Failure Is Not An Option – Albert Darago

18 01 2015

The following article was written by Michael E. Ruane, and published on December 15, 2014 by The Washington Post.  Ruane is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.

Photo credit:  Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

Photo credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

In 1944 Battle of the Bulge, Albert Darago, then 19, took on a German tank by himself

Albert Darago had never fired a bazooka before. He was an “ack-ack” guy, a fuse-cutter on a 90mm antiaircraft gun. But on Dec. 19, 1944, the brass was looking for volunteers to go after some German tanks. And Darago said sure.

He was a 19-year-old, color-blind draftee, a native of Baltimore’s Little Italy and a musician who played piano and clarinet. He was no hero, he said.

But when Adolf Hitler launched the massive attack that began World War II’s bloody Battle of the Bulge, he had not reckoned on GIs like Darago.

Seventy years ago, Darago, now 89, crept down a long, open hill with a loaded bazooka, figuring that he was going to die. He peeked over the top of a hedge and, at a distance of a few yards, fired at a German tank, disabling it.

He then scampered back up the hill under heavy fire. “We were in open territory,” he said. “You didn’t need a sharpshooter. Anybody with a gun could have killed us.”

He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor.

Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, so called because of the bulge that the massive surprise German attack made on the Allied lines.

It was a full-scale, last-ditch assault by the German army on Hitler’s western front, five months before the war in Europe ended.

About 19,000 Americans were killed in the wintry, month-long battle, 47,500 were wounded, and 23,000 were captured or were reported missing in action.

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Tuesday at noon, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial is scheduled to host a wreath-laying at the memorial on the Mall.

Also Tuesday at noon, the National Archives is scheduled to air a 90-minute documentary on the battle in its downtown Washington William G. McGowan Theater.

In addition, the Archives has on display, among other artifacts from the battle, the proud holiday message U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe issued to his 101st Airborne Division troops besieged in the Belgian town of Bastogne on Christmas Eve, 1944.

Last week, “Al” Darago sat in an easy chair in his apartment in Parkeville, Md., with his medal framed on the wall above the piano, and said all he had done was help disrupt the Nazi timetable.

By December 1944, the Allies thought that Nazi Germany was near defeat. Allied armies had surged across France after the D-Day landings that June and had crossed into Germany in some places.

“We thought the war was about over,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial’s board. “We were caught by, I think, almost total surprise.”

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans attacked with more than 200,000 troops and hundreds of tanks along a 75-mile front through the rugged Ardennes forest in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The area, in part, was patrolled by relatively weak U.S. forces — green troops who had just arrived, and battle-weary soldiers who needed a rest, said National Archives senior curator Bruce Bustard, whose father fought in the battle.

For most of the green troops, “it was the first Christmas they’d been away from home,” said retired Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., whose father commanded a tank battalion in the battle. “And there they were fighting to liberate Europe.”

As the German army overran U.S. defenses, they were met by pockets of stiff resistance, including some of which had hundreds of African American troops in the then-segregated Army.

The most famous resistance came from the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Belgian crossroads village of Bastogne. When the Germans called on the beleaguered Americans there to surrender, their commander, McAuliffe, replied, “Nuts!”

But there were other stubborn American outposts, Bustard said, “small groups of U.S. soldiers who are delaying the German advance.”

“Maybe it’s a company,” he said. “Maybe its a squad of U.S. soldiers that held on to a crossroads for an extra 10 or 15 minutes.”

In Darago’s case, it was a guy or two with a bazooka — a shoulder-fired antitank weapon.

He had been part of his artillery gun’s loading team in the mobile 143d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. The gun fired a potent round that resembled a small missile, and it could be used against aircraft, tanks or troops.

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Dec. 19, 1944, his outfit was caught up in the fighting near a Belgian town called Stoumont, north of Bastogne and west of Malmedy, where German soldiers had executed American POWs two days earlier.

“We were coming into Stoumont,” Darago said. “They told us to unload the ammunition . . . and start digging foxholes, because the Germans are right down that hill and [would] be up here pretty soon.’”

