When Paul Bandelier of Fort Wayne sailed to New Caledonia in the South Pacific with the US Navy in WWII, he was not on a ship filled with ammunition and guns but hospital beds – 500, to be exact.Bandelier, who graduated from Northside High School in 1940, had worked at a hardware on Harrison Street before enlisting in the US Navy in June 1942. “I wanted the Navy, because I thought it had better opportunities for officer training," he said.
At home Bandelier had a quiet example of military service. “Dad was born in Switzerland but left before WWI," he said. “He served in the US as a hospital corpsman, but never talked about the war.”
After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Bandelier was, coincidentally, assigned the same duties as his father. “I may have been picked as a corpsman because took I took chemistry and biology in high school," he said. He still has an anatomy textbook used in training.Graduating from corpsmen training in October 1942, Bandelier was assigned to the USS Relief, bound for the Pacific. Before leaving the US, the Relief was painted white at Boston Navy Yard. This was important for it to be recognized at night before crossing the Atlantic.
The Relief and dozen or so other hospital ships were all painted white with big red crosses on their sides, as they traveled without escort.
“We were part of the Red Cross and therefore, supposedly, safe from enemy fire under the Geneva Convention," he said. “Our only live armament was a side arm the officer on deck wore for incidents aboard ship and maybe a rifle for sharks.” Technically, the Relief carried another gun – an 18-inch gun placed along the keel for ballast. “It helped keep the operating room tables steady,” said Bandelier who carried a small Bible to read during times of stress.
While the Relief was never attacked, the same was not true for another hospital ship, the USS Comfort, also in the Pacific. When Japanese kamikaze pilots attacked this hospital ship, they wounded and killed nearly 100 of the 700 people aboard, mostly medical personnel.
As a corpsman, Bandelier’s duties were to aid the 44 doctors and 13 nurses on the hospital ship. “The nurses were officers who were required to wear skirts as part of their uniforms,” said Bandelier. “When they climbed up the ship’s ladders to leave the mess hall, every seaman’s eyes followed them.” When the nurses complained about the attention, a curtain was held up to offer them privacy during their exits.
According to Bandelier, the ship’s 500 hospital beds were usually full. “We treated patients with gunshot wounds, bayonet wounds, dysentery, and malaria," he said. His duties included bathing patients, helping to feed them and working in the contagious disease ward.
The ship contained two operating rooms and a place for autopsies. Bandelier asked to witness autopsies. “I wanted to observe but had to keep reminding myself that the person was dead," he said.
The Relief sailed to places in the Pacific where invasions were planned. At Tarawa and the Marshall Islands wounded troops were transported by medics and litter bearers back from the battle to the shore where small boats carried them to the medical ship, quietly waiting to lend assistance in international waters away from the chaos.
Once the Relief was loaded with patients, it sailed to land-based hospitals in New Zealand and Pearl Harbor.
During one battle, four Japanese soldiers were wounded and taken aboard the Relief to be taken to Pearl Harbor to a prison there. When one of the POWs died, the crew conducted an official burial at sea.
The Americans also brought aboard a Korean male who had been with the Japanese and was thought to have been their slave. He was set free at Pearl Harbor.
One malady the medical staff had to treat among American military personnel was the ingestion of a concoction known as ‘torpedo juice’. “It was a drink mixture made of pineapple juice and 180-proof grain alcohol fuel used in military torpedo motors," said Bandelier. “The rule was no alcohol allowed on the ship, except for medicinal purposes.”
A medical marvel during the war was penicillin, an antibiotic Bandelier had the opportunity to be treated with during basic training when he became sick with and cured of pneumonia.
At Christmas, Bandelier was still aboard ship at the hot climes of the equator, listening to holiday music played on vinyl records. The ship never went to port, but Bandelier was happy to receive a package from home. “I got a Christmas card from Dad, wool scarf someone made and cookie crumbs," he said.
After a year at sea, Bandelier applied for and was accepted into the V12 Navy College Training Program. It was a series of college courses designed to develop military leaders. Bandelier and three others returned to the US with the option of choosing where to attend. Bandelier chose Notre Dame, due to its proximity to Fort Wayne. He was there when the war ended in August 1945.
A high point for Bandelier during the war was meeting Hollywood actor Jackie Cooper. “He was kicked out of the V12 program because he played the high life,” said Bandelier.
When Bandelier was discharged in January 1946, it was at the rank of Pharmacist Mate 2nd class. For his contribution during the war, Bandelier received two battle stars. The USS Relief received a total of five battle stars for its contribution to the war.
Bandelier continued his education at Indiana University, graduating with a degree in business in 1948. He was married the same day. He and wife Pat were parents to three children.
Bandelier worked at WKJG from 1950 into the 1980s. He has participated with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. “I’m glad I served in the military during the war," he said. “This is a wonderful country and we owe it something.”