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Extreme Weather Conditions: Military Medicine Responds to a Korean War Winter

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Journal Article - Open Access

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National Museum of Health and Medicine, USAMRMC Silver Spring United States

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In the fall of 1950, American soldiers and their commanding officers were unprepared for their first Korean winter, when temperatures could plunge to more than 30 degrees below zero and arctic winds from Siberia yielded deadly consequences. A Life magazine article from February 1951 reported that more than 5,000 U.S. troops in Korea suffered from frostbite that first winter. For some, evacuation and medical care was timely, but others lost feet and hands, as well as fingers and toes. Army surgeons realized that many frostbite diagnoses during World War II had, in fact, been trench foot and that their treatment programs were not designed to manage the dangers of a truly severe winter. Without proper prevention and treatment, soldiers fell prey to frostbite in catastrophic numbers, leaving their units less effective in the field.

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