Surgeon on Iwo Book Review

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Surgeon on Iwo

By James S. Vedder

Hardcover in dustjacket, 211 pages, photographs, and index

Published by Presidio, Book Club edition

Language: English

Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches

Dr. James S. Vedder was the ranking medical officer assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment.  On 19 February 1945 the 963 men of the Battalion assaulted the island of Iwo Jima and were in continuous combat for over a month.  Over 700 of the men of the 3rd Battalion became casualties, those who were not killed outright passed through Dr. Vedder’s aid station.

Vedder was in charge of the Battalion’s Navy Corpsmen whether assigned to the aid station or the Marine platoons as well as the other Doctors and Marine litter bearers.  He was effectively the chief medical officer and senior administrator for an outdoor emergency hospital which moved, often under enemy fire, and saw a continuous flow of trauma patients.  Problems of personnel, supply, transportation, and casualties among his own men were his to resolve.

This is a day-by-day first-person account of the battle for Iwo Jima from the medical viewpoint.  It is not for the faint of heart.  The clean single bullet wound where the hero clutches his chest and says, “They got me!” is Hollywood trope.  Combat wounds are often severe and traumatic, Vedder describes in detail the process of stabilizing the casualties and evacuating them from the front lines to the hospital ships offshore.

The backdrop for this is two armies fighting over a small volcanic island and all the hardships which that entails.  There are several books written about the amphibious battles of the Pacific War but few from this perspective.  This is a fascinating read, recommended.

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