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Courage and valor: A bizarre order for a WWII Navy doctor in the Pacific

Published: Friday, May 24 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

In the midst of World War II, a convert baptism takes place in a lagoon in Saipan. Convert baptisms during wartime service provided some Latter-day Saints with pivotal spiritual missionary experiences often far from home. (L. Tom Perry Special Collections) In the midst of World War II, a convert baptism takes place in a lagoon in Saipan. Convert baptisms during wartime service provided some Latter-day Saints with pivotal spiritual missionary experiences often far from home. (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Saints at War: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Valor, published by Cedar Fort this month, which includes stories shared about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who served in the armed forces. Click here for more about the book.

It was Feb. 24, 1945, at the site of some of the bloodiest battles fought in all of World War II. Iwo Jima, 660 nautical miles from Tokyo, was crucial to the United States war effort, and it had to be taken.

Army Air Force planes blasted Iwo for 72 days prior to the Navy's 3-day bombardment. It was a terrible battle. An average of 10 American ships per day were blown up by mines or hit by suicide planes. On the island itself the fire was equally deadly. In some units casualties ranged from 20 to 100 percent within the space of hours.

Lt. Cmdr. E. Wayne Stratford of Portland, Ore., was senior medical officer aboard the USS Lubbock (APA 197 attack troop transport). He worked feverishly to save the lives of half-dead men carried back on board with what he termed "garbage can wounds."

In this latest book of the In this latest book of the "Saints at War" series, LDS veterans of various wars share experiences of divine protection, fulfillment of priesthood blessings and other miracles that occurred while in their country's service. (Cedar Fort)

Then Dr. Stratford received an order so bizarre that he had difficulty in believing it could be true. For the first time in American military history, medical officers were ordered to designate wounded men who could return to the fight.

Scuttlebutt reached the wounded over the Navy's grapevine, and when the unhappy doctor stepped reluctantly into the wardroom he was spared the agony of having to make a choice. Every Marine who could struggle off his bed was lined up, in uniform, waiting for Dr. Stratford, volunteering to go back. One lieutenant colonel with five bullet wounds in his back pleaded for permission to return with his men.

Out of 500 patients on the Lubbock, 50 were patched up sufficiently to fight again, plus 32 who weren't up to doing battle but could handle supplies. They joined 3,500 wounded from other Navy APAs. These heroic volunteers were dubbed the Bandaged Brigade, and from their numbers came the five who were photographed raising the historic flag on Mount Suribachi.

These were desperate times, but men aboard Dr. Stratford's transport were luckier than most. The Lubbock was the first floating penicillin laboratory in the world. At that stage penicillin, barely known, was used only intravenously and was reserved for the most severe cases.

Dr. Stratford devised a method for growing the yeast in bottles. He originated the process of inoculating sterile bandages with the medication, ready for instant application to open wounds. His concept was later picked up and used by the entire Navy, and he was honored with a citation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the countless lives he'd helped to save.

The Navy — and all of America — owed Dr. Stratford an enormous debt of gratitude.

Dr. Eldredge Wayne Stratford was a Latter-day Saint who left his successful medical practice during World War II to serve his country in the Pacific theater in the U.S. Navy. He is also grandfather to Jane Clayson Johnson, noted journalist and media personality. (Source: Kris Mackay, Gift of Love: True Stories of Modern Miracles (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990), 2–3.)

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