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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Bernice Heath, 2001

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Object ID: WV0195.5.001

Description: Documents Bernice Heath’s early life, nursing training, service overseas with the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War II, and duties stateside and abroad with the ANC from 1948 to 1964.

Summary:

Topics from Heath’s early life include nursing school at Bethesda Hospital and her family’s history of military service.

Heath primarily discusses her service with the 91st Evacuation Hospital during World War II. She describes the enlistment process; the blue and olive drab uniforms; preparations for overseas service, including training and equipment; and the conditions, food, and social activities on the SS Argentina.

Heath speaks at great length about her overseas service with the mobile army evacuation hospital. She provides details about packing and moving equipment, and breaking down and setting up hospitals in tents, university buildings, and a night club. She also describes the conditions, workload, and social activities at duty stations in Casablanca, Morocco; Mostaganem, Algiers; Bizerte, Tunisia; and Palermo, Sicily.

Heath discusses her transfer to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion and describes landing on Utah Beach four days after D-Day and being near the front during the Battle of the Bulge. She also recounts following the troops through France, Holland, and Germany. Other topics pertaining to World War II include seeing Patton make rounds in the hospital; buzz bombs and air raids; and hearing Nazi propaganda from Lord Haw Haw; and being outside Berlin on VE Day.

Heath recalls her decision to re-enlist in 1948 and lists her duty stations from 1948 to 1964, providing some details of her training, job responsibilities, social activities, and travel. She also provides a brief overview of her civilian nursing jobs between tours and following retirement from the ANC in 1964; changes in nursing since WWII; and her opinion of women in combat.

Creator: Bernice Isabel Heath

Biographical Info: Bernice Isabel Heath (1917-2003) of Portsmouth, Ohio, served as a nurse in North Africa, Europe, Japan as a member of the Army Nurse Corps from 1942 to 1946 and 1948 to 1964.

Collection: Bernice Isabel Heath 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:

Today is January 20, 2001. My name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Major Bernice Heath in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I'm here to conduct an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Major Heath, if you'll give your full name, we'll use that as a test for this.

BERNICE HEATH:

Bernice Isabel Heath.

HT:

Major Heath, could you tell me some biographical information about yourself, please, such as where you were born and when you were born?

BH:

I was born the 1st day of December, 1917, in a very small village, Richmondale, Ohio.

HT:

And can you tell me a little bit about your family, your parents and your-

BH:

My father was originally a farmer, but in 1918, when I was only a year old, they moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, where he had employment at the steel mill, and that's where I lived until I went into nurse's training. [BH added later: My parents were Herbert H. Heath and Beatrice Armsey Heath. My mother was a school teacher.]

HT:

And what about your siblings? Do you have any brothers or sisters?

BH:

I had three brothers and three sisters. There was seven of us.

HT:

And did your mother work outside the home?

BH:

Oh, no. My mother was busy at home with seven of us.

HT:

Were you the middle child or the eldest?

BH:

I was the third.

HT:

Can you tell me what it was like growing up during the depression.

BH:

Well, we didn't think too much about it. It might have been rough, but we all managed. My father was out of work a lot, but we never had to go on welfare, and we didn't have food stamps, but we never went hungry, and we were never cold.

HT:

And where did you go to high school?

BH:

I went to Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, Ohio, from 1932 to 1935.

HT:

And did you attend college or nurse's training?

BH:

In 1937, I decided I didn't want to work for fifteen dollars a week the rest of my life in the department store. So I decided I'd go into nurse's training.

HT:

And where did you attend nurse's training?

BH:

At Bethesda Hospital School of Nursing in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1938 to 1941.

HT:

What was training like for nurses in those days?

BH:

We were taught to take care of the patient. As part of our tuition, we worked eight hours a day, that covered our room and board plus our classroom books and supplies.

HT:

What was a typical day like for you? You say you had to work part of the time.

BH:

We'd go on duty at seven o'clock in the morning. While the patients were eating breakfast, we obtained the clean linen for the beds. After their breakfast—we each had about four patients every morning, and we were responsible for giving them a complete bed bath, changing their linens, giving treatments, and when we were finished with them, they looked comfortable.

