World War II Army Flight Nurses – 24 Sep 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

22nd Interview

Randy Rast Weinrich
803 MAES China-Burma-India
19 June 1986

I met with Randy Weinrich in her home in Hemet, California. I had flown from San Antonio to Palm Springs, and I had driven a rental car the 28 or so miles to Hemet, which is a small town that grew out of a farm community.

Randy is a very attractive woman, carefully groomed. She was casually dressed. She took me to her favorite spot in the house for our interview—a corner of the living room with adjoining windows that offer a magnificent view of the area from the Weinrich’s hilltop home. She offered me a glass of water, and we casually discussed a number of topics. Then lest the casual conversation fill the afternoon, I eventually introduced the “ground rules” of the interview itself—how long it might last and a general outline of the questions.

I’m afraid my expectations for this interview may have been a bit too high. I was so excited that I’d found a flight nurse who was assigned to the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI)—Randy was assigned in China most of her overseas tour—that I assumed she would have many interesting experiences to relate. I was a bit disappointed that she actually had relatively little information to share. Some of those experiences were very relevant to my study, however.

Three of the four flights in the squadron were based in Upper Assam, India, but Randy’s flight was assigned to China. The six nurses in Randy’s flight were scattered all over China; Randy was stationed at Kunming. In theory, the other nurses in China would bring patients to Kunming, from where Randy would then fly with the patients over the Hump. In reality, she says, there was not much flying.

During the interview Randy served coffee and sweets, and we chatted easily. But my overall impression was that perhaps neither of us knew quite what to expect from the other. It was, however, an afternoon well spent.

Some of Randy’s stories: Randy had a lot of funny things happen during her years as a flight nurse overseas. One time when she went to India, the flight nurses there were weaving a walkway from the tents to where the toilet facilities were. They named their walkway the “P-38 Runway.” When Randy got back to China, she wrote the nurses and asked them in her letter how the “P-38 Runway” was coming. That part was censored and cut out of her letter before the nurses received it. Randy talked about the closeness of the flight nurses in her squadron, who “seemed more like sisters to me than my own sisters, because wartime is different.” Everyone was a friend, not a stranger during war. She used as an example care packages sent from home, which “you wouldn’t think of consuming it by yourself—you passed it around.”

Randy died in 2005.

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 4 Sep 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

21st Interview

Jocie Huston
811 MAES Europe
18 June 1986

I met with Jocie in her apartment in San Antonio, Texas this afternoon. She is a tiny woman and small-boned. She had called me two nights before, because she was concerned that she could not find her flight records and therefore wouldn’t know the number of hours she flew, the number of patients she airlifted, and the specific towns and bases into which she flew. She thought perhaps I might not want to interview her after all. On the phone I reassured her that those specific details were not important, and that if she was willing, I would still like to interview her.

Jocie had placed some materials she still had from her flight nurse assignment on a table. But unlike most other women I’ve interviewed, she was not interested or eager for me to look at her photographs. So I did not get the opportunity to see her photo album, other than a few pictures that she pointed out to me.

Jocie’s memory was not too good for many details of her assignment as a flight nurse in World War II. I had realized from our two phone calls that it might not be, so I was prepared. It wasn’t that she was unwilling to share information, but simply that she couldn’t remember the information to share. What she did share was very helpful to the study, and my questions often helped her to remember other areas of her flight nurse experiences. Jocie did remember dates, places, and names, but she didn’t have too much to offer in the way of specific flights or patients.

As a member of the 811 MAES, Jocie was flying patients out of Prestwick, Scotland, usually to Newfoundland, but sometimes all the way to New York, when she heard about D-day. She was eager to get back to southern England from where she would fly across the English Channel to France, but her squadron still had a couple of weeks of duty in Scotland. Jocie did make it over to France not long afterward. She was in the air again on V-J day, on a cargo plane over Germany. Her first stop had no patients to on-load, but the plane diverted to pick up some American and British POWs at a nearby camp for return to England. It was a long day of flying, she said.

