Ben wrote:Regarding the carrying of weapons, this was strictly forbidden under the Geneva Convention.Aside from anecdotal evidence, it was certainly NOT standard practice during WW2 for medical personnel to arm themselves.
Speaking as an ex-mil with actual combat time myself (Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III) prior to retiring, the Geneva and Hague Conventions, as well as the Law of Land War, specifically do
allow medical personnel to carry individual weapons -- typically a sidearm, although a carbine or rifle is not unheard of -- and to use them, provided
that such use is limited to self-defense or to protect a patient. Dr. Benjamin Saloman, 1st. Lt., DC
is an example in point.
The only Dental Officer in US Army history to receive the Medal of Honor (posthumously), Dr. Saloman's award was initially disapproved and lay dormant without further administrative action for many years on a technicality: while he very definitely died protecting his patients when his 77th Infantry Division field hospital was overrun during a Japanese counterattack during the Battle of Okinawa (in violation of customary laws and usages of war on their part), he did so for the most part using an M-1919A4 light machinegun -- normally a crew-served
in itself was the kicker.
Never mind that the Japanese were unlawfully attacking a hospital and shooting/bayonetting his
Never mind that he had already run out of ammo for his sidearm (an M-1911 with only three 7-round magazines) after killing the first of a number of Japanese inside the surgical tent where he was attending patients when the attack began (the regimental surgeon of the infantry battalion to which he was attached became a casualty a couple of days prior; Dr. Saloman voluntarily took over as acting battalion medical officer).
Never mind that the M-1 with bayonet that Dr. Saloman procured from a dead US soldier was also out of ammo very quickly. Having originally volunteered for the Army as an infantry soldier after leaving his dental practice early in the war, Dr. Saloman had spent nearly a year as an enlisted machinegunner and risen to the rank of sergeant -- and had wanted to continue serving in that capacity -- by the time the Army began applying irresistible bureaucratic pressure on him and compelled him to accept a direct commission in the Dental Corps.
There's actually quite a bit more to the story, but I encourage the reader to look up his MOH citation for more. Absolutely no question that -- regardless of the weapon system used -- Dr. Saloman was unambiguously defending multiple patients against an unlawful act of aggression
Yet another example of an armed medic in a high-profile WW2 engagement was Dr. Thomas R. White, 1st Lt., MC.
A Flight Surgeon* assigned to the unit which carried out the famed Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942, Dr. White insisted
upon accompanying his patients into action so that they would have their own physician on the ground with them when they made landfall in China. With no additional weight allowance to spare, each aircraft was absolutely limited to exactly
five crewmembers: two pilots, one each navigator, bombardier and gunner. In most cases, each bomber's maintenance crew chief flew as gunner. Dr. White -- being neither a pilot, a navigator nor a bombardier himself -- procured orders to attend a short course for aerial gunners during the time the unit was training up for the mission, and on 18 April he went on that raid manning the aft gun position of one of those B-25's. For his actions during and after that mission, he received the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Although he brought his complete case of surgical instruments along and did in fact carry out his medical role after reaching China (including the emergency amputation of Captain Ted Lawson's leg), he was not
wearing the red cross, but was
manning an aerial gun turret, and was
carrying his personally owned sidearm.
in the US military, Flight Surgeons are not only allowed, but required
to fly aboard military aircraft as crewmembers, and have been since 1922. Although the ideal Flight Surgeon has always been considered to be someone who is both an aeromedical physician and
a pilot, only a very small minority have been afforded the opportunity to obtain full qualification as military pilots in addition to their aeromedical duties; the majority of those who have tend to be rated military pilots or navigators who later attend medical school and assume the Flight Surgeon role afterwards. In all cases, obtaining a civil pilot certificate during one's off-duty time is strongly encouraged. Nevertheless, all Flight Surgeons are expected to maintain currency and competency in non-pilot crewmember duties. In the rare cases of individuals maintaining full qualification in both the military pilot and FS roles -- such as the USAF Pilot-Physician Program -- the dual role applies in non-deployed
status only. When a Pilot-Physician is tasked to deploy, he does so in one role or the other, not in both
and he is not permitted to "flip-flop" between the two.)
The main point regarding medical personnel using weapons is that they do not engage in offensive
combat, and most especially not while displaying the red cross or red crescent insignia. Medics, incidentally, are not universally required
to carry a weapon, as in the case of conscientious objectors serving in medical roles (e.g.: MOH recipient Corporal Desmond Doss - a devout Seventh-Day Adventist), however they do
have the option to do so. As far back as the First
World War, the US Army Uniform Regulations of 1917 (search under that title on http://archive.org
for an electronic copy in its entirety), medical personnel were specifically stated as having the option to wear a sidearm. Further, officers of the Veterinary
Corps not only were required
to carry sidearms at all times, they were also required to carry live rounds
at all times! Of course, those days still being the time of horse cavalry and horse-/mule-drawn artillery -- with the attendant cases of lame animals, there was a definite reason.