World War II Army Flight Nursing – 14 Jul 2018

Select Bibliography
Army Flight Nursing in World War II
Fiction

When writing Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, I read extensively about the topic. Much has been written about the success of air evacuation as a means of transportation for sick and wounded soldiers of World War II, and about the flight nurses who provided the patient care. Published either during the war years or retrospectively, most sources are factual accounts of wartime events. Some, however, are only based on fact.

In fiction, Peggy Gaddis’s Shirley Andrews (Flight Nurse Arcadia House 1945) is assigned to air evacuation duty in the Pacific. Elizabeth Lansing’s Nancy Naylor (Nancy Naylor, Flight Nurse Crowell 1944 and Nancy Naylor, Captain of Flight Nurses Crowell 1946) participates in air evacuation missions in the North African and Sicilian Campaigns before being alerted for the invasion of Italy. She then travels with her squadron to England prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Not surprisingly, the best-known fictional nurse of the 1940s also becomes a flight nurse. In Helen Wells’s Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse (Grosset and Dunlap 1945) the eponymous heroine, whom readers first met as a student nurse, then as a senior nurse, joins the Army where she serves as a chief nurse before being selected for the flight nurse course with follow-on assignment in England. As is her usual inclination, Cherry solves a mystery during her tour of duty. Common to all these works of fiction, romance and intrigue are woven into the plots and take precedence over the flight nurse experience, which serves only a minor role in the overall story. These books are for the most part, however, remarkably accurate in their portrayal of the qualifications for and duties of an Army flight nurse assigned to the Army Air Forces and served as an important tool to recruit young women into the military where they themselves could become part of this exciting new field of Army nursing.

More recently, Sarah Sundin’s Wings of the Nightingale Series published by Revell offers historical romance from a Christian perspective in an air evacuation setting during World War II. Each of the three books features fictional Army flight nurses – Lt. Melanie Blake (With Every Letter 2012), Lt. Georgiana Taylor (On Distant Shores 2013), and Lt. Kay Jobson (In Perfect Time 2014) – who fly fictional air evacuation missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations with the Army Air Forces in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy and into southern France as part of the factual 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron.

For a selective bibliography of nonfiction, see Blog for 24 Jun 2018.

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 24 Jun 2018

Select Bibliography
Army Flight Nursing in World War II
Nonfiction

When writing Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, I read extensively about the topic. Much has been written, both during and after the war, about the success of air evacuation as a means of transportation for sick and wounded soldiers of World War II and about the flight nurses who provided the patient care. These sources fall into several categories.

First are histories of air evacuation, often prepared by military personnel or historians, that mention the role of the flight nurse. “Air Evacuation: An Historical Review” by Frederick Guilford and Burton Soboroff (Journal of Aviation Medicine 1947), Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II by Mae Link and Herbert Coleman (US Government Printing Office 1955), and Aeromedical Evacuation in the United States Air Force, 1909–1960 by Robert Futrell (USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University 1960) are three such examples. Although unpublished, academic theses and dissertations written by military scholars offer comprehensive insight into particular aspects of flight nurse history. Helen Rumianek’s “The Historical Development of the Flight Nurse Program in the United States Air Force Nurse Corps” (Catholic University, Washington DC 1965) and my own “The History of Flight Nursing in the United States Army Air Forces During World War II” (Catholic University, Washington DC 1977) and “Coping with War: An Oral History of United States Army Nurses Who Flew with the Army Air Forces in World War II” (University of Texas at Austin 1986) fall into this category.

Second are memoirs written by flight nurses. Nurses stationed overseas with medical air evacuation squadrons contributed accounts of their work to military and nursing journals during and immediately after their tours of duty. Henrietta Richardson’s “Flight Nurse” (Air Force 1943) and “Skyway Nursing” (American Journal of Nursing 1944) and Dorothy Rice’s “Flight to Kirawagi” (American Journal of Nursing 1945) represent these short descriptive articles. Many decades after the war, some World War II flight nurses published books about their military careers or about a memorable mission. Esther Baer Moseley’s Lady Don’t Stop Here (Publisher Unidentified 1980) recounts her adventures as a flight nurse evacuating wounded patients from China, Burma, and India. Dorothy Berendsen’s The Way It Was (Carlton 1988) looks back at her flight nurse assignment in Europe. Lucy Wilson Jopling’s Warrior in White (Watercress 1990) chronicles her experiences as a nurse in Bataan and on Corregidor and later as a flight nurse in the Pacific, where she helped evacuate from Luzon some of the liberated prisoners of war. Agnes Jensen Mangerich’s Albanian Escape (University Press of Kentucky 2000) is a carefully reconstructed account of a harrowing experience of escape and evasion behind enemy lines in Europe that she and others in her squadron endured after the plane in which they were flying had to make a forced landing. In The Story of Air Evacuation 1942–1989 (Taylor 1989), members of the World War II Flight Nurses Association submitted individual reminiscences to make up a collective history published in yearbook format. The work draws heavily on Wings Over America (1944), a previously published history of the Army Air Forces Troop Carrier Command at Bowman Field Army Air Base, Louisville, Kentucky, where flight nurses were trained.

Third are human interest stories about flight nurses, some written by war correspondents who accompanied these women on air evacuation missions, published in newspaper supplements and popular magazines. Often given a catchy title – “These Angels Fly on Man-Made Wings” (The Courier-Journal Roto-Magazine 1943), “Hell’s Angels” (Family Circle 1944), “Invasion Heroine: The Flying Nurse (Look 1944), “Angel Footprints” (Cosmopolitan 1944) – these stories feature numerous photographs of flight nurses at work.

