Battlefield Surgeon Cover

Battlefield Surgeon

Life and Death on the Front Lines of World War II

Paul A. Kennedy and edited by Christopher B. Kennedy

University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 2016, 288 pages

Book Review published on: November 2, 2018

After Paul A. Kennedy’s death in 1993, Marion Kennedy shared his diary with their youngest son Christopher. Only knowing his father had been a doctor during the war, the diary was enlightening. Editing his father’s diary and utilizing pictures his father took during World War II, Christopher wrote this book in memory of his father.

Kennedy was a thirty-year-old surgeon when he and other members of the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group sailed from New York Harbor in November 1942. Leaving behind his pregnant wife and their two young children, Kennedy began a diary as a way to share his experiences with Marion. Additionally, he kept records of all 335 patients he treated. The last diary entry in Battlefield Surgeon is when Kennedy finally returned to the United States in September 1945. His love for his wife and his Catholic faith are consistent themes throughout the diary entries. Kennedy’s ability to describe his surroundings in the diary entries gives the reader insight into the daily life and the challenges World War II soldiers experienced, such as poor weather, boredom, long hours, and fearing for their lives.

Through Kennedy’s diary, the reader travels with him during World War II. The book’s five chapters correlate to the military campaigns in which he participated, beginning with Operation Torch and North Africa where he experiences his first combat casualties. From there, Kennedy’s surgical team participates in the invasion of southern Italy. Initially assigned to support a British advanced dressing station, his team was less than two and a half miles from the front lines and in front of their own artillery when he treated civilian casualties for the first time, many of which were children. As the front moved, so did Kennedy’s surgical team. Later, due to casualties to other surgical teams, he was assigned to support operations at the Anzio beachhead where it was safer to live and work underground. After the liberation of Rome and a chance to meet the Pope, Kennedy’s team landed in Southern France supporting XII Corps’ Operation Dragoon. From then until the end of the war, Kennedy supported XII Corps’ combat operations from Southern France into Germany. Between the end of the war and returning to the United States, he assisted in compiling the war records of the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group that was eventually published by the surgeon general as Forward Surgery of Severely Wounded: A History of the Activities of the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group, 1942-1945.

I recommend this book to those interested in better understanding field medical operations during combat operations in World War II. I did find one mistake on page 181 when Christopher Kennedy discusses the Battle of the Bulge and mistakenly says it was the 82nd Airborne Division in Bastogne. The book is easy to read except when actual patient notes are used and, without medical knowledge, are difficult to understand. There is a medical glossary at the end of the book that does help. Be warned—some of the pictures in the book are graphic.

Book Review written by: David E. McCulley, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas