National Geographic : 1945 Sep
Flying Our Wounded Veterans Home BY CATHERINE BELL PALMER FROM where I stood, facing the runway at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, Icouldseeatinydotupinthesky.It was a Douglas C-54, winging in from Europe with a priceless cargo aboard-wounded Amer ican veterans returning home. The giant four-motored Skymaster came closer, light from the sun touching her silver wings. With a graceful dip, she headed into the wind and settled down on the landing strip. As the wheels touched, a base officer asked me, "Did you see that white puff of smoke?" I nodded. "Burning rubber," he explained. "Friction of the wheels against the runway causes it. When one of these big planes lands, enough rubber may be burned off the tires to keep an automobile running for months. "Just one more reason why the Army needs so much rubber and why people have to do without tires." The plane taxied up the runway. The flight nurse and the medical flight technician opened the huge doors. Quickly a gangway was wheeled over level with the floor of the plane, which is ten feet above the ground. After the medical officer completed his checkup, the gangway was moved, and the hydraulic lift, which accommodates two litters at a time, was maneuvered into position (pages 366 and 368). Red Cross Workers Help with Wounded When the first two litters were placed on the litter cradle, I saw two heads rise up. Both boys had broad grins at their first sight in a long time of the United States. As each pair of litters was lowered, two litter bearers took them to waiting ambulances driven by volunteer Red Cross girls. Some of the litter bearers were volunteer Red Cross workers, business men in the com munity who give up a day a week to do this job. This plane carried 18 stretcher cases. The entire procedure, from the time the unloading started until the ambulances were filled, took only 17 minutes (page 366). I asked the flight nurse if she had come over with the wounded all the way from Europe. "No," she replied. "I brought them down from Stephenville, Newfoundland." "Now that you have delivered your charges," I questioned, "will you get some leave?" "Oh, yes," she said. "I have 24 hours' leave, but I'm not going to take it here. I'm flying back to Stephenville for the big dance tonight." I looked at her. Her lustrous blond hair was blowing about her face, her clear blue eyes were twinkling. In the postwar world a week end flight from New York to Paris will be a thrilling experience to many of us. It is an old story to her-New York to Newfoundland, approximately 1,000 miles, for a dance! Routes flown by these Air Transport Com mand * planes over the Atlantic vary, depend ing on weather conditions. No chances are ever taken flying our boys home. One of every five casualties evacuated to the United States in 1944 came by plane. Early this year casualties from all theaters were being flown at the rate of more than a thousand a month. A record number was made during May, 1945, when ATC planes brought more than 10,000 wounded veterans to the United States. I went on board the second plane before the wounded were taken off. On each side of the cabin were three tiers of litters, three litters to a tier. This C-54 used the stanchion-type of litter support, consisting of metal poles at tached to floor and ceiling. Horizontal metal arms were attached to each pole and litters were locked in place on the arms. At the rear was the gear belonging to the pa tients. Life jackets were stowed on one side; on the other was the 75-pound medical chest. These.C-54's can accommodate from 18 to 28 patients, the number depending on whether they are stretcher or ambulatory cases. "I Was in Paris Yesterday Morning" As I stepped into the plane, I faced 18 pairs of eyes looking my way and was greeted by a chorus of "helloes." "Hello yourselves," I answered. "How was the trip?" "Swell," said one. "Simply super." "This baby," said another, patting the side of the plane, "really gets you places in a hurry, but smooth. Golly, to think I was in Paris yesterday morning!" And from another, "Yeah, boy, nothing can stop the Army Air Corps!" I went to the First Air Force Regional Station Hospital near Mitchel Field, a 10 minute ride from the airfield. Here the * See "American Wings Soar Around the World," by Donald H. Agnew and William A. Kinney, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1943.