REPLY BY ENDORSEMENT - JANUARY 1942
Recently a patient presented me with a copy of her husband's orders. It was to confirm his transfer of assignment from Ft. Benning and establish her eligibility for CHAMPUS (Civilian Health Medical Program Uniformed Services). Listed at the bottom left under the heading, "Distribution:" were 17 different departments, headquarters and individuals for which copies (totaling 138 in number) were to be supplied.
Government bureaucracy, and especially armed service bureaucracy, has long had a love affair with paperwork in order to cover every possible contingency, plug every loophole and diffuse responsibility. Contemplating the inordinate amount of secretarial work, time and paper consumed in providing just this one individual transfer order recalled an initial shattering experience with the paperwork of a Line of Duty board in the Army thirty years ago.
In January 1942, after four months in the Army assigned to the old Station Hospital at Benning, I was just becoming adjusted to the duties of a 1st Lt. In the Medical Corps. Out of the blue one day came notification (in triplicate) of my assignment as medical officer on a three-man Line of Duty board. By mistake, since my date of rank was the most recent of the three, I was listed as the Presiding Officer. The other two members, 1st Lt. Evans (Infantry) and 2nd Lt. Hellman (Signal Corps), turned out to be novices also.
In panic, I sought out a knowledgeable army surgeon, Capt. Max Rulney (3 years of doctoring in the C.C.C. and 3 years in the army), whose expertise in paperwork far exceeded that in medicine. The obvious irregularity in assigning me as presiding officer upset Max greatly, but, as a practical man well versed in the devious ways of the military, he recommended not attempting to straighten out the mistake about date of rank. The paperwork, he said, might become so involved that it would be easier for the board to meet as constituted, turn in its report, and have done with it. Besides, as the senior presiding officer, I would be merely a figurehead, and the actual work would fall to the lowly 2nd Lt. Hellman, who, automatically, was the recording secretary.
The large scale Louisiana maneuvers had ended in the fall, and, as part of the exercise, the evacuation channels for casualties were being tested. The Station Hospital at Benning had been designated as a base hospital outside of the combat zone to which wounded were shipped for definitive treatment and rehabilitation. When recovered, the evacuee would either be returned to his original unit, reassigned elsewhere, reclassified or retired, as the case demanded. The particular job of our Line of Duty board was to investigate the broken leg injury of a maneuver casualty and establish a Yes or No answer to the simple question of whether the injury had occurred "in line of duty."
Before convening the board for its first meeting, I thought it wise to visit the Orthopedic wards across the road in the cantonement area to find and interview our casualty. Landry, Jules A. Pfc. was a pleasant, non-complaining draftee with his left leg encased in a walking cast. His name and unmistakable Cajun accent indicated he was Louisiana lowland native. He was cooperative and happy to talk with a fellow Louisianan, and gave a detailed, straightforward account of his earlier accident.
Landry had moved with his infantry unit from Camp Blanding in Florida to Louisiana for the maneuvers. Early one Sunday morning, after a strenuous week of simulated combat, his company was out of action and in reserve, bivouacked in a spot less than a mile from his home. The thought of Sunday dinner and some of Mama Landry's crawfish bisque was too much for Jules. So, with nothing to do, and being afraid to awaken his sleeping platoon sergeant to ask for permission, he took off down the familiar road and spent the day with his admiring family. After lunch, he took Alcide, a 4-year-old younger brother, for a ride on the family mule. Returning home, the mule balked, Jules was thrown and snapped both bones in his lower leg. The family took him to old Dr. St. Amant in the nearby town, who splinted the leg, loaded Jules in a car and delivered him back to his company area. Unfortunately, by this time, Landry had been listed as AWOL on the daybook, and the report had gone too far through channels to be retrieved.
This, essentially, was the bare story of Landry, Jules A., Pfc. and his broken leg. Our board held a meeting and decided, in view of the locale of the accident and Landry's being officially AWOL, that the injury obviously had not occurred "in line of duty." Lt. Hellman prepared the report consisting of our decision along with 20 pages of statements, X-ray findings and true copies of medical and other reports (all in quintuplicate). With much relief we all signed and sent it off through channels.
Two weeks later the report was back on my desk with an added front sheet marked "Urgent" and something called a "1st Wrapper Endorsement." It had apparently gotten no farther than the Station Hospital's own administration office and had been returned for "revision and correction."
Again seeking help, I approached the redoubtable Capt. Rulney who was sympathetic but not at all surprised. Max pointed out some glaring errors in phraseology, the absence of certification on a number of true copies, and, worst of all, that the inexperienced Hellman had typed using half-inch margins instead of the required one and a half. From his files, he supplied a standardized Line of Duty proceedings report to be used as an example, and, certainly, by comparison, ours was definitely the work of amateurs.
Armed with the original report and the example, I went across post to the Signal Corps area, only to find that 2nd Lt. Hellman had been transferred to Alaska two days before. Lt. Evans was easier to find, but, unfortunately, he was leaving immediately on a ten-day field exercise. He did promise to take over as recording secretary as soon as he got back.
Discouraged (and worried about that "Urgent", 1st Wrapper Endorsement) I prepared the second report myself, paying careful attention to word sequence, terminology and margins. Evans signed when he got back, and the new, revised report (in quintuplicate) along with the original report and its Wrapper Endorsement was sent on its way again.
This time it got as far as the Main Post Headquarters. When it reappeared on my desk 3 weeks later there was another "Urgent" and a 3rd Wrapper Endorsement (what had happened to the 2nd Wrapper was never explained). It was sent back for "completion" this time, and apparently needed a statement (and 5 true copies) from the civilian physician who had originally treated Pfc. Landry. This required some doing since old Dr. St. Amant was not a letter writer by nature, nor had he yet been paid for his efforts. When finally his grudging reply did come, copies were made and certified, and a complete new third version of the board proceedings was retyped. In the interval, however, Lt. Evans had been transferred to a port of embarkation and was not available for signing. So true copies of his orders had to be obtained, along with a certified statement from his former commanding officer, and sent along with the report. While Evans' departure simplified matters in regard to calling board meetings, it left me wary, and, as the new report along with the previous two went off, I had no doubt that I would be seeing them all again before long.
They got to Corps Headquarters this time and it was 5 weeks before they reappeared. Marked "Urgent" again and sporting innumerable new Wrapper Endorsements, another signed statement from Pfc. Landry was needed now. A quick trip to the Orthopedic wards confirmed the certainty that Landry, Jules A., Pfc. had long since departed and been returned to his unit in Florida. From other sources, it was learned that Landry's Division was already in transport overseas. Nothing was left at Ft. Benning but a harried Presiding Officer and the growing stacks of papers and Wrapper Endorsements. There was nothing to do except to add a statement from the Orthopedic ward officer and a summarizing acid appraisal of my own and, all in quintuplicate, the new report and the three old ones were packaged up and sent off again.
Before the calculated time for its next reappearance - it must have reached Washington on this trip, since it was gone more than 5 weeks - orders came through transferring me to the 45th Division at Ft. Devens, Mass.
The final outcome of Pfc. Landry's Line of Duty board remains in limbo. I was haunted during the entire time of combat in Italy by a fear that the next runner coming up the rocky path to the Aid Station in the mountains above Cassino would be carrying a manila-wrapped package bulging with those familiar papers, requesting that I reply by endorsement. And even now, thirty years later, there is a feeling of unease on seeing any suitably sized, official looking package that measures more than two feet in depth.
(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jan 1972, Vol. XIX No.1, p.8