Belgium the Battle of the Bulge

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: STOP THE CLOCK by Muriel Phillips Engelman is a personal memoir of a nurse who saw up close how the winter of 1944-1945 changed the war in Europe.

With the 16th General Hospial, Muriel recalls from memory and letters crossing the English Channel a few weeks after the D Day invasion of Normandy and having to wade ashore. From a letter:  “I wouldn’t want my mother to worry though frankly, I’m scared silly and for the first time in my life I’ve lost my appetite.”

Liege, Belgium, became the base for the 16th after following the war through France, caring for patients in tent hospitals. A chapter titled “A Wartime Christmas” is described as anything but Merry, and again mentions the fear of the intense bombing and the serious conditions of the patients.

This is a personal memoir, and much of the book takes place in her after-the-war life. Well-written and entertaining, this is a recommended book, available through Inter-Library Loan and Amazon.com.

North Africa and Italy WWII Nurse

 

A Half Acre of Hell, A Combat Nurse in WWII, was written by Avis Dagit Schorer years after the end of the war, but with the clear memory of experiencing war at its worst. The  book tells of her almost 4 years as an army nurse with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, sometimes referred to as the  Baylor Unit.  After 6 months in North Africa, the 56th landed at Anzio, a 17-week battle in Italy where the hospitals were bombed, and six army nurses were killed. German bombers purposely targeted the tent hospitals marked with the red cross.

Other hospitals in the area were the 93rd EH, 95th EH, 33rd Field Hospital, as well as British units. The 15th EH, 38th EH and the 11th EH took over when the previous hospitals were hard hit by bombs or moved on to other combat stations. It is estimated that 200 army nurses served on the beachhead at Anzio.

On an LST in the Anzio harbor, the nurses waited to land when a red alert sounded and battles between German planes and Allied antiaircraft guns lasted the night. Kept from landing on the beach, Avis relates, “It was obvious we would spend another night on the ship. I could not fall asleep, and wondered if our lives would end on the ship in the Anzio harbor.”

Avis Schorer relates her experiences with great writing. The 56th set up their tent hospital near Nettuno, with red crosses on a white background marking the tents. The next several days their were air raids that caused much loss of life and equipment.

This book tells the horrors of war through the eyes of nurses without glossing over details, earning the hospital’s title “Hell’s Half Acre”. It is one of the best memoirs of a WWII nurse in my collection of books. Previously mentioned in this blog is The 56th Evac Hospital, by Lawrence D. Collins, M.D. which is another highly recommended book about the Anzio experience.

The books mentioned are often out-of-print but available through Amazon.com and the public or university library system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Women in WWII

Military nurses of WWII are what these posts are usually about, but several good books have included nurses along with what most American women were doing either because of, or to help with the war effort. Following are short summaries of some I have collected (because they include nurses). They all were not Rosie the Riveter, though many did take up factory work and other jobs that men were not able to fill. For research, or just information and good reading, check these out of the interlibrary loan dept. of your local library. Some are still listed as Used/New on Amazon.com.

OUR MOTHERS’ WAR, AMERICAN WOMEN AT HOME AND AT THE FRONT DURING WWII by Emily Yellin, 2004. Including personal interviews, letters and diaries, this book covers most of what any American woman did during war years. The author’s  mother was a Red Cross worker in Saipan when the war ended, and left many letters for the family to find after her mother’s death. Letters such as those have inspired many an author, including me. Emily Yellin relates the war time experiences of  women who came into their own, and had courage to take advantage of new opportunities to go on with lives afterward.

CELEBRATING WOMEN IN WWII, OR WHEN WAS THE HONEYMOON? by D Baltzo, 1993. Cartoons and GI humor pertaining to Army nurses. (Booklet)

 WOMEN AT WAR WITH AMERICA, PRIVATE LIVES IN A PATRIOTIC ERA, by D’Ann Campbell, 1984. The author writes of the women of the early 1940s. She was Dean at Indiana U. and begins with the military acceptance of women in all services, including nurses, and covers pretty much any aspect of the era.

HER WAR, AMERICAN WOMEN IN WWII by Kathryn Dobie and Eleanor Lang, 2003. These are personal stories of women leaders of the 1940s as well as the average woman. Lt. Marta Gorick writes to a friend after her troopship, on the way to North Africa, was hit by a German torpedo, “It was the wee hours of the a.m. and I had just gotten to sleep when I heard this distinct thud and there was no doubt in my mind as to what had happened. The engines stopped and there was a dead silence.”  Lowered to lifeboats, the passengers were picked up hours later by a British destroyer.

