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A Young Surgeon on D-Day: Remembering My Father’s Service in WWII By Darrell A. Campbell, Jr., MD
 My father, Darrell Campbell, found himself on
an unexpected path two years after completing
his general surgical training at the University of Michigan. At age 32, he found himself not in the private practice of surgery for which he had trained, but rather wading through waist deep water in the Easy White sector of Omaha Beach, hours after the D-Day invasion had begun. The military operation
to reclaim continental Europe from Nazi Germany was formally known as operation “Overlord” but colloquially referred to as “D-Day” (shorthand for “death-day) because of the enormous number of casualties; “Easy White” was the bloodiest landing sector of the five landing sites. Casualties were everywhere, victims of gunshot wounds, mortars, and drowning. Over 1,000 American troops perished in the first few hours.
My father, who passed away over a decade ago, like many of the survivors of WW II, told me very little of his experience as a surgeon on the front line of battle. Only recently, I found three small record books in my mother’s basement. These were his handwritten, sometimes blood-stained operative notes from the 534 cases he performed between June 7, 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge, seven months later. These included general, thoracic and orthopedic cases of all kinds, often performed in mud-floored tents not only on Allied troops, but also on Germans and civilians, including children.
My father’s team (designated “Team 13”) consisted
of two surgeons, an anesthesiologist, and a surgical
nurse or technician. Team 13 was one of the many similar surgical teams in the “Third Surgical Auxiliary,” attached to the First Army. The plan called for Team 13 (along with many thousands of soldiers) to rendezvous by a large ship, in this case an LST, in the middle of the English Channel just prior to 0600 June 6. There they were to head straight for Easy, a sector of Omaha Beach, where they were to collect medical equipment and treat casualties as appropriate. Soldiers with survivable injuries were to be loaded onto outgoing ships, and back to England.
General Eisenhower once famously remarked that “planning is essential, but plans are useless.” This could not have been truer than on June 6, 1944. Despite two years of intensive planning and practice for the invasion, when “H-hour” finally came at 0600 June 6, the plans began to go seriously wrong, affected by bad weather, fierce resistance from the Germans, and a shoreline well defended by underwater obstacles.
Team 13 was expected to transfer from the LST to a smaller landing craft at 0600, and to arrive on Easy Green at H plus two hours. They were to follow after the landing of infantry troops and dozens of bulldozers, meant to cut through German shoreline defenses. The Team 13 landing at H plus two was attempted but not accomplished. The unloading plank at the front of the boat got stuck, and troops could not exit. The landing finally occurred at H + 25 hrs.
He may have been fortunate in this regard, because virtually all of the 35 amphibious bulldozers sank, leaving troops that landed first little ability to advance beyond the shoreline seawall. Compounding matters, the planned extensive bombing of the German defenses, which was
to have been carried out by the US Air Force in order to weaken German artillery located on the tall bluff a few hundred yards from the shore, was ineffective. Because
of bad weather, and a possibly exaggerated fear of hitting our own troops, the bombs fell far inland from the German defenses, mostly in empty cow pastures. The Americans,
  10 Washtenaw County Medical Society BULLETIN JANUARY / FEBRUARY / MARCH 2020

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