Posted on December 5th, 2017 by:

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By Sgt. Ray Duncan, Camp Davis, N.C.

In the spring of ’42, when my friends and neighbors began breathing hot on my neck, I wrote a hasty letter to Washington. It was a mistake, of course. But back in those days we were all making mistakes.

“Why don’t you try to get into the Psychological Research Unit,” urged an eager recruiting sergeant when I first made cautious inquiries.

“Come under the Medical Department. Drop them a line.” I did, and in due time came an answer, mimeographed:

“Dear Mr. Duncan,” it began, “we are in receipt of your application for commission as second lieutenant in the Medical Corps. Please fill out the enclosed forms regarding your medical training and return them to us at once.”

“I’m not a doctor,” I wrote back. “I only want to find out if I can enlist as a private in the Psychological Research Unit.”  Later I got a letter asking me to hurry up with those forms so my commission could be prepared.

Finally, after a lot of sweating, I got the thing straightened out. Yet to this day the picture of myself as a medical second lieutenant keeps haunting me. I can see myself in line at the commission window on the post where I have been ordered.

“But I’m not a doctor,” I try to explain to the pfc. who is handing out the commissions.

“Listen, Doc, don’t tell me your troubles. I don’t ask for this job, either. I put in for the paratroopers—.“

“C’mon, c’mon,” growls a doctor back of me in the line, “let’s get those commissions handed out so we can all go to lunch.”

To avoid a scene, I take my commission and report to the colonel who is in charge for duty.

“I’m not a doctor, sir,” I begin.

“Young man, it’s a serious offense for a doctor to impersonate a layman. Let’s have no more of this kind of talk. Now move on and draw blood from these selectees. Don’t be gently with them, you’re not in private practice any more.”

“Jab!” he cries after watching me fumble with the needle. “Jab first and then wiggle it around if you like.” He takes the needle and jabs it. The selectee faints, but the colonel holds him erect with the needle.

“Just be sure you hit the arm, that’s all. Shavetail here last week missed and cracked a man’s rib. We got rid of the bungler in a hurry—shipped him off to brain surgery.”

Many months pass. I am now a lieutenant colonel, beginning to gray a little at the temples, and I’m still drawing blood from selectees. By this time I am considered one of the best men in the field, with an inspiring future ahead of me. My wife and my beautiful daughter, who is the toast of all the internes, live with me at our comfortable little estate outside post limits.

That was my army medical career as it might have been. Actually I did finally enlist in the Psychological Research Unit. For about six weeks I delivered messages on a bicycle for the GI psychologists. After that they had me transferred to the base salvage detail.

20th general hospital doctor

Surgeons of the 20th General Hospital at work on a patient

For Further Reading Check Out:

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann G�ring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII

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