THEY ALSO SERVED, AMERICAN WOMEN IN WORLDWAR II, by Olga Gruhzit-Hoyt, 1995. Military women served everywhere, including Red Cross workers and pilots. Often the stories are first-person oral histories.

 

 

CBI Forgotten War

The term “Forgotten War” is often used when the China Burma India Theater of War is mentioned, but many books are being published by pilots and historians, explaining the U.S. role in the complexity of that war. The CBI chapter in my book, No Time For Fear,  barely touches the variety of locations and roles nurses played there.

A great website that follows WWII day-by-day will interest the historians and families of veterans who relate to that war, and you will find it at http://www.ww2days.com. Today’s page (Feb. 1, 1943) tells of the New Delhi conference on that date when Allies planned their offensive against the Japanese occupation. I was honored to add a note about the medical help that was involved throughout this “forgotten war”, which took its toll among the U.S., British, Chinese, and Burmese civilians and military.  You will likely become hooked to check the website daily.

“My WWII Nurses”

It has been wonderful to hear from 3 of the nurses from my book, No Time For Fear, this month. All in their 90s now, they are still good at recalling the WWII days they served overseas.

Ernestine Hess NNC was interviewed for the PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL, and the WWII Museum in New Orleans will preserve the story in its collections. “Hessie”, as she was called while on the hospital ship USS REFUGE, is one of the nurses on the cover of our book. Along with other nurses on board they are shown standing at the rail, and over the years I’ve been told by many how much the cover photo means to the reader. The REFUGE served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, bringing patients from the war zones to the U.S., before being sent to the Pacific theater. There they picked up the patients, treating them on the ship, and leaving them at larger hospitals throughout the Pacific theater.  For more info about the REFUGE see HOSPITAL SHIPS OF WORLD WAR II by Emory Massman.

Hessie’s story is told in my book along with other nurses who served with her, Helen Miller, Esther Wallenga, Bessie Glembocki and Elizabeth Staats. I loved interviewing them because I had no idea how the nurses on ships went about winning the war.  In addition to the patients’ stories,  and experiences of being at war on a hospital ship, they relate the humorous experience of King Neptune’s Court, which was the initiation of first-timers crossing the equator at sea.

Leviatha Nelson ANC was one of four nurses in my book who served with the 167th General Hospital, stationed near Cherbourg, France. As the war in Europe ended they treated mostly German prisoners as patients. Their location gave the nurses access to the villages nearby, and some even went to Paris.  The hospital group shared an unforgettable twelve-day ride on a troop train through France on their way to returning to the U.S. The other nurses who served with Vi in the 167th GH were Janet Haddon, Florence Brandvold and June Noreen.

All three of the nurses I am featuring were in different branches of the military, and Charlotte McFall was a Flight Nurse with the Army Air Force. First developed in 1942, flight nursing was a new aspect of caring for casualties.  Charlotte served in the Pacific theater, usually picking up patients in war zones throughout the many islands and bringing them back to hospitals on other islands, mostly  in Hawaii. She survived a crash landing on Eniwetok island with little more than a sprained ankle. The plane caught fire and others suffered burns. One of the most moving stories she relates is meeting a plane in Saipan. On the plane were nurses who had been imprisoned in the Philippines by the Japanese for almost three years and were their way back to the U.S.  Suffering from malnutrition, the nurses’ uniforms hung on their thin bodies, and Charlotte remembers that there wasn’t a dry eye in the hangar where they were welcomed.

The one thing that these three and most of the others said when they were first telling about the life-changing experiences they shared around the world, was to wonder  “what happened to that boy.” After the many years, they couldn’t forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearl Harbor Nurses

“I was asleep that Sunday morning on the hospital ship Solace out in the middle of Pearl Harbor, “in the stream,” as we say. COMMAND BATTLE STATIONS! was the first thing I heard.” Agnes Shurr was a U.S.Navy nurse on December 7, 1941, and recalls that day in my book, No Time For Fear, Voices of American Military Nurses in WWII.

Wounded were brought on board almost immediately, by sailors who went out in boats to pick up injured and wounded out of the water. The medical crew on board worked through the day without stopping, and late at night finally sat down to eat. Agnes states  “I hadn’t been aware really of the seriousness of our own situation. Around the table, it began to dawn on me that we were really in a precarious and dangerous position in the harbor.”

Valerie Vaubel Wiskerson, U.S.Navy nurse, was serving breakfast at the Navy Hospital, “when I heard a horrible explosion. I looked across the water at the hangar on Ford Island. It looked like it was picked up into the air and dropped down — PLUNK! There was nothing but smoke where there had been that great big air plane hangar with all the planes sitting in a row.”

