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The Story of Dr. Wassell

The Story of Dr. Wassell(1944)


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During World War II, the Japanese Navy cripples the U.S. cruiser Marblehead on the Java Sea. The Marblehead crew keeps the ship afloat for two days until they reach the port at Jilatjap, Java, where they are met by a Dutch hospital train commanded by former Arkansas country doctor, Navy Lieutenant Commander Dr. Corydon M. Wassell. The wounded are then taken to a hospital deep in the jungle. While Wassell treats sailor "Hoppy" Hopkins, Javanese nurse Tremartini donates her blood to save his life, and feels that she now has a permanent bond with him. In order to distract Hoppy from his pain, Wassell tells him about how a medical journal photograph of a beautiful American nurse named Madeline, who was working in China, inspired him to leave Arkansas to work as a missionary. Just after Wassell learns that thousands of Japanese soldiers have landed on Java, the hospital is hit during an air attack. Those patients able to walk take shelter in a cellar, while the immobile are placed underneath their beds. During the raid, Ping, a Chinese soldier, continues Wassell's story: When Wassell finally arrives in China and meets Madeline, they fall in love. Wassell searches for a cure to a devastating disease that claims the lives of thousands of Chinese. Wassell theorizes that the disease is carried by snails, but is unable to identify the specific snail genus. Wassell is disappointed when the hospital's board of directors names Dr. Ralph Wayne, a missionary and Wassell's rival for Madeline, as the new head of research and sends Wassell to a remote jungle outpost. A bomb blast cuts short Ping's story, and he dies when a falling beam pierces his chest. Wassell soon gets evacuation orders, but only the walking wounded are to be shipped off; the rest must remain in the jungle. Reluctant to tell the men his mixed news, Wassell mobilizes everyone and takes them to Jilatjap, but the captain of the departing ship Pecos refuses to allow the bedridden soldiers aboard, as he anticipates an enemy attack. Realizing that his debilitated men face certain death if left behind, Wassell insists on remaining with them, and thereby becomes the only high ranking American officer left on the island. With the help of Johnny, an able-bodied soldier who missed the boat, and Javanese helpers, the small troop returns to their jungle hospital, but are forced to take shelter in the cellar during a raid. Bill, a wounded officer from the Marblehead , asks Wassell to finish Ping's story: After he is sent to the jungle outpost, Wassell continues his research and finally identifies a specific genus of snail that carries the disease. Exultant, Wassell plans to propose to Madeline, but refrains from doing so when he gets a telegram informing him that Dr. Wayne has also discovered the source of the disease, and is being hailed a hero. Knowing that Wayne also wants to marry Madeline, Wassell gives up both his work and her. Back in the jungle, Wassell's prayers are answered by the arrival of a convoy of British trucks. The British commander lends Wassell a truck for his wounded and arranges to meet him at Java harbor, where a ship is leaving for Australia. Hoppy and Tremartini ride in a separate truck, which careens over the side of the road after a bomb blast. Wassell is unable to find them, and they are left to fend for themselves. Wassell and his men catch up to the British troops only to learn that all the transport ships except for the Janssen , have been sunk. The British troops remain in the jungle to fight the Japanese, while Wassell and his men return to Jilatjap to meet the Janssen . By the time they arrive at night, the Janssen has already set sail, but a lightning flash reveals that it is still in the harbor, and Wassell desperately puts his men in a boat and sails it alongside the ship. Despite the captain's orders against bringing wounded men on board, Wassell sneaks them on deck. Seeing he has no choice, the captain moves the wounded men below deck. Wassell is surprised to find Wayne aboard, and to learn that he is joined by his wife. The next day, as the crew learns that the Pecos was sunk in Java harbor, the Janssen engines suddenly go silent as Japanese bombers begin to strafe the ship. Wayne is wounded in the attack, and when Wassell sends for his wife, he discovers that she is not Madeline, who had shipped out on the Pecos . The Janssen is saved by a formation of "Flying Fortress" bombers, who defend it against further attack. In Australia, Wassell expects to be court-martialed for disobeying orders, but instead is commended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a radio broadcast in which he praises Wassell's efforts to keep his men alive. The survivors of the Pecos include Madeline, and she is present when Wassell is awarded the Navy's highest honor, the Navy Cross.