Ray Kari was a front line medic in the Pacific – he was shot in the head by a sniper
Pvt. Ray Kari was the youngest, least-trained medic in Company B, 169th Infantry, 43rd Division when he waded ashore in the middle of the night on a small attol just off New Georgia Island in the southwest Pacific a lifetime ago.
Their job was to secure two atolls as staging areas for the 43rd Division that would come ashore July 1, 1943. The 43rd had finally taken the initiative.
The division missed the fighting at Guadalcanal a few weeks earlier. It moved into the Russell Island just after the Japanese moved out. For the past two months it had been holding jungle training there getting ready for the invasion of New Georgia.
Before being shipped overseas, Kari had a total of four weeks training in boot camp. That’s just the way it was. They were short of men, he said, so they made him a “medic” in a month.
“In the dark of night with full field pack and rifle, we climbed down a rope ladder from the destroyer into the landing craft. The sailor (at the wheel of the landing craft) steered around the ship a couple of times until the destroyer captain yelled, ‘Get the hell out of here!'”
The landing craft stopped within 10 feet of the beach. Over the side Kari and his buddies went. Some barely made it ashore with their heavy load because the water was more than six feet deep in spots.
The 43rd point unit passed their first night on New Georgia quietly. There was no shooting from the enemy.
“At daylight a Jap was spotted and shot. I was told to go check him out to make sure he was dead because I was the youngest medic,” he recalled. “You can’t imagine how fast a guy grows up under those conditions. I was just a Minnesota farm boy that had never seen the ocean before until I joined the Army.”
Later in the day the division’s main contingent came ashore and moved pass Kari and their advance group. The division’s objective, to gain control of Munda Airfield on the island.
The division dug in and waited for the Japanese attack they knew would come.
“The nights were brutal,” he said. “The Japs would make weird noises with bamboo sticks and yell anti-American slogans.”
Then they would attack. During one of these night attacks Kari almost killed a friend.
“Somebody jumped into my trench. I assumed it was a Jap. I had him by the throat in the pitch dark. Then I realized it was a machine gunner buddy.”
The machine gunner’s emplacement had been over-run by the enemy. He had scurried away looking for a safe place when he jumped in Kari’s trench.
As A-company moved through the jungle to our left (on July 7, 1943) it came under heavy enemy fire,” he said. “They were short of medics so I volunteered to help them out.”
When he arrived the entire company was pinned down by heavy Japanese fire.
“Up ahead, in a semi-open area the first scout was in need of immediate medical attention. I crawled up to the wounded scout as invisibly as possible and proceeded to treat him.
“He had been shot between the legs and was in a bad way. I kneeled over him and cleaned his wound. Then I sprinkled sulfanilamide powder on his injuries,” Kari recalled.
“I didn’t hear or feel the sniper’s shot nor did I experience any pain, he said. “The best way for me to explain the situation is to say that I had an out-of-body experience.
“It seemed as if my spirit or being was floating. I was floating in a white halo-like light to elevations I could not imagine,” Kari explained. “I finally floated down and into my body again.”
When he came to and looked around, A-Company was gone. It had advanced past him. All that remained was the injured scout he was about to bandage when he was shot. The scout was still alive.
“I had blood all over my face and head,” he said. “I took my steel helmet off and was amazed to see two bullet holes about six inches apart in it.
“I had carried this heavy pot on my head for a year assuming it afforded some degree of protection I heaved the helmet as far as I could into the jungle and started walking back to the rear looking for help.”
The next thing Kari recalls is waking up at a first aid station in the jungle. It was a long tent with scores of wounded soldiers on cots.
The following day the wounded were taken aboard a ship returning to Guadalcanal. Later he was flown to the New Hebrides where he was transferred to a hospital ship headed for Auckland, New Zealand.
While recovering from a skull operation he met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was touring the southwestern Pacific war zone.
“She asked me about my wound and the circumstances around it. She was great.”
Kari whiled away his time playing cribbage with an Army Air Corps pilot in the next bed who taught him the game. It was about this time someone gave him a mirror to check out his head wound.
“Every time my heart beat I could see a blood vessel in my brain pulsate,” he said.
He arrived back in the states by Christmas 1943. Shortly after his arrival at an Atlanta, Ga. VA hospital, Kari underwent an operation to repair the damage a Japanese bullet had done to his skull. A titanium plate was put in his forehead.
By Feb. 1944 he had recovered sufficiently to be discharged from the Army. By then he had received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the Front Line Medic Badge.
Kari graduated from Macalester College (St. Paul, Minn.) using the G.I Bill with a degree in Economics and a minor in Geology, married Jean, his college sweetheart, and went to work. They have six children, three boys and three girls.
Raymond Roy Kari, 86, died on November 16, 2007
This story first appeared in the Englewood Sun newspaper, Englewood, Fla. on Sunday, July 7, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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My father was the last Commander of B/169 Infantry in 1945. He had commanded the Regiment’s Heavy Weapons Company too. Deploying from Fort Ord with the Regiment and being one of only seven officers of the 128 originally deployed to theater with the Regiment to return with it.