By Pfc. Raymond Boyle

They brought in this tech, a kid of 20, with a penetrating wound–a bayonet thrust in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. The wound itself wasn’t much to see as wounds go. It was a little ugly, though–bluish and all chewed up where some field medic tried out his book learning with a little debridement–that’s a French word meaning to cut away the surrounding dirty skin from a wound. I leave that kind of stuff for the medical officers.

Well, anyway, this tech was really a very nice guy, and he tried to be stoical about the while thing. But the tip of that bayonet penetrated the diaphragm and the pleura and nicked his right lung. A pneumothora it is called. Every time he exhaled he made a gasping snoring sound. He heard it, too, and I saw in his eyes that he thought he was going to die.

bayonet wwii

Soldiers learning the proper use of the bayonet.

when we brought in the oxygen tent to ease his breathing, he seemed convinced. He was very frightened. Later, of course, he would casually show the scar and speak disparagingly of it, but when we placed that tent over his head, his eyes were filled with an anxious, despairing fear. He lay there with a dogged, shocked expression on his face and sibilant, jerky little flutings coming from his chest.

His captain, in dirty fatigues, came in after a while and said they had been on a problem during the divisional bivouac in the woods behind the camp, and this tech, in jumping a wall, had fallen on the bayonet fixed to his rifle and spitted himself. The captain, who is also a very young guy, acted the part of the grim field soldier. When he was questioned by the medical officers, his answers were very clipped and terse. Maj. Jennings, chief of surgery, looked at him mildly.

“What I don’t understand, captain,” Maj. Jennings said, “is how that boy stuck himself that way. If I remember correctly there is nothing in the bayonet drill that could possibly wound a man in just that way. The bayonet entered the right rib cage at the twelfth rib and traveled upward, nicking the hepatic flexure of the colon and penetrating the diaphragm. He’ll be all right, of course, but another inch over or so would make it a different story.”

The captain smiled. “Sir, our patrol was on a tactical problem, and we weren’t using the bayonet drill. We were simulating actual conditions. The sergeant fell on his bayonet when he leaped a stone wall. I didn’t see it myself, but as a line man I can tell you those things happen when a bayonet is carelessly handled.”

Maj. Jennings nodded. “I see, captain. Well, thanks a lot.”

After the captain had left, the major went to the tech’s room. “Come on in,” he said to me, “and close the door.”

I shut the door, and the major pulled open a zipper on the corner of the oxygen tent and said: “Sergeant, I want you to tell me like a good fellow just how you came to fall on your bayonet.”

The tech hesitated for a moment; then, I suppose, a look at the major’s face reassured him. He said: “I guess I should have told you before, sir. I was in a farmer’s pear orchard, and when I jumped for a pear I accidently came down on my bayonet.

The major smiled, zipped up the opening and went outside. In the hall he held me by the arm as we walked toward the door of the ward

“Line soldier, my foot,” he said.

For Further Reading Check Out:

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (The Liberation Trilogy)

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