|
|
The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Salem dentist was in military medical system during D-Day

  • Seventy years ago, far from Normandy, France, my grandfather did his part. He was a Salem dentist deployed in a military hospital an hour west of London, waiting for the wounded to arrive in his small corner of the most massive and quickly built medical system the world had ever seen.
    • email print
  • Seventy years ago, far from Normandy, France, my grandfather did his part. He was a Salem dentist deployed in a military hospital an hour west of London, waiting for the wounded to arrive in his small corner of the most massive and quickly built medical system the world had ever seen.
    Victory at the 186th General Hospital meant getting the Normandy soldier into a bed within a half hour after his train arrived at the Fairford, England, station.
    Versed in maxillofacial surgery (he trained at Western Dental College in Kansas City), my grandfather helped the surgeons — he anchored metal posts into jaws shattered by bullets, stitched together shrapnel-torn cheeks and pulled out stumps of once perfect teeth.
    According to hospital reports in the National Archives, in the six months following the invasion, Capt. Charles W. Felt and his staff worked on more than 2,400 soldiers — an average of one patient every half hour. He wired 17 jaws, sutured 34 mouth wounds, filled 1,345 cavities and pulled 803 teeth.
    After D-Day, Capt. Felt transferred to the 55th General, which crossed the English Channel and set up in Mourmelon-le-Grand, France. He remained in Europe after the war in Liege, Belgium, taking care of German prisoners and homeless civilians. He was unhappy he couldn’t get home.
    Finally, in April 1946, he came home to his wife, Trudy, and his daughter — my mother, Connie Jean, who was 6 at the time — with a puppy, “Midge,” short for “Midget,” smuggled in his fatigue jacket.
    Happy to be home, he began suffering from a sudden onset of neuritis in his left eye. While his dental practice was successful — he built a new house and purchased cars and boats — he was restless in the day and sleepless at night.
    He drove his cars fast and had nightmares. He turned, in part, to the sedatives he prescribed to his patients and died in a single-car accident 11 years after his return — just one day after the anniversary of his induction into the Army.
    ***
    The medical system in which he worked was an astonishing part of our victory as a nation. Planners knew that treating the wounded among the first 160,000 soldiers onto the beach at Normandy would be hasty and incomplete, if at all.
    Not to mention the nearly million more expected to be in France by the end of June 1944.
    So they devised a network of hospitals in England for more than 50,000 patients. Many hospitals trained together in the U.S. — my grandfather trained at Camp Phillips near Salina, Kansas — but only set up overseas at the 11th hour because of supply delays. The 186th was running less than a month before the invasion.
    Curious about his experience, I attended a reunion of a half dozen veterans back in April 2000. One medical officer in his late 80s came from California.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I always sat at the dentists’ table,” he said. “We called ourselves ‘the intellectuals.’  We used to talk about the funny papers. Then a nurse — Ariel Powers, she was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa — did a dance out by the statue on the lawn. Unforgettable.”
    Another veteran from Michigan said that when my grandfather, Dr. Felt, worked at the dental clinic with Dr. Chott, he pulled a prank. “When a patient came in, the receptionist would ask, ‘Would you like to be felt or shot?’ Everyone got a kick out of that.”
    Vincent Tricomi, a physician in charge of the operating room, died in 2011. “It was hard on all of us,” he told me in 2000. “When you get so busy, you don’t have time to step back and say, ‘That is terrible.’” He came up to me later at the reunion and made a correction. “Listen, I mean the poor young fellows were getting killed and we were back from the front a little bit,” he said to me, holding my forearm. “So we were trying to do our part. That’s all. You know, we basically felt the war through them.”
    Michael Carolan was born in Kansas City. He now teaches writing and literature at Clark University in Worcester. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and two children. You may reach him at michaelcharlescarolan@gmail.com

        calendar