My interview with Jocie lasted under an hour. I didn’t want to tax her or make her feel uncomfortable by asking questions for which she might not have an answer. But in the time we did talk, Jocie contributed much important data on coping with war, so it was an afternoon well spent. While not gregarious, Jocie was very friendly and seemed to enjoy my visit to her home.

One of Jocie’s stories: Prior to one of her flights, the flight surgeon told Jocie, “Well, now, this boy’s jaw is wired together, and the weather is going to be bad going back. If he gets sick, you’re going to have to clip these wires.” Her stomach began to churn, because she’d never clipped wires before, and she didn’t know what might happen to the patient’s mouth. She remembered that as a flight nurse she was allowed to give morphine without a doctor’s orders if she thought it was needed. “So I thought, Well, I’ll just give you an eighth of a grain of morphine. I did, and the blessed little fellow slept all the way over, and everybody else on that plane got sick.” Jocie laughed as she recalled the incident.

Jocie died in 1995.

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 14 Aug 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

20th Interview

Brooxie Mowery Unick
816 MAES Europe
25 May 1986

My interview with Brooxie was the last interview I conducted at the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion at Cocoa Beach, Florida. I had asked Brooxie about the interview when she jokingly remarked that, since she couldn’t get her flight home changed from later in the week to Sunday, she was going to sit in her room on Monday and sulk. I suggested that perhaps if she were willing, we could do an interview and help pass the time on that day. Brooxie readily agreed. Some of the members of Brooxie’s 816 MAES who were attending the reunion, however, suggested she join them for a short visit in Tequesta, Florida. Brooxie therefore was leaving for Tequesta shortly after checking out of the hotel at noon.

When I realized how rushed an interview with Brooxie would be, I offered to cancel the interview so that she could get on the road a bit sooner. But Brooxie still wanted to be interviewed, so I did some quick planning to facilitate both the interview and Brooxie’s trip. I suggested that Brooxie drive to Ethel Cerasale’s house in Satellite Beach, which was on the way to Tequesta. Ethel had invited several of us to stop by, including Agnes Mangerich and me, and I knew Brooxie would be welcome too. I then conducted the interview at Ethel’s house.

Brooxie was pleasant and willing to be interviewed, but although she had shared many experiences with her World War II colleagues at the reunion, she did not have much to say. It was not because she was uncomfortable being interviewed; rather, she commented that she was not one to live in the past. Unlike some women I’ve interviewed, Brooxie didn’t reminisce, remembering long-forgotten memories. I found that in order to keep Brooxie talking, I needed to ask more questions than usual.

I asked, for example if Brooxie’s training in nursing school and at Bowman Field had prepared her for flight nurse duties. In small ways, she said, but it didn’t always work out. For example, the flight nurses were told that they would fly with an enlisted technician, but that seldom happened—the flight nurse was often the sole attendant. They were taught how to arrange litters to facilitate patient care, but in a wartime scenario, time often didn’t permit careful placement of patients. On one flight a patient with a serious head wound was in a top litter and became agitated. Brooxie had to call the aircrew members to come hold him down. She eventually asked that the plane be diverted so that the patient could receive medical attention. What was taught in theory didn’t always work out in practice.

When I felt Brooxie had run out of things to say, I chose to end the interview. Brooxie needed to get on the road to Tequesta, and her comment when she looked at her watch told me I’d made a wise decision. Brooxie remembered the fun things about the war as opposed to the bad things. I hope her memories will add another perspective to the concept of coping with war. My interview with Brooxie helped me realize that some days of a reunion are better than others for an interview, and the final day of the reunion was not conducive to a lengthy interview designed to elicit particular information for my dissertation.

