Jim Flowers Part 4
I heard these voices coming in my direction, "Hereís one I think is still alive." He came over and looked, and I assured him that I was still with it. The boy came over and brought a lieutenant. It turns out that this is G Company of the 357th Infantry, and this lieutenant was a boy from the western part of Texas. His name is Claude Lovett. Claude was an auditor with the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company after he got out of the military, in San Antonio, for a long time.
Claude looked at me, and I asked him for a drink of water, so he gave me some water out of his canteen, and I think he gave Rothschadl some water. He got on his radio and called back and told them to get some litters up there, and a jeep, put the litters out over the hood of it, get us out of there.
He left his canteen and one soldier there with us. He said theyíll be up here after a while to get you. I thanked him, and he said he had a war to fight, so with that goodbye, heís gone. And it wasnít too long after that that a jeep came out and they loaded us on litters and strapped us down, and took us back to the battalion aid station, which was under the charge of Captain William H. McConahey. Dr. McConahey took a look at Rothschadl and me, and then they tagged us and sent us back over to a field hospital.
I had shell fragments pretty well splattered all over me. When I was out in the field there, I had my helmet on. I took my helmet off, and was laying there bareheaded on this piece of bloody French real estate. I took my helmet and put it over my groin. If Iím gonna survive, why, I want to come home in as many pieces as I can, and thatís a pretty important part.
Anyhow, Dr. McConahey sent Rothschadl and me over to a field hospital. Thatís where they completed the amputation of my left leg and cleaned up and finished the amputation of my foot.
I stayed there while they treated both of my amputations and the shell fragment wounds. The shell fragments also took off a piece of my left buttock about the size, shape and thickness of a small porkchop. I had problems sitting down for years, it was so tender with the scar tissue.
I was brought to the field hospital on the 12th of July. And the impending breakout at St. Lo was going to occur on the 25th. They kept that field hospital set up there, and kept me there instead of sending me back down to an evac hospital down on the beach. They kept me there as long as they could, until they had to get that hospital ready to move up to take care of the casualties that they knew that they were going to have from the island, the Seves River. They already had casualties in there from the Seves River. They had to move that hospital down towards St. Lo, so they had to get rid of all their patients. I donít know what happened to Rothschadl; when they unloaded us back at that field hospital, thatís the last I saw of him for years. The next time I saw him was many years later in Minneapolis.
They moved me from that field hospital down to an evac hospital on Omaha Beach, and I lay in the hospital down there for a couple of days, and they came in one day and told me Iím going back over to England. They moved me from there out to an LST which was sitting out in the harbor.
There must have been several hundred of us on that LST. The thing that I remember most of all was three Red Cross girls that had come across to Normandy and they were on their way back to England. I can remember the names of two of them. One was a girl named Marjorie Robinson from the Boston area. Her husband was an officer on General Pattonís staff. Just what kind of a job he had, I do not know.
The other girl whose name I recall was Patience Brand. She was from the Hebrides Islands off the north coast of Scotland. She was a little Scottish lass. As I recall, she was a right pretty little redhead. The other girl, I cannot recall her name, she was from the Midwest. I believe she was from somewhere in Nebraska.
These girls were running a clubmobile down around Dorchester, Dorset, on the southern coast. They seemed to take a liking to me.
When the LST docked, instead of sliding up on the beach, it docked at Southampton, and they took me off the LST and took me over to a field hospital that was set up there on the wharf. So far as I know, I was the only patient in their hospital; they were on their way over to Normandy.
This has got to be the 25th or 26th of July. I had not had a bath since early June; mid-June anyhow. So Iíve gone a month or six weeks without a bath. I must have been a pitiful looking sight, too, with both of my legs, stumps, in plaster casts. I donít recall whether I was in plaster then or not. I donít think I was. I think I was just bandaged, tied to splints. I had bandages and adhesive tape all over me. I think the most painful, the most disagreeable, bandage that I had was the one on my butt, where this piece of shell fragment had sliced off a piece of my buttocks. They had I a pad over it, and it must have been two-inch wide adhesive tape holding it, wrapped around my leg and up through my groin, which caught some of the pubic hair off of my scrotum in that tape. It hurt, but I hurt all over then.