Fourth are compilations of oral histories first appearing at the end of the twentieth century that include World War II flight nurses among their contributors. Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation (Random House 2001), inspired in part by the author’s trips to Normandy on the fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries of D-Day, opened a floodgate of memories for men and women who had served in the armed forces in World War II and for their families back home. Overwhelming response to Brokaw’s book led to follow-on books containing letters and personal histories. Nurses feature prominently in resulting collections of interviews and reminiscences documenting women’s participation in the war effort. World War II flight nurses are among the contributors to Latter-Day Saint Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice (Brigham Young University 2005) compiled by Patricia Rushton, Lynn Callister, and Maile Wilson that spans World War I through Operation Iraqi Freedom. No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II (Michigan State University Press 1996) by Diane Fessler focuses exclusively on World War II and groups the short vignettes, some by flight nurses, by the various theaters of war.

And finally, World War II flight nurses were the heroines in books intended for young female readers beginning to consider the career options open to them after high school graduation. In the nonfiction Brave Nurse: True Stories of Heroism (Appleton-Century 1945), Ellsworth Newcomb included flight nurse Lieutenant Dorothy Shikoski, who attempted to assist a crewman when the plane in which they were traveling was forced to ditch in the seas of the South Pacific, among military nurses who demonstrated exceptional valor in time of war. Newcomb does not have his facts straight, however, concerning Shikowski’s flight nurse training and flight nurse wings. In Wyatt Blassingame’s Combat Nurses of World War II (Random House 1967), the Albanian experience of flight nurse Lieutenant Agnes Jensen is the focus of a chapter on flight nursing, which is factual in its detail because of input from the flight nurse herself.

More recently, Cate Lineberry’s Secret Mission: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines (Little, Brown 2013) retells the account of the downed air evacuation crew in Albania who made their way to Allied territory on foot over an arduous trek lasting months. I interviewed one of those nurses, Agnes Jensen Mangerich, and include her own account of the event in Beyond the Call of Duty.

To be continued

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 2 Jun 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 12 When the War Ended

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

The Day Paris Was Liberated [Author’s Private Collection]

Clara Morrey, who flew with the 802 MAES in the Mediterranean, celebrated VE Day with her squadron in Siena, a small walled city on top of a hill in Italy.

We had a humongous celebration. All of the Allied people who were there celebrated down in the stadium. We had races, and it was just a day of celebration. The natives joined in. There were dancing in the streets and parades and everything. It was beautiful.

After VE Day, some medical air evacuation squadrons (MAES) in Europe, such as the 815 and 816 MAES, were slated for transfer to Marseilles for shipment to the Pacific. Then VJ Day ended the war. “At that point, I wanted to go home,” Brooxie Mowery of the 816 MAES said.

The war was over – I wanted to go home. But, you know, what chance do you have? And then we were told they were going to fly us over to Japan. Then, no, we were going to go by boat – or ship, I should say. … And we kept waiting, and finally they said, “You’re going home.” So we sailed from Marseille.

The war on the Pacific front continued through the summer of 1945. Even the Allied firebombing of Japanese cities did not weaken Japanese resolve to continue fighting. Not until 6 August when the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed three days later by a second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, did Japan surrender to Allied forces, leading to the formal Japanese ceremony of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

Three of the flight nurses assigned in the Pacific recalled their reactions to the news that their country had dropped the atomic bombs. For Jo Nabors with the 812 MAES, learning that the bomb had been dropped was the worst, most frightening, most difficult event of the war. How could this ever happen? How could they produce a bomb that would annihilate this many people? she thought. She had seen a lot of the war and treated a lot of its casualties and almost crash-landed once on approach to an island without being frightened. “But I was frightened that day,” she said. Her usual calm demeanor must have shown fear during her air evacuation flight that day, for some of her patients asked, “Lieutenant, what’s the matter?” It was the first time that Nabors had shown her feelings in flight. “Well, you should be happy. The war is over,” one of her patients said. “Well, I am happy for that,” she replied, “because that means that many less boys are wounded. Our boys can go back home, and it will all be over.” But what if the bomb had been dropped on a large American city, she said. “How would you feel if it was your family?” Nabors’ heart ached for these victims whom she did not even know.

Hilda Halverson of the 826 (later 830) MAES was shocked when she heard about the bomb: “Well, I thought of all the burns. It was a terrible thing to [do to] the civilians.” Chief nurse Elizabeth Pukas of the 812 MAES recalled the time when her squadron was stationed on Saipan toward the end of the war; troops from the neighboring island of Tinian, “who were in charge of the atomic bomb,” were coming to Saipan and socializing with the army nurses in the hospital and with the flight nurses. Her squadron did not know, “even at the time that it happened – communication did not come to us, our need to know was not determined by us – that the atomic bomb was dropped and that we knew the members of the armed forces whose job it was to do it. We did not know this for a long, long time.” Pukas recalled that the socializing served dual purposes, because her flight nurses “were also the eyes and the ears of the psychiatrists. We were to pick up the cues – this young man, he’s precious, but he’s under stress. So that, again, was something for which we were very well prepared, … to report signs … to identify the cues and to report them. Many a man owes it to the flight nurse to have been that astute.”