One of Brooxie’s stories: Brooxie remembers that her squadron was not involved in air evacuation before D-day. To keep them busy during that time, flight nurses were sent, usually in twos, to bomber bases to become familiar with the B-17s and B-24s in the event that, in an emergency, they needed to use the plane for air evacuation. Brooxie went to a B-24 base, where she attended early-morning pre-departure briefings on the flight line, then helped out at the base hospital. She returned to the flight line to watch the planes return, and after the aircrews were debriefed, the flight nurses gave crewmembers a shot of whiskey. Brooxie said it was the nurses as well as the whiskey that gave the men a lift. “I mean, they’d reach for the glass, and it was kind of a double take when they saw who was there.”

Brooxie died in 2005.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 24 Jul 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

19th Interview

Agnes Jensen Mangerich
807 MAES Mediterranean
25 May 1986

I interviewed Agnes in her hotel room the last day of the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion at Cocoa Beach, Florida. Agnes was a member of the 807 MAES and one of the 13 nurses aboard the plane that, hampered by weather conditions, wound up in enemy-occupied Albania during World War II. She and the other flight nurses aboard had one of the most unique experiences of the war when they escaped and evaded the Germans for over two months before reaching friendly soil. For quite some time I had wanted to interview a nurse who had been among this group. Agnes mentioned that because some years ago she had contributed all the information she could recall from her Albanian experience to help a person writing a book about combat nurses (Wyatt Blassingame and Gil Walker, Combat Nurses of World War II, Random House, 1967), she was probably a good person for me to interview. I gladly agreed.

While Agnes had a wealth of information that she freely and easily shared, it was not necessarily in logical order. Since I’d read about the Albanian experience, however, I fortunately could follow her train of thought and fill in what had not been said. Thirteen nurses and 13 enlisted technicians were en route to two forward locations in Italy, from which they would start evacuating patients, when their plane was forced down in enemy territory because of bad weather and low fuel. All survived but spent two months making their way back to Allied territory. As the senior-ranking nurse in the group, Agnes was the person with whom the aircraft commander talked about any issues involving the flight nurses. She still remembers vividly the details of that experience.

What I didn’t anticipate was the interruptions during the interview—people coming to the door to say good-bye, for example—and I brought the interview to an end a bit sooner than I wanted.

One of Agnes’s stories: Agnes can remember sitting in the cabin of the plane before it was forced down onto Albanian soil. She didn’t know her nurse colleagues all that well, because she’d joined the squadron later than the others; she hardly knew the enlisted technicians. She sat in her bucket seat and observed them all. She wanted to get up and check the Mae Wests hanging in the back of the cabin, but was afraid of creating panic. Agnes was scared, she admitted, but she sort of resigned herself to the situation. She took another look at her squadron mates, “and with that I kind of smoothed out these musette bags next to me, and I loosened my belt just a little. And I kind of slid down, and I thought, Well, what the hell. I’d rather be sleeping.” She must have dozed off, she said, for when the pilot stuck his head out of the cockpit door to say they were going to make a rough landing and to buckle up, she asked her seatmate where they were going to land. The flight nurse smiled and replied, “On the ground, I hope.” Agnes laughed at the memory.

At the time of our interview, Agnes was writing a book about her experiences in Albania during World War II, which was published by The University Press of Kentucky in 1999 under the title Albanian Escape: The True Story of U.S. Army Nurses Behind Enemy Lines.

Agnes died in 2010.

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World War II Army Flight Nurses – 4 Jul 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

18th Interview

Dorothy White Errair
807 MAES Mediterranean
24 May 1986

Dorothy arrived late at the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion at Cocoa Beach, Florida, but I am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet her, talk with her socially about some of her experiences, and conduct an interview for the dissertation. A member of the 807 MAES assigned in Sicily and later Italy, Dorothy was among the 12 flight nurses “left behind” when the other 13 flight nurses in her squadron wound up evading the Germans when their plane landed in enemy-occupied Albania during World War II.

