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)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 22 Feb 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.

11th Interview

Dorothy Vancil Morgan
805 MAES Flight C Central Africa, US
15 May 1986

I interviewed Dorothy Morgan in her home in San Antonio, Texas. She had procrastinated writing me, she said, because she didn’t know if she fit the criteria for my study. While she had been stationed overseas in Central Africa as a flight nurse during World War II, she was not actually in a combat zone. Rather than flying into other areas to pick up patients, the patients were brought to her on one of several legs of a trip that eventually flew patients from the China-Burma-India Theater to Africa, on to Natal, Brazil, and finally to Miami, Florida. Dorothy had decided that perhaps I didn’t want to hear from someone who actually had had fun during her flying assignment and whose training was far more rugged than her actual flight nurse assignment. One of the things that won her over and led her to respond to my letter, Dorothy said, was that I had included a self-addressed envelope and even had put a stamp on it.

Dorothy requested that I ask her questions rather than simply having her talk about her experiences. I complied, but I was pleased that she also contributed much information spontaneously. Her experiences were unique in that she was a member of a flight of six nurses —Flight C of the 805 MAES—assigned to the Central African Wing. Flights A and B of the 805th were assigned to the Alaskan Wing. Dorothy also flew one year of wartime flight nurse duty stateside, and it was in her stateside assignment that she encountered the most serious battle casualties of the war. Most of the patients she evacuated while overseas were ambulatory. She had gone to Africa with thoughts about how she would be another Florence Nightingale, Dorothy said, but found that much of her work was simply to be friendly and boost her patients’ spirits. Cheery words, songs, and a pat on the back “did them more good than all the morphine in the world.”

While Dorothy had some trouble remembering various details from her actual air evacuation duty both overseas and stateside, she did contribute interesting data concerning what it was like to be a flight nurse during World War II in two areas of assignment not yet mentioned in my interviews. Toward the end of the interview, Dorothy said of the flight nurses of whom she was a part, “But we’re all kind of hiding our glories in a book, or something like that. Our medals and whatnot are in a drawer back there. But at the time that we were in, it was not for the glory, you know. It was because it was a need, and we wanted to help out.”

One of Dorothy’s stories: Dorothy had a close call on a stateside mission when she and her medical technician were flying with 21 patients from New York. Both motors on the C-47 stopped, and the pilot had to make an emergency landing on a narrow grass airstrip between two hills, with final approach over water. They touched down safely, and Dorothy immediately contacted the local civilian hospital, whose staff made arrangements to accommodate the patients. Both she and the patients were treated royally. “They should have sold bonds,” she said, because the people of that little town turned out in full force. The patients continued their journey safely by ground transportation the next morning when an ambulance convoy with police escort and staff car arrived to take them to the nearest military base about 50 miles away. The town had never seen so much to-do, Dorothy laughed. “But it was quite a deal! It was!”

Dorothy died in 2000.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 30 Jan 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.

11th Interview

Jenny Boyle Silk
816 MAES Europe
8 May 1986

My trip to Tequesta, Florida to interview Jenny Silk took longer than expected. When I arrived in my rental car at Jenny’s two-story frame home, I felt as though I had been transported back in time to ante-bellum Georgia. Jenny explained that hers was a northern home. Originally from Wisconsin, she didn’t want a typical Florida house, and what she wound up with was charming. The furnishings, the sweet scent of flowers, the open windows to let the breeze cool the house, and the carefully tended back yard sloping down to the bank of a river all contributed to my wonderful feeling about Jenny’s home.

Jenny commented that she simply hadn’t had occasion to talk about her years as a flight nurse in World War II because no one had asked her about that time of her life in about 40 years. Although she was agreeable to being interviewed, she discounted any possible contributions she could make to my study of how nurses cope with war or even to a history of flight nursing in World War II. She needed perhaps more reassurance and guidance than most of the women I’ve interviewed. What she did talk about, however, especially spontaneously, was quite valuable.

