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.
Jenevieve Silk née BOYLE (1920–2017)
816 MAES, Europe
Jenny (Jenevieve) Silk née BOYLE (Milwaukee County Hospital School of Nursing, 1942) arrived at Jefferson Barracks, MO around the same time as Denny Nagle and Ethel Cerasale. Because in Wisconsin “nurses were a dime a dozen”, Boyle was afraid she would not find work after receiving her nurses diploma, but was asked to stay on at the hospital where she trained. She worked in clean surgery for women for a year before going into the service. Boyle knew nothing about military life, but she heard on the radio that the Army Air Corps Surgeon General’s office wanted flight nurses. She did not really know what a flight nurse was, except that the job would involve flying in airplanes. “It was something completely new, but, you know, at age 23, I was ready for a new adventure,” she said. Boyle, Nagle, and Cerasale all were sent within their first year of military service to Bowman Field, KY for the flight nurse course and graduated on 21 January 1944. Boyle was assigned to the 816 MAES for duty in England in preparation for D Day. Her most riveting memory of her first trip across the Channel to pick up patients for air evac – worse than losing an engine or ground looping – was the sight of “hundreds of dead young men laid out with parachutes over them”. It made a lasting impression, but Jenny thought the war was necessary.
Jenny mentioned that she 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 agreed to the interview, 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. Jenny needed more reassurance and guidance than other women I’d interviewed, but what she did talk about, especially spontaneously, was valuable. Jenny was intelligent, eloquent, and articulate, as when she shared her 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 she still saw that scene in Normandy so many years later. Jenny died in 2017 at age 97.
To listen to my interview with Jenny Silk, click on the link:
Interviewed 8 May 1986, Tequesta, FL
Learn more about my interview with Jenny on the Blog for 22 Nov 2016.
To be continued