Duane Kinman, Foxhole Surgeon

Facing the draft when he came to the minimum age, eighteen, Duane Kinman, of College Place, Washington, en tered the Medical Corps with his well-formed determination to become, sometime, “not just a physician, but a first-class surgeon.” It was September, 1943, and the Allied cause was looking up. Italy surrendered that month; Nimitz and MacArthur captured the Japanese bases in upper Borneo, and turned north. Perhaps new recruits .would never come to the battle line.

But in pursuit of his training and by his request, Duane was sent to a surgical technician’s school at Camp Barkeley, in Texas, where through a stiff, fast-flying course, with demonstrations, he stored up information that was to stand him in good stead on the battlefield.

A year later he was across the Atlantic, with Patton’s Third Army, in the second front. Released like an arrow from a bow, Patton’s army shot across France, flanking and forcing into flight the German divisions confronting him. In November, 1944, lie was striking for Metz. Kinman was the sole first-aid man for a heavy machine-gun platoon of the Third.

A cold, murky day, November 10, out on the front, with machine-gun fire sweeping the field, Kinman was busy band aging the torn chest of a sergeant, when he saw a rifleman some fifty feet ahead fall into the mud, frantically clutching his throat. Racing to his side, he discovered that the soldier’s windpipe had been slashed; and as he fought for air, his face turned blue with suffocation. The medic swiftly examined the wound, then whipped out his pocketknife. Time ticked its seconds, equipment was nil; but a tracheotomy must be per formed there on the spot. Now. a tracheotomy is an operation for an experienced surgeon, in a hospital, under floodlights, and with keen, sterilized instruments and retractors for holding open the wound. It is not for a medical corpsman in the mud and under the murky skies of a blitzed battlefield. But though he had never even seen a tracheotomy performed, Duane remembered the description in one of his lectures. Here was the need: here, the man; never mind the other details.

“I don’t like to do this, Mac,” said Kinman to the strangling man, “but it’s the only way you’re going to live.” Crazed by his plight, the man fought wildly. A lieutenant, Edwin M. Eberling, came to the medic’s aid, and held down the patient, while with a swift motion Kinman slashed a one-and-a-half- inch cut in the man’s throat below the shrapnel wound; then, slipping his finger behind the trachea to protect the jugular vein, he opened the windpipe. Suddenly a gush of air swept into the man’s lungs, renewing his slender hold on life. Snatching a fountain pen from his pocket, the corpsman punctured the top of the cap, and inserted it in the cut.

“You can’t breathe through your nose or mouth,” he warned the wounded man, “but your lungs will work. Twiddle the pen around and keep the hole open. You’ll pull through all right.”

The man’s breathing improved. The color returned to his face. And in a few minutes Private Henry Roon was able to stand, and, supported by his two rescuers, to walk to a near-by tank, which moved toward the rear. Arrived at battalion aid the medic helped his patient into the station, where doctors and assistants stood open-mouthed at the astounding front line operation. They sent him on to the clearing station, where a tracheotomy tube replaced the fountain pen, and the man in time recovered. Through the phrase-making genius of newspaper correspondents, the case went winging over the wires and through the newspapers and on the radio networks as the amazing achievement of the “Foxhole Surgeon.”

Surgeon General Norman Kirk, Major General LeRoy Irwin of the Fifth Division, and several other Army authorities wrote their appreciation and commendation to the young corpsman. From overseas America the president of Western Reserve University offered a free medical course to the young man; and his alma mater, Walla Walla College, gave him a three-year premedical scholarship. Through the rest of the war went the young corpsman, thrice wounded, last at the Battle of the Bulge, where his pack was sliced from his back and a bullet laid him low. But he was saved through all the perilous service of his calling by the protecting hand of Him under whose wings he had come to trust. After the war he buckled into his courses, resolved, as ever, not to be just a “foxhole surgeon,” with a jackknife and a fountain pen, but a first- class surgeon/”

Sources cited:

Verona Montanye in Youth’s Instructor, March 19. 1946
Time, Dec. 11, 1944, p. 67
Newseek, Dec. 11, 1944, p. 80;
Reader’s Digest, February, 1945, p. 94.

Spalding, Arthur W. Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Vol. IV, Christian Servicemen, page 292-296


War Heroes Meet at CME

Two Seventh-day Adventist World War II heroes met for the first time recently when the travels of one took him to the Loma Linda campus of the College of Medical Evangelists.

Desmond T. Doss, known for his valorous rescue of wounded men un der enemy fire, and Wayne Kinman, famous “foxhole surgeon” who per formed an emergency tracheotomy with a pen barrel and who is now a resident of San Bernardino, Calif., ex changed experiences when Brother Doss visited C.M.E. after appearing on the television show “This is Your Life.”

