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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Jane DeWan, 1999

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Object ID: WV0027.5.001

Description: Documents Mary Jane DeWan’s pre-war nurse’s training; her service in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1945; and her life and career following World War II.

Summary:

DeWan briefly discusses her nursing training before joining the ANC; her reasons for joining the ANC; her experiences at Camp Swift, Texas, and her marriage; her departure from Camp Stoneman, California; her ocean crossing on a converted passenger liner; and her arrival and short stay in Brisbane, Australia.

Most of the interview focuses on the circumstances and places of DeWan’s stationing in New Guinea and the Philippines. Among the details she discusses are her quarters, duties, fears, social life, diet, and transportation while in the South Pacific.

Post-war topics include DeWan’s adjustment to civilian and married life, several nursing jobs she held, her husband and sons’ military careers and her civic activities.

Creator: Mary Jane DeWan

Biographical Info: Mary Jane DeWan of Franklin Park, Illinois, served in the South Pacific while in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1943 to 1946.

Collection: Mary Jane DeWan Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

HERMANN TROJANOWSKI:

My name is Hermann Trojanowski and today is January 28, 1999. I'm at the home of Mrs. Mary Jane DeWan to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection.

Mrs. DeWan, thank you so much for meeting with me today. I really appreciate it. The interview will be basically conducted in three parts. Part number one will be the part before you entered the nursing corps, the second will be your service during the Second World War, and then maybe the third part will be a little bit—tell me a little bit about what you did after the war. Could you tell me a little bit about your background, such as where you were born, where you grew up and went to school, and then, if you worked prior to entering the nursing corps, what kind of work you did.

MARY DEWAN:

Well, I was born and raised in Franklin Park, Illinois, and then went to high school in River Forest, and from there I went directly into nurses training, Oak Park Hospital, Illinois. I graduated from high school in '38, and so went right into nurses training, and I started out with a five-year course with Loyola University [Illinois]. However, that did not materialize. I graduated then from nurses training with a three-year course in June '41. I had just finished nurses training when the war began; however, I did not take my state board until January of '42. There was much excitement about the war and going into the service. And Loyola University was setting up a general hospital, so I joined it. However, I got very antsy and didn't want to wait that long, so I joined the ANC [Army Nurse Corps] in August of 1942. I was sent to Camp Swift, [Bastrop] Texas, and I signed up for overseas duty.

I met my husband in April, and when we found out we were both from Illinois, we planned a leave home at the same time. But unfortunately, I was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on June 14 in preparation for our overseas duty. John took his leave and met me there, and I guess it was at that time that we decided to get married. We were married in September of 1943 at Camp Swift, TX, and were only together a week. At Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, we prepared for overseas, and then left there in November and went to Camp Stoneman [San Francisco, California] for the final preparation for overseas duty. We went by ship in November of that year, I think it was the end of November, and landed in Brisbane, Australia. And as a result, I didn't see my husband again until after the war. We were separated for twenty-seven months.

We were in Brisbane just a short time, because I remember spending Christmas—going to Christmas Eve mass in Brisbane, outside, under a tent. And I believe we went to Oro Bay, New Guinea, and, as I recall, it was on my birthday, January 4. We were in Oro Bay for a few months.

Oh, I should backtrack a little bit. I was assigned to the Tenth Station Hospital. Ten nurses and ten doctors plus corpsmen made up the hospital unit, where we took care of the sick for approximately nine months. Then we went to Finschhafen, New Guinea, and were there also a few months when there was talk of the war in the Philippines. Up to this point, none of the nurses were ever with [General Douglas] MacArthur in the Pacific. But when he went into the Philippines, he decided he was going to take nurses with him and we were scheduled to go. Our name was changed from the 10th Station Hospital to the 1st Field Hospital.

Most of the girls had not had any leave since they had left the States, which was—well, by that time almost ten months. They sent five of them ahead to Australia for a leave, and a week later they sent the remaining five. I happened to be one of them in the second group. In the meantime, MacArthur decided he wanted to these nurses with him right away, so the original five were flown back to New Guinea and then went on to Leyte, Philippines. The rest of us stayed on for a short time and went by hospital ship. So you can imagine it took a long time for us to get to the Phillipines. I think we were separated from the unit about six weeks.