“Hearing the explosions, I ran outside and saw the red sun on a plane that was coming in so close that I could see the faces of the pilots. I rushed to the hospital,” Sara Entrikin, U.S.Army nurse remembers, “Casualties were coming in fast and furious because the barracks were right along the runway and that’s where the bombs hit first.”  At Hickam Field, Sara said, there were only seven nurses and wounded had to be moved to Tripler Army Hospital because they were overwhelmed with patients at the small facility. “Soon there weren’t enough ambulances so the local people drove patients in their cars.”

Mildred Irene Clark Woodman, U.S.Army nurse, heard the planes overhead and recalls, “I saw planes coming through the pass in the mountains between Honolulu and Schofield. They flew so close I could hear the radio communications between pilots.” The hospital at Schofield Barracks was hit, states Irene, “even though the hospital had a large red cross on the roof, according to the provisions of the Geneva Convention. In a short time the nine operating rooms were extremely busy, while patients waited for care in the corridor. Early the next morning, several of us had the chance for a quiet moment and we talked quietly, since there were rumors that Japanese were landing parachute troops. The subject of being captured came up and each voiced her plan. Two indicated they would walk into the sea, others would hide in caves, some would go with their friends to prison, while others stated they would fight to the death.”

The brave military nurses, and there are more to each of these oral histories in the book, along with nurses stationed at Tripler Hospital, were all volunteers  without military rank, uniforms other than the traditional white dress and cap, and little pay. They all continued to serve, and in my interviews there was a memory of “I wonder what happened to that boy…” when they described a patient they had cared for later in the war in a tent, or on a ship, or in an airplane.

My interviews took place when these women were in their seventies, but clearly recalling an experience that was not foreseen when they decided to become nurses in their late teens, and twenties. I still hear their voices.

 

 

 

 

Heroic flight nurses of WWII

When I find a new book like this one, Angels on Board, Heroic flight nurses of World War II, written by Nancy Polette, it is like hitting gold!
Sixteen true stories of experiences that these brave women went through have been brought to life very skillfully by this author. She adds conversation to the exciting retelling, and I can verify that she is not exagerating.
I was able to read the story of Lt. Charlotte McFall to Charlotte at her home in Sun City, Arizona. She is 98 now, and kept nodding very expressively while I read her story as told in this book. Her plane crash-landed on a coral runway on Eniwetok Island in the Pacific, and Charlotte was able to escape through the fire. All crew members made it out alive. Additional experiences are told about Charlotte also, and she agreed with every word.
Nancy Polette has been writing children’s stories for years, but recently published two books about WWII nurses that are true in every detail, yet told in an exciting and adventurous way, so that any age reader would enjoy it. Her other recent book, Angel in Fatigues, The Story of Colonel Ruby Bradley, is a biography of one of the brave nurses who survived being imprisoned in the Philippines during the war.
Among other nurses in Angels on Board, is Lt. Jeannette Gleason, who had to parachute over China; Lt. Agnes Jensen, one of 12 nurses who survived a crash-landing behind German lines in Albania; Lt. Reba Whittle, the only flight nurse to be a German POW; and Lt. Elsie Ott, the first U.S. flight nurse.
It is a tribute to these brave women who served during WWII that authors are still writing new books that honor their memories. Several others in this book are among the oral histories in my book, No Time For Fear.
Both of the books by Nancy Polette should be in school libraries, as well as any other place that sells books.

Nisei nurses in the 1940s

Thankfully, more and more veterans and families are writing books and recording the stories of WWII experiences. I have included several in past entries, and will continue to research and collect books by or about the nurses of the 1940s. My emphasis in the book NO TIME FOR FEAR, VOICES OF AMERICAN MILITARY NURSES IN WWII, is oral histories of overseas experiences. While researching though, I find some related books that are intriguing and expand on the military nurses’ experiences. If interested, please contact me to get the list.

One of the more interesting is titled NISEI CADET NURSE OF WORLD WAR II, PATRIOTISM IN SPITE OF PREJUDICE, by Thelma M. Robinson, who joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps during the war and has become a nurse historian. To quote from the book, “Between the years 1943 and 1948, more than 124,000 cadet nurses graduated from 1,250 schools of nursing”, alleviating the nurse shortage in civilian hospitals. These women were trained during the war, but not for the military, though some did volunteer towards the end of the war. Cadet nurses were trained by the U.S. government, and were administered by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Among them were hundreds of Japanese American women (Nisei is the word for American born of Japanese descent). Soon after the Pearl Harbor bombing by Japanese planes, the U.S. government forced thousands of people of Japanese descent to relocation camps. This book relates the stories of twenty who were trained as nurses in civilian hospitals. Besides telling of the difficult, sometimes horrible, conditions of the camps, they all share how much it has meant to fulfill their ambition as nurses.