“After I learned that I was there at that particular time, and we were hearing all of these horrible stories, how terrible a thing it was to drop the atomic bomb, I had my guilt feelings,” Pukas admitted. “And there are times when much, much later, guilt feelings surfaced, and these again, just as the members of the armed forces from Vietnam, many, many years later break down because of the memory.” Pukas sought help, and ultimately drew on her patriotic feelings to justify the act. “This was a mission, it was a decision of my government, of my country. I love it. It was the right thing to do.”

 

 

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 6 May 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 11 When Humor Helped

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Some events of wartime service were humorous at the time; others were recalled with humor only after the passage of time. Louise Anthony, whose 816 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) was sent to England in preparation for D Day, gave a humorous account of her classmates pitching their tents in the frigid January temperature during bivouac as part of flight nurse training. It took all day to issue the “armloads” of field equipment – tent pegs, shelter halves, mess kits, canteen and its holder, flashlights, clothing, “everything imaginable” – to their large class.

Then they announce, “All right, fall out in the morning with all your field equipment, and we will show you how to put it together.” The weather was so cold, we all wore at least two sets of underwear and our slacks, plus any outer clothing we could put on top. And we fell out. It was dark. These four squadrons lined up … and frequently someone would drop a tent peg, and we’d giggle. And they’d bend over to pick up the tent peg and drop their canteen or something else. And then somebody else would try to help pick up one of the things dropped, and she would drop something. And [Edith] Jackson was standing out in front. Each of the flight leaders was standing in front of the squadrons to take the morning report and turn and give it to Jackson, who would turn and give it to the captain standing behind. And Jackson was yelling out periodically, “Attention!” which couldn’t be had under the circumstances very easily. And finally she yelled out, “You are supposed to fall in at attention!” And then she added, “To the best of your ability.” The captain behind Jackson doubled up laughing – was almost on the ground laughing. …

Then when we did go out, … the captain who was in charge said … “Is anyone cold?” And there were about twenty of the girls [who] said, “Oh, I’m freezing! Oh, it’s so cold, I’m dying!” And I thought, Jiminy Christmas, why can’t they keep their mouths shut? And all of a sudden he said, “All right. Everybody fall into line.” And he ran us around the field about four times – to warm us up.

Flight Nurses Resting Before 13-Mile Hike
Bowman Field, KY, January 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

 

822 MAES Flight Nurses on March Back from Bivouac
Bowman FIeld, KY, March 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

Waiting at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to ship overseas, flight nurses in Anthony’s squadron found that their chief nurse had a sense of humor when dealing with some of the more unrealistic demands of military life. The squadron was at Camp Kilmer during winter when it was very cold, and someone complained to the chief nurse that her flight nurses were not standing reveille in the mornings. Louise Anthony continued the story: “And she [chief nurse] said, ‘Well, we’re shipping out overseas. And if you think I’m going to make them stand it out in the cold, and they’ll catch pneumonia or something else – they’re standing it inside.’ So she called a meeting and told us about it, and she said, ‘You are standing reveille every morning.’ She said, ‘I don’t care if you stand it in bed. But you are standing reveille.’”

When Eileen Newbeck and her flight nurse colleagues in Squadron A of the 805 MAES reported for duty in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada in June 1943, base officials did not know what to do with them. The nurses were not yet placed on flying status. Newbeck recalled that some enterprising officers sent her and an enlisted technician to the United States with a trainload of patients bound for Iowa. The patients filled one full carload and part of another, and half of them were what Alaska natives called “bushwacky,” meaning they had been away from civilization too long while out in the bush building the Alaskan Highway. “They looked a little funny,” Newbeck said.

The trip, which Newbeck later recalled with humor, was no laughing matter at the time. When the train stopped at the various stations, guards had to be posted at each exit on the train, and Newbeck discovered that no arrangements had been made for food. When the patients were taken to a ward at a military hospital for an overnight stay, the medical staff gave them passes. The patients, who had found the post exchange, returned drunk from beer. The next day when ready to board the train, the patients were still drunk and so sick that the train master refused to let them board until they had been frisked to remove any bottles of alcohol. Newbeck and her enlisted technician spent the rest of the trip cleaning up after the patients, who could not “hold their liquor.” It was an exhausting, “wild and woolly” trip, Newbeck concluded. Fortunately after reporting back to her duty station, Newbeck began flight nurse duties, thus ending her short assignment as a train nurse.

Adele Edmonds in the Pacific with the 801 MAES, recalled an event that “turned out very funny,” though she did not see the humor in it at the time. She had deadheaded into an island, perhaps Green Island, arriving late at night to pick up patients the next day, and the island had no quarters for women. She wanted to sleep in the plane when she found herself in that situation, but it was against the rules. Nor was she permitted just to sleep in a chair as she requested. Base personnel finally found a place for her in a supply room, but she wouldn’t sleep there unless someone else was with her. So the pilot stayed in the room as well. “They made a big joke out of it, and of course they razzed the pilot unmercifully,” Edmonds said. “I often wondered about him,” she concluded. “I imagine he made a big story about it, and that was fine.”

Flight nurse Dorothy White with the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean found humor in what she found inside two planes that were converted to transport patients in Italy. One of the planes

was just covered with glossy prints, and they were all nudes. So I figured, Now, my poor patients have had enough problems, they don’t need any more. So I took my band-aides, and I dressed the entire ceiling of the airplane. I dressed them. But, see, they were glossy prints, and I knew that the Band-aide wouldn’t hurt the print – they could take it off later. But the patients laughed more about my band-aides. … they thought the band-aides were funny.