In the meantime, I think there was confusion as to where we were, and so we were reported as missing in action in the Chicago Tribune. So my mother always felt that I had been missing in action. In the meantime, my husband hadn't heard from me either. I think it probably took ten days to get to Biak [New Guinea], a small island off of Hollandia [Indonesia], where there was a big hospital there, the 44th General, if I remember correctly. We stayed in Biak another month. There was no hospital there. There was a hospital but we weren't needed. It was just a very small operation there, so we just did KP [kitchen patrol] and latrine duty and very [chuckling] nominal things. They finally flew us to Leyte [Island, Philippines] where our unit was. We spent the night in Peleliu [Palau Islands] en route, a little island out in the Pacific, where at that particular time a cousin of mine was stationed. In fact, he was more like a brother since he had been raised by my mother. There had been an explosion there, so we couldn't see each other, but we did talk on the phone, then left the next day and got to Leyte. The other nurses were there at the time of the landing at Leyte. They must have been very, very frightened, I guess so much so that one of the girls did have a nervous breakdown. She was sent back to the States. So we stayed at—Tacloban [Philippines] was really the name of the town where we were, and we worked there for several months.

I guess the one thing I remember most about that was “Wash Machine Charlie,” which was a [Japanese] airplane that went over almost nightly, just maneuvering just to see, I guess, what was going on there. And then after several months we moved again—still on Leyte—but I cannot remember the name or the place we went for many more months. In fact, at that time we were in a cathedral. That's where the nurses were staying, in an old cathedral that had been bombed. We worked there, took care of the soldiers. My duties were really never with the troops that were immediately coming from the front lines. I never did any surgical nursing at all. Although I was in the orthopedic ward for a while, I do remember that, but mostly it was medical conditions.

HT:

If we could backtrack just a second. Now, you were in the army?

MD:

[U.S.] Army Nurse Corps.

HT:

Army Nurse Corps. So you were not a WAC [Women's Army Corps]?

MD:

No, I wasn't.

HT:

That was completely separate.

MD:

Yes, I was a registered nurse in the Army Nurse Corps.

HT:

Registered nurse, right. And what made you decide to join the Army Nurse Corps?

MD:

Well, after I finished nurses training, I remember one of the nurses who was the supervisor of the nursery went on for additional training, and I took her place right from training. And I was very happy with what I had done. But then when she came back, I was—you know, I was going to have to work under her, and I just thought this was the time to join the army. [chuckling] So that's really why. And just for the experience and it seemed the thing to do.

HT:

Did the nurses have rank?

MD:

That's an interesting question. No, we were called second lieutenant, but our salary was not a second lieutenant's. It seems to me it was like sixty dollars a month is what we got. And then about four or five months later, why, [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt decided that we should be given the rank. Then our salary was the same as a second lieutenant, that was what our first rank was.

HT:

When you first joined, did you have to go through something like boot camp?

MD:

No, that training I talked to you about, you know, when we went to in Fort Leavenworth, we had a lot of training there. When I had gotten my leave to get married—Oh, I forgot to tell you, then I went from there back to Texas to get married, where my husband was stationed, and it was during that week the nurses had gone through the infiltration course, I think, where you had to crawl on your stomach to go under the barbed wire and all that. And I was the only female and the rest were fellows, and I had gone to another camp for that when I returned after my wedding.

HT:

Did you wear specific type of uniforms, or did you wear regular army-type uniforms, plus the nursing uniforms on occasion?

MD:

No, we didn't have any special type.

HT:

You didn't have uniforms?

MD:

No. You mean like the men?

HT:

Right, or like the WACs had, or the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—Navy] had.

MD:

Well, we had a uniform, yes. What did they call it? Olive green. Olive green, and then our dress uniform was a beige, which I did receive in Camp Swift, Texas. We were all very happy, they came from Dallas, Texas, from Nieman Marcus [Department Store].

HT:

Can you describe the uniforms in more detail, or do you recall?

MD:

Well, it was just a skirt, just a skirt, and it was—and a white shirt. I have my picture. [chuckling] I have to look back there. But it was the same thing, the same coloring as the army, the men, in the olive green, and then the pants and shirt.

HT:

And your regular-duty nurse uniform, was that very much like a civilian nurse's outfit?

MD:

In the States we wore white uniforms. But then we were issued seersucker—I call them Hoover aprons [brown and white seersucker dresses] type, for overseas. And then when we went to the Philippines—that was in New Guinea we had that, and then when we went to the Philippines we wore khaki pants and a blue shirt.

HT:

And were you required to salute army officers?

MD:

Oh yes, the same.

HT:

The same thing?

MD:

Those of higher rank, right. And the enlisted men saluted us.