These people in that little field hospital there at Southampton Ė it had been two or three weeks since I had been burned, and my hands were still in bandages. I hadnít had a shave; my face was scabbed, and some of the scabs were peeling off Ė and they very gently pulled some of this material off of my face, and I recall that one of the ward boys came in and trimmed what little hair I had. I had a hell of a lot more hair then than I have now. But it had grown out and was hanging down my ears and down the back of my neck.
In other words, I had a shave, and they clipped the beard that had grown out enough as much as they could clip it without injuring the burned areas. I had a haircut and a shave and a bath, for which I was grateful.
I stayed in that little field hospital for three or four days. Maybe they had to move the hospital and they had to get rid of me; they put me in an ambulance and took me to a little town, I donít remember the name. It was about nine miles north of Southampton on the way up to Salisbury. This was a little two-story building; I think that before the war it had been a girlsí school. They unloaded this litter out of this ambulance and took me up the steps; I thought I was going to slide off the damn litter then. But they got inside, and they started up the stairs with me. I said, "Be careful!"
They took me up to the second floor and put me in a bed in a great big ward, and there were some pitiful cases up there. Of course, I was wearing an in-dwelling catheter, a urethral catheter.
There was this angel of mercy, this Army nurse, she must have been forty years old. After they got me settled down in a bed, she came and said, "Lieutenant, how long has it been since youíve been bathed?"
"You mean a real bath?" I said. "Well, they wiped me off down at the field hospital at Southampton."
She said, "Soap and water."
Hmmm. "I think the last real bath I had was on board the LST going from Weymouth over to Utah Beach, and thatís been six weeks ago now."
And she said, "How long has it been since youíve been off of your back?"
"Since the 12th day of July."
"How long have you been wearing that catheter?"
"Since the 12th of July."
"Weíll be back in a bit. Weíre going to get you off of your back, weíre going to scrub you good, and weíre going to remove that catheter and all that adhesive tape."
I said, "Iíll be grateful if you will."
She was a gal of her word. In a bit she and a younger nurse came back and they partially pulled the curtain around my bed, and she said, "Now, weíre going to turn you on your side. Itís going to hurt." She said, "Weíll be as gentle as we can. We just want to warn you, though, that youíre going to have some discomfort."
They put out a draw sheet, and they gently rolled me up on my left side, and everything was exposed on my right side; they scrubbed me good, like they were scraping hair off of a hog.
Maybe they took the catheter out first. I guess they did. That would be the reasonable procedure, wouldnít it, to remove the in-dwelling catheter?
They put this basin down to catch the urine and whatever came out, and cut the adhesive tape holding the catheter in place. And then she took it between my legs and pfffftt, it felt like she was pulling my guts out. But boy, it was a blessing to have it all done quickly.
Then she took a bulb syringe and some medication of some kind and flushed my bladder out real good, and I felt considerably better.
Then they rolled me on my left side and started bathing me. Then back on my right side and finished bathing me, and they made me as comfortable as Iíd been in quite some time.
As I think back, Iím looking at some of the fellows that are up there on the second floor in that building with me. There must have been 40 or 50 of us in that wing of the building.
I especially remember one boy who was right across the aisle from me and down several beds, who was moaning about the low blow that fate had dealt him. Before the war, he was a pianist. He had aspirations of being a concert pianist. His left arm was completely paralyzed. I suppose that he eventually lost that arm. Imagine a pianist with only one arm. Itís hard to accept that.
There were others that were just as bad.
I stayed in that hospital several days, and they moved me from there to Salisbury, to a hospital group. There were two medical-surgical units and one convalscent or rehabilitation unit in this hospital group.
The further back from the front line you got, the worse the personnel was that ran these places. There was one nurse on that ward, I think all she had on her mind was to get her a man and go roll in the hay. She talked about it all the time, about being out in a haystack with some guy the night before, and she looked it. She was a real pretty gal. She gave fairly good nursing care, and so did some other nurses on that ward. They had one boy, a ward boy, he almost had combat fatigue from seeing the wounded come in there.