Another plane was filled with a terrible odor.

Come to find out they had transported 12 mules north to the front line, and when they unloaded the mules, the crew chief discovered that there was no water – there was no way they could clean the interior of the plane. So they did find a broom, and they swept it clean, but, oh, it needed to be hosed down but good! But when we put our patients on board, and the patients complained, “What is that odor?” You know, I am the biggest liar you ever saw. And I said, “Well, I can’t smell a thing.” You know. “It’s just your imagination,” you know. And I talked like that all the way back. And one of the fellows said, “Nurse, you better get your nose checked.”

But they didn’t know about the mules, and I figured, Well, if they get an infection … they’re going to say that the mules did it. And I made sure they didn’t touch the floor or anything. It was just that the odor was so terrible. But, so, unto this day, when I see a mule, I smell ‘em.

A sense of humor helped Hilda Halverson, who flew with the 826, later 830 MAES in the Pacific when the ants found her underwear during an overnight stop. She had deadheaded into Clark Field in the Philippines. She recalled, laughing:

I was tired and dropped my panties and my bra on the floor, and I kind of think I had nylons or – oh, yeah – I think I had hose. And when I went to reach for them in the morning, there was nothing left but that elastic around the panties. The ants had eaten it. I was so surprised.

A sense of humor also helped flight nurses of the 830 MAES assigned to Harmon Field in Newfoundland resolve the frustrating situation of 25 women sharing one bathroom. When the one toilet kept overflowing “accidentally” out into the Officers Club, management finally gave the flight nurses a larger bathroom.

The flight nurse narratives reveal a multitude of coping strategies – reliance on the support of colleagues and friends as well as of family back home, devotion to their country and its war effort, and an ability to find humor in situations that could be perceived as frustrating.

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 14 Apr 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 10 When Food and Supplies Were Scarce

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Flight nurses in the Pacific, like their colleagues on the European front, had very little to work with as far as supplies and equipment. Lee Holtz of the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron [MAES] recalled that her squadron had “no equipment, really,” and what they did have was of poor quality. “We had bandages and morphine in the pocket, and I told you [about] the pistol under the arm. We had plasma that we could give IV, which we did have a lot of.” When one of Holtz’s patients started bleeding under a makeshift cast and she had no cast cutters, she had to cut it off with bandage scissors. “It was terrible,” she remembered. “I had the navigator come back and try to help me, because, you know, it really got very hard to cut this hard cast off, and yet I could see the red creeping through the cast, and I knew I had to get to it to put pressure on it.”

The flight nurses interviewed displayed an uncanny ability to make do admirably with what was on hand or could be scrounged to augment deficient supplies for patient care. The 807 MAES nurses in the Mediterranean considered the bulky 95-pound ambulance chest filled with medical supplies that they took on board aircraft unsuitable for their work. Fewer supplies in a smaller medical kit worked just as well and opened up needed space to evacuate another patient from the front lines. Dorothy White, assigned to the 807 MAES, became very adept at procuring supplies for her medical kit from offices and dispensaries she visited. “I used to walk through an office,” she said. “They used to be afraid to see me coming, because they didn’t know what I was going to leave with.” Covers for field telephones that she appropriated on one scouting mission made the perfect medical kit when laced together with shoestrings. The bags quickly caught on with the other flight nurses in her squadron, until “all the field telephones in the area were naked,” having been put to medical use.

Wherever she landed in the Pacific, Helena Ilic of the 801 MAES got to know the cooks and made little deals for food that she fed her patients in flight, so that “my men were always well fed.” She “scrounged around,” Ilic explained. “I was a true-blue. I did what they told us to do – improvise.” The Red Cross had only donuts and fruit juice, Ilic recalled, but the Salvation Army had “real food! Like cans of stuff. And they would make me sandwiches.” As soon as the plane on which she was flying to pick up patients landed, Ilic would find the Salvation Army and head immediately for the kitchens, making little deals for food for her patients “all over the place. … I always knew the cooks.” She even heated up soup on the planes. “And my men were always well fed, and they always had food. We never landed any place that they were hungry.”

Helena Ilic with Crew Chief, South Pacific
[Author’s Private Collection]

Nothing was insurmountable to these women who had been taught to improvise in their basic nurses training. Nurses training taught White to be frugal: “Well, you never throw things away – you find another use for it, see.” Resourcefulness was the most valuable lesson Ilic learned in her nurses training. As she stated, “Ideal situations don’t exist in wartime. …You don’t have all the equipment. … And you work with what you have.” She fell back on her own ingenuity, making do with what she had and improvising for what she did not have. Brooxie Mowery, a flight nurse with the 816 MAES in Europe, summed up the situation: “So there was a lot of theory, but I think it’s true of everything in nursing – theory is fine, but then you have to improvise.”

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 24 Mar 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 9 When Missions Went Awry

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Potential aircraft emergencies were not uncommon on many air evacuation missions. The possibility of ditching at sea was foremost in many flight nurses’ thoughts, since so much of their flying was over water. Jocie French, who flew with the 818 MAES in Europe, wished she had remembered more from her survival training in flight nurse school when she had to don a parachute as a precautionary measure. “I kept thinking, Do I get out of this parachute before we hit the water … or do I hit the water with the parachute?

Denny Nagle, who flew with the 815 MAES in Europe, recalled a flight with a full load of patients during which the plane lost one of its engines. ”I was thinking what we were going to do when we go down in that zero [degree] water down there.” The flight nurses had been told that a person could survive only for twenty minutes in such cold water, she said. “You didn’t have a chance. But you’d think, Can you get them out of here? And what can you do if you do?