HT:

And when you first got to—was it Camp Swift?

MD:

Yes.

HT:

Is that where you did your basic—I'm going to call it basic training, for lack of a better word. You were—

MD:

Well, no, I was assigned because, see, there were hospitals.

HT:

In the hospitals?

MD:

Oh yeah, we worked in hospitals, see, because it was a large army base, and of course we took care of all of he troops if they came to the hospital. So we would be working—

HT:

Did you ever have to take any special courses on army indoctrination or army lingo or anything like that?

MD:

I don't recall any.

HT:

Small weapons?

MD:

No.

HT:

Nothing like that?

MD:

No.

HT:

Do you recall anything specifically about your first day—at Camp Swift, I think it was?

MD:

At Camp Swift, yes, in Bastrop, Texas. No, my memory is not that good. [chuckling] Actually, it was a fairly new hospital. I mean, it was a fairly new camp and so we just went on to the ward. And the nurses, of course, were really—At that time it was not a bedside nursing type. We were the supervisors, really, and then we had the ward men, the soldiers who were ward men, who were trained to take care of the sick.

HT:

Corpsmen, I think they're called?

MD:

Yes.

HT:

And was this the first time you'd ever been away from home for any extended period of time?

MD:

Except for nurses training, but then I was only ten miles away from home. So it was, yes.

HT:

How did you feel about being away from not only your immediate family—You were married by this time, right?

MD:

No, I got married a year later.

HT:

Okay, so how did your family feel about you being away from home, do you recall?

MD:

Well, I guess they just accepted the fact that—Well, my brother was away. Everybody was away in the service, and they were more concerned about me getting married. [laughter] That was their biggest concern.

HT:

Did you have any opposition from your family about joining the Army Nurse Corps?

MD:

Well, I don't think any great opposition, no. They probably were real pleased, a little nervous and still kind of proud. You know, how parents are. [chuckling]

HT:

I think you probably covered most of this already earlier. After you left Camp Swift, you went overseas. Is that correct?

MD:

No, we left in June, and from June until November we were in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That was—well, I guess sort of an indoctrination for going overseas, but I don't really—And there we worked in the hospital there, also, and I don't remember any specific training, except swimming. I was not a swimmer, so we at least had to learn how to swim. We had to jump off a diving board into the water completely clothed, just like the soldiers did. I don't know that they all did that. That was interesting.

HT:

When you were finally sent overseas, from which port did you leave?

MD:

Camp Stoneman, California.

HT:

And how long did it take you to sail from California down to Australia?

MD:

Two weeks.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about the time aboard ship, what that was like and what type of ship it was?

MD:

Well, it was huge. I carried my little card that I had when we went down under the equator for years, until just a couple of years ago. My purse was stolen, and my wallet, and so I lost that, too. It was a large—it was very large.

HT:

Was this an army ship of some sort, do you recall?

MD:

No, I think it was a big—

HT:

Passenger liner?

MD:

Passenger liner, actually, yes.

HT:

Okay. That had probably been converted. I've heard of—

MD:

That were—yes, into.

HT:

You don't recall the name, by any chance, do you?

MD:

No, I'm sorry.

HT:

That's fine. Were the accommodations adequate?

MD:

Well, they were for us. Yes, I think we had a little—I mean we were, I think, given a little better treatment, as far as food and eating and all that than the soldiers. And I just remember one other group of black nurses who were also on that. That was the first experience I had with black nurses. And I don't know where they went. They were on that ship and they went over and we never heard about them again.

HT:

So were they all nurses aboard ship, or were there troops as well as nurses?

MD:

Oh, there were troops. Oh yes, yes. See, what I recall, there were just these two sets of nurses, and I don't know whether the WACs were—There may have been, but I don't remember there being any WACs.

HT:

Did you stop in Hawaii on the way over?

MD:

No. We didn't stop anyplace. We stayed underway the whole time.

HT:

And were you ever in any danger of Japanese aircraft or anything like that?

MD:

Not that I was aware of.

HT:

So there probably were drills or something like that?

MD:

I just don't remember anything like that. [laughter] You know, I was young and I was just actually just twenty-one. Why, you know, it was kind of exciting. [chuckling]

HT:

Do you recall what the nurses did for fun aboard ship?

MD:

I remember doing a lot of exercising, and playing bridge. That's where I learned how to play bridge. The washrooms were huge, and we all would get up every day and do a lot of exercising and walking around. Yes, when you think of it now, two weeks on a ship, I can't imagine it.

