World War II Army Flight Nurses
Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.
Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:
My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.
Elizabeth Pukas (1907–2004)
Chief Nurse, 812 MAES, Pacific
Elizabeth PUKAS (Battle Creek College Hospital School of Nursing, Michigan, 1929) began her nursing career on night duty in the emergency admitting ward of New Haven General Hospital, in Connecticut, followed by work in New York City. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Pukas had six months left on her twelve-month contract as a nurse with the Corps of Engineers in Antigua, where Coolidge Field was under construction. She finished out her contract and returned to her New York City job, where recruiters were seeking nurses for military service. Pukas agreed to join contingent on an assignment as a flight nurse. She was sent initially to a hospital in Atlantic City as head nurse of the communicable disease ward and immediately submitted her application for flight nurse training. When six months had passed without word on the assignment, Pukas’s patience had run out. She took the train to Washington, DC to meet with Colonel Nellie Close, chief nurse of the Army Air Forces, and learned that her request had been granted. A short time afterward she was packed and on her way to Bowman Field. She graduated from the flight nurse course on 2 July 1943. Pukas was chief nurse of the 812 MAES sent to the Pacific, initially to Hawaii, for air evacuation duty.
Elizabeth was my first out-of-state flight nurse interview. Welcoming and considerate, she met me at the airport with a hug and a luggage carrier on wheels – both much appreciated after my long trip. And after our interview, Elizabeth served as tour guide on a driving tour of the area before returning me to the airport. Fiercely independent and strong-willed, Elizabeth, like Grace Wichtendahl and Lucy Jopling, was chief nurse of her squadron and came across as a leader with high aspirations for herself and for the flight nurses in her squadron. Elizabeth, who earned a doctorate in psychology after the war, came across as very intelligent, articulate, well read, and well informed on past and current events. She showed pride in what she was able to accomplish as chief nurse during the war, a role that extended to off-duty hours when she acted as “surrogate mother” to her nurses, creating an enjoyable home environment and superintending activities surrounding the weddings of some of her girls. Like Grace, Elizabeth kept in touch with the nurses in her squadron and became a surrogate great-grandmother over the years. And, like Alice Krieble and Lee Holtz, she continued her military service and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force. Elizabeth died on 11 August 2004 at age 97.
To listen to my interview with Elizabeth Pukas, click on the link:
Interviewed 9 April 1986, Walnut Creek, California
Learn more about my interview with Elizabeth on the Blog for 20 Sep 2015.
To be continued