As Darago dug and as the ground around was hit by enemy fire, he met a friend, Roland Seamon, then 19, from Shinniston, W.Va.

“He said, ‘Hey, Al, they’re looking for volunteers to go down this hill and knock this tank out. They’ve got a couple tanks down there. We should go down and knock them down,’ ” Darago recalled.

They approached a lieutenant and Durago asked, “What did you have in mind?” The officer explained, and Darago and Seamon volunteered.

They were given bazookas, a weapon Darago said he had never fired before. “I didn’t know the first thing about them,” he said.

The officer advised the two to fire into the tanks’ rear-engine compartment, according to a 1945 article about their deeds in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The bazookas were loaded, and the pair set off separately, Darago said.

There was no cover, and he headed down the hill under fire, according to his medal citation.

“I knew I was going to get it before I got down there, but God was with me,” he said.

At the bottom of the hill was a hedge. He stuck his weapon over it and spotted, not two but four German tanks backed up by infantry.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said. “And you never heard such a racket and noise when that thing hit. . . . I heard them hollering and screaming.”

He said he didn’t linger and ran back up the hill as German soldiers fired at him.

The lieutenant asked how he had done.

“I got a hit,” Darago said he responded. The officer said, “How about going down and making sure?”

With a reloaded weapon, he crept down the hill again, looked over the hedge and spotted his tank, apparently immobilized. He fired again and got another hit, and this time it caught fire.

Again, he escaped.

Seamon, who Darago said died several years ago, had similar success. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross, with its blue and red ribbon and cross and eagle medallion.

Last week, Darago,who has white hair and hearing aids, sat in the light of a reading lamp with his eyeglasses on a cord around his neck. His wife of 66 years, Dorothea, sat nearby.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t even think about it,” he said of volunteering for the task. “It was something that had to be done and we did it. . . . I never considered myself brave. . . . Somebody had to do it, and I was there.”

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Community Paramedicine

8 01 2015

Below you will find a great article written by Mihir Zaveri, on December 14, 2014, in the Houston Chronicle.  As you will note in the article, the establishment of “community paramedicine” programs are an effort by some of our local counties to provide enhanced health care to citizens.    Congratulations to the Montgomery County Health District for putting together the described program as a new way for meeting the needs of their citizens. Fort Bend County is also moving into this area, and Fort Bend County citizens will be hearing more about the program as it grows.

Fort Bend County’s Community Paramedic Program is designed to give hope, support, and guidance to the citizens of Fort Bend County by providing in-home assessments, education, and health care system navigation.  For more information about the effort in Fort Bend County, feel free to email Mary.Fuglaar@fortbendcountytx.gov; or call 281-633-7086

 

Brett Coomer/Staff/Houston Chronicle

Brett Coomer/Staff/Houston Chronicle

 

Paramedics’ house calls highlight of new health care approach

William Jones sat on a brown sofa in his small, cluttered living room, as a paramedic rolled up his jean leg and pulled down his sock, revealing a limb swollen with fluid.

The 77-year-old’s faulty kidneys concerned paramedic Nivea Wheat.

“We might need to get you in to your doctor,” Wheat told Jones.

Several feet away, Morgan Clark, another paramedic, sat at a wooden kitchen table, methodically sorting some 10 different types of medication for Jones’ heart problems, kidney disease, diabetes and other health problems into a color-coded pill box.

It’s an unusual role for paramedics who are used to seeing a patient for 15 minutes in the back of an ambulance. For about two months now, Wheat and Clark have visited Jones’ house every week, checking his blood sugar, taking his blood pressure readings, setting up appointments with his doctor and helping Jones find a home health nurse.

These relationships are becoming increasingly common as health care organizations push to reduce reliance on the costly emergency response system.

Wheat and Clark are part of a new six-member group in the Montgomery County Hospital District, an adaptable team of paramedics that helps patients who repeatedly find themselves in the emergency room navigate a dauntingly complex health care system and identify more proactive approaches to their health.

