WWII vet reunited with medical field unit

Published: June 5, 2007 | 6329th good news item since 2003

The first time U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Von Der Brugge was with employees of the University of Kansas Medical Center, it was on the battlefield during the European Theatre in World War II.

Last week, another meeting was held in a more pleasant setting.

Brugge, who was severely wounded during World War II, was saved by the 77th Evacuation Unit, which consisted primarily of doctors and nurses from KU Med Center.

The center hosted a ceremony Friday which reunited Brugge and the evacuation unit.

His injury occurred in late March 1945, a month after the famous Battle of the Bulge campaign, Nazi Germany’s last offensive mission during World War II.

“I was a 19-year-old parachutist,” he said. “My thoughts at the time were very limited. I was well-trained. My main thought was to get to the guy with the moustache (Adolf Hitler) so we could finish and go home. We were making the drive to Berlin.”

Before the war, Brugge was hoping to take part in a baseball career, something the wound in his right leg would prevent. The injury nearly cost Brugge his leg.

While Brugge said he’d always remember the doctors who aided him when injured, he’ll especially remember the voice of one person.

“A voice of a nurse,” he said. “It was very comforting and very soothing. That is what I remember most about the event. I always felt while the doctor put me back together, it was the nurse that probably did the most important thing.”

The 77th Evacuation Hospital Unit was organized by Dr. Edward Hashinger. The unit would leave the United States and originally set up a hospital in North Africa, and would eventually follow Allied forces throughout France, Belgium and eventually Germany.

The unit found incredible stress during the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December 1944 and concluded two months later. The front line was pushed back enough to force wounded soldiers to walk into the hospital.

“I was essentially one of the two youngest of the group,” said James McConchie, a KU School of Medicine graduate from 1941 and the lone surviving doctor remaining from the unit.

McConchie said the unit primarily followed the army of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., one of the most successful generals in World War II.

“I was the last one to join in the unit because I was the last one to join as an intern,” he said. “I was given a choice of what to do and I did radiological. I had some experience in the field.”

Following the war, Brugge took army commission and started the ROTC program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

When the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in Korea, Brugge was in Japan.

“Five years and five months after when I was wounded in Germany, you beg to wonder if that was the nature of life,” he said.

He said his only “backflashes” result from his plane being shot down in Europe during the way.

“I had to bail out yards before we went down,” he said. “Many planes were shot down.”

Brugge was originally born in Jefferson City, Mo., and currently resides in Texas.

The reunion was set up with officials in both the Brugge family and the medical center. Initially, officials from KU Medical Center had planned to interview him when the idea of a reunion was suggested.

The 77th Evacuation Hospital Unit was released from service following the conclusion of battle in Europe in early May 1945. No single member of the unit was lost during the battle, and only one member of the Red Cross within the unit was killed.

Published in Reunited
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