold going into shock. the rainy season around july and
august. and that was really -- that was more depressing than the cold. it's hard to keep anything dry. i used to wear my socks in my shirt to keep them dry. >> few roads and the rocky terrain, evacuating the wounded is slow going. the marines wanted a faster way of getting the men back to the hospitals and the answer came from the skifs. >> a navy doctor joel boon, he sees the helicopter and understands its virtue based on his experience with the corps. so he gets on one and he has it fly him from the battle lines out to the hospital ship. where he slides down the cable from the helicopter to the ship to show you can get patients evacuated by helicopters. >> take him up within a few minutes sometimes if they're that close, 10, 15 minutes we would have them already. >> the earliest ones used baskets on the outside skids to put the patients in. well, you're flying along and
the bugs hitting the patients and so on and put covers over the baskets. first covers they put were solid metal. it protects the patient but you feel like you've been put in a casket prematurely an it scared patients. they would make them out of plexiglass. >> it's an aerial ambulance just beginning. call sign dust-off. the story of a rescue under fire. an army helicopter pilot and medic risk their lives. it's the stuff of legends when "war stories" continues.