HT:

Plus, it was not like a cruise ship today where you have a lot of —

MD:

Entertainment.

HT:

Entertainment. You had to, I guess, do your own entertaining, right.

MD:

Make your own, yes. We had no work to do or anything like that.

HT:

So it was basically a working vacation, I guess, so to speak.

MD:

Yes, just—

HT:

Did they have movies aboard, do you recall, or any kind of entertainment like that?

MD:

I don't remember that on the ship. There probably was but I don't remember.

HT:

Once you got into New Guinea—that was sort of your permanent station, I guess, your first one—do you recall what [was] the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

MD:

No, I don't remember having any difficulties.

HT:

I'm sure it was very warm or hot in New Guinea.

MD:

It was very hot and humid.

HT:

And the mosquitoes, I understand, were rather bad in that part of the world. That must have been very hard on everybody.

MD:

Again, I don't even remember that. The humidity was very high, because we would wash our clothes and it would take two or three days sometimes under the eaves of the tents—We had tents, but they were not just on the ground. They were raised up and had a roof, so we would put our clothes under there and it would take two or three days just to dry. It was very, very humid.

HT:

Do you recall what [was] the hardest thing you ever had to do emotionally during any of your service time?

MD:

Well, I think emotionally, probably my biggest problem was just having gotten married and then not seeing my husband. That probably was my emotional problem. Outside of that—And I think emotionally, too, it was taking care of—There was a short time that I was on an orthopedic ward, where you had fellows who had lost their limbs, and listening to their concerns about going back to their families, especially those who were newly married and going back. That probably was also. I could relate to these fellows being away from their spouses.

HT:

Were any of the other nurses married, that you can recall, and in the same situation you were in?

MD:

Yes, in our unit there was one other girl who had gotten married. At that time there was no opportunity to be with your spouse. If anything, they discouraged getting married. But I was fortunate. Our CO [commanding officer] at the time that I was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was a newly married man and so he was very eager to give me time off to get married. And the only reason I had time off is because I had been on night duty and I had a few days coming. So he gave me a week off. But I was to fly out on a Friday night, and he called me into his office on Thursday morning and he said, “We've got orders to leave.” He said, “I want you to get off the post immediately.” So with that, I had to go by train. So, as a result, it took me twenty-four hours on the train, whereas it would have only been a few hours on a flight.

HT:

So you weren't discouraged from getting married, it sounds like.

MD:

No, no, I wasn't. Well, I just thought that I'd probably get pregnant right away and I wouldn't have to go overseas. That was really it. I do remember that. [laughter] But it didn't work that way.

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments while you were in the Nurse Corps?

MD:

No, nothing that stands out, you know, that I can just come right off the tip of my tongue.

HT:

Were you ever afraid?

MD:

It was a little scary when we were in Finschhafen because our tents were set up—We were on the water on one side and the jungle on the other, and then our washing facilities and our latrines were set back a little ways, and you couldn't even go from our area to the latrine without a guard because there was—And it was more a concern with our own troops. I mean, we were there—I mean, the officers, for instance, in the hospital were male, the doctors I mean, and then the nurses, and I guess there was some resentment. I guess there were a few incidences that had taken place. None in our specific unit, but—

HT:

Elsewhere?

MD:

Elsewhere on the island, yes.

HT:

Do you think you were ever in any kind of physical danger while you were—

MD:

No, I don't. I never felt that way.

HT:

Well, I have read that in many stations that the nurses were guarded. They almost felt like they were prisoners, because they were guarded and they were escorted back and forth to work by an armed guard, and then they had to stay in compounds, I guess, of some sort under armed guard. Did you ever have anything like that?

MD:

No, I don't recall that. Now, at this same place, we did have to cross the road where the hospital was, and we did have soldiers, guards, walk—because it was at night. I just remember doing it on night duty. But as far as me really having any fears, I don't recall. I think we did have—and I really shouldn't say this because I'm not a prejudiced person, but I had a certain fear of the black soldiers. And then when I came home, I know it took a long time for me to—Well, to this day I lock my car, which they say you should anyway. But I mean I did that years and years ago. I would always lock my car, look to see if there's anybody back there. And I think that was the result of how we were guarded overseas.

HT:

What type of unit, army unit, were you particularly connected to at this time? What did they do, do you recall?

MD:

You mean the soldiers?

HT:

The soldiers, right.

