In World War II, the U.S. Army's 44th General Hospital found themselves at ground-zero of the Japanese counterattack on the island of Leyte. As Japanese infantry infiltrated and enemy paratroopers dropped around them, the 44th's officers faced a life-or-death decision. With over 200 patients, the Japanese surrounding them, and no option to retreat, they had to act fast. Should they uphold their oath to “do no harm”? Or do they arm the medical staff and defend themselves and their patients? Do they risk violation of the Geneva Convention or risk death or imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese? But without authorization to obtain arms, how would they defend themselves? Could the 44th hold out until infantry support arrived? Their fate would be determined in what was called “The Battle of Buffalo Wallow”.
This book tells the previously unknown and controversial story of the 44th General Hospital, medical professionals who were asked to perform actions over and above their expected duties. The Philippine island of Leyte became the stage for a key battle between the United States and Japan in World War II. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur's 6th Army invaded Leyte on October 20th, 1944. The Army's 44th General Hospital landed soon afterwards to care for casualties. The 44th was staffed by an experienced group of doctors from the University of Wisconsin. Untrained in combat, they were sent inland to the village of Burauen, very close to the front lines of fighting. The hospital tents were set up between three airfields that were recently taken from the Japanese. As the U.S. infantry advanced westward, they left the 44th and other service units behind, mostly unprotected. The Japanese determined to make Leyte the decisive battle they hoped would turn the tide of the War. To counter the American advance, Japanese General Yamashita devised a bold plan. The first step would be a combined infantry and paratrooper attack to retake the airfields on Leyte. The attack placed the 44th and their patients in great peril. Their courage and dedication would be tested in the heat of battle. The Surgeon General of the Army called the 44th “the finest that ever served.”
Author James Odrowski's father was an officer in the 44th. James grew up hearing his stories and later connected them with their historical context. What he discovered about the 44th was even more remarkable than the stories indicated.