Healing Minds and Hearts

Dale Fehringer

© Copyright 2010 by Dale Fehringer 


Photo of American troops amid the piles of bodies at Buchenwald.

Life-changing events can occur at any stage in our lives.  One such event changed the course of a young U.S. soldier during World War II.

April 11, 1945 turned out to be a very different day than any other in the young life of Private First Class Jim Struthers. World War II was nearing an end and for months Struthers had been part of a platoon of U.S. Army medics whose job was to haul wounded soldiers to aid stations and then to evacuation hospitals.

Private Struthers had seen his share of wounded and dead men, and he had also seen a lot of gore. He was attached to the U.S. Third Army, an armored division, and his job ranged from identifying dead soldiers to treating injured soldiers in the field and transporting them to care units. But today was different; today they entered the notorious concentration camp of Buchenwald.

The first thing Private Struthers remembers seeing were stacks and stacks of skeletons - bodies waiting to be cremated. They were piled up 4-5 feet high around this "forced labor" camp. The survivors were gaunt and desperate, weakly watching as the U.S. soldiers filed past. He saw two prisoners fighting over a blanket, ready to kill each other over something so seemingly trivial.

Prisoners were sent to Buchenwald from all over Europe and Russia -- Jews, Poles, religious and political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals -- anyone the Germans disliked. Once there, they were worked to death or executed by bullet, hanging, or medical experimentation. Estimates place the number who died at Buchenwald at around 56,000.

Freeing the survivors at Buchenwald should have been a gratifying day in Private First Class Struther's life; instead, it turned out to be a turning point. That day, as he stared at the piles of bodies and saw the hopeless looks from the survivors he gave up his plans to be a physician and decided instead to become a minister. Others could heal bodies, he decided, he would spend the rest of his life trying to heal minds and hearts.

Private First Class Struthers did become a minister, caring for minds and hearts for over 50 years.  He is now semi-retired and living in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in San FranciscoHe can be reached at 1.415.602.6116 or by e-mail at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

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