June 1944: U.S. Army Medical Soldiers Administering A Plasma Transfusion To A Survivor Of A Off the Coast Of France (Colorized)

April 24, 2021

The History Of Combat Medics

War generates many harsh realities and traumatizing situations. Combat medics train to help those suffering from the most grievous injuries and mortifying conditions that most people could never comprehend. The combat medic field goes back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.

The bygone Greek physician Hippocrates, for which the Hippocratic Oath is named, advised, “‘He who would become a surgeon, let him join an army and follow it.” From time immemorial to today, combat medics worked furiously to save the lives of those they could and ease the passing of those they could not. Procedures have greatly improved but the ethos remained the same. Here are the stories and practices combat medics have experienced the world over.

The Dark Ages

A medic converses with a wounded soldiers during World War I. Circa 1915 (Wikicommons)

A century and a half ago, during the Civil War, medics possessed very few choices when it came to grievous injuries. A field tent where the injured were taken held little more than bandages, chloroform (if available), morphine, opium, and of course, whiskey. Their “surgical kit” included little more than amputation knives and handsaws.

The cinematic portrayal of soldiers writhing and screaming as doctors removed a limb rarely occurred. According to English professor, Jane E. Schultz, "Ninety-five percent of the time, they used chloroform or ether. They were dosed lightly, as the operations were brief. The light anesthesia, not pain, caused the patients to move about while insensible."