The pair attended a breakfast given in their honor, at which Chaplain Horace Walsh of the Loma Linda Sanitarium and Hospital compliment ed them on behalf of the College for their devotion to their country, their church, and medical service.

The wives of the two former U.S. Army Medical Corpsmen and several members of the C.M.E. family were also present for the breakfast. They were given a tour of the campus later that day, on which Brother Kinman was shown a model of the trachea, the part of the anatomy into which he placed his pen.

Lake Union Herald, May 26, 1959, page 5


Australasian Record, March 19, 1945, page 6

“Miracle” Operation ^


It happened last November 10. Major General George S. Patton’s Third Army on the western front was attacking the village of Louvigny in the Metz sector. As the battle raged a nineteen-year-old medi cal corpsman of the Fifth Infantry Di vision, Duane Kinman by name, was work ing under intense shellfire, giving first aid to the wounded, marking their location, and seeing that stretcher-hearers carried them to the clearing station in the rear. While he was bandaging a severe chest laceration for a fallen staff-sergeant, he saw one of his riflemen drop with a mortar shell wound in his throat. Hastily the young medic completed his task and rushed to the side of the stricken rifleman, who was thrashing about in great pain and gasping for breath through a wind pipe which had been crushed.

As Gene Currivan reports the incident by wireless to the New York “Times,” from the Third Army battle front, “Kinman examined the wound and found that in addition to the windpipe cut, the throat muscles had been torn. The wounded man’s face had already turned blue, and he appeared to be suffocating.”

The young man wearing the Red Cross emblem on his sleeve had been a truck driver and a high school student in civilian life; he had neither the technical training nor the instruments to relieve the situa tion. But a year before, during his basic training he had heard one of his lecturers describe the operation that he instinctively knew must be performed—a tracheotomy. Since a life was at stake he went to work with what he had at hand—a pocketknife and the cap of his patient’s fountain pen.

He had no anaesthetic, the light was dim, his table was the deep mud of a bloody battlefield, his assistant was a second lieutenant who also had seen the man fall, and had rushed, to his side through a rain of machine gun and mortar fire. He held the wounded man’s neck still and steady while Kinman «Wok out his knife, said to the rifleman, “I don’t like to dp this, Mac, but it’s the only way you’re going to live,” and proceeded with the operation that many surgeons would hesitate to perform under perfect conditions.

The slightest slip of the blade would have been fatal, for he was cutting close to the jugular vein. But his hand was steady as he felt for the windpipe through the longitudinal opening he had made at point of fracture, cut a one-and-a-half- inch incision and slipped the top end of the fountain pen cap into the trachea. Almost instantly the patient started to breathe regularly again, and the colour came back to his face.

“Now keep the fountain pen cap in your windpipe and you’ll be okay,” the “foxhole surgeon” told him. “You can’t breathe through your nose or mouth, but if you keep your windpipe open with the pen, you can breathe through the cut I just made.”

A few minutes later the rifleman was on Ms feet, walking with the aid of Kin man and the second lieutenant toward a tank which took him to a battalion aid station. The surgeon there marvelled at the surgery, as did his colleague at the clearing station who made the only possible improvement—removed the foun tain pen top and inserted a tracheotomy tube—and passed the “miracle patient” on to the 109th Evacuation Hospital for any additional treatment that might be necessary.

The aftermath? A letter of commenda tion written by Major Charles Bohrer, of the 30th Field Hospital, praising Kinman’s “early and expert performance of duty under the most perilous conditions”; a premedical scholarship from Walla Walla College (S.D.A.), his home school in his home town, College Place, Washington; and a scholarship covering a full postwar medical education at Western Eeserve University for this resourceful young man who made the best possible use of what he had in his hand.



4 Responses to “Duane Kinman, Foxhole Surgeon”

  1. Colleen Says:

    This man Duane Kinman is my father. I’ve always been so very proud of him and yet a little afraid of him too. He is still alive and was always very passionate about everything he did in life. He never did become a surgeon in the medical field but he was very successful in building residential homes and businesses throughout my childhood and beyond. He was always vibrant and impulsive and so much fun to be around. I know many people have been positively influenced by his very presence but he would be too humble to admit it. He is a God-fearing man and was almost fanatical about his health and that of his family. He worked very hard to ensure his children had the best Adventist education too. As for his children, I am the only one that went into the medical field. I appreciate this article about him and can only express the hope that others do also. Thank you.

  2. newsman777 Says:


    Thank you for this note. Has your father seen the article and the picture? It would be wonderful to have him tell us how he views things now.


  3. Colleen Says:

    I’m sorry it’s been years since I saw these responses but I decided I’d leave a reply anyway. My father is still alive but is in very poor health and is bedridden. He is in Oregon being cared for by his wife in their home and is not able to communicate his needs or wants verbally. It is not how I want to remember him but I have passed on the article and picture to my family.

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