Then usually about ten o'clock, we had to go to classes. [BH added later: Classes were anatomy, chemistry, pharmacology, nursing procedures, ethics, et cetera.] After lunch, we'd go back on duty and take care of them the rest of the day. Patients in those days were strictly bed patients. Even for a simple appendectomy, they would have to stay in bed for two weeks.

HT:

That's quite different from today, isn't it?

BH:

Yes. So they really got good care. It's difficult now to see the care that the patients get.

HT:

What made you decide to become a nurse?

BH:

I was only making fifteen dollars a week in a department store and no future to that. I knew I'd never go to college. I was unable to cost-wise. I thought that was the only way I could improve my situation.

HT:

And how long was the training period?

BH:

Three years.

HT:

So it was basically equivalent to a college education.

BH:

Yes. On our college GED test, we'd get credit, some credit for nursing school.

HT:

Did you specialize in any particular field?

BH:

No, just general duty nursing. We all had our rotation in the operating rooms and the delivery room and the post-op[erative] care plus the care of medical patients and public health.

HT:

And you stayed at Bethesda Hospital the entire three years for your training?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And then where did you go after that?

BH:

I went into the army. I stayed at Bethesda until I entered the army in '42.

HT:

And what made you decide to join the army?

BH:

Well, I had a brother that was drafted. I had friends that were drafted. It was the patriotic thing to do.

HT:

Now, you were over the age of twenty-one by that time so your parents did not have to sign.

BH:

You had to be twenty-one before you could be a registered nurse.

HT:

Okay. I see. So when you entered nurse's training, you were under twenty-one. So did your parents have to sign for that?

BH:

No. My parents weren't much in favor of it, though.

HT:

Oh, they weren't? What about you joining the military? Were they in favor of that?

BH:

They weren't much in favor of that either. I used my brother [Roger] as an example, that they wouldn't want him to be wounded someplace and not have attention. So they finally accepted it.

HT:

Now, were you and your brother the only members of your family who joined the military?

BH:

No. At that time, yes, but then later on, I had another brother [Eugene] that was in the navy for a short time and then another brother [Herbert] that was in the Korean War. He was wounded in the Korean War.

HT:

What about your sisters?

BH:

None of them were in the service.

HT:

What did your friends think about you joining the military?

BH:

My friends, we all went in together.

HT:

Was there a whole unit from that hospital that joined?

BH:

No. Your units were from larger hospitals, like the University of Cincinnati had a unit, but we just volunteered individually.

HT:

What did you have to do to join exactly?

BH:

First of all, we had to join the American Red Cross Nursing Service, which is no longer. Then we had to apply [to the military]. Then we had to have physicals. I had my physical at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which is right across the river from Cincinnati. Then I went into the army on the 1st day of September, 1942, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

HT:

Did you have to go through any kind of basic training?

BH:

No. No.

HT:

No marching and that sort of thing.

BH:

Everything was on a fast basis then, rapid basis. They didn't make us go into basic.

HT:

Now, you were inducted as a lieutenant, I assume.

BH:

As a second lieutenant. At that time, we had relative rank with male officers, but we didn't have the pay equal with male officers until maybe a couple years into the war. Then we had the same pay as male officers.

HT:

Do you know why that was?

BH:

It was just women were inferior apparently.

HT:

How did that make you feel, doing basically the same type of work and not getting paid as much?

BH:

We didn't think anything of it because we didn't get paid much in civilian life, either.

HT:

Do you recall how much you did get paid when you first joined?

BH:

I think it was ninety dollars.

HT:

A week?

BH:

No, a month.

HT:

That's not a great deal of money, is it?

BH:

That's about all RNs [registered nurses] just out of training were making, too.

HT:

And what type of uniforms were you issued?

BH:

We had blue uniforms at that time.

HT:

Blue?

BH:

Yes. They were a navy top with a navy blouse, what we called our blouse, which was a jacket, and a white shirt and a blue shirt [and a black tie]. You were to wear the blue shirt before five o'clock in the daytime. If you were in uniform, you had to wear a white shirt after five o'clock. It was a lighter blue skirt. We had maybe four different uniforms all the time I was in the service.

HT:

Did you have the typical white uniform?

BH:

For duty, yes.

HT:

With the cap?

BH:

The white cap.

HT:

And when did it change over to army green?

BH:

It was when we were in England they changed to OD.

HT:

What is OD?