MD:

Well, no, I just don't remember what specific—I mean, it wasn't the Air Corps. We weren't near the [U.S.] Air Force. I'm trying to remember what—they must have all been just—What do they call them? I can't remember any of the things they—It wasn't the cavalry.

HT:

Infantry, perhaps?

MD:

Infantry. It was more of an infantry, soldiers, yes.

HT:

And do you recall, were you fairly close to the front? I know in Europe the nurses were just behind the front lines.

MD:

That's right. You see, they were, but I was not with that group when it went there, see. I know I was amazed when we flew into Tacloban there on Leyte to see the number of ships that were in the bay there. The kamikaze pilots had crashed into the ships in the bay and they were—And it was huge. But fortunately, I guess, for my part, I didn't see—I was not aware of any of that. We could hear the—what do you call them? We could hear things way in the distance.

HT:

The guns, perhaps?

MD:

The guns, yes.

HT:

Artillery, perhaps?

MD:

Artillery is what I'm trying to think of. Artillery, yes. That you could hear in the distance. But as far as my having seen anything, I didn't see it.

HT:

So your particular base was never attacked or anything like that?

MD:

I don't know, except that, as I say, our hospital unit was. I don't know how far they were—they must have been pretty close. You know, we were, I suppose, maybe five miles from the bay, and so I'm sure that there were a lot of frightful times for the girls, especially with all those kamikaze pilots flying around up there.

HT:

Well, you never knew when one of those guys would be swooping down. And I think they were trying to commit suicide, basically, and destroy as much—

MD:

That's what it was. That's what they were, suicide pilots, right.

HT:

And destroy as much property as they possibly could and kill as many people as they possibly could.

MD:

Yes, and I guess they were after the ships in the bay.

HT:

And the name of this place where you were stationed, was it French Haven? Is that what you said?

MD:

Finschhafen.

HT:

And that was on New Guinea?

MD:

That was in New Guinea, right.

HT:

Did you have any kind of social life? What did you nurses do for fun?

MD:

Well, bridge was a big thing, and of course we had dances in the officers' club. And there was a navy station not too far away, and a group of us would go over and maybe be invited to dinner. But being married, I was not too much in that. I would go out to dinner with them, and I did go to the dances and stay for a little while and then go home. [chuckling]

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite songs and movies and dances were from that period of time?

MD:

Oh, White Christmas. That one. I remember that one. [laughter] I was in Camp Swift, Texas, at that time. Because I didn't see one for several years.

HT:

And you had seen plenty of white Christmases, I imagine, in Illinois.

MD:

You know it! Right, yes. I should say.

HT:

And how long were you in the Army Nurse Corps?

MD:

Three years and seven months. Yes, three years, seven months.

HT:

Did you ever think about making it a career?

MD:

No, because I was married. I wanted to have a family and—So, no, I didn't.

HT:

And when did you get out of the Corps?

MD:

In December of '45. After the war in August, and we were on Leyte at the time, instead of sending us home, because it was all on the point system they would send you home, but they sent us to another island, Mindanao [Philippines], “at Zamboanga where the monkeys have no tails.” That was what they always said. [chuckling]

HT:

And that's near New Guinea, I guess?

MD:

No, no, this is in the Philippines. This island, Mindanao, is a Philippine island.

HT:

And so you were stationed there after —

MD:

After the war.

HT:

After VE [Victory in Europe] and VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

MD:

Right, yes.

HT:

And what was it like?

MD:

And then we worked there also.

HT:

What was life like there at that time?

MD:

Well, we worked, and I remember that was new to us because we hadn't seen anything there, an outdoor market, you know, and we used to walk around that. And then all of these places all—Well, that was in New Guinea, where the natives would come in there and sell their bananas and things. That was a treat. And I remember writing home to my mother-in-law, and she got such a kick out of it because we'd have to pay a quarter for a whole bunch of bananas. And I guess bananas were at a premium back in the States, so—[chuckling] And I guess just seeing, just watching the different people was—They were different. The natives were different.

HT:

And the reason you didn't go home right after the war was because you didn't have enough points. Is that correct?

MD:

No, we had well over the points. And don't tell me why they moved us. No, no, we were well—many, many points above average. And I don't remember what they were, but we had—with all of our time overseas, we had a lot of points. That was just when the army was playing games, you know. We worked there on Mindanao for—Well, the war ended in August, and I guess we went soon after that, and we left there in the end of November.

HT:

That was November of 1946, or '45?

