Soldier battles a formidable enemy

Soldier battles a formidable enemy
Sgt. Robert L. Jones Jr. (we called him Bobby after the noted golfer) was – to my way of thinking – a real hero in World War II and the Korean conflict.

He survived several months as a prisoner of the Germans in World War II and as an Army reservist – he was recalled for service in Korea. There he ended up as a half-starved prisoner of the Chinese Reds. But before that he faced another "enemy" in the training fields of Texas.

I don't know if it was in a place rightly called "Hell's Acres" where we had a bivouac area, but somewhere he crawled through a patch of weeds known as poison ivy.

I think we had been told to look out for "leaves of three, beware of me." But Jonesy wasn't counting leaves that day.

Somehow the colorless (or slightly yellow) oil that oozed out of the crushed leaves and stems of the plant did the job. I can still see him covered from head to toe with the white Calamine lotion which was the Army's way of fighting the rash and "terrible itching" which Bobby was exposed to.

All I know is that Jonesy's episode caused the rest of us to be mighty careful as to where we laid our bodies down after that.

We listened carefully when our officers warned us of the burning bushes all around us. We learned real fast to count to three because that's how many leaves the poison ivy and poison oak had waiting for us as we trained to fight the Nazis instead of learning to scratch the itch which took 10 or more days to heal.

The culprit was an oil called urushiol which is found in the sap of poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. It is spread most effectively by touching the sap of the toxic plant. It also can be spread by indirect contact, which comes in contact with the oil-like boots or fatigues.

Once the oil touches the skin, it begins to penetrate quite quickly. A rash then appears, followed by swelling and blisters.

People who are sensitive to a poison ivy attack tend to lose their sensitivity as they get older. Apparently Bobby Jones was very allergic to the oil because none of the rest of the guys in our outfit got it, and we were about the same age as he.

As a kid growing up in South Dakota I already had been exposed lots of times, when playing ball or roaming through the underbrush along the Jim River. I had a defense against poison ivy and didn't know it!

Sergeant Jones went on to fight a couple of wars, but – as far as I know – he never had another attack of poison ivy. He always said, "The Chinese were bad enough!"

© 2008 Robert F. Karolevitz

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