“Dingie” Life Raft Instructions
815 MAES Flight Surgeon Captain Wormsley
[Author’s Private Collection]

Flights with patients on board exacted fortitude that at times conflicted with a flight nurse’s natural instincts. Jo Nabors, assigned to the 812 MAES, recalled a flight into a Pacific island where the harbor was being bombed. “They were shooting at us. … I was panicky. And when we landed, and we got our load of patients and started back out, I was never so glad to leave an island as I was that day.” Despite her panic, Nabors appeared cool and calm to her patients, telling little jokes. When the plane ascended to get out of the range of ack-ack, a patient with an open chest wound began bleeding. Nabors thought, “Oh, what’ll I do, what’ll I do?” She gave him morphine for his pain, administered oxygen, and re-plugged the chest wound to stop the bleeding. “Any emergency that comes up, you have to do it. Well, all I could think of was if we were shot down. … I was deathly afraid that I would have to ditch first, and then save myself, and then try to save all these boys.”

Nabors struggled with the expectation that in the event of an emergency her safety came before that of her patients. She was more valuable than her patients, her commander had said, and unless she and the rest of the crew saved themselves, they would not be able to help the others. “I had to get out of the plane first,” Nabors stated. ”And that’s where I felt that sometimes that it was a little bit difficult to make a decision. How could you make a decision like that?” On one occasion, when her plane lost a propeller, Nabors had to prepare her patients to ditch. The plane landed safely on land, but Nabors had already made up her mind about what she would do. She had planned to shove all her able-bodied patients out the door first, throw a raft down, and then leave the plane herself. As she told her commander afterward, with the water and waves so high in the Pacific, she could never open the raft herself at five-feet-two-inches tall and weighing only 102 pounds. He replied, “Well, the good Lord has to be looking out for you.” Nabors said, “Yes, plus my rosary beads.” It was a standing joke – Nabors always had her rosary beads with her.

Blanche Solomon, a flight nurse with first the 822 MAES, then the 830 MAES, was stationed at Harmon Field Newfoundland between May and September 1944, then at Lajes Field in the Azores and finally at Orly Field near Paris, June through October 1945. Much of her flying was between the Azores and Newfoundland. On a mission with a planeload of patients, one of them in a body cast, Solomon worried about that patient during a bad storm. The flight had passed the point of no return, and she wondered what she would do about him, should the plane have to ditch at sea. She explained: “We were taught that in case we were going down, and we knew we were going down, and if there was a patient that couldn’t be moved into one of the rafts, just to overdose him with morphine.” The plane landed safely with fifteen minutes worth of gas left.

On another flight Solomon had at least three blind patients, two in litter tiers, and one whose litter was on the floor of the plane. This last one concerned her most. He had lost his eyes as a result of combat wounds, and Solomon had to irrigate his eye sockets fairly frequently. On an earlier leg, the wheels on the plane’s landing gear had not rolled properly, but the plane had been taken up and tested without the patients on board, and everything seemed to be working fine. Yet there was still a chance that the wheels would not roll when they landed. So Solomon informed the patients about the situation and told the blind patients in the litter tiers that she would yell a warning just before the plane hit the ground so they could hold onto their litters. When she told the blind patient on the floor, she almost wept when he said, “Lieutenant, when you leave me, tell me you’re going so I’m not left talking to myself, because the nurse in the hospital did that, and I was talking for the longest time.” As they were getting ready to land, Solomon yelled, “Okay, hang on tight, and you’ll know when you’re rolling.” She sat on the floor next to the blind patient, because he was scared. The wheels rolled, Solomon said. “And we all breathed a sigh of relief.”

 

 

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 4 Mar 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 8 When Flying Was Not Smooth

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Youth, naiveté, and a trusting nature helped flight nurses cope when flying was not smooth. Ethel Carlson of the 815 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) assigned to England remembered an unusual flight to the Continent in a plane transporting hand grenades and gasoline for Patton’s troops.

And that was strictly not according to Hoyle, but I think we just didn’t think about it. We did what we were told to, and besides that, we figured somebody was taking care of us. They wouldn’t get us in trouble. You know, we had a chief nurse and a Major Traub was in charge of the squadron, and we had our flight surgeon, and all of those people were going to take care of us. They weren’t gonna get us into any trouble. Besides that, if it was necessary, that’s what we were doing. I think it was a different way we lived, too, in those war years, because everybody was totally involved. It wasn’t a question of whether you wanted to volunteer for military service. The men were drafted, but everybody did what they could. And if your training put you in a spot like being in the Army Nurse Corps, this is where you went. You weren’t being terribly patriotic, but yet you were. It was the thing to do.

Ethel Carlson [Author’s Private Collection]

Flight nurses often were often during air evacuation flights, but they kept their fears to themselves in order to project calmness to their patients One nurse assigned to the Pacific front never did conquer her fear of flying: “I was petrified of flying. I was scared to death to fly. I was scared on every trip. The smooth trips, which were few and far between, were fine; they didn’t bother me. But the minute we started bouncing around, I thought, How am I going to get these forty patients into life rafts? … I think I prayed harder and longer through those years of flying than I have ever done in my life.”

Blanche Solomon, who flew with the 822 MAES, then the 830 MAES on the North Atlantic run, worried about a large patient in a spica cast on a flight from Bermuda to Miami when her the plane with 28 litter patients on board encountered “an awful storm.”