Dorothy is one of those people who is a delight to know. Indeed, I have made several such acquaintances during the reunion. She is a truly dedicated nurse, only recently retired, who supports causes with a zest that wins my respect and admiration. Whether it is the 100th graduating class of flight nurses at the School of Aerospace Medicine or the Vietnam Nurses Memorial, she will speak for the cause with enthusiasm. She approached the interview in that same spirit.

Interviewing Dorothy was a pleasure. An operating room nurse from her earliest days of nursing, Dorothy is an active member of the American Association of Operating Room Nurses (AAORN). At a recent AAORN convention in Anaheim, California Dorothy was pleased and relieved to see that the goals and principles she had espoused for OR nursing in her own career were being espoused capably by a new generation of OR nurses. She is a person who believes in and fosters the phrase in the original Flight Nurse Creed, “I will be faithful to my training and to the wisdom handed down to me by those who have gone before me.”

Dorothy was very expressive in sharing her experiences. She needed little guidance to reveal a wealth of valuable data concerning how at least one flight nurse coped with various wartime situations. Finding humor in those experiences was one way that Dorothy coped.

Some of Dorothy’s stories: When one of the planes on which she was to evacuate patients was covered with glossy prints of nudes, Dorothy figured, “Now, my poor patients have had enough problems, they don’t need any more.” So she dressed the entire ceiling of the airplane with Band Aides, giving her patients a good laugh. Another plane was no laughing matter, for it had transported mules before the patients were brought on board. With only a broom to clean up the mess, the crew chief did his best to clean the plane’s cabin. When the patients, who didn’t know about the mules, complained about the odor, Dorothy said, “Well, I can’t smell a thing. It’s just your imagination.” And she talked like that all during the flight. One of the patients said, “Nurse, you better get your nose checked.” Dorothy laughs as she recalls the incident now and adds that to this day, anytime she sees a mule, she smells it.

Dorothy died in 2015.

WhiteDorothy White. (USAF Photo)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 6 Jun 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

17th Interview

Louise Anthony de Flon
816 MAES Europe
23, 24 May 1986

When I first heard Louise talking with other flight nurses at the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion at Cocoa Beach, Florida about some of her experiences as a flight nurse, I knew I would like to interview her. But for some reason I had it in my mind that she might not consent to an interview. She seemed to me rather unapproachable, and I was a bit intimidated by her very outgoing style. She lives in Spain, and that set her a bit apart from the others attending the reunion. I thus was very pleasantly surprised when Louise asked me if I would want to interview her. I agreed, of course.

Louise is a woman intent on preserving the history of the flight nurses of World War II, and she saw my dissertation as one means to achieve this. She had many experiences that she felt needed to be recorded, some of them about her chief nurse. We both had our own agendas for the interview, but these agendas were not at cross-purposes. The length of our interview required that we break for a planned dinner and resume and conclude the interview the next morning. Louise related a number of experiences quickly and easily, needing only minimal guidance. We could have talked for hours. The experiences Louise shared are valuable and provide interesting examples of how one flight nurse coped with some particularly trying situations during the war. The story of how she dealt with a patient death on a flight out of France across the English Channel, for example, shows the compassion and resourceful thinking that marked the work of a good flight nurse. Louise’s determination to continue her flight nurse duties despite lingering pain from a back injury incurred during flight nurse training shows the determination with which she approached her wartime work.

One problem with the interviews conducted at the reunion was that I had to work them into available time not already scheduled for meetings, meals, and other planned activities. Another problem was that the reunion was one day shorter than had been publicized, leaving one less day for interviews.