That was where I met Paul Hamilton again. I came in and somebody said, "Flowers?" He was ambulatory by then. This has been more than a month since he got hurt. He walked over and said, "Youíre the tanker."
I said, "I sure am."
He told me who he was. We were glad to see each other.
On the same side of the ward that I was on was one J.Q. Lynd from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He was a University of Arkansas ROTC product, and J.Q. had been a 90th Division officer also.
In the bed next to me on my right hand side was a young captain who had a terrible wound. He had been shot through his left foot. The top of his foot. Ruined his shoe.
I was sympathizing with him, and some people looked at me. I asked him how he got that wound, and he started telling how he got shot through the left foot, and somebody said, "Thatís an S.I.W." A self-inflicted wound. And I looked at him and said, "Did you do that?"
He says, "It was an accident." He accidentally shot himself through the left foot.
"You yellow cowardly sonofabitch!" Everything that I could get my hands on off of the bedside table, I threw at him, and one of the nurses heard the commotion and she came down to see what the problem was, and they just took that old boyís bed, wheeled him out of there, and came back and said, "Youíll not be bothered with him anymore."
J.Q. Lynd is a professor of agronomy at Oklahoma State University. It used to be Oklahoma A&M. Since he was over on the other side of this guy a bed or two, he remembered the incident a hell of a lot better than I did, and he enjoys telling about it.
On the bed right next to me on the left side was a young fellow Ė all these guys in this ward were officers Ė he had a through-and-through wound through his chest. Through his chest, lung, everything and out the back. It was almost a foregone conclusion that this man was a terminal case. Thereís no way that he can survive this. Heíd lay there and heíd cough and spit up blood. They had a four-by-four gauze bandage over him. Heíd lay there and smoke cigarettes, and smoke would come out under this bandage. Isnít that a hell of a thing? He wanted to live, though. He really wanted to. It wasnít a matter of just three or four days, he was gone.
Another one on that ward was a big handsome fellow who had a spinal cord injury. He was finding it not just difficult but almost impossible to accept the fact that he was going to be a paraplegic. The moment he got hit, the rest of his life changed. Thereís no repair for spinal cords. He sure took it hard. But a lot of people took it hard.
I enjoyed my stay there. People were pretty nice, especially the officers who were the patients. We all understood each other and what weíd gone through. One of the things I remember there, they let me sit up a little bit each day, and they were showing "Gone With the Wind" over at the theater. And one of these guys said, "Have you seen ĎGone With the Wind?í"
I said, "I saw it back in 1939, when it first came out."
He said, "Theyíre showing it. Would you like to go over there?"
I said, "I donít mind going over for a little while." A couple of guys pushed me over there in a wheelchair, and I watched part of "Gone With the Wind."
They cleaned my stumps up real good and put me in plaster casts. Three or four times they came in and said, "Weíre going to start you on the road home tomorrow." Tomorrow came and theyíd take a bunch of guys out but they didnít take Jim Flowers. "What the hellís going on?"
They said, "We donít think youíre quite ready to go yet."
"Bullshit. I want to go and I want to go as quickly as I possibly can."
A couple of days later, they came and got me S oh, one time, theyíd even taken me out to a little airfield there in Salisbury; they were airlifting from there up to Glasgow. Across the North Atlantic in those days all the flights from North America were going through Labrador or Newfoundland to Greenland, to Iceland, then the next stop would be Prestwick, Scotland. They even took me out to that little airfield in Salisbury, and I think they had more people there to get on the hospital plane than they had spaces, so it was back to the damn hospital.
The next time I went out there, I went to Glasgow, they put me in a hospital there. I was getting along pretty good by then. This is almost the First of September.
When they put the cast on over my stumps and up above my knees, they put maggots in these open wounds, the amputations, to keep them clean. The maggots would eat the decaying tissue, flesh, whatever. I didnít know that. I could feel something crawling around down there, itching. I tried to get a doctor to cut the damn cast off and take a look. He wouldnít do it, of course.
I tried to get a ward boy to bring me some alcohol to pour down in the casts to kill whatever it was. He wouldnít do it. I asked if somebody could bring me a stick, so I could rub a stick down there, at least let me scratch the itch. Wouldnít do it.