I mean, lightning was hitting all around, the plane was bouncing and such, so the pilot said he was going to try to head into the Bahamas into Nassau. I imagine they had an airfield there. And he still couldn’t fight the storm. So he fooled round with that for a while, and he decided he was heading back to Bermuda. Well, by that time we were beyond the point of no return. So that’s when I was thinking about that one patient.

She knew that the other patients could get out of the plane if necessary. Blanche talked to the navigator about the procedures for ditching and getting the patients out in the life rafts, all the while worrying about the patient in the spica cast. “And, anyhow,” she continued, “we got into Bermuda. All the crash boats were out, the crash trucks were out. We had about fifteen minutes worth of gas left — that’s what they told me, anyhow.”

Carlson remembered another flight from England across the Channel to France on a cargo plane to pick up patients after D Day. She was napping on top of cargo – probably hand grenades – when the plane lurched, tossing her into the air, resulting in a bruised side. She was angry at the pilot “for doing something stupid” that caused her to hurt herself. Even after she found out he was avoiding enemy fire, she still blamed him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She didn’t even think about being shot down.

Ethel Carlson (bottom right) with members of 815 MAES
[Author’s Private Collection]

Said Lee Holtz in the Pacific with the 801 MAES about wartime service, “We never realized the danger of it. That never entered our mind.” As Dorothy White, who flew with the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean, explained, she and her colleagues were young, cocky, and ready to tackle the world. “So there was a war going on,” she quipped, “it just kind of got in the way.”

 

 

 

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 10 Feb 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 7 When Patients Were in Crisis

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Louise Anthony, a flight nurse with the 816 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in England, who made her first trip into Normandy on 15 June 1944 after D Day, flew over, as did other medical crews, in planes loaded with gasoline for Patton’s army. As the patients were brought on board the plane now configured for air evacuation, enemy shells were getting close, and an officer told the crew to shut the door and take off. Anthony saw that one of her patients was dying and, realizing that he might not survive the flight, tried to find someone to remove him from the plane. But it was too late – the ground crews had left. As soon as they were airborne, Anthony asked the radio operator to call for a doctor to meet the plane. When the patient died over the English Channel, Anthony successfully hid the fact from the other patients: “I did not cover his face, I turned his head, I adjusted his pillow, I checked his pulse, I pulled the blanket back to check his dressings – the same as all the rest of the patients. … And so no one knew anything.”

Toward the end of the war Dorothy White, assigned to the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean, transported a German POW with a sucking chest wound. Because of the extent of the wound, his breaths gasped out his back. He was “a horrible shade of gray” and needed oxygen, but the plane was not equipped for its use. White discovered that the crew chief had a tank of oxygen and a funnel, and, using a rectal tube as the connection, she held the apparatus to the patient’s face for three hours to give him some relief. The crew meanwhile radioed ahead for a physician to meet the plane at the airfield. When the British doctor came on board and saw White’s “fancy gadget,” he said, “I don’t believe it – American ingenuity!” The patient survived the flight thanks to White’s ability to improvise.

 

Dorothy White [USAF Photo]

Jo Nabors of the 812 MAES volunteered to be the first flight nurse from her squadron to fly into Okinawa, never thinking that hers would be the first of eight names selected from a hat. The fourth day after the bombing had begun, she flew into the island to pick up a load of patients and was petrified, because she could see the devastation from the bombing and hear the firing. When the plane landed and the soldiers saw Nabors, they ran up and crowded around her, asking what she was doing there. “Don’t get out of the airplane, you’ll get shot,” they warned her. Nabors said to the flight surgeon on board, “My God! Get me out of here, because I don’t think it’s safe here. Even by our boys!” He replied, “You have a gun, don’t you? Just use it!” Twenty-four minutes later the patients were loaded and the flight was on its way. The plane was full with newly wounded patients en route to Guam, many of them double amputees. One patient was blind, and Nabors worried about him the most. Only eighteen years old, he had lied about his age. He did not want to go home, because he was afraid of what his family would say – he had no will to live. “They say nurses are hard,” Nabors commented, “but we aren’t hard. I cried and cried with that boy.” Nabors sensed that he was near death because of his despondency, and indeed he did die, not on her flight, but on his flight out of Guam.

Honolulu newspaper clipping [USAF Photo]

Helena Ilic, assigned to the 801 MAES in the Pacific, summed up the flight nurses’ bond with their patients:

Well, I think that you owe your patients everything that you possibly can give them. You know, everything. Your knowledge. I think it is absolutely imperative to think of your patients’ comfort, safety, before you think of your own. … And I think that you owe your patients not knowledge just in treating them, but, like, feeding them – in every aspect. … I think resourcefulness is the word. That’s what you owe your patients, and not just the minimum care. And I think you owe your patients hope, and you owe your patients, I suppose, hope and cheerfulness. That’s very, very important.

 Flight nurse and enlisted technician tend to litter patients
on an air evacuation mission [Author’s Private Collection]

 

 

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 20 Jan 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 6 When Grooming Was Important

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

Once they began their actual air evacuation duties, the flight nurses entered a topsy-turvy world. An obvious manifestation of their circumstances of work was seen in their uniforms. Helena Ilic of the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in the Pacific recalled that they didn’t have a set uniform – it was catch-as-catch-can. The flight nurses often were issued men’s uniform items to wear and had to modify them as necessary to make them fit. Clara Morrey, stationed with the 802 MAES in North Africa, recalled that her squadron was sent overseas before the flight nurse uniforms were finished, so the nurses were told to take two pairs of navy blue slacks and blue regulation shirts with them. Their first three shipments of uniforms were sunk. “We didn’t get our uniforms until about nine months after we were there, and so you should have seen our uniforms in that hot African sun,” said Morrey. “They were bleached to a purple. And when we were on trips, we would put them under the mattress to press them out. Oh, they were terrible!”