BH:

OD is olive drab. We had brown and white seersucker dresses, uniforms, that we wore in the field. [RH added later: We were not issued fatigue suits until later in the war.]

HT:

So initially when you went in, it was a blue uniform, but later on, it changed to green permanently, is that correct?

BH:

It went to blue to OD, olive drab. Then right before I retired, they went into the present green.

HT:

So you never had to do any kind of basic training at all. You went directly into active service?

BH:

I went in the army on the first of September of '42, and the 27th of November, I was shipped out to Camp Kilmer for overseas. So we had our basic training overseas, really, the real thing.

HT:

Where is Camp Kilmer?

BH:

New Jersey.

HT:

What was your first reaction to being in the military? I mean, first you were a civilian and then all at once you were in the military. I'm sure it must have been quite a change for you. What was that like?

BH:

Well, I really don't remember whether it was so different, but everybody was all keyed up, you know, and enthused about being in the army.

HT:

So as a nurse, you were used to discipline, then, and giving orders and receiving orders. Whereas most women, or even men, who joined the military were not used to that.

BH:

Yes. Because we had three years of training. I trained in a Methodist hospital that was run by deaconesses, who correspond to the Catholic nuns. They were very strict with us as far as when you could be away from the nurses' home and duty.

HT:

So you probably stayed in a dormitory of some sort while you were in nursing training.

BH:

Yes, in a nurses' home. They had rules and regulations.

HT:

So which was stricter, nurses' training or the army?

BH:

Nurses' training.

HT:

[laughs] Now, you were stationed for a little while, you said, at Fort Knox.

BH:

About three months.

HT:

So you did general duty there as well.

BH:

General duty, yes, took care of surgical patients.

HT:

Right. And then how long were you stationed at Camp Kilmer, or was that just a transient—

BH:

It was transient. We sailed the 10th of December, '42.

HT:

And where did you go from Camp Kilmer?

BH:

We didn't know where we were going when we got on board ship. But then it took us until Christmas Eve until we saw land again, and that was Casablanca, North Africa.

HT:

What kind of ship did you go over on?

BH:

We went on the S.S. Argentina, which had been a cruise ship.

HT:

It had been converted to a troop ship, I guess.

BH:

Yes, converted to a troop ship.

HT:

Do you recall how many people were aboard that ship?

BH:

No, but a lot. The nurses had good accommodations, but the poor enlisted men, they were packed in pretty solid.

HT:

How many nurses were in your cabin?

BH:

There were forty-eight nurses in our unit, and there were four of us to a cabin, so we were comfortable.

HT:

I've talked to other people who went overseas, and there were like ten or twelve, maybe, per cabin.

BH:

Yes, well, coming home, that was—at the end of the war [we were very crowded].

HT:

Well, tell me about your trip across. What did you do, and that sort of thing? What was it like crossing the ocean in December of '42?

BH:

Quite an experience. We were in a convoy with many other ships. One ship had a locomotive on its deck, if you can imagine sailing out in the middle of the ocean and seeing a ship with a locomotive on it because they had to transport things like that for transportation. We were fed very well but only twice a day. We ate chocolate bars for the other meal, we bought them by the carton [at the ship's canteen] because we'd eat about seven o'clock in the morning and then not again until five o'clock in the evening.

HT:

Why did you all only eat twice a day?

BH:

They had so many people that they couldn't accommodate three meals a day.

HT:

What did you do with your spare time? I mean, that's a long time to be on the ocean.

BH:

We read and sat out on the deck and made friends with the male officers on board ship. The main troops were all from the 2nd Armored Division that went to North Africa.

HT:

So you were not on duty on board the ship at all.

BH:

No. They had navy nurses on board ship to take care of the crew.

HT:

Did you play games or watch movies or go to dances or anything social like that?

BH:

We read and played cards. They didn't have movies.

HT:

And when you landed in Casablanca, when was that in December, do you recall, what day of the month?

BH:

It was Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, 1942.

HT:

And did you guys have some sort of Christmas Eve service or something aboard ship?

BH:

No. It was late in the afternoon when we got off the ship. They gave us K rations, and K rations were all dry rations.

HT:

I was going to ask you, what are K rations?

