At age 90, Alfred Vien remembers details of his service during World War II as if it happened yesterday.
Vien, of Glasgow, served as a combat medic with the 31st Division of the U.S. Army, which was also known as the Dixie Division because it was composed of national guardsmen from Alabama, Georgia and Florida. They were in the Pacific Theater with campaigns in New Guinea and the southern Philippines.
As a combat medic, Vien played a critical role in the survival of many of his fellow soldiers.
When the Dixie Division was planning an invasion of Morotai in 1944, Vien was told by his captain to show his fellow soldiers where the various pressure points are on the body just prior to the attack so they would know to which areas to apply pressure to stop the bleeding in the event their fellow soldiers were wounded.
The soldiers were waiting in amphibious vehicles called DUKWs, pronounced “ducks,” to go ashore. There were six DUKWs per boat and at least a dozen boats, he said.
“I told them where the pressure points were and come D-Day they opened up the back of the boat, the big boat, and all the DUKWs came out. There were about six DUKWs per boat and there must have at least a dozen big boats,” Vien said. “We made circles just outside the island. He said, ‘Watch that first boat and when he gives the signal we hit the shore.’”
Vien recalled the sound of the guns and the rockets that were fired during the attack.
“It was worse than the Fourth of July,” he said. “I never heard so much noise in my life. We landed up on the beach and we jumped out and hit the jungle. The funny part was we were all looking for something to hide behind so the enemy couldn’t shoot back at us. I was standing near a banana tree, right near one and I heard a shot. I looked over and saw there was the Japanese enemy standing there. Somebody else got him.”
Vien remembers feeling something leaking out from underneath his helmet and running down the back of his neck. He thought he had been nicked by a bullet.
“I called one of the fellas over and asked him to take a look at my neck,” he said. “I said, ‘What is that leaking?’ It was the juice from the banana tree. Can you imagine that?”
After the attack on Maffin Bay, Vien said he wondered what was in store next for him.
“I knew that Japan was just a little bit further away from us; not very far,” he said. “So, this was on a Monday and on a Friday that plane came over and dropped that bomb and ended the war so we didn’t have to make that invasion on Japan. I never knew about the invasion until after and I figured after that was the reason why we made the beach landing because we were going on to Japan, but God was with us and we didn’t have to go when they dropped that bomb. That was it.”
The attack on Maffin Bay was one of five beach landings the Dixie Division made during the war.
“It’s amazing the things that he did; that his platoon did,” said Bill Vien, who is Alfred’s grandson. “They were called the walking dead because of what they did was, they came in and the second wave on most of these islands after the Marines had already been there and they cleaned out whatever Japanese resistance was left.”
Alfred Vien was awarded several medals for his service during the war, including the Asiatic Pacific Campaign with four beach landing stars and one assault wave arrowhead. He also received the Bronze Star, Good Conduct, Philippine Liberation, American Campaign, World War II Victory, Army Occupation of Germany and Meritorious Unit Citation.
When World War II was over, Alfred Vien returned to the United States where he attempted to get work. He was offered a job at a hospital performing autopsies, but turned it down.
“I said, ‘No, that’s not for me,’” he said. “I said I’m going back into the service. I got back into the service and I went over to Germany.”
He was stationed with the 98th general hospital in Munich, Germany where he was in charge of the American enlisted men who were patients at the hospital. Vien was in the service for one year following his re-enlistment.
He lives in Glasgow with his grandson, Bill.