Some of Louise’s stories: To Louise, the decision to enter the military was an easy one. “There was no decision to be made — it had already been made. War had been declared.” With two brothers who would be in the service, as well as cousins and nephews, there was no question that she would join, too. Louise was single, and “couldn’t have stayed out had I wanted to.” She had to talk herself into the proper attitude, though, because she had been quick to move when her civilian nursing jobs grew stale, and Louise knew that once in the military, you had to stay in, jump when they told you to jump, and you couldn’t say “I quit.” When Louise finally made the decision, she was sent to Gardner Field, California, where she applied immediately for the flight nurse course but had to wait over a year before she finally received her orders to Bowman Field. “I was so happy, if someone had handed me $50,000, I couldn’t have jumped for joy more.” When, after graduation, Louise and the flight nurses of her squadron were at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, awaiting shipment overseas, they were expected to stand reveille in the cold winter mornings. When complaints got back to their chief nurse that her flight nurses were not standing reveille, their chief 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 her nurses, “You are standing reveille every morning — I don’t care if you stand it in bed. But you are standing reveille.” Louise laughed as she recalled the incident.

Louise died in 1995.

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 8 May 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

16th Interview

Denny Nagle
815 MAES Europe
23 May 1986

Ethel Cerasale had given me Denny’s name prior to the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion in Cocoa Beach, Florida as someone who would be willing to be interviewed for my dissertation. Denny had been assigned to the 815 MAES in England with Ethel. Despite our difference in age, Denny was like a sister. She quietly assured me shortly after we met that she would do whatever she could to help me with the dissertation; that included being interviewed.

Denny was not gregarious like many of the other World War II flight nurses at the reunion. She didn’t chatter and seldom related her own experiences. She was friendly but not very talkative; she seemed reserved. It was a quiet sort of friendship that was nonetheless evident. Perhaps it was her twinkling eyes that suggested her warmth and friendliness. Whatever the reason, Denny immediately befriended me, and I liked her from the time I first met her.

During our interview Denny had very little to say. It was more a desire to help than a vast store of memories, I think, that led to the interview. She often glossed over events, commenting that I’d heard it before from others. My questions to help her focus on her own perception of an event did not result in much additional information.

Denny’s squadron arrived in England before D-day, and she remembers watching the “miles and miles” of C-47s pulling gliders behind them when the day finally arrived. All day “they just went in twos and twos and twos, and so you just couldn’t begin to think how many were going across there. And then three days later we were going across to pick them up and bring them back.” On D+3, flight nurses of Denny’s squadron flew across the English Channel to a rough airstrip hurriedly put down in a poppy field and brought patients back to England.

From England, Denny’s squadron moved to Orly Field near Paris for a year and started evacuating patients from Paris to New York on Air Transport Command planes. She had 25 round-trips across the Atlantic and recalls that her squadron alone was moving 52,000 patients a month, for which they received the Air Medal.

As part of the interview Denny gave me a five-page typed account of her experiences as a flight nurse in World War II that she had written shortly after the war. This, she hoped, would give me the additional information and details not adequately covered in our interview. Denny had valuable information to contribute to my study, concise though she was in relating her experiences.

One of Denny’s stories: Denny recalled some close calls while flying that occurred after D-Day. She flew into France, east of Normandy with bombs going off close enough to shake the plane. On a return flight with patients on board, her plane got into a flight of bombers and had to drop under them to avoid a mishap. On yet another mission into France toward the front, Denny looked down and saw a swastika on top of a train under the plane. She laughed as she remembered, “And I thought, There’s something wrong here.” She told the pilot, who hadn’t seen it, and he turned around and flew back the other way. They didn’t know if the train was in the hands of the enemy or the Allies.

Denny died in 2015.

 

image006Denny Nagle (right) and aircrew wait for patients in France. (USAF Photo)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 24 Apr 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for 
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

15th Interview

Blanche Solomon Creesy
822 MAES, 830 MAES North Atlantic
23 May 1986

I interviewed Blanche Creesy during the World War II Flight Nurses Reunion at Cocoa Beach, Florida. Blanche was one of the first women attending that I’d met. Very friendly and warm, she is very likable and fun to talk with, and became a friend rather than merely an informant.

