|The Woman Marine Home Page - About My Dad|
Events of January 11, 1944 and Succeeding Important Dates.
Following a bomb run over Oschersleben, Germany, our B-17, with one wing burning (our plane had been hit by enemy fighter planes when we first entered Germany at approximately 24,000 feet). A crew of nine men aboard (one of the crew had been killed during the battle), was heading west toward the English Channel. East of Vechta, Germany, when it was obvious we weren't going to make it, five crew members and the navigator bailed out of the crippled ship, leaving the pilot, the co-pilot and me, the bombardier, in the nose of the plane. The pilot and I, already in our chutes, were struggling to get the co-pilot in his parachute. He was fighting us; I don't know why. The plane went into a big, slow spin, throwing us up against the wall of the compartment. We couldn't move. My left hand and arm were pinned behind me and my arm was jammed into my left shoulder. The pain was excruciating. I have no idea how long we spun, but I do know we could no longer help the co-pilot or ourselves. The plane, heading for the ground and certain destruction, suddenly exploded. I do not remember the explosion. The next thing I do remember was falling slowly toward the earth with my parachute open above me. The closer I came to the land, the faster I seemed to be dropping. Suddenly, a tree came up to meet me and my descent was finished. I knew I was hurt but I didn't know where--my body was just one large pain. I managed to find my cigarette lighter and burned the shrouds of the parachute, letting me fall to the ground. I sat under the tree and took stock of myself--my face was bleeding; my nose, in fact, my whole face, hurt. My left shoulder, arm and wrist were still in a great deal of pain; my legs felt weak and I knew they wouldn't, for the moment, support me--I was glad to be alive. I just sat down and waited. Soon a farmer and his son approached me, asking, "Pistol? Pistol?" "Nix, nix." was my prompt reply, showing them my open hands. They helped me up and we walked to the nearest road where a police car picked me up. We headed toward a small town, where they stopped at a police station. The whole town turned out to see me--I must have made quite a sight, blood and all. I think I might have been the first American the town had ever seen. They paraded me through the little town to a first aid station, where they cleaned my face a bit, and then transported me to a Catholic hospital in Vechta. There they stitched my right upper lip, which had been cut through to the bone in the explosion, and placed a plaster cast on my nose which had been smashed in the explosion.
In the morning, they took an X-ray of my left wrist that was swollen to three or four times its normal size. The sisters made me as comfortable as they could under the circumstances. Because of the packing placed in my nose prior to putting it in the plaster cast, I was forced to breathe through my mouth until the cast was removed, which was just prior to my leaving the hospital--a matter of about three weeks.
By this day (or possibly the next) my wrist resumed its normal size. Since I am right-handed, I had no reason to move my left wrist, so I didn’t. Besides, it hurt too much to move it. I received no treatment or therapy for my wrist, arm, shoulder or legs.
I was transferred to a Dulag in Frankfort on Main. While there I became ill with chills, fever, and weakness in my legs. I spent most of the time in my bunk sleeping.
(Date Approximate) En route to Barth, Germany, and Stalag Luft I, my hips and knees froze up on me in the train station at Frankfort on Main and I had to be carried on the train by three fellow American prisoners. Because of my condition the four of us made the entire five- or six-day trip in 3 regular train compartments instead of a boxcar. I had to be carried to the bathroom and anywhere else they wanted me to go. Since it was impossible for me to sit due to my hips being locked, I spent most or the trip flat on my back. On about the fourth day I was able to move my leg joints a little, and by the end of the trip I was able to walk off the train with help. I was driven to the camp and placed in the prison camp hospital for a few days until my legs were strong enough to support me. I believe what I had suffered through was a strange case of the flu. I had a fever, I chilled easily, and then the legs locked up. Other than bed rest. I received no medication, treatment or therapy for this malady, whatever it was.
During the fifteen months I spent at Stalag Luft I, my legs constantly felt weak and wobbly. Since the cast on my face had been removed at Vechta, I finally could partially breathe through my nose, asleep and awake. However, breathing was a problem for me. I had to hold my nose open to breathe when going to sleep--something I STILL have to do to this day. The scar on my right upper lip presented a problem when shaving--it hurt. The rest of my right upper lip had no feeling in it. My right and left incisors, broken in half at the time of the explosion, did not pain me but gave me a strange appearance. My left shoulder and wrist continued to hurt and only allowed me very limited use of my hand. Some time during these fifteen months, I developed difficulty swallowing hot foods and liquids.
(Repatriation period, prior to landing in USA) I developed an abscess in one incisor while at Camp Lucky Strike and had to have it pulled. Other than this one tooth, all the other conditions regarding my injuries were the same as they were in prison camp.
(Camp Patrick Henry) Had developed an abscess in the other incisor and had it pulled also. I went home for a 120-day leave.
(San Antonio and William Beaumont General Hospital, El Paso) I reported to AAF Regional Convalescent Hospital, San Antonio District was examined and then transferred to WBGH, El Paso. While there I had at least six operations pertaining to fixing my broken nose. From February through April these surgeries for my nose involved my previously injured left wrist and arm. Although they tried to make these procedures as comfortable for me as possible the pain in my left wrist and shoulder were at times unbearable. In addition, I still had no feeling in my right upper lip; my legs (mainly my knees) were still very weak, wobbly, and painful; and the difficulty in swallowing continued, possibly as a result of the malnutrition I suffered while a prisoner.
Surgeries were completed and I was returned to duty.
Since I was to be discharged, I applied to the VA for compensation, listing all of the above injuries and operations, including my facial disfigurements. My health problems on June 8th were because of the occurrences on January 11, 1944--no other reasons.