BH:

They were dry rations. There were real hard crackers and a very hard candy bar, and there'd be cans of like a ham salad or an egg salad that you put on your crackers, and it came in boxes about the size of a Cracker Jack box, one meal in each box.

HT:

Were they very appetizing?

BH:

No, but if you were hungry, you ate them.

HT:

Let me backtrack just a minute about your days at Camp Kilmer. What kind of specialized training did you receive in order to go overseas?

BH:

We didn't receive any training. They issued our clothing. What we didn't get at Fort Knox they tried to fill in—pup tents and field clothes at Kilmer. Also, they brought us up to date for our immunizations. It was so cold, we stayed in quarters most of the time. It was very cold that winter. I think most of us got into New York City one time for the day.

HT:

You got into New York City one time for the day? What was that like? Did you enjoy yourself?

BH:

Most of the time on the subway with another nurse looking for her brother in the air force. But we did get up to the top of the tower, the Empire State Building. Everything just went at such a fast pace.

HT:

At Camp Kilmer, did you ever receive field training or training with guns or anything like that?

BH:

No. We never had training with guns, never.

HT:

What about aboard the ship? Did you have any kind of drills?

BH:

We had lifeboat drills.

HT:

But you never—

BH:

Twice a day we had them.

HT:

Were you ever attacked, or did you ever see enemy subs or anything like that?

BH:

Once someone shouted that they saw a sub at three o'clock. They used a clock to designate directions. But that was the only time that we knew of. They changed course frequently, and at night they couldn't use signals so they used the ship's horns. What were they called? One toot would be right, and two would be to the left.

HT:

As you were going over, was the ship in blackout?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

So you couldn't see the other ships at all.

BH:

No. Also, you couldn't smoke after dark outside, out on the decks, very strict.

HT:

And after you landed in Casablanca, what type of work did you do?

BH:

We were put on temporary duty with another evac[uation] hospital. Their nurses hadn't joined them, and we were the first nurses in Casablanca. So we went on temporary duty there until they got our hospital set up out in the country.

HT:

Were you stationed in the city limits of Casablanca?

BH:

Yes. The nurses' quarters were in a school for young girls. We were right in back of the main civilian police station. We had our first taste of an air raid in Casablanca.

HT:

Of course, there was a very famous movie by the name of Casablanca. Had you seen that before you went over?

BH:

I can't remember where I saw it.

HT:

I can't remember when it came out, but had you ever heard of Casablanca before—

BH:

Yes. I'd seen the movie. I never dreamed that I'd see it in person.

HT:

What was the country like?

BH:

Very dry, and of course, the natives, the Arabs, all dressed in their native outfits. The other people were Frenchmen.

HT:

I guess it was sort of an exciting place to be though.

BH:

Yes. Once again, we were under blackout conditions at night.

HT:

And when you finally got your own hospital set up, where was that?

BH:

That was at Port Lyautey. I was up near Rabat. Rabat is the capital of French Morocco.

HT:

What type of hospital was this?

BH:

It was in tents. The operating room section was in a small navy hospital that was in permanent buildings there, but everything else was in tents, and we mainly worked in tents.

HT:

That must have been kind of rough.

BH:

Everything went well.

HT:

But was it not difficult to keep everything sterilized and clean?

BH:

We had a great big autoclave where all the hospital surgical linen and instruments were sterilized by steam. Of course, we did our personal laundry in the helmets. We hung our fatigues out on the tent ropes.

HT:

So what was a typical day like at this hospital? What kind of duty did you see?

BH:

We had the same kind of patients that you have in any other hospital. We had medical patients. We had surgical patients.

HT:

And there again, you were a general duty nurse?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Did you ever help in surgery or anything?

BH:

Not until later on.

HT:

How long were you stationed at this place?

BH:

I can't give it to you right now, but we left on Easter morning of '43 to go on up to Mostaganem, which is up near Oran [Algeria]. [RH added later: We had a very impressive Easter sunrise service on the mountainside, the Atlas Mountains.] We were set up in a race track at Mostaganem.

HT:

The whole hospital unit was inside a race track?

BH:

Yes. They had to clean all the manure and everything out from under the grandstand and the rooms. Then they set up the X-ray equipment and the headquarters and the operating room and the immediate post-operative wards. The rest of the hospital and the personnel were in tents out in the infield like.