MD:

Forty-five. Forty-five, yes, and I got out in December because it took a couple of weeks. Then I got out in December —

HT:

Of 1945?

MD:

Of 1945, but my service wasn't ended until March because I had all that time accumulated for leave, which we didn't get.

HT:

Backtracking just a little bit, when you first entered the Army Nurse Corps, were you obligated to serve a specific length of time?

MD:

No, not that I recall. No, not at that time. We just went in and just assumed, I guess, we'd stay till the end of the war.

HT:

Well, do you feel you made a contribution to the war effort?

MD:

Oh, I think so.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood of the country was like at that time, what the climate was like during World War II? Of course, you were overseas quite a bit —

MD:

I was overseas, yes. I just really wouldn't be able to say. I could tell you more about the war that you were in. No, you weren't in it. Were you in the Vietnam War?

HT:

Yes.

MD:

Yes, that was a little different, because we had a son in the service and I know—it seemed to me all the families we knew were looking for ways of how to keep their sons out of the service.

HT:

Which was quite different from, I think, the Second World War where—

MD:

Yes, everybody just felt an obligation to go.

HT:

Right. I've talked to other ladies who were in either the WAVES or the WACs or whatever, and they all seem to agree that there was a great deal of patriotism at that time.

MD:

Patriotism. Yes, that's the word, right.

HT:

Can you tell me something about some of the interesting people you met while you were in the Nurse Corps? You mentioned Douglas MacArthur. Did you ever meet him?

MD:

No. No, I never did see him. I just don't remember anybody outstanding. [laughter]

HT:

I was going to ask you, what did you think of the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt?

MD:

Well, speaking of that though, I do remember the day he died. Being in Finschhafen and being in the tent working with the soldiers and that was kind of—It was a very sad time.

HT:

How about Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt? Do you have any thoughts about her?

MD:

No, nothing.

HT:

Do you remember any specific heroes or heroines from that period of time?

MD:

It's funny when you haven't thought of that. That was long back, and any specific [chuckling]—Of course, I guess MacArthur was considered one at that time. Although now that I'm back, and years later, I don't think that that's the overall thinking about him. But no, I don't have any.

HT:

Do you recall where you were when you heard about Victory in Europe Day, V-E Day?

MD:

No. You know, that's funny that I don't remember that, because I was overseas, yes, and—I don't know.

HT:

What about VJ Day? Since you were in the Pacific, that probably affected you more.

MD:

Oh yes, that's right, and we were right near the bay where the ships were all in, and then fireworks like you've never seen before. I remember the same type of action. By that time, Don, my cousin, was also in the Philippines. I remember calling him on the phone and we talked about it, and thinking about getting home, and how long would it be. So, yes, it was very exciting. And of course we thought we would leave immediately. But then we didn't. That was in August and we didn't leave until the end of November.

HT:

What type of nursing did you do in that period of time?

MD:

Now, what did I do? Well, I probably was in medical, as opposed to surgical. And I don't think we really did that much work. Because I hadn't missed a day in the service for illness or anything like that, and everybody else had had time off. And I was having trouble with an ingrown toenail and I thought, well, that's the only way I can get a little time off. [chuckling] So I had an ingrown toenail removed just to have some time off. But no, I was very, very healthy. It was most unusual, because intestinal problems were very common at that time.

HT:

Because of the bad water, and the heat, I'm sure, was real hard on people as well.

MD:

Yes. No, and the heat never bothered me. It still doesn't.

HT:

Do you recall, were you nurses on rotating shifts? What kind of hours did you have to keep?

MD:

Yes, we had to work a shift at night, just the same as—I can't remember whether we worked twelve hours or not. I don't think we worked twelve hours. I think we just worked from 7:00 [a.m.] to 3:00 [p.m.], 3:00 [p.m.] to 11:00 [p.m.], 11:00 [p.m.] to 7:00 [a.m.]. It must have been, because I remember—I remember the time at Finschhafen and working at night, and it was at night when there was a warning of—Now I can't think of it. You know, a huge storm coming in.

HT:

A typhoon?

MD:

Typhoon. And fortunately it didn't materialize, so that was good. I remember they had soldiers, or corpsmen, I guess, who were in charge, who would be coming in periodically to keep us informed of how things were going, if they'd heard anything.

HT:

When you came back to the States, do you recall anything about the journey that stands out in your mind, and where you landed on the West Coast?

MD:

Yeah, we went back to Camp Stoneman, and then from there we went on to—I guess I went back to Illinois. Yes, I guess we were discharged at Camp Stoneman and then went back.

