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WWII Medic Describes Battlefield Tragedy to His Girlfriend

May 26, 1999

Excerpts from a letter written in 1944 by Army medic Norman Pauling to his girlfriend Levonne Ludwick. Pauling recounts treating his first battle casualty.

"Someone was lying by the side of the [truck], and about three medics went to him, I think, but someone was also yelling from inside the [truck]. I climbed up, and as I stepped inside my foot slipped. It was blood, a large pool of it, on the floor, so thick that it was difficult to stand up. In the middle of it lay a man, but it wasn't necessary to examine him. Where his left eye should have been there was a large black bloody hole, leading clear through the head to a larger hole in the back. There was blood and little pieces of brain splattered everywhere. He was dead; he must have been; no man could lose that much blood and half his head and still be alive. But blood was still pouring out of the hole in the back of his head. He was dead, but for some reason I'll never be able to explain, I tried to stop that bleeding. I searched like a madman for his carotid artery, tried all his face and neck and jaw and head for some trace of a beat to lay my finger over. There was none. Almost as soon as I saw him, the bleeding stopped; there just wasn't any more blood left in him. And as for the pulse, there couldn't have been any, because he was killed instantly as he was hit. But I kept feeling for the carotid, hysterically, because there was nothing else I could do. . . .

I'm not quite sure that this is the kind of stuff one writes in letters to young ladies, but it did me a lot of good to write it, and you might learn something about me from it.

Maybe I won't even mail it; I don't know. Anyway, if I do, be sure that when I wish you a Happy New Year, it's not just another casual greeting.

Love, Norman

Pauling was killed in battle shortly after mailing this letter.

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