“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.