Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Dr. Charissa Threat

Second Advisor

Dr. Alexander Bay

Third Advisor

Dr. Gregory Daddis


“Medics carried more responsibilities than dry feet, salt tablets, syphilis, and puncture wounds,” U.S. Army Medic Ben Sherman stated after reflecting on his tour in Vietnam. On the battlefields of North Africa, Italy, France, and Vietnam, the medics of the U.S. Army Medical Department faced the difficult duty of preserving life while death surrounded them. Their patients were not strangers but, men they had grown close to, they were comrades and family. Analyzing the memoirs and letters of forward medical personnel from the Second World War and the Vietnam War, this thesis analyzes how a medic’s care went beyond the battlefield. Medics were not just the frontline healers that have dominated popular memory but, were men who were responsible for keeping the unit at fighting strength both mentally and physically. This thesis argues that examining caregiving during war allows us to understand the complex nature of the job of a combat medic, the psychological and physical impact of war on those who sought to make spaces of healing surrounded by death. Before battle medics took care of their unit’s everyday health needs. After battle, many medics listened to the fears and confessions of their friends, as if taking on the role of a priest when none could be found. They quickly learned the signs of a traumatic mental break that could cripple a soldier. The men of the Medical Department saw the infantry they supported as more than just patients, with every death or evacuation taking a greater toll on the medic. These factors created an environment where the medics own mental and physical health were pushed to the limits of the human condition. In a military occupational specialty where the casualty rate was more often than not at100%, a medic faced the reality that he would either leave the battlefield from an enemies’ bullet or because his own body and mind had reached their limit.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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