here’s what i learned about it, many years ago.
my dad was a world war 2 veteran of the european theatre, and one of patton’s third army. as i got into my early teens, he began using me as a sounding board for his experiences in the military. little wonder: he enlisted when he was 17, lying about his age - only a few years older than i was at the time. i guess he felt there was a connection of some kind because of my age.
not only did he tell me about the use - or overuse - of morphine in the field, bill mauldin, two-time pulitzer prize winner editorial cartoonist and author, who also served during ww2, in his book, ‘up front,’ also mentions it, altho mauldin stopped short of saying that the practice of euthanasia actually happened.
mauldin does tell of the ‘m’ painted on the wounded’s forehead, but indicates only that the m represented a soldier who’d been given the maximum dosage before being transported to the rear.
according to my father, however, it was an open secret that the m actually meant that the soldier might - or more likely might not - recover from his wounds and that it was up to the isolated battlefield medical personnel to make the decision as to whether or not the wounds were actually something the injured could recover from. can you imagine having to make that kind of decision and do so under the radar of the superior ranks because there wasn’t time to contact them and say, ‘what do i do?’ i can’t. the very idea is terrifying.
as far for as in-the-moment non-recoverable battlefield injuries, dad refused to say whether or not euthanasia was a common practice or not. in my case, i got pretty good at reading between the lines and what i got in spades was that war wasn’t a movie. john wayne wasn’t coming over the next ridge with fresh reinforcements to save the day. it was… unimaginable.
dad once told me a story about being pinned down in some nameless field somewhere in france. the germans were throwing so much stuff into the air that in the words of the famous willie and joe cartoons (bill mauldin’s work, for the uninformed) Joe says, ‘I can’t get no lower, Willie, my buttons is in the way,’ pretty much summed up the situation.
right in the middle of this nightmare bombardment, dad happened to find a potato literally under his nose. rations were low. this was just before the battle of the bulge, and supply lines had gotten thin. dad said he ate it, dirt and all.
he told me, ‘if you get hungry enough, you’ll eat anything.’ who am i to doubt him?
and my mother couldn’t figure out why her oldest daughter refused to waste her time playing with dolls…