To get Jenny comfortable with the procedure, I conducted the first part of the interview, then at her request we took a break for a light lunch. The meals I’ve shared with the women I’ve interviewed have been very special.

We finished the interview after lunch. Jenny said her most riveting memory was of her flights into France after D-Day. She had had good training, she said, but training never prepares anyone “to go over and land on a metal mat on a beach in a foreign country and just hundreds of dead young men laid out with parachutes over them—just that stark realization that no matter how right you are or how wrong you are in your endeavor for the war,” so many soldiers had died. She didn’t dwell on it, but it made a lasting impression, and she still saw that scene in Normandy this many years later.

I concluded the interview when it seemed Jenny didn’t know what else to talk about, and I had exhausted my list of possible questions. I don’t like conducting an interview that way—it lacks the richness of the spontaneous sharing of experiences.

Jenny was reluctant to end our visit, and I would have liked to stay longer simply to visit, but I had a long drive ahead of me. Ethel Cerasale was expecting me back at her house for the night, and there was the possibility of an unsolicited interview with another World War II flight nurse that evening at Ethel’s house. So I left Jenny’s home—a bit reluctantly myself—with the chance to see her again during the upcoming World War II Flight Nurses Reunion in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Some of Jenny’s stories: Before the war, Jenny knew nothing about the military. She “didn’t know what a private was as opposed to a general.” She had never even seen a soldier, at least in uniform. Then one day she heard a pubic service announcement on the radio from the Army Air Forces Surgeon General’s Office asking for flight nurse volunteers. It was nothing glamorous, she recalled. But she wrote directly to that office to get information and the papers to join the army. “I didn’t even know really what a flight nurse was, except that I would be flying in airplanes to do the work. But I had never heard of it before—it was something completely new. But, you know, at age twenty-three, I was ready for a new adventure.” Transatlantic flights, which lasted for hours, required some of the less glamorous work of flight nursing, for Jenny remembered not actually doing nursing work like applying bandages. But she did not “go back and sit in a corner for long hours or anything like that. I tried to spend my time walking up and down the aisle—and, of course, it was very narrow on a C-54—speaking with patients and checking them and trying to reassure them, because some of them were quite sick. Or sitting back with some of the ambulatory patients and talking and getting their box lunches to them and seeing that they all were able to eat and that sort of thing. So, it’s surprising how much time you can spend without doing anything spectacular, just by being there and helping out and talking with patients. But you stayed busy for the whole time.”

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Jan 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.

10th Interview

Ethel Carlson Cerasale
815 MAES Europe
7 May 1986

My trip to Satellite Beach, Florida to interview Ethel Cerasale provided a new adventure. After flying into Orlando, I drove a rental car to Satellite Beach. The car itself was a pleasure to drive, but the rental company was not a pleasure to do business with, for I had to give them almost my life’s history before they would hand over the car keys, and then it took me almost two hours once I’d returned to the airport to find where to return the car. And I only found it in that time because an employee led me in her van to the correct place.

Although my navigational skills leave much to be desired, I made it to Satellite Beach and Ethel’s home mid afternoon. She immediately made me feel like one of the family, sharing the house with Ethel, her husband Tony, Tony’s mother Lola, and two senile dogs.

Lola and Tony were spending the evening out at their separate activities. A friend Charlotte was coming for dinner. Ethel had almost an hour before she needed to start dinner, so she suggested we begin our interview, break for dinner, then conclude the interview after dinner.

Ethel was easy to interview. She’s very spontaneous, and we could have talked for hours. We actually talked for about two hours. Our break for dinner was a long one, but fortunately Ethel shared my enthusiasm for finishing the interview that night. While Ethel had a lot of information to share, she actually had little to say about her actual flying experience. She was, she recalled, too busy having fun and getting into trouble, and she didn’t do a lot of flying. In fact, she thinks she may be the only nurse in her squadron who did not have enough flying hours with patients to get the Air Medal. But her tour of duty overseas was cut short because of a medical condition requiring air evacuation back to the States.