HT:

Why were you stationed in such an unusual place? Was it because that was the only thing available?

BH:

Yes. Troops would go ahead and find suitable places. I might add that we were with General Patton headquarters from the time we landed in Casablanca until we left Palermo, Sicily.

HT:

What does that mean, that you were with his headquarters? That was his unit, so to speak?

BH:

General Patton was in charge of the First Armored Corps. And I'm sure everybody has heard of General Patton.

HT:

Oh, yes. I've even seen the movie, and I've heard a little bit about him, yes.

BH:

We were right with his headquarters.

HT:

Did you ever get a chance to see him?

BH:

Oh, yes. He'd make rounds in the hospital.

HT:

Do you recall anything specific about him?

BH:

Oh, that he was a large man. You knew he was a man of authority. It wasn't our hospital where he smacked a patient. That was another hospital.

HT:

How did you feel about him doing something like that to a patient?

BH:

Pardon?

HT:

How did you and the other nurses feel about him actually hitting a patient.

BH:

Well, we knew it shouldn't be done.

HT:

I can't remember specifically why he did that. Do you recall?

BH:

I don't know. I can't remember the details enough to comment on it.

HT:

Well, it sounds like you enjoyed your work.

BH:

Oh, yes.

HT:

Were the days long and hard?

BH:

No. When we were at Mostaganem, we weren't taking care of combat patients. We were taking care of the troops that were in training around. We weren't too far from the Mediterranean Ocean and they would run trucks, take a group out early in the morning and stay till close to noon time, and then another one would go out in the afternoon. So one day we would work in the morning, and the next day we would work in the afternoon.

HT:

For a little bit of R&R [rest and recuperation].

BH:

Yes. We weren't supposed to ride in any other vehicles except our army hospital vehicles and jeeps, but then we all had friends and the officers used to have a jeep at their disposal. One time I had been out on the beach and decided to come back to the hospital with my friend. He was in the Signal Corps, they were stationed up the hill from us, but the MPs [military police] found us. So they made me get out of the jeep and sit in the vineyard, while the driver and my friend had to go on to the hospital and tell them to send a vehicle out for me. I was left sitting in the vineyard till the hospital transportation came and got me.

HT:

Why wouldn't they let you ride in the other vehicles?

BH:

That was one of General Patton's orders.

HT:

Were there WACs [Women's Army Corps] stationed with you on that—

BH:

No. We never had any dealings with WACs.

HT:

They weren't stationed there at all.

BH:

No.

HT:

So there were just enlisted men, officers, and the nurses' corps, the nurses.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

What did you do for recreation other than go to the beach? Did they have some sort of—

BH:

They had movies. We would take our blanket and sit out in the field and watch the movie. Then occasionally they'd have a dance. Then they would have a dance for the enlisted men, too, and they would invite girls from the surrounding towns to the enlisted men's dance.

HT:

Was it a good-sized base, many people? Were there many people stationed at this base where you were?

BH:

Our unit had forty-eight nurses, forty male officers, and maybe two hundred, maybe not that many, enlisted men. But we were always out, kind of away from everything else.

HT:

So it was sort of a temporary army base. Everything was very temporary.

BH:

Yes, because we would move as the troops moved.

HT:

I see. So as the fighting progressed and the front moved, you would be right behind it to take care of the casualties.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Do you ever recall being in any danger since you were fairly close to the front?

BH:

Oh, after we got to—in Palermo, Sicily. But from Mostaganem, we went on up to Bizerte, Tunisia, and camped there for a couple of weeks before we went over to Sicily. We had to wait for the invasion of Sicily, and then we went over there.

HT:

I guess whenever there was intensive fighting, you would have all these casualties come in, right?

BH:

Oh, casualties, yes.

HT:

Wasn't that sort of overwhelming at times?

BH:

Yes, but we all kept working. Sometimes we'd be on duty sixteen or eighteen hours. If you're scrubbed up in the middle of a surgical case, you can't say, “It's time for me to quit.”

HT:

So you didn't really have what you would call a typical day.

BH:

No. We worked according to the workload. Now, in Palermo, Sicily, we got many casualties from Messina, Sicily. That was a big invasion area. Then we also got many, many casualties from Italy once we started to invade Italy. They would ship them back to us, and we would give them treatment, and they'd send them on back to the states by hospital ships—some returned to duty.