Physical examination at WDPC Exam Station, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. For some reason, only the laceration wound on my right upper lip and my fractured nose were listed as WIA. Everything else--knees, shoulders, wrist, teeth, swallowing problem, disfigurement--was listed simply as an injury or rheumatism. This, of course, was simply not true. These all came about because of January 11, 1944.
Was awarded 10% disability compensation for "arthritis in knees and shoulders", according to a form P-80a I received from the VA in Des Moines, Iowa, September 11, 1946. Please note: there was no mention of my left wrist.
Soon after discharge I found employment in the shoe business in Waterloo, Iowa. I also found that not only did I still have all of the above injuries and ailments, but because of my work both my shoulders and back were now painful and aggravating. In 1948, I was informed through a letter from the VA in Des Moines that I was "to have an Orthopedic & F of B. by a specialist." As a result of this examination (July 20, 1948, Cedar Rapids, Iowa), I was awarded an additional 30% disability compensation for "scars of the right upper lip, base of nose and right side of neck," per letter of August 25, 1948. On a VA rating sheet based on this examination the words "LEFT WRIST" magically appeared with "KNEES SHOULDERS" to explain the original 10% disability compensation. Please note: the original award was for knees and shoulders ONLY. To my knowledge, my problems with my left wrist never were arthritis. My problems with my left wrist started on January 11, 1944, when our B-17 went into its slow spin toward the earth.
In 1949 I was married and in 1951 we had our first child. In the next ten years we had four more children and we moved three times to three different cities. In 1970 we moved to Danville, Illinois. During this twenty-one year period I suffered with lower back and hip pains, shoulder pains, leg pain, breathing problems, swallowing problems, and only partial use of my left hand and wrist. Up through 1970 I was busy making a living for my family and did not have the time or means to take the time off to travel to a VA Medical Center.
In the seventies I started wearing orthopedic shoes with Thomas heels, which alleviated some of my back pains (but certainly not all). These shoes literally kept me on my feet. In the early eighties my swallowing problems became so intense that I finally reported to the Danville VA Medical Center. They called it "heart burn" then and later on diagnosed it as reflux esophagitis. Further examinations found that I had an ulcer in the esophagus.
During my Ex-POW Medical Evaluation, an X-ray found evidence of an "old fracture" and "(f)ractured fragments" in my left wrist. This is the first medical evidence that I know of supporting my claim of WIA injury (not just a sprain or bruise) to my left wrist. My left wrist has been immobile since January 11, 1944, and has limited the use of my left hand accordingly.
On this same date, October 7, 1983, I filed a claim with the VA for service connected disabilities for 1) reflux esophagitis, 2) Lower back, 3) both hips, and 4) loss of two teeth. March 2, 1984, I was notified that my compensation would be 30% (up from 10%) for "knees, shoulders, and left wrist." Again, my left wrist was grouped with the arthritic knees and shoulders. There are at least two errors on this rating decision: 1) The last typed line on page 1, starting with, "The HR from 7-15-71 to 8-27-71 at Iowa City reports a history of back injury..." is untrue, as it is based on another veteran's records. These records have been removed from my file, according to the VAMC in Danville. 2) On page 2 there is a list of "NSC" (Nonservice connected) Injuries or ailments. In my opinion, “difficulty in swallowing” and “reflux esophagitis” is the same or at least related, both of which came about in the months following January 11, 1944. "(M)alnutrition" obviously is a direct result of being a POW. "Disability of the back and hips" are related to one, if not both, of the following incidents: landing in the tree and then falling to the ground following the mid-air explosion, AND/OR unexplained illness at the Dulag and at the train station prior to arriving at Stalag Luft I. Certainly, ALL four of these "combat" items are SERVICE CONNECTED.
In addition, please see VA records dated July 15-18, 1946: a typist mistakenly put a list of four items in the NSC list when all four were combat related. On the handwritten Rating Work Sheet of July 15, although it seems to appear that the word "yes" following the word "combat" has been scratched out. Further investigation (on the typed Rating sheet of July l8) shows that what appears as scribble lines on the first page is really part of a signature on the typed page. In other words, all four of those items, which were made NSC, were really very much service connected. This is a clear and unmistakable ERROR.
On March 21, 1984, I again requested that the VA review my case. In particular I referred them to my difficulty in swallowing and chest pains, the extreme pains in my lower back and hips, the loss of two teeth, and the progressively worse ache and pain in my left shoulder. A Rating Sheet dated February 21, 1985, again denied any of these were service connected. I was formally notified February 27, 1985.
I again wrote to the VA on March 10, 1985 and requested that my claim be re-opened. I pointed out that the reflux esophagitis (and its accompanying difficulty in swallowing) and the lower back and hips problems all started on or soon after January 11, 1944, and therefore, were most definitely service connected. In June 1985 I received another letter from the VA explaining that because the reflux esophagitis and the back and hip problems "were first noted after service and not presumed to service connection for prisoner of war", the service connection was denied--again.
August 29, 1985, I filed a "Notice of Disagreement". In November I received the "Statement of the Case". I was not able to argue the case in the allotted time and tile file was closed. This does not mean that I agree with all the statements of fact. I have already pointed out the errors made in July 1946, and although I omitted stating anything about my back and hips in 1948 I was having pain in those areas then as now.
Even if the Germans had not captured me on January 11, 1944, the trauma suffered by my body that day was severe enough to have caused multiple injuries to various parts of my body. Injuries which neither I nor anyone else could have been aware of at that time or in the first few years after World War II. I was in my twenties and in perfect health when I took my "Physical Examination for Flying" on March 2, 1943. Ten months later my world and my body blew apart--almost.
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