Monday, June 10, 2019

D Day Plus 4

above Lt. Doris Brittingham - Lt. Edna Browning - Lt. Marthe Cameron of the 128th Evacuation Hospital board the USS Pendleton after D-Day in Bristol, England for the beachheads in France. Photo from book "And if I Perish"

Seventy-five years ago today Lt Doris Brittingham, a nurse with the US Army 128th Evacuation Hospital, jumped from her landing craft into the water off Utah Beach, Normandy France and waded ashore.  This would be her third beach head with previous landing in North Africa and Sicily.  She would carry with her a 26 pound backpack and 15 pounds of medical supplies.   Today’s popular movies of the D Day Landing show beaches following the first day to be cleaned up and just a lot of traffic of troops landing supplies.  In truth on D day plus 4, dead bodies still floated in the surf at Utah beach, German artillery shells still hit the water around the landing boats, and German mines still floated in the water.

The 128th would consist of 22 medical officers, 1 Chaplain, 60 Nurses and 250 enlisted personnel
From the internet history of the 128th  at Normandy
The first night was spent in pup tents, with friendly planes overhead and enemy artillery fire going on night and day. As a result of difficulties in discharging cargo, no significant amount of medical supplies came ashore before 12 June. Supplies however soon increased both in volume and regularity and depots were set up in open fields short distances inland, such as Le Grand Chemin, behind Utah Beach. The 261st Medical Battalion, 1st Engineer Special Brigade, almost exclusively handled the seashore movement of casualties out of Normandy. Acting as a kind of holding unit after Field and Evacuation Hospitals opened, the Battalion funnelled patients to the 2d Naval Beach Battalion, which put them on LSTs and British Hospital Carriers for evacuation to England. While Field Hospitals proved more than equal to their task, the 400-bed Evacuation Hospitals found themselves consistently overburdened; the arrival of additional Evacuation Hospitals helped contain the flow of patients, but in many cases a chronic surgical backlog persisted. During its first two weeks in Normandy, all but 360 out of 3,200 patients treated at the 128th Evac required surgery. Surgical staff worked in 12-hour shifts, although reinforced by extra Auxiliary Surgical Teams, and together they could perform about 100 major operations every 24-hours. The trouble was that the patient influx during heavy combat occurred at about double that rate, so that less urgent cases had to wait for surgery! First Army deployed extra Surgical Teams and mobile truck-mounted Surgical and X-Ray units (mounted on modified 2 ½-Ton Cargo Trucks) of the 3d Auxiliary Surgical Group, and detached provisional medical teams from ComZ Hospitals to help overcome the backlog!
By 2 July hospital personnel began to care for German PWs after the German surrender of Cherbourg, where all organized resistance had ceased on 1 July. The German front was broken and on 19 July St-Lô was captured which would later become the starting point for General Patton’s thrust towards Avranches. After a week of rest and refitting, First Army launched a new Offensive, “Operation Cobra” in an effort to break the front. Following intense aerial bombing (with some bombing errors killing friendly troops), American Forces heavily attacked on 25 July and forced the enemy to withdraw. The members of the 128th found themselves packing and moving to La Forêt for three days. The constant move caused by Allied progress on the battlefront often resulted in change of plans and hasty improvisation, and this is where training proved its worth.

Lt Brittingham is mentioned in a few newspaper articles and books.  She would be high on the pecking order of photographers and newspapermen when reporting; being Female, White and an officer.  Enlisted man Frank A. Simion was also with the 128th .  He was on the opposite end of the pecking order of newspaper reporting.  Born in Kansas with Italian immigrants for parents and working in Michigan before the war as an automaker assembler he would endure the same beachheads as the nurses and other members of the 128th.   Frank Simion however would marry Lt Brittingham. 

Lt Brittingham was a 1938 graduate of Delmar High School and the daughter of Milos Smiley Brittingham and Hannah Dodd Hearn Brittingham.  After graduation she had moved to Wilmington where she became a nurse in 1941 at the Delaware hospital and in February 1941 join the Army Nurse Corp.  Her sister and brother were Irma and Reese Brittingham and both would remain in the Delmar area.  Reese would become the owner of Bryan and Brittingham Hardware store.  Irma would marry  Edmund Pollack Messick.

Frank and Doris would live briefly in Delmar while their daughter Esther Jo was born at PGH in Salisbury.  They would move to Michigan where Frank would go back to working in the automobile industry.

 above photo from book "and If I perish"

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