That might have prevented gangrene, I donít know.
One morning, real early, a nurse came in and said, "Are you ready to go back home?"
I said, "Yes, Iím ready to go." I think she had brought me some breakfast. She said, "Eat your breakfast and brush your teeth, and be sure that your toilet articles are all together." I had a little zipper bag that I kept them in. "Weíll be right back in a little bit, to start your flight home."
She was a man of her word, because it wasnít too long until they came and got me and took me out to Prestwick and loaded me on a C-54. After the war they were passenger planes, the biggest passenger airliners we had. I guess it was the first of the four-motored airliners. It was made by Douglass.
I canít remember whether it was three high or four high on each side of the aisle on that airplane, they had them stacked in there kind of like sardines. And on one end they had regular seats for the ambulatory that were no longer fit for combat.
We flew from Prestwick to Rejkyavik, then over to Greenland, and then I guess we stopped at Gander. We may have gone on over to Goose Bay. Six of one, half a dozen of the other except that theyíre five hundred miles apart. We went from there to Mitchel Field on Long Island.
They put us in that little station hospital out there, and by then I think I had my hands out; theyíd unwrapped my hands, they may have done that before I left that general hospital down in Salisbury, I donít remember. I still had scabs on my hands, but I could use them.
Oh, while my hands were in bandages up until I was able to write some, I scribbled Ė some myself, why, Red Cross people, nurses, chaplains, people in the hospitals that Iíd been in, they were real nice about catching me up on my correspondence, theyíd write letters to my wife, my family, friends.
While Iím there, I got a real haircut. I think I went to the barbershop at Mitchel Field. No I didnít. A barber came up, a real barber. I got a haircut, and bathed. The USO just couldnít do enough for you. I was there for three or four days. I didnít know where I was going. They said thereís a big Army hospital, a general hospital, in Temple, Texas, would you like to go?
I said, "I sure would, and the sooner the better."
The next day they loaded me and some of the other guys on a C-47 and took us down the East Coast, I think we went down to Greensboro, made some stops along the way. And they went over eventually to Love Field in Dallas, and they put me in a station hospital out there, those of us that were going down to Temple.
The nurse on the ward where I was called Jeanette and told her I was there, and she got my mother and father, my little daughter, and I think my sister, and one of my loudmouth neighbors who I wish theyíd have left at home. Imagine, people coming in to a hospital and asking you, "Did you see any Germans? How many did you kill?"
After a little joyous reunion with my wife and daughter and mother and father and partly joyous with my sister and one loudmouthed, nosy neighbor S I enjoyed it; in retrospect, why, Iíd have probably done the same thing S they left, and the next morning, they flew me down to Temple, 130 miles south of Dallas, and took me over to McCloskey General Hospital.
After revisions on both stumps, several monthsí time, and almost a year and a half, they transferred me to Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, and continued this treatment and made a prosthesis and another revision on the stump. I guess I was there for almost another year and a half, so all told I was hospitalized for almost three years.
The first temporary prostheses I had were fabricated and fitted about nine months after I was initially wounded. I could figure it out to the day. Roosevelt died on April 12th, 1945. That was the day that I received my first temporary prostheses. I was wounded in July Ė thatís August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April Ö nine months to the day from the day they scooped me up on a piece of bloody French real estate until I put on my first temporary prostheses.
I used to kiddingly say Roosevelt had lived a long time, and had a pretty full life. He had done a lot of good things, a lot of things with which I didnít agree, but Iím just one person. Somebody had probably called the president over at Warm Springs and said to him, "Jim Flowers is standing up and heís taking his first steps," and Roosevelt says, "Iíve heard it all. Nothing further that I care to hear." And he sat down and died.
Iíve got us up to August of 1946. Iím leaving McCloskey and going to Percy Jones at Battle Creek. They worked on me some more up there.
The first retirement board I met was in August of í47. They said, "Youíll hear from us." So they put me on leave until all the paperwork had cleared and they could notify me. I officially retired on the first day of November, 1947, having entered the service the first day of April, 1942, so thatís pretty easy to figure, isnít it? Five years and seven months, the majority of it time in the hospital.