Helena Ilic in Emerau, 1944
[Author’s Private Collection]

For chief nurse Grace Dunnam in England with the 806 MAES the most difficult thing about being a flight nurse was trying to keep her flight nurses properly dressed in their uniforms. For example, they were not supposed to mix items from two different types of uniforms. She chose to overlook some minor transgressions such as the wearing of red nail polish, which she felt was good for morale. But if a uniform infraction was reported to her, she felt obligated to talk with the flight nurse about it. What was not brought to her attention, however, Dunnam was willing to ignore.

806 MAES Chief Nurse Grace Dunnam (2nd from left)
[USAF Photo]

A neat, well-groomed appearance was expected of every flight nurse during the war. While most nurses experienced some inconvenience in keeping up their appearance, Jocie French, a flight nurse with the 818 MAES in England, admitted concerns about having to wear the same uniform all the time and about having trouble getting hose, makeup, and permanents for her hair. Concerns such as these may appear trifling, but the flight nurses realized that their appearance had a definite effect on the morale of the men fighting the war. For this reason, Elizabeth Pukas, chief nurse of the 812 MAES in the Pacific, attached extreme importance to grooming:

I expect my nurses to be as if they just came out of Elizabeth Arden’s salon, with her hairdo, with her makeup, with her uniform absolutely immaculate. … She is to be immaculately clean, and as beautiful and as presentable as she has been trained in flight nursing school to be.

The flight nurse was, according to Pukas, ‘”to be the most beautiful woman that the wounded are going to rest their eyes on.”

Jo Nabors, one of Pukas’s flight nurses, explained her chief nurse’s grooming requirement:

Yes, we had to look nice. We had to be dressed nice, our hair always had to be done right. And before we came in, we had to go and put lipstick on, you know, before you picked up a flight of patients. We had to be all groomed. We had to smile. We had to smell nice. You know, that’s true. We did. And we were there for a morale booster, also, because I think they liked to see some American girls. After all, they’d been on the islands for so long that they didn’t know what we all looked like. And I think they were happy to see flight nurses all prettied up with permanents and their hair done and their eyelashes taken care of. I think that was one of the prime requisites, I think, to be a flight nurse. They didn’t expect us to be beautiful, I don’t think so. But we had to know how to wear our hair and wear our makeup and be neat.

A sense of humor helped, as Lee Holtz assigned to the 801 MAES explained:

You know, we laughed about many things that happened. Like … you’d get in [from a flight] and … it was too late to take a shower, and you sort of splashed a little water on your face from your helmet, which you always had with you. Or once I came back from a flight, and the tent or something had leaked, and all my clothes were wet, and I didn’t even have anything dry to put on. But we hung them all out, and, you know, we just laughed about it. You couldn’t get upset about anything, you just couldn’t. You couldn’t survive that kind of life.

The patients were worth the extra effort that these women put into their appearance during the war. Ilic summed it up: “I think that you owe your patients everything that you possibly can give them. … I mean, you owe your patients your best.” Clearly, that included good grooming.

World War II Army Flight Nursing – 1 Jan 2018

Personal Reflections on Coping with War
Part 5 When Health and Hygiene Were a Concern

For the 25 flight nurses interviewed for Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II, wartime service was beset with potentially difficult circumstances that could exact a toll on even the most hardy of nurses. To cope with these professional and personal challenges, these women drew on many sources of support, tangible and intangible, physical and mental. Social support, one’s physical condition, and abilities and skills fostered in nurses’ training all helped the flight nurses cope behaviorally with the multiple demands of the war. Reasonable expectations, devotion to duty, an optimistic outlook, and faith in one’s God, one’s colleagues, and one’s self all helped them cope emotionally with the war.

The often primitive conditions in which flight nurses lived and worked, as well as the demands of air evacuation duty, required a great deal of physical stamina.

Physical fitness was a positive outcome of the flight nurse training. Lee Holtz, a flight nurse with the 801 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron (MAES) in the Pacific recalled that physical training had been rugged, but it paid off when her squadron got to the jungle, where they needed to be in top physical shape. Denny Nagle, assigned to England with the 815 MAES, also found the physical training “really rough, but I never felt better in my life [than] when we finished … all that exercise.”

Flight Nurses on Parade, Bowman Field, KY [USAF Photo]

Keeping busy was important to surviving the rigors of wartime service. When on transatlantic flights, Jenny Boyle, assigned with the 816 MAES in England, was surprised “how much time you can spend without doing anything spectacular, just by being there and helping out and talking with the patients, but you stayed busy for the whole time.” Elizabeth Pukas, chief nurse of the 812 MAES in the Pacific, recalled the simple joys of well-earned crew rest the first 24 hours after landing, making her report, off-loading the medical equipment, and returning to her home base.

Mental exhaustion – which flight nurse Hilda Halverson, assigned to the 826 MAES and later the 830 MAES in the Pacific, described as always being alert thinking “what you can do for the next person” – was not as easily remedied, though overall good health helped.