What struck me most about Ethel was her infectious smile. I had remembered her smile from photos taken in World War II. And except for her grey hair, she looks—and smiles—the same now as then.

Ethel had a special interest in her own history as a flight nurse; she almost single-handedly is organizing a World War II Flight Nurses Reunion to be held in Cocoa Beach, Florida 21–26 May 1986. She hopes to revive the World War II Flight Nurse Association that had a brief existence in the 1960s. Ethel’s and my paths have now come together because of our mutual interest. Not only was she a willing participant in my study, but Ethel has asked me to be the luncheon speaker for the upcoming reunion.

I know Ethel will do what she can to help me locate other women I want to interview as part of my study. In turn I’m helping her locate additional World War II flight nurses who might be interested in the revived World War II Flight Nurses Association.

One of Ethel’s stories: Ethel laughs as she recalls receiving her first salute at her first duty station. On her way to work at the Jefferson Barracks, Missouri hospital, “A soldier came walking down the path toward me, and he threw me this big salute. Well, I thought to myself, Uh, I gotta do something. I’m a second lieutenant. I was a Girl Scout. So I put my three fingers together, and I sort of did something that probably looked something like a salute.” She felt “pretty stupid” saluting the guy like a Girl Scout, “because we had absolutely no basic training before we started work.”

Ethel died in 1998.

image005Ethel Carlson (Author’s private collection)

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Dec 2015

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.

9th Interview

Jo Nabors
812 MAES Pacific
1 May 1986

I arrived at the airport servicing Poland Ohio on time, give or take a few minutes, but what an arrival. There were no jets on this day of my journey; rather, small propeller planes. That plus turbulent skies and lengthy holding patterns preceding the landing made for very unpleasant flying.

Jo, who met me at the airport, is very stylish, an avid golfer, and very friendly. She took me to my motel in Girard near the airport and suggested that, since the drive to Poland where she lived would take about 45 minutes, we do the interview at my motel. I agreed. Jo’s mothering instinct came out in her reminders to me at the motel to request a wake-up call, to confirm my transportation to the airport, and to lock my door.

Jo had brought along photos and some other mementos from her assignment as a flight nurse. At times during our interview, she would look through her pictures to remind her of experiences to share with me. She talked easily and was very articulate. Jo had married a military officer immediately after graduating from the flight nurse course, but it was she, not her husband, who received orders for overseas duty. Jo was one of the few married flight nurses, and her squadron commander “took me under his wing, because he didn’t want anything to happen to me while I was overseas.”

When we’d been talking for over an hour, I mentioned to Jo that I didn’t want to tire her out. Jo said she wasn’t tired, was enjoying herself, and wanted to keep going. We talked for about an hour and a half before Jo decided she couldn’t remember any more about her experiences as a flight nurse in World War II.

After our interview Jo and I ate dinner at a charming country inn in the area. Jo made a comment before dinner that pleased me very much. After letting me know how much she’d enjoyed our visit and the interview, she said that I’d put her immediately at ease, because I wasn’t afraid to talk about myself and to answer the questions that she asked me. That, she said, made her more comfortable to talk about her own experiences.

I think that my friendliness, my informal approach to the interview itself, and my genuine interest in what the women are saying are helping to ease any qualms the women who volunteer to talk with me might still have about their decision. But I would do better to avoid any further commuter flights lest my usual easy composure be too much disturbed to permit a successful interview.

Some of Jo’s stories: Jo’s first assignment in the army was as a hospital nurse at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Eager for reassignment after a year in that job, she put her name on every list that promised a transfer out. When the list for Bowman Field appeared, Jo signed up for that one, too, and was selected for the flight nurse course. Once assigned with her squadron in the Pacific, Jo was the first flight nurse in her squadron to fly into Okinawa to pick up a load of patients, on D+4. Like her colleagues, she had added her name to a list of volunteers. Hers was the name drawn out of a hat to make the mission. “And, let me tell you, when I got there, I was scared,” she said, because of the recent bombings that had devastated the area. When the soldiers saw the airplane with the Red Cross on it, they came running, crowding around Jo and asking questions. She gave them books and magazines—she had no food to give them—then loaded the patients on board for a flight to Guam. She had the most seriously wounded soldiers, “and there were a lot of them,” she remembered. The media at Guam picked up the story as soon as the plane landed and they saw a flight nurse on board.

