MARK BANDO'S WEBSITE
A TROOPER I REMEMBER
Since my first 101st Airborne WWII interview with John Dunwoodie H/502 in early 1969, I have interviewed
over 1,000 other screaming eagles from that era. Now, over 75% of the great men I met and spoke with are
gone. I will start posting remembrances of some of them here, staring on the 10th anniversary of this
Trigger Time website- Thanks for the memories, M. Bando-July-August, 2010.
Sgt Fletcher'Doc' Gainey, 3d plt F Co. 501 PIR
I took this photo of Doc Gainey in Indianapolis in 1974. He was wearing a jacket which I had just acquired from
Elmo Singleton in New Albany before visiting Doc. Doc Gainey was not a medic, he was a squad leader in 3rd plt and a good
buddy of Leo Gillis. Lots of guys were nicknamed 'Doc' back in the 40's (like What's up Doc?'), especially when their real first
name was not what they wanted to be known-by.
Gainey survived a bloody face wound at la Billonnerie on 12 June, 1944, made it through the Netherlands campaign ok, but
when leaving for Bastogne, he had a premonition that he was going to be killed or maimed in the coming mission. In the famous
photo of troops waiting to board a truck for Bastogne, Gainey is plainly visible standing right behind Leo Gillis, in a photo that has
been widely, mistakenly and unfairly mis-captioned and mis-identified as being Easy 506th.
Gainey's premonition would prove tragically correct. On 22 December at Bizory, Gainey narrowly missed death or serious wounding
as he was about to exit the door of his platoon command post in a Belgian house. A large artillery shell exploded against a stone well, the
shrapnel killing Lt Joseph Harman, S/Sgt Kent McKenney and Pfc James Culbreth. Shrapnel also wounded Lt Ernest Gibson, blowing-off
his thumb. Gillis was nearby but escaped un-wounded. Gainey was blown back through the doorway by the explosion but escaped
injury. However, Sgt McKenney and Culbreth had been with him since Basic in Toccoa. Gainey ran back to a large stone barn in
Bizory, blinded by tears and flung himself into the hay and cried himself to sleep.
Gainey survived the big German attack of 20 December and numerous artillery barrages laid on the 2/501 area in late December, 1944. He
also survived the attack on Recogne, which cost F Co. 7 KIA and 20 wounded on 9 January, 1945.
On 10 January, 1945, F Co.was attacking east through the Bois Jacques, parallel to the RR tracks, with elements of the 6th AD on
their right flank. Upon reaching a phase line, they were told to take ten and Gainey flopped down in the snow and was lying on his belly,
eating a K ration, when suddenly he was engulfed in an explosion. Witnesses told me they didn't hear any artillery or mortar round coming-in and
there were no other explosions. There is speculation that perhaps he had unknowingly laid down on an unexploded shell, or a booby trap
which did not detonate immediately?
Gainey's leg had been severed below the pelvis and he told me he felt like he was on fire and he was rubbing snow
on his face, to put the feeling out. Witnesses told me he was shouting "Put my BOOT back on!"
Sgt Jahnigen tied a torniquet made from Gainey's belt around the stump of what was left of his leg.
Former medic Red Motley carried him in a fireman's carry back to the hospital in Bastogne.
Later that day, F Co. got into a significant battle deeper in the woods and Paul Leeking was KIA, the last WWII fatality of
F/501. I often think, if Gainey and Leeking had made it safely just a few more hours, one would have emerged intact and the other
would have escaped death.
After WWII Gainey refused to wear a prosthesis. He used regular trousers, which he folded up like an accordian and pinned near
the pelvis. He owned and operated a bar/restaurant on Meridian St in Indianapolis, called 'Doc Gainey's Tavern'.
I first visited that place in 1974. I saw Doc personally serving customers at lunch time, hopping to tables from the bar on one
leg and carrying trays of beer and sandwiches. He was a great guy, with Hollywood good looks, but his maiming had unquestionably
made him bitter.
He told me once that even in the 1970s, he still had occasional spasms, in which he would cough-up blood and steel splinters.
In 2004, I asked Wild Bill Guarnere if he had met Gainey at postwar reunions.
Sure enough, the two amputees had gravitated to each other when they saw that they shared the same type of wounds.
But when I asked Bill if he ever experienced coughing-up blood and steel fragments, he replied "...Jeezus...No!"
They obviously had wounds resulting from different types of explosions and Wild Bill is amazingly still alive to talk
about what happened to him.
Gainey was a sentimentalist and before his death, circa 1980, he'd often phone Leo Gillis when the bar was closing
at 3AM, and would talk for hours about the great troopers of Fox Company 501st.
It was a privilege for me to know this man and he is one I will certainly never forget.
(page Under Construction)