Dr. John Laura

120th Medical BN

45th Infantry Division

U.S. Army

Dentists were in high demand in Korea. Having completed one year of internship at University of Chicago Clinics, and four years of private practice in Syracuse, New York, I was encouraged to join the Reserves. A friend, who was a reserve officer, swore me in—I volunteered for active duty.

My first assignment was at the Brooke Army Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While here I had an operation, which put me in Brooke Army Hospital. During my recovery, I was able to look around the hospital, particularly the burn ward. Little did I know that later that year I would see burn patients who would be sent to this very ward.

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After arriving in Yokusaka, Japan, I was taken by train to a port in south Japan for a boat ride to Pusan, Korea. From here I traveled by train to Seoul, for my assignment. I would be assigned to the 120th Medical BN of the 45th Infantry Division. Here I was given a “Chest 60,” which is the size of a footlocker. It contained everything I needed to practice; a collapsible chair; a foot treadle to operate the revolving hand drill; tools and supplies for fillings and minor dental surgery. I carried this with me as I moved around in Korea.

I would be assigned temporary duty to different outfits in the 45th. My first assignment would be at Camp Casey, where replacements for the division received their indoctrination. I did a lot of silver fillings and extracted many wisdom teeth that were partly erupted, and causing the individual trouble.

From there I went to the 245th Tank BN and as the division moved on and off the line, I moved with them. So, it involved a lot of packing and unpacking of my equipment. I always had a dental assistant to help me, and to keep the instruments clean and sterilized. My assistant was able to scrounge up a motor and generator, so he wouldn’t have to pump the foot treadle. However, we soon discovered that we had to be sure we grounded the motor, or touching a patient would cause a spark to jump from the drill.

After the 245th, I moved to the division’s HQ where I became Division Prosthodonist. This meant I made bridges and dentures for the division. I would have each unit send a needy GI to my clinic. The soldier would be assigned TDY (temporary duty) to the hospital, and in two-and-a-half days he would have the appliance made. After which time, he was sent back to his unit.

The wounded were taken to aid stations where they were either treated and sent back to their units, or evacuated to a M.A.S.H. unit or a field hospital. I helped with suturing gunshot wounds in an aid station. Near one of the aid stations, an ammunition truck blew up and my assistant and I helped in treating some of the burn victims; this was a nightmarish experience.

Hearing that a dentist was needed with the 279th Regiment to go to an island south of Korea, called Koje-do to guard a prisoner of war camp, I volunteered to go with them. While here I only treated U.S. troops—no prisoners.

After spending thirteen months is Korea, I would spend the rest of my two-year tour of active duty at Governors Island in New York Harbor.

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