HT:

I think you mentioned earlier that you wanted to have a married life and be rejoined with your husband, that sort of thing. Was he discharged before you were?

MD:

It was interesting, he had asked to go overseas, which he did. He was only over ten months, and he was on the ship ready to go to China the day the war ended in the Philippines, in the Pacific. They just took that whole shipload of troops, they were all on the ship, and sent them back to the United States. So he was only over ten months there. He was the last one over in the family, my family and his family, and the first one home. So he was home—I think he got home in September.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about your adjustment from being in the Nurse Corps to civilian life once you did get home and rejoin your husband?

MD:

It was a little rough. I had really intended going on and getting my degree in nursing because he had another year of college. So he went to the University of Illinois, and when I got there I just—I just was very unsettled, so I just worked.

HT:

In nursing?

MD:

In nursing, in a hospital there in Champaign, Illinois, while he was going to school. In fact, there at the University of Illinois they had set up kind of little bungalows for the service people, and we were fortunate to get one because we both were in the service. The first ones were usually people with children, but since we were both in the service we got one. So we were there for nine months. And I got pregnant right away that time, so I—[chuckling] And he finished in September, and then our first child was born in November. And I worked right up to that time.

HT:

So you never went back to school to get your bachelor's degree?

MD:

No, I didn't go back.

HT:

And I'm assuming your husband used his GI benefits?

MD:

Right, he did.

HT:

Of course, as a nurse, could you have used yours?

MD:

Benefits? Oh yes, I could have.

HT:

So you were eligible for GI benefits?

MD:

Oh yes, I would have been able to, too, but I did not take advantage of it.

HT:

After the children were born, did you ever go back into nursing later on?

MD:

Well, I had four children in four and a half years, had twins, so I did not go back, I think, for twenty-five years. Because I remember I took a refresher course after twenty-five years, and then I only worked while the boys were in college for about ten years.

HT:

What impact do you think having been in the Nurse Corps had on your life immediately after the war, and then maybe in the long term?

MD:

I think on me personally it didn't have any impact. People were very—“Oh, I'll bet you had a lot of experiences and all that.” And there was something about it you just didn't want to talk about. I don't know why. It didn't have any great impact.

HT:

Well, did anything outstanding or exciting happen while you were overseas that you can recall, that we haven't discussed earlier?

MD:

No, I can't think of anything.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to have been an independent person before you joined the corps?

MD:

Yes, I think I was independent, although I think I was eager to get away because my father was very stern. So I guess I was eager to just get away. I don't know what would have happened if there hadn't been a war, you know, what I would have done. I have no idea what I would have done if there hadn't been a war or what I would have done with my nursing. But I know I was not anxious to go back home.

HT:

Do you think having been in the corps made you even more independent, self-reliant?

MD:

Yes. I don't know if that was it. I've always been very independent. I know when we talked about the women's lib[eration wovement] and that, I used to laugh about that and I thought, well, they're doing things that I've always done. I've done all these things, I don't know what they want. And what I've realized, though, by being that independent, I felt like in certain areas I might have lost a lot. I was not really dependent on my husband, I'm still not really dependent, and yet we're very well-suited for each other. [chuckling]

HT:

Well, you just mentioned the women's lib. Would you consider yourself and other women who joined either the Nurses Corps or the other military branches to have been forerunners of what we today call women's lib or the women's movement?

MD:

I don't really know. You mean the fact that we went into the service and that?

HT:

Yes, right.

MD:

Well, I guess you could say that.

HT:

And also women did things they'd never done before. They went out to work, the Rosie the Riveter type person who worked in factories and munitions factories. And women joined the WAVES or the WACs, and that had never been done before.

MD:

That's right. Yes, that probably was it. When you asked about when I came home, I know one of the things I did say when I came home, “Once I get home, I'm never going to move again. I'm going to settle—” Well, that didn't last very long. [chuckling] We've done a lot of moving. And I think that was who accustomed me to getting up and moving, and accepting it, you know, and not complaining about it—because we've had to move a few times with the job.

HT:

A quick question about how women were perceived who joined one of the military branches. Do you recall what the perception was of women who joined the military, by the general public, by their families, and by men? The reason I was asking is that I have recently read that there was a huge slander campaign against WACs —

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HT:

I guess what I'm trying to find out is how were you perceived or how were your fellow nurses perceived by the doctors, the corpsmen, the people with whom you worked?

