An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

WWII Veteran recalls medevac experience

  • Published
  • By Kevin M. Hymel
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Ninety-year-old World War II veteran Mort Sheffloe, from Georgetown, Texas, often thinks back to the brutal fighting to liberate France. But he also remembers the professional care he received after he was wounded on September 10, 1944. This Veterans Day, Sheffloe shared the story of his air evacuation from France to England.

It was still daylight when a 19-year-old Sergeant Mort Sheffloe was carried from an Army ambulance to a waiting C-47 Skytrain transport plane. "The plane was mostly loaded when I got there," recalled Sheffloe. "Or they held me back until the plane was loaded." He does not exactly remember. "I was probably doped."

Sheffloe, who fought in France with E Company, 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, had been shot in the back by a German sniper outside of Brest, France, on September 10, 1944. He had been running from crater to crater, trying to pull his platoon back, outside an enemy fort that had been heavily bombed by the U.S. Army Air Forces, when the enemy bullet tore through his back, dropping him into one of the craters.

The bullet had torn through his lower chest cavity, destroying ribs and tearing his lung and liver before exiting through the right side of his chest. An aid man soon jumped into the crater and, after cutting away Sheffloe's field jacket and shirt, sprinkled sulfa powder over the wound. He could not give Sheffloe morphine for his pain, since it slowed respiration.

Almost four hours later, a litter team arrived to carry Sheffloe off the battlefield. Doctors and medics treated him in the basement of a house used as a battalion aide station. From there he was taken to a regimental collecting point and then an evacuation hospital. He received some minor surgery along the way, but doctors wanted to get him to England for better treatment.

Sheffloe had to wait seven days before he could be put on a plane to England. Military protocol dictated that patients with chest wounds had to wait that long before being transported by air. Without modern chest tubes, ventilators and other life-saving devices used by today's Air Force Critical Care Teams, doctors had to be sure their patients were stabilized before flights.

He does not remember where the field hospital was located, only that he was lying alone on a recumbent litter while the ambulance drove him up a hill to the airstrip. "They lifted me up on the plane and situated me in the aisle," Sheffloe recalled. Since he was sitting up on a litter, he would not fit on the racks on either side of the plane.

An Army flight nurse in a jumpsuit kneeled down and checked on Sheffloe. "She said a few words to me in a calming voice," he recalled, "but I don't remember what she said." She was not the first American woman he had seen in France. One had greeted him at the evacuation hospital.

Once the flight nurse had made sure Sheffloe was stable enough to fly, someone closed the plane's door. The engines cranked up and the plane rumbled down the grass field. Once airborne, Sheffloe fell asleep. He had never been in a plane before but the painkillers he had received for his wound prevented any worries. "I was just trying to survive," he explained. "I just went along with the process."

The flight was uneventful. No alarms rang, no one suffered. That was the way Air Transport Command leaders wanted it. Nurses kept survival rates high aboard planes. The Ninth Troop Carrier Command, responsible for Northern France during World War II, recorded that only five patients died during transport--a rate of three deaths per 100,000 patients.

After a few hours, Sheffloe's plane touched down in England and rolled into a hanger. It was already night. "I was the first one out," he said. An orderly rolled him into a well-lit ward, filled with beds wrapped in white bedsheets. "I hadn't see light like that for a while. It was like coming back to civility."

Even though the flight was short and he slept most of the way, Sheffoe has a well-developed appreciation for those who took care of him during this precarious time. "All the nurses were very professional," said Sheffloe. "They treated us well and took good care of us."

Sheffloe, who was one of 545,000 patients evacuated by air in 1944, spent the rest of the war recovering in England, before making it home to Crookston, Minnesota, in August 1945.

These days, Sheffloe attends Veterans Day ceremonies and will attend a luncheon at his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. To him, Veterans Day stretches back to his childhood, when he remembered the soldiers of the First World War. "I fully appreciate the significance of the day," he said.

For veterans like Sheffloe, wars bring back good memories with the bad, and those memories of the people who cared for him are what makes Veterans Day special.