Jo died in 2015.

JoHonolulu newspaper clipping. (USAF Historical Research Agency)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 22 Nov 2015

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.

8th Interview

Anonymous Interviewee “Anon”
812 MAES Pacific
30 April 1986

My visit with this flight nurse who wished to remain anonymous and whom I’ll call Anon was all that I had hoped it would be. While she was not as talkative as other women have been, she was articulate and provided much valuable information. I must admit that my expectations were high: Anon was my initial contact, and it was through her that I was able to contact many other potential informants.

Getting to the state in which Anon lives was not without its problems. I couldn’t decide what to wear and how cold it might be. (I wonder at times whether the women I interview might actually enjoy seeing me in my uniform; Anon, for example, asked if my flight nurse wings were still silver with an “N”.)

“The best laid plans” went astray, as the saying goes, especially when it comes to regional airlines. After a change of planes, I was to arrive at my destination mid afternoon. Warning lights on the plane prior to takeoff from an en route stop, however, necessitated a change in travel plans. The airline put all the passengers on a bus and drove us to the airport. It gave me a chance to see more of the state than I would have seen from the air, but since I arrived three hours later than expected, no one was there to meet me. Then I learned that the airline hadn’t passed on the estimated arrival time of the bus. Just as I found an employee to help me, Anon arrived at the counter.

Anon and her husband, whom I’ll call Al, were like family—so nice and not at all bothered by the delay. They’d returned home and called a toll-free number to learn my estimated time of arrival; then I got in a bit early. We drove to their lovely home in a quiet neighborhood of a rural town, chatting all the way. While Al was finishing up preparations for dinner, I interviewed Anon. We took a break to enjoy a wonderful home-cooked meal, and while Al cleaned up after dinner—Anon says he’s been doing all the cooking lately—Anon and I concluded the interview.

When asked how she felt about being a flight nurse, Anon answered with pride, “I thought we were doing something real good. And I was proud of what we were doing.” Her only regret was that she never quite conquered her fear of flying in turbulent weather. Her patients never saw Anon’s fear, for she hid it behind a calm composure. But concern for her patients’ safety, should she need to get them into rafts on over-water flights, was uppermost in her mind once the plane stated bouncing.

After visiting for a while, Anon and Al drove me to my motel near the airport. Anon says I could have stayed with them and had my own room and bath, but we agreed that the motel would be more convenient for the next morning’s travel.

One of Anon’s stories: It took three or four months before the flight nurses in Anon’s squadron began flying air evac missions in earnest, so they were “at loose ends quite a bit of the time.” The nurses had brought very little with them overseas, and blackout conditions were in effect, limiting some activities. Someone gave them a big dance party, and a lot of the flight nurses met boyfriends, which helped pass the time. ”Only we were so impatient to get going with our work,” Anon said.

Anon died in 2010.

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 1 Nov 2015

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.

7th Interview

Helena Ilic Tynan
801 MAES Pacific
26 April 1986

When I arrived at Helena’s home in San Antonio, Texas for our scheduled interview, Helena wasn’t there—my first clue that something was amiss. Her husband said she was at the neighbor’s with the grandchildren. He invited me in, called the neighbor’s house, and Helena arrived a few minutes later with two granddaughters ages 1 and 4. Helena had been asked unexpectedly to watch the children for the day and had forgotten about our interview. It was apparent from the children’s behavior that an interview was out of the question, so I offered to return on another day. Helen obviously was relieved but insisted I stay for lunch, which I did. She mentioned how pleased she was that I was there to help her look after the children—together they were more than Helena and her husband Harold could handle. I’m still being thanked for helping them babysit; Helena says she doesn’t know what she would have done without me.

