From Chiseldon, England, Lowell Rymill could see the C-47s moving through the sky, pulling small, engineless gliders behind them. Wave after wave.
Often, he’d see the planes go out and come back on practice runs.
“But that day, they were just coming and coming and coming,” Rymill said. “And then these tanks were moving out of our camp.
“Just too much activity for a show.”
Rymill wondered how long it would be before the wounded would arrive. One, maybe two weeks, he guessed.
The 130th Station Hospital had been in Chiseldon about a month. There were two buildings — one for surgery, the other for receiving injured — and big concrete pads and sidewalks. The men erected tents over the concrete to create hospital wards.
By June 1, 1944, they finished preparing the wards. Five days later, the destination of the C-47s became clear: Normandy.
Within 48 hours, D-Day’s injured began to arrive.
Back in Wyoming, before the war, Rymill had no medical experience. He doesn’t know why the Army chose him to be a medic. He likes to say the closest experience he had to medicine was that his wife was a nurse.
“That would have been the last thing I would have picked,” he said.
But the Army orders, and you listen.
As a medic, Rymill went through basic training like any infantryman. At Camp Robinson, Ark., medics prepared to serve alongside the infantry in battle and took additional medical training. Men would lie in a field with tags attached to them listing their maladies. Rymill would have to treat them accordingly, whether administering first aid or creating a splint.
Medics had to carry injured men from the battlefield to an aid station, so they practiced hauling stretchers.
Rymill went from training to the 130th Station Hospital at Camp Barkeley, Texas. He worked for the personnel office, in charge of payroll and writing letters to parents of boys who died in the hospital.
“That would not have been my choice, either,” Rymill said.
The 130th left the U.S. in summer 1943. It went from Camp Shanks, N.Y., to Scotland, to Swindon, England, then to Wroughton, Pinkney Park and later Chiseldon.
Two days after D-Day, in the afternoon, a phone call came to Rymill’s station hospital in Chiseldon. Injured were on their way.
Rymill remembers running to the receiving building where the ambulances would arrive. He thought the men would have been treated a bit at a field hospital. That wasn’t the case.
The men he saw were dirty, tired, in pain.
The 130th was short-handed that first week after D-Day. Most of the medical personnel — doctors, nurses, surgeons and ward men — had been assigned temporary duty elsewhere in southern England. The hospital was operating mainly with medics like Rymill. As he remembers, there were one surgeon, two doctors and two nurses at camp in Chiseldon.
Planes carried the injured from France to England. Ambulances on the ground drove them to station hospitals like Rymill’s.
“There were times when they’d bring 200 men in there,” Rymill said. “We’d be up there until way in the night delivering them to the wards.”
“Just moving men around was about all the help that I could give.”
The medics carried injured men on carts made with bicycle wheels on either side. They hoisted the stretchers on top, and other medics helped unload when the stretchers reached their destinations. Rymill remembers pushing an injured man who kept saying how quiet it was.
“I think they were very happy to be away from all the noise,” Rymill said.
He slept and ate when he could. The surgeon “was working steady, and there were times they just had to quit and let him get an hour’s rest before he went on.”
The injured stayed overnight, until they were stabilized and could travel to another hospital for care.
One soldier came in with a shrapnel wound in his back hip. Medical personnel administered an anesthetic, but he came out of it. They slapped an ether mask on him, but the man wouldn’t breathe. The doctor asked Rymill and several others to hold the man down while he removed the shrapnel.
Rymill once delivered another man to surgery. His leg had to be amputated. Rymill went to visit him the next day, and the nurse said OK, as long as he didn’t mention the leg. The man didn’t know he’d lost it yet.
The Red Cross girls sat at the bedsides of men in the worst shape. They spent the night with them, just holding their hands or keeping company.
“It was kind of rough there until you got used to it,” Rymill said. “You didn’t let it bother you too much.”
All the medical personnel returned from temporary assignment within a week. When Rymill left Chiseldon in 1945, the station hospital had handled more than 20,000 patients. He went to Camp Lucky Strike outside Paris where he helped treat former prisoners of war in Germany. They prepared the men’s records to ship home and gave them medicine, clothes and food. He later shipped to a hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, at war’s end.
Before he left England, Rymill’s friend Guy came to visit him. They went to high school together, along with Rymill’s second wife, Frieda. He was part of a glider crew in the 101st Airborne Division, landing in France a few hours before the invasion on the beaches of Normandy. The pilot was shot, but Guy made it to his rendezvous point.
Guy and Rymill spent several days together. They went into Swindon, England, and had their picture taken by a photographer there.
Guy was excited. His commanding general told him they’d be home for Christmas.
“I told him to tell the folks back home ‘hello.’”
Rymill later got a letter. Guy wrote to say he wasn’t going home after all. He was being sent into battle.
“He went into the Battle of the Bulge,” Rymill said, “and he didn’t make it. That was a close one for [Frieda] and I. A close friend.”