During the reunion I was juggling being too assertive in requesting an interview with not being assertive enough. It seemed best to talk casually with a woman before introducing the idea of actually interviewing her. With this approach I could more easily ascertain which women might be good informants. One woman, for example, had interesting experiences to share, but she is quite deaf. Another woman was collecting data herself for an article she is writing. Her approach was covert, which bothered me. I talked with this woman casually and learned that she is a freelance writer with many publications to her credit, mainly in Motor Homes magazine. She was eager for me to see different photos and articles she’d brought along to the reunion, without being open to an actual interview.

When I eventually asked Blanche if she would be willing to be interviewed, she was very pleased. She commented that she hadn’t known I would want to interview her. Without realizing it, I guess I might appear intimidating to some women—the active duty major in a doctoral program who they’ve been told by Ethel Cerasale is writing their history. Blanche was easy to interview; she shared experiences willingly and spontaneously.

Blanche flew with the 822 MAES on Air Transport Command flights with patients from Newfoundland to New York, and later as part of the 830 MAES from the Azores back to Newfoundland or to Bermuda. Both were long over-water hops. Her patients were returning to the United States from Prestwick, Scotland, North Africa, and France. Blanche had patients with serious injuries on some of her flights—a soldier with a sucking chest wound to whom she had to administer oxygen continuously during flight, soldiers in full body casts. But when she was off duty, she had a good time.

Blanche loved the life of a flight nurse. Knowing that she was doing her part in the war was important to her. “When we were flying with patients, it was all business, you know—work and business.” When they didn’t have patients, the flight nurses slept as they deadheaded back to their home station. The nurses worked hard, Blanche said, “but I think most of us played hard, too, in our free time.”

One of Blanche’s stories. Blanche remembered a flight with three blind patients, two of them in litter tiers and the third one on a litter on the floor of the plane. The third patient required frequent eye irrigations. When the plane landed in the Azores, it was having problems with the wheels. The patients were off-loaded so the plane could be tested. The wheels seemed to be working, so the flight continued with patients. Blanche told the patients about the potential problem with the wheels, then spoke with the blind patients individually, “and I told them I would yell when we almost hit the ground so they could hold on really tight.” The patient on the litter on the floor 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.” Blanche almost wept. Just before the plane landed, she announced, “Hang on tight, and you’ll know when you’re rolling,” then she sat on the floor next to that patient. “The wheels rolled. We had no problem,” Blanche said. “And we all breathed a sigh of relief.”

Blanche died in 1992.

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 2 Apr 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

14th Interview

Sally Jones Sharp
812 MAES Pacific
21 May 1986

I drove from St Petersburg to Winter Park, Florida outside Orlando to interview Sally Sharp in her home. She and her husband Ray had a wager set on my arrival—Ray won when I arrived only nine minutes past my anticipated 1800 hours (6 o’clock p.m.) arrival without needing to call them for directions.

Sally was fixing dinner when I arrived, and we enjoyed a very pleasant meal. Both Sally and her husband are retired military, and I learned about their careers after World War II.

After dinner Sally and I began our interview. She didn’t believe she had much to contribute. She was not as easily interviewed as some women, because her attitude about the interview was not positive like that of other informants has been. When asked how she felt about being a flight nurse, for example, Sally replied, ‘Never thought anything about it! It was just a job to be done. And I did like flying at the time.” It’s why she went into the military, and what she wanted to do. Sally was very cooperative, however, and she answered all my questions. She simply didn’t share very much in response to any area of questioning. And I chose not to belabor the point at hand.

It’s just as well that I didn’t try too hard to get her to talk more. Sally stated that she is not a nostalgic person, and she consequently doesn’t often think about her experiences as a flight nurse in World War II. She was a pragmatist about her work. “I guess maybe I wasn’t such a deep thinker—it was just a job you did, and you did it. I mean, not all jobs that you have are seventh heaven or paradise, you know. There’s good and bad with everything,” Sally said. “So you’re inconvenienced for a day or two or an overnight, you know—that’s no big deal.” She didn’t expect anything else. “I mean, how could you have everything plush when there’s a war going on? That’s ridiculous!”