Now, after I got out of the Army, what did I do? Not much of anything. I went and visited a lot of my draft-dodging friends. I went back over to the Magnolia Petroleum Company, at their invitation and behest to see if I would come back. They didnít want to lose me. I was a bright young fellow. But somewhere along the line I had lost all interest in the petroleum business, the oilfields, everything connected with it. I canít do this any more.
Flowers, thatís the only thing you know how to do. What the hell are you going to do?
I have a friend named Price Lively that worked for the Veterans Administration. He was in vocational rehabilitation and education. He suggested that I might consider working with the people who had lost limbs or parts thereof in the military, for the Veterans Administration. I donít think so. And he said, "I want you to meet Sid Hadman, maybe he could shed some light on what Iím trying to tell you." Sid worked with the Department of Medicine and Surgery at the Veterans Administrationís branch office in Dallas.
In the meantime, somewhere along the line, a boy named Bill Dobbs, who had been hospitalized with me down at McCloskey, he had been retired from the Army and he was working for the VA in Dallas at the branch office in prosthetics. Old Bill said, "Youíll enjoy it. You like people and people like you, youíll get along fine."
I went over to SMU and took a battery of different kinds of tests to determine my interests and what in their opinion I would be most happy doing, and there were six or eight different things that they thought Iíd do very well at, but the more I thought about what Price Lively and what Sid Hadman and Bill had told me, I thought Iíll give it a try. So I went to the Civil Service Commission and had them reopen the examination for a prosthetic representative. I took the exam, which didnít amount to a hell of a lot, at least I didnít think it did. Iím fairly intelligent, at least I used to be fairly intelligent, but Iím not trained in anything in that field at all. I can hardly spell prosthetics. Iím an engineer by trade and profession. "You can think, canít you? You can make decisions."
I said, "Well, yeah, Iíve been doing it," then Iím 33 years old, "Iíve been doing a lot of decision making ever since I was a teenage kid. I believe I can handle that."
They had an opening down at Waco, in the heart of Texas. "You might go down there and talk to Dr. Harry Rubin, the manager of the VA center in Waco." He had a hospital and a regional office. Well, it wonít take but a day of my time to go down there and talk to those people, and talk to the people over at the outpatient medical division where prosthetics would be located and see what their feeling is.
I went down there and I hadnít been there ten minutes until Dr. Rubin had me convinced that that was the thing for me to do.
He said, "How soon can you start to work?"
I said, "How about next Monday?"
So you might say I had to be reeducated, but that was no problem. I learned Ö I used to learn quickly. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the first ten or fifteen years I worked for the Veterans Administration, Iíd have worked for free. I didnít tell them that.
The boys that were coming back from Korea had certainly a different outlook than we WWII people had. We in WWII had no choice, really. We were into a war letís say to save free people all over the world and to liberate so many people all over the world who had been captive at one time or another for many years, except in Russia, we couldnít liberate them, but we could in Europe and we did, we thought. At least we got Hitler out of there, didnít we? And we eventually got Tojo and Hirohito out of there, didnít we? So we thought we did a pretty fair job. But so far as Korea is concerned, a lot of those boys would just as soon not have participated in that thing. They couldnít see any rhyme or reason why they should be over there.
I had one friend, Elmer Whitten, who flew fighter airplanes during WWII and like so many patriotic Americans he stayed in the service. Of course it changed from Army Air Corps to United States Air Force in 1947, and he was in the Air Force Reserve. Then along came Korea, and instead of filling the skies in Korea full of United States Air Force regulars, they recalled hundreds, maybe thousands, of World War II fighter pilots who had stayed in the Reserve. Whitten was one of them, and he had the bad luck to get hit; a piece of shell fragment or a piece of his airplane or something hit him in the back and severed his spinal column, and he was a paraplegic from, oh, letís say about D-10 down, D is for dorsal. A finer man never walked on the face of this earth. But he was not bitter about it. He said, "Well, thatís just one of those things." He was a Texas boy, lived down in west central Texas, a hundred miles or so west of Waco.