This afternoon I returned to Helena’s home for our rescheduled interview. It was quieter, since the grandchildren were not there. I learned, however, that a nephew had been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in San Antonio the night before. Helena was waiting to learn more details about the accident and the nephew’s status. I offered to reschedule our interview again, but Helena wanted to do the interview.

Helena was born in Yugoslavia and moved to New York at age 14. She is casual in dress and lifestyle, very warm, friendly, and personable. For our interview we sat on chaise lounges on her sun porch. Unlike the last woman I interviewed, Helena was very talkative, but she didn’t always finish her sentences. Helena had so much to share that she sort of flitted from topic to topic, often losing her train of thought. Perhaps Helena actually needed more direct questioning to help her stay on track. But after my last interview when I perhaps provided too much guidance and possibly stifled what the woman might have said, I was trying hard not to do too much talking.

Helena had some difficulty remembering things that she wanted to share, and she occasionally needed reassurance that she was remembering enough to make the interview worthwhile. Once the interview was over, she recalled more experiences, especially about scrounging for food for her patients.

One of Helena’s stories: Helena was, as she put it, a “true blue”, making deals “all over the place” for food to serve her patients. When she flew onto an island, she got to know the military cooks, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross, and returned to her plane with sandwiches and cans of drink for the soldiers on board. She even had a burner on the planes with which to heat up soup. She said with pride, “And my men were always well fed, and they always had food. We never landed anyplace that they were hungry.”

Helena died in 2010.

HelenaHelena Ilic on R and R in Australia. (USAF Photo)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 October 2015

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.

6th Interview

Clara Morrey Murphy
802 MAES Mediterranean
19 April 1986

I talked with Clara Murphy this afternoon in her home in San Antonio, Texas. She was casually dressed in slacks and a top and had been to the hairdresser earlier that day. I learned that today is her wedding anniversary — the 38th, I believe — and that she and her husband Bob were going to a party in their honor that evening.

Clara was very gracious and friendly, but somewhat reserved and not as spontaneous as other women whom I’ve interviewed. She offered me a cup of coffee — but didn’t have one herself — and later asked me if I’d eaten lunch. Although I hadn’t, I couldn’t ascertain why she was asking, and I didn’t want to impose on her for food unless, of course, she had not eaten either. I simply didn’t pursue it. Now I hope she wasn’t going without lunch on my account!

Clara seemed uncertain of exactly what I wanted us to talk about. To help ease her mind about the interview, I briefly explained the types of things I would ask her.

Before starting the interview, Clara suggested that I read a letter she had written some years back to one of the medical technicians in the 802nd squadron who was writing a book about her best friend Adela Lutz — or Lutzie, as Clara called her — who was killed in a plane crash while on duty with the 802nd. Everyone on the plane, including the crew and all 15 patients, perished in the crash. Then Clara showed me a scrapbook belonging to Annetta, a civilian nurse friend, that included letters Clara had written to her as well as newspaper clippings about Clara. Finally Clara showed me some photographs of flight nurses in her squadron and of herself during World War II.

Clara seemed more concerned about the aspect of coping with war than the other women I’ve interviewed so far. In fact, I learned toward the end of our interview that she had written herself several pages of notes about coping to help her remember what she wanted to share with me. She didn’t go into much detail but simply read what she had written — such things as the importance of esprit de corps, letters from home, and religion in helping her to cope.

We socialized for some time after the interview, which had gotten started late, but I was concerned that I might be overstaying my welcome, since Clara and her husband had the party to attend that night.

One of Clara’s stories: Clara laughed as she remembered the flight nurses’ arrival at Maison Blanche, North Africa after their journey overseas by troop ship. “We considered ourselves going forward [toward the front lines of battle], so we put on all of our clothes that were issued to us — our fleece lined clothes. And we put our gas masks on. And we noticed everybody out on the deck looking at us, and we found out later that they really got a lot of enjoyment out of seeing us in all that gear. Whatever gear we were issued, we had on.”

Clara died in 2013.