MD:

Oh, I think we were very well accepted, yes. I think we were respected, too. And the scare that I mentioned overseas, I felt that perhaps the women themselves brought that on. Because it really wasn't quite fair for the officers, for instance, to be able to go out on dates with the nurses, and they had no one to date. And see, the nurses were not allowed to date enlisted men.

HT:

Right, because you were officers, you could date one another.

MD:

Yes, and I felt that they may have flaunted it, you know, and that was not right. I opposed that, I know.

HT:

So all the nurses with whom you worked were officers?

MD:

Oh yes, everybody—Yes, all registered nurses were officers. And at that time I don't remember licensed practical nurses. I think that came much later.

HT:

Have any of your children ever been in the military?

MD:

Yes, one son volunteered for the Vietnam War, and then the next one was a conscientious objector and also served.

HT:

You had no daughters who were?

MD:

We have five sons.

HT:

Oh, five sons, okay. [chuckling]

MD:

Yes. And it was interesting, the second son had one year of college and he didn't really know what he wanted to do. He said, “There's no sense in my spending your money when I don't know what I want to be. I'm going to go into the service.” And he went in because at that time they were telling them, “We'll give you whatever you want.” And he had spent that summer in Germany and he thought, oh, he would love to go to Germany. As it turned out, he went to Vietnamese school. He was going to study German but they said, “You study Vietnamese.” And then his older brother was a conscientious objector. He went in before the draft numbers, before we had draft numbers, but he would have been drafted anyway because his number was 9. But he was already in. The other was 46, which meant that he would go in. So when he registered as a conscientious objector, and the son who was in the service had to write a letter as to—He had to have five witnesses as to his being a conscientious objector. So he did write a letter, and it was a little difficult for him to understand. But then he said he recalled that as a child—his parents were both in the service but we never let the children have guns. And then he mentioned then how his older brother was always a very peace-loving person. He's the one that's the landscape architect.

HT:

How do you feel about women in combat positions these days? Just recently, in December of '98, women flew combat missions over Iraq. Do you approve of this?

MD:

Well, they certainly have the capability, you know. And if they feel like they're strong enough to take it, I'm sure that it's okay. But I just wonder if they are that way during the whole month. You know, with women having periods, are they emotionally stable at that time? I don't know, that's something that each person would have to determine on their own. That would be my only objection.

HT:

Well, is there anything else you'd like to add about your nursing days during World War II?

MD:

No. I guess, in many instances, at some point overseas there were young fellows just eighteen years old, and I felt like I just kind of wanted to mother them.

HT:

You were all of about twenty-one, twenty-two at that time?

MD:

Well, yeah, twenty-three. Yes, I was young myself. [chuckling] But I guess I felt I had a lot more experience. Some of the things they would talk about, like being out with the Philippine girls, going here and there where they shouldn't have been. It used to bother me, and I'd say, “Well, now what would your mother think about that?” [chuckling] But no, I can't say that I remember anything.

HT:

We've discussed your life a little bit after the war, but is there anything else that you can add about what you did? I know you've raised five children, and you said you moved about quite a bit, so I'm assuming your husband was transferred.

MD:

Well, a few times, yes. I was only given twenty-four hours to live after the twins were born. I was in a coma for five days. But I'm still here, and very happy too. [chuckling] And it's amazing, just now that—I mean it was years later that we ever mentioned that to the boys, and now that they are older and having their own families, you know, they're kind of interested in what took place. And of course, they're most amazed with the fact that we were separated twenty-seven months and we just celebrated our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary last September. That they can't conceive at all. And now I do a lot of—Well, I always have done volunteer work. That was just part of my nature, I guess. I very rarely go to hospitals.

This one time when I came to North Carolina a friend of mine said, “If I ever get sick I want you to take care of me.” Which I did, but I didn't transfer my registration for nursing here because I was not interested in going into nursing. But I did sit with her for a whole week, just sat in her room. They wouldn't let me do anything for her. [chuckling]

But I do enjoy—Right now I am chairman of a committee in our church, which I formed twenty years ago, for the visitation for the sick and the homebound, and I'm very active with that. And I work with Urban Ministry. I've worked there for—this is my sixteenth year now in the emergency assistance program.

HT:

That's wonderful. Well, Mrs. DeWan, I don't have any other questions for you today. I really appreciate you talking to me. It's just been so interesting talking to you. It's always fascinating to hear what people went through during that period of time. Thank you again.

MD:

You're welcome.

[End of Interview]