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.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Sep 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.

5th Interview

Elizabeth Pukas
812 MAES Pacific
9 April 1986

I met with Dr. Elizabeth Pukas in her home in Walnut Creek, California. This was my first trip out of state for the purpose of interviewing a former World War II flight nurse, and it was a learning experience.

I arrived Tuesday morning. Elizabeth met me at the airport with a hug and a metal luggage carrier on wheels; both were most welcome after my long trip. After a short dinner, we went to the Navy Lodge at Alameda, where she had made reservations.

Elizabeth has never married and was the oldest of the women whom I interviewed. She is handicapped by her own description, but a healthy lifestyle keeps her in current good health. She wears hearing aids in both ears but can hear well without them. She has arthritis and often carries a cane but seldom uses it. I got the impression that her official disabled status, along with her senior citizen status and her retired officer status, were used to enhance her life, not to create barriers. She is fiercely independent and strong willed—a leader, not a follower. She always has aspired “for the top”, and by her expectations she has achieved it. She has strong views about a wide range of topics. I first noticed this when she asked about my career plans and then told me just what I should do for future assignments.

After she had served us coffee, we began our interview. Elizabeth was very articulate. She has a doctorate in psychology, and her intelligence is apparent in her speech. She is well read and well informed on current and past events. I felt that I obtained some good indications of coping behaviors.

Elizabeth was chief nurse of the 812 MAES stationed in the Pacific. She gave me copies of Christmas and Easter letters that she recently had sent to flight nurses of her squadron so that I could get to know her better.

She remembered how her squadron found out where they actually were to be assigned, which had been kept secret. When the squadron reached California, where they would travel overseas by troop ship, they were issued clothing and equipment for Alaska. But from the position of the sun Elizabeth observed during her daily 30 minutes on deck, their ship was sailing west, not north. And even in December, it wasn’t getting colder every day, but in fact the opposite — they didn’t need extra layers of clothing to keep warm. Hawaii, not Alaska, was their ultimate destination.

After the interview, at her request I let Elizabeth serve as my guide on a driving tour of the San Francisco area. For the rest of the day and all of the next morning I saw that region of California, which is really quite lovely, through a car window. Elizabeth enjoyed her role as my tour guide, and I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but her driving made me uncomfortable at times. I was glad finally to be dropped off at the Oakland airport to await my flight back to Texas.

One of Elizabeth’s stories: “My flight nurses are very important to me,” Elizabeth told me during our interview. When the squadron arrived at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, their home station, the 25 flight nurses were assigned two three-bedroom houses as their living quarters. Elizabeth found this unacceptable so went to her commanding officer and asked for a third house. The nurses eventually did get more adequate housing, but only after Elizabeth had taken her request up the chain of command.

Elizabeth died in 2004.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 30 Aug 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.

4th Interview

Ivalee Holtz
801 MAES Pacific
4 April 1986

I talked with Ivalee Holtz this afternoon in her home in San Antonio. I had encountered a traffic jam on my way and was concerned I would be late, but I made it on time. As I was going up the two flights of stairs to her third-floor apartment, I was greeted by Ivalee’s pleasant voice. She was casually dressed in slacks and blouse and slippers, but very well groomed. I learned that she likes to be called Lee.

During our interview Lee had a great deal of valuable information to share about her experiences. She described incidents in vivid detail with little need for probing. We took a short break in the middle of the interview for glasses of iced tea.

Lee shared some funny experiences about her social life off duty when stationed with the 801 MAES in the Pacific, such as never turning down an invitation to dine with navy men, because the navy had good food. The flight nurses laughed a lot about this, because they’d go with anyone, just to get the canned Vienna sausages or Spam that they were given to take back with them.

I have much to learn as an interviewer. But what struck me the most was my obvious enthusiasm for the topic and the incidents Lee was sharing. I was thoroughly enjoying myself as well as collecting data. This is the fun part of the “feasible, fun, and future” that my dissertation chair suggested as criteria for my dissertation.

