Battalion Surgeon, 1LT Harland Hermann: "War Experiences Are Not Anything I Recommend"
Finishing medical school in time to see action in Italy, Dr. Harland Hermann never lost his interest in the psychological effects of combat. His own experiences as first a Battalion Surgeon for the 442nd Infantry and then a psychiatrist for the VA provide an insightful 60+ year perspective on the evolution of "Combat Neurosis" to "PTSD". And if you meet Dr Hermann today, I guarantee he'll pull a tiny notebook out of his shirtpocket and make notes to research later! His experience with the Nisei Soldiers of the 442nd Infantry paints a picture of an unusual unit in combat, poised for victory but still at war. It's an amazing story from an amazing man.
Harland remembers Pearl Harbor as the day that "changed everything, all at once". He was a freshman in medical school at the time and found his education chaotically accelerated; by September 1944 he was in uniform as a 1LT in the Medical Corp, Army of the United States. The new inductees deduced they were going to the European theatre when they didn't receive a yellow fever immunization! A zigzag voyage across the Atlantic culminated in a plane/truck/jeep journey to one of the most unusual units in the Army: the 442nd Infantry.
This highly decorated "Go For Broke" unit was comprised of Asian American soldiers, mostly Japanese. In fact, many of Harland's hard-charging US soldiers had families "behind barbed wire in a dozen different concentration camps scattered in the hinterland of the U.S., victims of prejudice and fear." On young Dr. Hermann's arrival, the presiding Battalion Surgeon promptly headed to Rome on leave. Old-timers congratulated him on arriving after the action had cooled but thumping artillery fire reminded him he was "really there". In fact, future Senators Bob Dole and Daniel Inouye had been severely wounded in the area just before Dr. Hermann's arrival.
Soon the days blended into a string of mental snapshots: constant relocations up and down the Italian coast, gifts of flowers and wine from the civilians, the medical needs of 400 men, looking west near La Spezia and thinking "over there lies home." With intense recall and no chance of closure, he remembered a 19 year old German soldier shot in the chest and left for dead along the road. Dr Hermann treated him as best he could, talking with the wounded man in German about his home in Hamburg. Sixty years later, Dr Hermann wondered if the soldier somehow survived; "there was nothing more I could do for him but send him back by our ambulance". Eventually Dr Hermann's unit processed over 80,000 German POWs in one month: "they looked pretty good soldiers, actually. It was good we didn't have to fight them any longer than we did."
Six months later Dr. Hermann was back "eating hamburgers and real ice cream" in the USA, assigned to a year in the chest disease ward at Fitzsimmons Army hospital. The names of the 442nd comrades in his address book, "forever important to me", brought back memories during his years in practice as a psychiatrist at the VA. "I suspect that people are fascinated with the tales of war if old soldiers will reveal them - they are secured with misery." Dr Hermann, you are absolutely right.
--Written by Ann and Mo Shields
See also entry on US Army 442nd Infantry soldier Dr. Eji Suyama (under "World War II" above) with whom Dr. Hermann was a fellow psychiatrist at the Fort Meade Veterans Hospital in Sturgis, South Dakota.
1951 Movie about the 442nd during WWII
To the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group, February 1, 2010
I strangely decided to google my grandfather's name, Dr. Ervin Heiser, and found a cache of him in a series of letters posted to your website by Harland Hermann. The letter was written by a man named Elmer Glenn in April of 45. I was just wondering if Harland is still alive because my grandfather is and seeing as they were both in medical school together I thought I would try to find out more about him. I'm kind of a history buff and my grandfather has written a memoir of his experiences during the War, his story is quite remarkable in my opinion being 1 of 3 surviving medics from their unit of 9. Dr. Hermann also intrigued me because of his studies of PTSD, my boyfriend is an Iraq veteran suffering from this. I would love to receive any information you might have about Dr. Hermann and the rest of his medical school class. Thank you in advance.