Biography of Dr. Julian Q. Watters, MD.

Captain, Doctor, Co. B, 263rd Medical Battalion, Medical Corps, USA, New Guinea, Phillipines, WWII

   Dr. Julian Watters was a graduate of Emory College and School of Medicine and interned at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a large charity hospital. There he provided care for many in the emergency room among other duties. During World War II Dr. Watters served as a Captain in the United States Army and a Doctor with Company B, 263rd Medical Battalion, a unit which provided medical treatment to our soldiers near the front line so they would receive life saving assistance as soon as possible.

   "I was stationed at the Armed Forces Regional Hospital at Camp Blanding, Florida." recalled Dr. Watters. The unit was then sent to the Pacific. "I was farmed out to a Station Hospital in Finschaven, New Guinea and then to the 9th. General Hospital on Biak Island. Then Co. B. 263 Medical Btn. was "farmed out" to furnish medical services to the 503rd. Parachute RCT and to an Arizona National Guard RCT. We never did work as a unit of the Brigade."

   The 263rd landed on Noemfor Island, Dutch New Guinea as a part of Operation Cyclone, the American invasion of that Island by the 13,500 men of that Arizona Guard Regimnet, the 158th Regimental Combat Team, "The Bushmasters", on July 2, 1944. Noemfor was a small hot and humid jungle covered coral island Southwest of Biak and just off of New Guinea, and was the site of three Japanese airfield projects being constructed by Taiwanese slave labor. It was the capture of those airfields for the support of MacArthur’s operations that was the objective of the invasion.

   "In landing on Noemfor Island we were supposed to look after casualties on the beach. But there was no beach, so we had to find one. It was before the infantry arrived and I was a bit nervous, particularly since there were 3 cannons looking at me together with an unexploded bomb on the new beach. I forgot to salute the chicken colonel (full "bird" colonel) who arrived with the infantry. He did become a little upset also." recalled Captain Watters.

   His first patient was a Japanese soldier with a stomach wound, whom was given American blood. “We treated Americans and Japanese alike”. Many more followed, as the men of the 158th moved inland and became bogged down. A follow on parachute drop by two battalions of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team, Operation Table Tennis, on July 3rd and July 4th, 1944 and a sea landing of the third on July 9th, brought another 1,500 men, putting 15,000 Americans on the Island in total. The parachute jumps resulted in many broken legs due to a 300 foot drop altitude and high winds landing men among aircraft and equipment on the airfields. While initial landings were not heavily resisted, the 1200-1800 Japanese on the island fought savagely, including a banzai charge on July 5th and lingering resistance afterwards. The enemy resistance and the jump injuries caused numerous casualties, 128, including 59 serious fractures, from the airdrops alone, and 411 battle casualties. Working in crude conditions, operating on litters with what limited supplies could be flown in by C47s, Dr. Watters and his unit worked to try and save the lives of these many wounded during the two months of the battle.

   Dr. Watters would later relate the tale of a badly wounded paratrooper who was brought in carried by litter on August 23, 1944. The young man, PFC Heywood Burbage, mortarman, D Company, 503rd PIR, had suffered grievous injuries when a grenade he had removed from a trip wire boobytrap had gone off in his leg pocket. With a football sized segment of his thigh gone, and serious abdominal injuries, this case shocked Captain Watters despite all of his prior emergency room experience. Dr. Watters quickly went to work on the stomach wounds, thinking the leg would have to be removed. But the artery was intact so as Private Burbage slipped into anesthesia induced sleep the last thing he heard was Captain Watters say “I’m not going to cut off that leg.” He didn't.

   A few days later PFC Burbage was flown off Noemfor to a hospital ship, still alive due to the skill of Doctor Watters and still with two legs. And despite all the wounded that followed through out the rest of the war, the 263rd moving along with the troops through the Phillipines and afterwards in Japan as well, Dr. Watters’ long pondered the fate of that young man with the horrible wounds, whether he had lived or if the leg had been saved.

   After the War, Captain Watters returned to private practice. He was a Pediatrician for 30 years until his retirement and then went on to assist the state of Georgia aiding disabled children for 25 more years.

   Dr. Watter's curiousity about Private Burbage  lingered though all this time and in August of 2000, Dr. Watters met Private Burbage once more. "I had forgotten his name and did not know what happened to him. But I found out and met him again between Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. It was most interesting how I found him and his address." recalled Dr. Watters. Dr. Watters had searched on the internet and found Drop Zone.com a website about Paratroopers from the war. Through this he made contact with a veterans group for the 503rd. The men of the association talked amongst themselves and determined that it was Heywood Burbage that Dr. Watters had treated and tracked him down from unit records. Mr. Burbage was found to be living only 150 miles away from Dr. Watters.

   Dr. Watters' was happy to learn that after over a year in the hospital and months of rehabilitation Private Brubage had kept that leg and was able to walk again normally. “It took me 60 years to make a follow-up call”.

----- J.Q. Watters, MD

Curator's Note: Sadly, after sharing his tale with me, Dr. Watters passed away on March 1, 2005.

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