We visited for a while after the interview, and Lee invited me to return for a visit and said we wouldn’t even have to talk about the war.

One of Lee’s stories: Lee remembered having “poor equipment” on air evac flights. “Well, we had no equipment, really.” They had bandages, morphine, and plasma. On one flight a patient started bleeding through his makeshift cast, and Lee had no cast-cutters on board. “It was terrible,” she recalled. “I had the navigator come back and try to help me, ‘cause, 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.”

Lee died in 1992.

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Lee Holtz (second from right) in front of flight nurse quarters on Biak.
(Author’s private collection)

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 8 August 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.

3rd Interview

Lucy Wilson Jopling
801 MAES Pacific
4 April 1986

I talked with Lucy Jopling in her home in San Antonio. I was struck by the number of plants, many of them in bloom, in her yard. Lucy was casually dressed in slacks, a blouse, and slippers and wore a cross on a chain around her neck. She began by sharing some of her current medical problems, one of which explained the slippers.

I explained what I lightly refer to as the “ground rules”, and then we began our interview. We were sitting at her dining room table. Lucy left the room several times and came back with a framed assortment of medals, flight nurse wings, Thirteenth Air Force patch, and her discharge pin, which was actually a lapel button, a scrapbook filled with photos, and sacks of mementos such as military insignia.

After asking some background questions, I focused on where Lucy’s unit was assigned in the South Pacific and asked about her training to get her started. It only took that question for Lucy to begin relating her experiences. Lucy occasionally digresses, but always returns to the topic at hand. She strikes me as an intense person who feels strongly about certain things and is inclined to voice her opinion. She is a “spunky lady”—strong willed, and courageous in upholding her convictions. She became tearful at times, especially when talking about the flight nurse in her squadron who died during the war, but Lucy quickly recovered each time.

Lucy, who was chief nurse of her squadron, recalled that the flight nurses were required to have three survival items with them at all times: a cross, because natives would connect the cross with missionaries and thus treat the women well; a pistol for protection and to get food; and a cigarette lighter to make light, help cook food, and use as a signal to planes above. The cross Lucy was wearing for our interview was one given to her at that time. She also carried the words for Protestant or Catholic last rites.

When we finished our actual interview about Lucy’s time as a flight nurse, Lucy continued to talk about related experiences. Prior to her flight nurse assignment Lucy was stationed in the Philippines and was one of the nurses on Bataan and Corregidor. She was not taken prisoner by the Japanese, because she was sent out on the last submarine to leave the Philippines before Corregidor was surrendered.

Lucy suggested we go to lunch nearby, and that was the way our interview ended. She shared many insights that I think will be valuable to my study. I felt like she really appreciated having someone with whom to talk and even share lunch. The socializing, I’ve found, is mutually enjoyable and a fitting close to the interview setting. Lucy is a wonderful person, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together.

Some of Lucy’s stories: Lucy remembers a mission she flew from Guadalcanal with patients, one of whom had a bomb fragment in his eye. She tried to be careful not to increase the pressure on the eye. Everyone on the plane was “scared to death,” because one engine would go out, then the other. Lucy had confidence that they would make it, and they did. Her worst experience of the war—and she was tearful as she recalled it—was when flight nurse Eloise Richardson left on a plane that never came back. “I saw them take off in a plane, and that was it,” Lucy said. This loss hit Lucy harder than anything else. As chief nurse, she had to write the letter telling the supposedly deceased flight nurse’s parents “they’d lost her.” Lucy summed it up, “Those are the things that never leave you.”

At the time of our interview Lucy was writing a book that she planned to title Warrior in White. It was to be a family history with particular focus on Lucy and her years as an army nurse. Watercress Press published the book under that title in 1990.

Lucy died in 2000.

  LucyLucy Wilson, 801 MAES Chief Nurse. (USAF Photo)