LEGACIES OF THE KOREAN WAR: Wayne Doenges – Army Medical Corps / Korea

Wayne Doenges of New Haven was drafted into the Army in February 1952 at age 24. (Courtesy photo)
Wayne Doenges of New Haven was drafted into the Army in February 1952 at age 24. (Courtesy photo)
Wayne Doenges of New Haven was drafted into the Army in February 1952 at age 24. (By Kayleen Reusser for News-Sentinel.com)

Just before the truce between North and South Korea was signed in July 1953, the military of North Korea decided to push hard. Contingents of the Republic of Korea (ROK), which was the army of South Korea, caught it, resulting in many wounded being sent to Wayne Doenges’ medical unit.

“All personnel in our platoon unloaded the wounded from jeeps, trucks, ambulances, and helicopters,” he said. “I had no combat experience but saw the result.”

Doenges of New Haven was drafted into the Army in February 1952 at age 24. He was sent to Camp Pickett in Virginia for eight weeks of infantry basic training. “There was a shortage of M1 Garand rifles,” he said. “We spent much of our combat exercises using sticks and calling out ‘Bang, bang’.”

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Doenges began an eight-week course for medical aide men, which were trained like corpsmen in the Navy and Marines. “I have no idea why the Army assigned me as a combat medical aide,” he said. “I was not a conscientious objector and my civilian experience included shooting sports and mechanical skills. I found out the Army puts you where it needs you.”

Later, Doenges was sent to X-ray school at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and Camp Lawton in Seattle, Washington.

In January 1953, he boarded the USNS Ballou troop ship for a 21-day voyage to Camp Drake, Japan and finally Pusan, Korea.

He rode a train north with soldiers serving as guards before being transferred to a truck and continuing to the 618th Medical Clearing Company, two miles north of the 38th Parallel.

The platoon was next to the railroad that accommodated the daily hospital train from Seoul. “The duties of the 618th was to care for and keep the wounded overnight for loading on the hospital train the next day,” he said.

The 75 soldiers making up Doenges’ unit came from a variety of backgrounds in civilian life — white-collar, professional boxer, opera singer, mechanics. “We got along fine,” he said.

To make living conditions seem more like home the soldiers named their tents. “The tent for the medics was called ‘Snob Hill’,” he said. “The common tent was called ‘Snake Pit’, while the motor pool tent was called the ‘Grease Pit’. The officers’ tent will remain nameless.”

According to Doenges, the food in his platoon was great, but he didn’t always eat it. “We drew rations for our meals primarily based on the wounded under our care,” he said. “If there were few wounded, we ate well. If there were many wounded, we ate what was left, if any.”

The nearby sister ambulance company of Doenges’ outfit soon learned that the white background of the Red Cross on the ambulances attracted the artillery of the Chinese and North Koreans. “Mud was plastered over the white changing the ambulances to a less visible target,” he said.

As truck drivers were in short supply, Doenges was eventually assigned to the motor pool. He drove a WWII deuce-and-a-half (2.5 ton) truck. “Many guys in our outfit had never learned to drive a vehicle in civilian life so I had a skill the Army could use,” he said.

Doenges’ assignment was a daily run to the headquarters platoon at Yongdungp’o. This was the APO for mail and the 52nd Medical Group Headquarters. Distance round-trip was 45 miles on Route 30, which took about two hours.

It was a good duty for Doenges. “I never was fired on,” he said. “I only had to contend with MP’s out to enforce the 25 mile per hour speed limit and the occasional honey wagon pulled by oxen with old papasan determined to not let me pass.”

A ceasefire was declared on July 27, 1953. By July 1954, the 618th, 2nd platoon was gone from its location in Korea. Doenges has tried to locate people he served with and anyone who was there.

“Overall, my experience in Korea reminded me later of the TV series M*A*S*H,” he said. “I felt like my platoon performed a needed service in Korea.”

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