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D-Day Medics: Heroes Who Treated the Wounded

Image of D-Day Medics: Heroes Who Treated the Wounded. Medics on D-Day beach head in Normandy treat one of their own with an IV as the seawater rolls in behind them on June 6, 1944. (Courtesy, Library of Congress)

D-Day medics and physicians worked heroically to save as many wounded as they could on June 6, 1944, as the Allies began taking back Europe from the Nazis in World War II.

Called “band-aid bandits” by some, but more often known simply as “Doc” to their fellow soldiers, they cared for the wounded and the dying during Operation OVERLORD. When they heard “Medic, medic!” or, simply, “Doc!”—these brave men responded.

The gore and stench of war, the screams of the wounded and dying, smoke from missiles and artillery—all the deafening noise of naval bombardment, machine guns, mortar fire, small arms fire, grenades, motorized vehicles, and aircraft layered on top—was overwhelming to many troops on the beaches of Normandy that day. Even while soldiers around them fell or froze in place, some medics said they didn’t have time to be afraid.U.S. Army Pvt. Donald McCarthy was one of the soldiers who witnessed the horror of the wounded immediately after landing. The first person he saw killed on bloody Omaha Beach was a young radioman whom McCarthy was approaching.

From about 40 yards away, McCarthy saw the soldier lose his arm from an overhead missile burst. McCarthy and an attending medic were injured by a second burst as they tried to save him. “He was just a kid,” McCarthy said tearfully in a video recorded by the American Veterans Center, an organization whose goal is to preserve the legacy of American fighters.

Wright and Moore from the ‘Screaming Eagles’

U.S. Army combat medics Pvt. Robert E. Wright and Pvt. Kenneth J. MooreU.S. Army combat medics Pvt. Robert E. Wright (left) and Pvt. Kenneth J. Moore (right) of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, received Silver Stars for their 72 hours of tending to 80 wounded and dying American, French, and German soldiers in a commandeered church in Angoville-au-Plain, France, 10 miles inland from Normandy’s Utah Beach. (Courtesy of historicamerica.org)

U.S. Army Pvt. Robert Wright and U.S. Army Pvt. Kenneth Moore were unarmed medics who jumped into the French town of Angoville-au-Plain

on June 6 as part of the new paratroop corps, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division—the paratroopers of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” fame. The village was less than 10 miles inland from Utah Beach. Both had lost most of their medical supplies jumping.

They spent 72 hours in the village under intense incoming artillery and mortar bombardment, first commandeering the village church and hanging a Red Cross flag, then searching fields for the wounded.

Wright ordered all rifles be left outside the church door, and the injured began streaming in. Wright took on most medical duties, while Moore, a stretcher bearer, hauled more injured soldiers into the church. Eventually, they had 80 bloodstained patients crowded into the pews: American, French, and Germans.

The medics designated an area behind the alter for critically injured soldiers they believed would die. They gave those soldiers morphine in an attempt to make their last moments more comfortable. Moore and Wright’s primary duties were controlling bleeding and preventing injured soldiers from going into shock. They were also fortunate enough to have a source of fresh water.

Their combat unit, the 501st Infantry Regiment, had to retreat toward the town of Vierville. Wright and Moore stayed behind treating the wounded until the village was liberated on June 8.

Both men were awarded Silver Stars for their actions, and both went on to serve in other European battles, including the freezing Battle of the Bulge. The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat medal.

Edwin ‘Doc’ Pepping and Willard Moore Help at the Church

Edwin "Doc" PeppingU.S. Army Pvt. Edwin “Doc” Pepping was a medic attached to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, on D-Day 1944. (Personal photo courtesy Edwin "Doc" Pepping).

U.S. Army Pvt. Edwin “Doc” Pepping was attached to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

When Pepping jumped on D-Day as an unarmed paratrooper near the same French village where Wright and Moore were, he was hit by a gust that ripped away 125 pounds of medical supplies, he said in a June 6, 2017, interview with defense.gov.

“His parachute opened at the same time, causing him to spin violently before falling to the ground. He hit the ground so hard that his own strapped helmet flew back and knocked him in the neck, leading to a concussion and three cracked vertebrae,” according to the article. He didn’t know the extent of his injuries at the time.

"We were supposed to be dropped at 700 feet at 95 miles per hour, which was enough to get our parachute to open and get our equipment down safely, but they dropped us at 300 feet at 165 miles per hour, which is almost impossible to survive," Pepping said.

Despite his wounds, Pepping spent the next several hours helping another medic, U.S. Army Pvt. Willard Moore, bring severely wounded soldiers to the Angoville-au-Plain church makeshift aid station. Moore drove a jeep while Pepping loaded the wounded and nursed them until they got to the church, he said.

"When we flew into Normandy, we met some very, very serious cases, and a lot of the time we didn't know exactly how to handle them," Pepping recounted, adding that it taught him perseverance.

"There were so many catastrophic wounds that a lot of the time it was beyond us to do anything except to see if we could get a doctor to help," Pepping said. Except for his Army medic training, Pepping said: “The Boy Scouts was the closest thing to medical training I had before that … but you didn't have a chance to be nervous."

Today, the Angoville-au-Plain church is a memorial. The blood stains of the wounded remain on the pews. Wright and Moore also have a monument in the church yard, and there are two stain glass windows in honor of the 101st.

Pepping was wounded in the leg 15 days post D-Day and was evacuated. He received a Bronze Star for saving a superior officer in another action in France.

U.S. Navy Cross Recipients

There were two Navy Cross recipients on D-Day. The Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism is the second highest military decoration in the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps. They were awarded to U.S. Navy Lt. (j.g.) Frank Hall of the medical corps, and U.S. Navy Hospital Apprentice First Class Augustus McKee, according to a June 5, 2023, article from U.S. Navy historian André Sobocinski. Both men came in on the first wave of the beach assault for the Naval Beach Party Medical Team of the 7th Beach Battalion.

Hall’s citation for the Navy Cross reads: “Forced to swim three miles to shore when his own landing craft was sunk during the initial assault, Lieutenant [then j.g.] Hall gallantly carried on his mission with such meager supplies as he was able to salvage from the dead and wounded. Completely unmindful of his own danger, he labored with untiring zeal under the terrific fire of the enemy.”

McKee was cut off from the remainder of his unit, according to his Navy Cross citation. “Working under intense enemy fire with utter disregard for his own safety, [McKee] attended the wounded with such skill and devotion to duty as unquestionably to have resulted in the saving of many lives.” McKee continued until help reached him several hours later.

More than 160,000 Allied forces stormed the beaches and behind enemy lines on June 6 as part of the biggest air, land, and sea invasion in history. Omaha Beach saw greater resistance from the Germans and more casualties than the other primary landing site, Utah Beach. More than 29,000 U.S. service members were killed at Normandy.

Resources

We should never forget the history of WWII and the Americans who helped end that war. Military historians and museums, and the national Library of Congress have a wealth of collections pertaining to D-Day veterans and their stories. These resources just scratch the surface:

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Last Updated: June 05, 2024
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