I found this book as inspiring as the stories of African American nurses, some of whom I was able to interview for my book. There is probably more to be told among other women considered minorities who wanted to be included.

Thelma Robinson wrote two other books about the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps: YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU, and CADET NURSE STORIES. Her sister, Paulie M. Perry, is co-author of the latter book.

56TH Evac Hospital WWII

Ellen Ainesworth, army nurse with the 56th evac in Anzio, was killed by German bombs that hit the hospital ‘by mistake’ according to the author of this terrific book. She is one of 92 medical personnel killed in action during the five months of the Anzio campaign.
Lawrence D. Collins M.D. wrote in great detail about his day-to-day horrific, and sometimes humorous, experiences during the two plus years in the Mediterranean theater. Letters to his wife are really a complete journal that he was able to send from the time he left the States. Arriving in Casablanca, after three weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean in an LST – Landing Ship Tank – he enjoyed meeting up with the Baylor Unit from Texas, the hospital group he started with in 1942. While not dwelling on the danger, he relates the crowded wards, serious injuries, multiple amputations, and comradship among the unit, especially the doctors. When writing to his wife, he claims that the Germans did not purposely drop bombs on the medical units marked with crosses, thus hoping to not worry his family.
Quoting from Dr. Collins: “Very few (patients) who get back to us fail to recover. Our team must have taken care of five hundred in the past three weeks, and we’ve had only one death.” (October 1944)
The 56th moved frequently, but as fighting moved, time to explore the historic surroundings was possible occasionally, and his explanations and descriptions are worthy of travel writing. Crossing North Africa and moving to Sicily and up the Italian front gave him opportunity to see the historic places from the past.
Food is the topic of many letters and the following poem was offered by Rose Craig, nurse with the Baylor Unit while they were in Bizerte:

The bugler blew–we donned our jeans
And sallied forth to meat and beans.
Then noon came round, we stopped to eat.
What did we have? ‘Twas beans and meat.
The sun went down, the moon came up
And we on meat and beans did sup.
We traveled long, we’re tired and dirty
From Casablanca to bombed Bizerte.
It’s ended, but the memory lingers
Kept alive by bandaged fingers
Result of keys and cans of tin–
(Some we never did get in)
If I live through this damn war
I will not spend my money for
A bite of hash, a hunk of stew
Or any bean that ever grew.
Here’s hoping there will never be
Another week of Ration C.

Letters to my own family were the impetus to write my book, No Time For Fear, Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II . Not all letters home from war are noteworthy, but this book, THE 56th EVAC HOSPITAL, Letters of a WWII Army Doctor by Lawrence D. Collins, M.D., is worth reading from the first page. Many times censorship kept him from telling what or where, but later he catches up to write pages on what happened, the hospital’s landing at Anzio for instance.

Avis Dagit Schorer wrote a memoir of her years in the same hospital as Dr. Collins, the 56th Evacuation Hospital. Her book will be reviewed in a future blog, along with those of other nurses and doctors who served in that area. They are all noteworthy books because of the life-changing experience.
This book and most of the books I mention are available through the InterLibrary Loan dept. of public and university libraries, as well as Amazon.com.

WWII Flight Nurse in the Pacific

Flight nurses during WWII were in amazing situations many times. The latest addition to my book collection is titled
Flight Nurse: From Pearl to Tokyo, by Barbara Gage Gruning. It is a wonderful small collection of letters she wrote to her mother, relating her experience and thoughts while serving in the Pacific theater.

Based in Hawaii, Barbara flew med evac flights from island to island, taking patients from battlefields to hospitals for treatment. Her letters describe in stark detail the injuries of the GI patients on flights; the danger of loading patients at a base while enemy planes strafed the air field; having engines on fire while flying over the vast Pacific Ocean; and always ending the letter with words that she was privileged to be there for the brave soldiers and sailors.

When the war was over in September 1945, she was sent on a memorable trip to Tokyo to bring back men who had been prisoners in Japan. Traveling through a country that had been bombed into surrendering, Barbara tells of meeting the men who had survived the camps. Their enthusiasm when the plane took off “could have buoyed the plane enough that the plane didn’t need wings”.
Barbara’s letters to her mother in Maine are well-written, and seemed to be conversations to me. Her feelings about the patients and their injuries are well-described. The book is only 90 pages, and includes some stories by other WWII veterans with amazing experiences. Published locally in Delaware, it may be purchased by contacting http://www.John13cav@comcast.net