Matters of hygiene, including health concerns, were the most frequently discussed demands of the flight nurses’ living conditions. While most flight nurses maintained their health during their air evacuation assignments, many of the nurses were plagued by minor ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, bladder infections, and skin fungus. The flight nurses continued to work despite their discomfort, often to the point of exhaustion.

Irregular hours accounted for much of the indisposition. Flights could be as short as a 40-minute English Channel crossing or up to 20 hours long on a transoceanic mission. Food was nonexistent or unpalatable, served from a back burner of a stove in the mess hall, by a Red Cross worker, or in a container of C-rations or K-rations. While most flight nurses learned to sleep while deadheading on a flight with no patients, these naps did not compensate for a full night’s sleep on the ground. Crew rest varied in length depending on plane schedules and the number of patients needing evacuation by air.

Exhaustion was the inevitable result of the hectic pace of flight nursing during the war. Halverson remembered that Japanese aircraft raids constantly interrupted her sleep. “Oh, they were tiresome. And the minute you got back [from the bomb shelter], it seemed like you’d get back to sleep, then they’d come again. And you’d think, Oh, who cares?”

Class 43H resting before start of 13-mile hike during bivouac
Bowman Field, KY, January 1944 [Author’s Private Collection]

Two of the nurses I interviewed returned to the United States as patients because of health problems; both were assigned in England. Ethel Carlson of the 815 MAES had a kidney flare-up; Louise Anthony of the 816 MAES could no longer tolerate a back injury she sustained during the flight nurse course when she had to lift a litter with two 60-pound sandbags on it. She hid the fact of the injury as long as she could, because she realized it would disqualify her as a flight nurse.

For some women the most difficult aspect of flight nursing was the lack of bathrooms on the aircraft in which they flew. Some planes had chemical toilets, but some nurses would not use them. As Adele Edmonds assigned to the 801 MAES in the Pacific related, “They [chemical toilets] weren’t enclosed in a cabinet type. It was really just open. … Men have a different feeling about things like that. But if you were a woman aboard a plane with all men, you would naturally be a little reluctant to go to the bathroom practically on display.” Dorothy White with the 807 MAES in the Mediterranean, shed additional light on the problem:

Most airplanes did not have any toilet facilities. If you were lucky, and you had a long flight, there might be a pail in the back that we had to use. It is possible for a nurse with slacks on to aim at the pilot’s relief tube, but, believe me, it’s very difficult, and you have to hope that the plane is going to fly steady while you’re there!

White remembered another bathroom arrangement, on the ground. When no facilities were available for women when the plane landed in Naples, a medical officer “would come up to the airplane, and across his jeep was a sign, ‘To the bushes.’ And we would all get on the jeep and go off to the bushes.” The flight nurses carried their own toilet paper with them.

In Rome the flight nurses had an outhouse, which they painted blue and named “the blue room.” But, as White recalled, some of the soldiers on one field felt sorry for them.

And we got over there one day, and they said, “We’ve got a surprise for you!” So we went, and they had made us a beautiful six-holer. Someone had made us the fanciest toilet-paper holder you have ever seen. They had a stone walkway around so that the entrance was [in] back out of the way, and they even had some flowers planted around. I mean, it was the most up-to-date facility in the whole theater.

But even a new bathroom facility could not guarantee good health. White remembered a time when the flight nurses and other troops in her area had what they called “the golden glitters” because of the jaundice – some type of hepatitis. She didn’t turn gold, and she discovered that she could keep going by living on black coffee. “I worked all during the time – everybody else was in bed. You didn’t feel good, but you were better than those that were in bed, and somebody had to work. And so you survived.”

Frances Sandstrom, who flew with the 816 MAES in England, recalled a mission in which, because of fog, a flight that should have lasted approximately 90 minutes lasted about seven hours. “The worst part of it was that we had no place to go to the little girls’ room. … I can remember that was very uncomfortable, to say the least.”

The flight nurses dealt with the lack of bathroom facilities in different ways. Many nurses simply regulated their food and fluid intake. “We just dehydrated ourselves; it took care of that,” said Sandstrom. White remarked, “If you saw our original uniforms – our [Eisenhower] jackets, … the air evac nurses were always looked on as being very buxom. … [The] pockets were always filled with toilet paper and Kotex.”

Nurses occasionally ran out of sanitary napkins. Some locations lacked post exchanges or towns in which to buy more. Chief nurse Lucy Wilson of the 801 MAES recalled flying on a mercy mission to another island in the Pacific to stock up on Kotex for the nurses in her squadron.

801 MAES Chief Nurse Lucy Wilson
[Author’s Private Collection]

Water for bathing, washing one’s clothes, and washing one’s hair was limited. On flights, a nurse often had only the water that she carried in her canteen. On the ground, water was rationed at some bases. Nurses might have to resort to a quick shower in the men’s community latrine at a prearranged hour; clothes might be washed in the ocean. And washing one’s hair was often dependent on a timely rainfall. For all hygiene needs, the flight nurses’ helmets came in handy. Alice Krieble of the 818 MAES in England said, “It [helmet] was a potty, emesis basin, and wash basin.”

Most of the nurses took the undesirable conditions of wartime living in stride and applied themselves to their flight nurse role. Said Dorothy Vancil, who flew with the 805 MAES in Central Africa, “I didn’t expect to be carried around, you know, [to] have all the comforts of home.” Sally Jones, who was stationed with the 812 MAES in the Pacific, summed up the situation: “How could you have everything plush when there was a war going on? That’s ridiculous!”