THE WAR TO SAVE LIVES – Today’s Medicine Miracles Bring New Hope; Death Rate Only Half That of the Last War

From Stars and Stripes

On a clear October day, 1943, an Army plane glided in at a Naples airport, screeched to a halt, where tired but eager attendants unloaded a cargo of DDT powder. In less than a week a threatened typhoid epidemic was balked, slapped under control. Diffidently accepted by the Army, the event caused more than a mere ripple of astonishment among Europeans. Wartime medicine was beginning to work miracles. Said Surgeon General Maj. Gen. Norman T. Kirk: “Medicine has been stepped up 15 years in the last three years.”

The pay-off: The mortality rate of wounded in this war is less than half of what it was in 1918. New techniques, discoveries, developments have arrived at an accelerated pace, far outstripping advances. Limbs that would have been discounted a quarter of a century ago are being saved; drugs that were never heard of up to ten years ago are renewing a lease on life.

wwii army medicine

In operating tent an evacuation hospital in Italy, 21-year-old Croner T. Conrad, doughboy, has shell fragment removed from his body. Operations like this are saving lives.


A thing unknown five years ago, penicillin today kayos VD and disease-producing organisms; is so powerful that a dilution of one to one hundred million will smother or burn out harmful bacteria; is administered by injection and (recently) in capsule form. At the outbreak of war the “miracle drub” was rare, in great demand, used by the military alone–but now is available for civilian use as well.


When a few thousand acres of upland Java were conquered by the Japanese, 90 percent of the world’s quinine supply was shut off. Army and civilian doctors alike feared an uncontrollable outbreak of malaria among troops fighting in Pacific swamps and jungles. Researchers burned midnight oil, developed atabrine, a drug that was used sparsely some 20 years ago in Germany, but as late as 1933, introduced as an improved treatment and prophylaxis for malaria.  With its attendant drug plasmochin, atabrine played a heavy role in suppressing malaria.

Sulfa Drugs

Untried up to eight years ago, sulfa drugs are proving to be one of tis war’s life-saving ball carriers. Covering a multitude of ills, it prevents and limits epidemics, arrests would infections and helps to speed recovery in pneumonia, gonorrhea, arthritis and dysentery.


Equipment and casualty evacuation methods are constantly overhauled, speeded up. Field Service schools and laboratories investigate. Reports, suggest bigger and better ways. From those hints spring new type would dressings, improved stretcher designs, low-silhouetted ambulances, a “before-you-know-it” evacuation system–which forge medical science into a battle weapon.


Field surgery, forced to “on the spot” decisions has turned magic trick after magic trick. Touchy heart, brain operations have made copy for medical journals, where-as prewar surgeons considered these heart cases as goners. Wartime surgery has grown up; has donned long pants since Pearl Harbor.

For Further Reading Check Out:

Medic!: A WWII Combat Medic Remembers

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