Later, after the interview, Sally told me that during our interview she had been wondering why I asked the questions I did, but she decided they must be relevant to the study. Sally’s overall attitude about her assignment as a flight nurse in World War II was that she was just doing her job. This attitude was apparent in her response to the interview.

One of Sally’s stories: Sally remembers that at the end of the war, she had hoped to fly into Japan to bring out the POWs, but instead the flight nurses in her squadron waited in Hawaii for their orders to return to the states. Sally thought it would have been a fitting conclusion to her flight nurse duty overseas.

Sally died in 2002.

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 12 Mar 2016

Meet the former US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed for
Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

In 1986 as part of my research about flight nurse history and coping with war, I was privileged to interview 25 former US Army nurses about events of their flight nurse duty in World War II. Most of them are now deceased, but their stories live on in Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II.

The journal I kept of my time with each of them in 1986 when writing my dissertation offers a brief personal glimpse of these remarkable women. I am sharing edited versions of these journals, in the order in which the interviews took place. The actual interviews are in separate documents.

12th Interview

Mary Eileen Newbeck Christian
805 MAES Flight A Alaska
21 May 1986

My visit to St Petersburg, Florida to interview Mary Christian was an adventure of rain and a rental car in unknown territory. After flying into Melbourne, Florida the evening before the interview, I drove a rental car to St Petersburg before stopping for the night. There was a light rain but no traffic, so I took advantage of the situation and kept driving until I reached St Petersburg just before midnight. The morning of the interview began with a downpour, but it let up just before I left the motel to find Mary’s home in the southern part of the city.

Mary had collected her scrapbooks, which we looked through prior to the interview. She requested a break during the interview, because she was becoming shaky—she had been ill and was currently on medications. All she needed, she said, was to eat some lunch. She had mentioned in an earlier telephone conversation that she would fix us a light lunch, so we ate sandwiches and sherbet and talked about vacations. Mary has been to Europe six times since her husband died in 1981 and was very interested to learn of my upcoming trip to England. She even gave me some suggestions about clothes to pack.

Mary’s background is unique among the interviewees, for as a civilian nurse, she had been a member of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America, which pilot Lauretta Schimmoler founded in the 1930s. Volunteer nurses in this organization provided first aid at air meets and occasionally accompanied patients needing air evacuation. When Mary wanted a change from her work as an industrial nurse, she joined the military and was sent immediately to Bowman Field, Kentucky to train as a flight nurse.

After lunch we continued the interview. Mary talked easily and appeared to enjoy reminiscing about her assignment as a flight nurse in World War II. Her memories are fond ones: she had been sent at military expense to exactly where she’d always wanted to go, to do what she really wanted to do—flight nursing. And she met her husband to boot.

Mary mentioned how delighted she was that I’d come—I had helped her to recall long-buried memories that she thought she’d forgotten. She was concerned, however, that what she had talked about might be too frivolous to be of interest to anyone. We discussed this and came to the conclusion that rather than sounding frivolous, the interview would reveal the human element often lacking in books and articles on flight nursing in World War II.

One of Mary’s stories: When stationed in Alaska, Mary lost many of her friends in a military plane crash at Whitehorse. She and another flight nurse were supposed to be on board a B-17 that was being cold-weather tested, but they were in town and missed the call. The dentist and his assistant went on the flight instead. The carburetors iced up, and the plane went down on a lake. The people who stayed by the plane survived; those who tried to swim drowned. “And this was a group of people that we had been out on a picnic with the night before it happened. So it was a sad and an emotional type of thing to go through that,” Mary added. But she and her colleagues “just went on. We were accustomed to going on no matter what. That was one of the first things that we learned, that you just go, and keep on going. You can’t let your emotions control your life. After our years in nurses training before going into service, that was one of the things, that we had to learn to control our emotions, or you were no good as a nurse.”

Mary died in 2012.

NewbeckMary Eileen Newbeck in her civilian Aerial Nurse Corps of America uniform prior to joining the army. (Author’s private collection)