One boy that had every reason in the world to really be bitter about this thing was an infantry soldier that got up to the Yalu River. The Yalu River separated North Korea from Manchuria. Chinese over here, North Koreans over here. But the Americans dashed on through North Korea and got up to the Yalu River, and because of some political reasons and other reasons, why, Truman wouldnít let them cross the Yalu, he stopped MacArthur.
Of course, the Chinese were pouring across the Yalu by the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, and they were about to slaughter our people up there, and this was in the wintertime, in the subzero temperatures up there, and this kid that I have in mind was one of them that had to walk back from the Yalu River, and he lost parts of both feet and both hands because of frostbite.
He couldnít have been more than 19 or 20 years old when this happened to him.
There was a bright future for this kid, but he just couldnít overcome it. As far as I know he just lost all ambition about everything.
Now, Vietnam. Most of the boys that I talked to Ė and my oldest son was one of them that was in the Vietnam thing Ė theyíd just as soon not have been there, except for one thing: They were patriotic Americans. And they were in the military and they were told to go do this job, and according to the way they were thinking they had no choice, they had to do it.
Most of them didnít like it worth a damn. I knew a few of them; after they got out of the hospital they turned out to be the long-haired, bearded, unwashed types that you still see on TV from time to time, the protesters. Thank God my son was not one of those. He was an MP. After he came home, he went back to school, and Iím real proud of him. Thereís a lot of them that came back that could have gone back to school, they had the background and the intelligence to do it, but didnít. I know two or three of them that turned out to be the long-haired, unshaved and unwashed types who protested anything.
Most of them turned out to be pretty nice boys. The ones I was just talking about, it may be that way across the general population of people, in every batch of eggs you might run on two or three bad ones.
Now my son manufactures and sells modular buildings. I thought it was a hell of a way to make a living. He didnít think so. Heís smarter than his daddy. He and another fellow, they started in this thing working for people selling these things, retail dealers, and they learned a hell of a lot about the business this way; actually theyíre two smart young men, they said if weíre really going to get into this thing and make a few bucks, weíve got to do it for ourselves, so they did, and theyíre doing very well now.
That was my oldest son. I have two daughters and two sons.
I was a country kid. Iíll tell you a story. Itís not the whole cloth, but it makes it interesting. Up in the spring of the year, the weather started getting hot, I was out in the field plowing, behind a turning plow. We were not wealthy enough to have a plow that had two wheels and a seat on which I could ride, I had to walk behind a team of mules and hold the damn plow up, walk behind them to plow. Thatís a dirty damn job. Thatís just one of the things that I didnít like about the farm. I never did find a hoe handle that would fit my hands. Chopping cotton. Youíve heard the expression chopping cotton? They plant cotton, they plant too much, and then after the cotton gets up so high, you go and you chop out the weeds thatís growing around the cotton, you chop out the unwanted and unneeded little cotton plants, to give the ones that you save a fighting chance to grow up to be nice, healthy plants that produce a lot of lint for the cotton. A lot of other things I didnít like about the farm, but I guess those were a few of the things that I didnít like most of all.
Now, back to the interesting, not whole cloth story. I was plowing and I was hot, I was tired and I was dirty, and the damn mules were contrary. I just plowed over to the next fence. Barbed wire fence. I plowed over to the next fence, and leaned the plow up against the fence post, unhitched the team, and headed them toward the barn and threw some clods at them to get íem moving that way; once you get the mules headed toward the barn, why, theyíll go, as a matter of fact you may have a real problem stopping them. And I jumped over the fence and walked out a little better than a mile to the highway, and thumbed a ride into the city, and never went back to the farm. Makes a pretty good story. I was an old man. I was 17 years old. It was 1931. I bucked a chain tong and worked around the oil patch, and I came to the attention of a man named McLoughlin, who was the vice president of production for Magnolia Petroleum Company. That kind gentleman saw that I was fairly intelligent and not lazy by any means, and I knew how to work, so with his taking an interest in me, why, somewhere along the line I became employed by the Magnolia Petroleum Company and got a little education along with it.
I guess had it not been for the outbreak of the war in Europe, why, I might have been Mister Flowers with Mobil Oil before I retired. I like to think that I would. Thatís the way it goes.