They’re calling the program “community paramedicine.”

“Obviously for much of the population, 911 is a great service. For the heart attacks, the strokes, the trauma, it’s a great system, and we do that very well here at MCHD,” said Andrew Karrer, who is running the district’s community paramedicine program. “But for a lot of individuals, that’s not necessarily what they need. They need other options.”

‘Back and forth’

While still new and untested in many areas of the country, emergency response providers are increasingly creating similar programs. Harris County Emergency Corps, an emergency response provider for north Harris County, started a community paramedicine program in the summer, which it calls “mobile integrated health care.”

A few months ago, Fort Bend County announced a similar program.

Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for MedStar in Fort Worth, one of the earliest adopters of the community paramedicine program that consults with others throughout the country, said according to his organization’s research, there are about 230 different community paramedicine programs in the country. When Fort Worth started its program in 2009, there were only three, he said.

“People are seeing that these programs can have a really big impact,” said Richard Bradley, chief of the EMS and disaster medicine division at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Partly driving the proliferation is a desire to improve patient outcomes. Patients in these programs receive more intimate instruction and care, rather than being treated by multiple doctors in an ER.

But Zavadsky said a bigger impetus is likely the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which penalizes hospitals for readmissions and creates a financial incentive for proactive programs like community paramedicine.

A goal for the MCHD is to reduce 911 calls from frequent users, Karrer said.

While he said that in its first year, almost two-thirds of the patients who worked with community paramedics reduced their 911 usage, there’s not enough data to say whether the program is working.

“We just want to see we’re moving in the right direction for these individuals,” he said.

That goal has meant paramedics playing a variety of new and unique roles – from health care adviser to social worker to therapist – for a segment of the population that has been “falling through those cracks” in the health care system, he said.

Some patients they visit have only an elementary school education and can’t understand the pages of verbose medical instructions they receive after being discharged from the hospital. Some are uninsured and don’t have primary-care physicians. Some have severe anxiety or other behavioral health problems.

They all see 911 as their only option to access the care they need, Karrer and his team said.

Jones would repeatedly end up in the emergency room after fainting due to low blood sugar because he didn’t take his insulin shots or medication properly. “I’ve been back and forth in the hospital forever,” Jones said.

Managing 42 patients

To pinpoint whom to contact, Karrer looks at who has called 911 between 10 and 35 times in the past six months. Then paramedics contact those individuals and ask if they’d like help, an offer they’ve found has been overwhelmingly appreciated.

“The single most common thing people tell me is, ‘I’ve never had someone explain this in common terms before,’ ” said Cathy Kraus, the case manager for the program.

So far, paramedics in Montgomery County are managing 42 patients, up from 26 last year when the program started. After hiring four paramedics this October, the goal is to reach 120 patients and 145 the year after that, Karrer said.

That number pales in comparison to the need in the county. Based on the 911 data he looks at, Karrer estimates there are likely thousands of people overusing the system.

At Jones’ house, when Clark swings open the door of the fridge, it’s filled with gallon jugs of milk, regular and chocolate, orange juice and a bottle of Dr Pepper, which, upon some light interrogation, Jones coyly admits drinking from time to time.

But the beverages risk dangerously elevating Jones’ blood sugar, so Wheat volunteers to bring him some Crystal Light or another, healthier drink. With other patients, paramedics in these programs might do groceries, help them with their electric or water bills, or simply show up and provide a regular social presence in patients’ lives.

“We’re kind of doing a reboot on our thinking of what is this role of the ambulance, what is the role of the heath care providers that are on it,” said Chivas Guillotte, vice president of clinical services for the Harris County Emergency Corps.

At least for Wheat and Clark, the ultimate goal isn’t to be waiting on Jones indefinitely. Their job is to connect him with the right resources and, eventually, get him off the high-frequency 911 user list.

But for Jones, the paramedics are a mainstay in his life. There are tight embraces and kisses on the cheek when Wheat and Clark enter and leave his house.

“I hope I can stay in contact with y’all,” Jones said.

“I don’t have nothing else.”