HT:

So your hospital was just sort of a temporary—

BH:

We were a mobile army evacuation hospital. It was an evac, but we were mobile. We were the first type to give definitive treatment, surgical treatment, after they went through their first aid station.

HT:

So if a person were wounded on the battlefield, he'll get patched up by a medic, I guess, and then sent to you for further assistance.

BH:

And we were the first ones.

HT:

Is that called a field hospital?

BH:

At that time, they called them evacuation.

HT:

Evacuation hospitals.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And then they were sent possibly back to the United States?

BH:

Yes, back to England. No. From North Africa, they were sent on back to the States.

HT:

I spoke recently to a nurse who was an evacuation nurse stationed in England, and she would bring the boys back up.

BH:

Those days most of them were evacuated by ship. Since they didn't have all the airplanes, they couldn't evacuate them by air.

HT:

While you were stationed in North Africa, did anything unusual or humorous happen to you?

BH:

Not that I remember. We did take a day trip to the home of the French Foreign Legion, except there wasn't too much to see in North Africa.

HT:

And where was the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion?

BH:

At Sidi Bel Abbes [Algeria].

HT:

Was that just a regular fort, complex?

BH:

Just like a regular army post.

HT:

Were you impressed with the French Foreign Legion at all?

BH:

I didn't think that much about it.

HT:

While you were in North Africa, what was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically?

BH:

Probably roll up my bedding roll. We were only allowed one suitcase, and everything else went into our bedding roll. So they got to be pretty big when they were rolled up. We slept on those as a mattress then.

HT:

So you used your bedroll as a suitcase, an extra suitcase.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Why didn't they give you a duffel bag or something like that to store your other things in?

BH:

They weren't popular then. [laughs] This is a long time ago. They've made many improvements.

HT:

What were the accommodations like? You said earlier that you slept in tents. So there was no privacy.

BH:

At first there was only two of us to what they call a small wall tent. There's only room for two cots in it. But then that entailed too much time and labor. So they put us in pyramidal tents and put five of us to a tent. We had our army cot, and we'd carry a wooden box when we moved so we'd have a bedside table. We'd put our suitcase on that so we'd have a bedside table.

HT:

When you moved from place to place, did you have to break down the tent yourself, or did you have help with that?

BH:

No. When we were in pup tents, we had to do our own pup tents. Not in the larger tents. When we broke down the hospital, we all worked. After the invasion of Normandy, I was in surgery, and we would put everything back in footlockers and keep on working, maybe keep one or two cases in operation all the while we were packing up the rest of the material to go ahead.

HT:

So it was constant packing and unpacking and always moving around.

BH:

Yes. We moved frequently.

HT:

That could not have been very comfortable, sleeping on those cots and having to move around all the time.

BH:

We didn't think anything of it.

HT:

Everybody was doing it.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

You were not alone so that made a difference. What kind of people did you meet, fellow Americans I'm talking about at this point?

BH:

Oh, they were from all walks of life.

HT:

Nurses and doctors?

BH:

Nurses, doctors, chaplains, business people, educators.

HT:

What did you think of the doctors?

BH:

Oh, they were all good. Most of them were young. The commanding officers were usually older because they'd been in the army previously and longer, so they were made commanding officers.

HT:

So most of the nurses and most of the doctors, I assume, were about your age, twenty-five or less, almost, just probably fresh out of school.

BH:

Yes. Of course, the doctors were older.

HT:

Right. They had a little more training than the nurses, I guess. And what about the nurses? Did you think fairly highly of your fellow nurses? Were they a good group of well-trained people?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And I guess you got a lot of on-the-job training, as you call it, with the different types of wounded coming in.

BH:

Oh, yes.

HT:

Did you ever have a difficult time emotionally dealing with so many wounded people coming in constantly?

BH:

No. I think everyone was pretty calm, really. Of course, we saw things that we'd rather not see, but we never let it get us down.

HT:

After you left North Africa, you went on to Sicily, I think you said.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

How was that different than being in North Africa?

BH:

We were in a University of Palermo building. So that was nice for a change. Of course it wasn't real conducive to being a hospital, but we were comfortable, and we worked hard.

HT:

When you went to a new place, I'm assuming you had to set up everything from scratch basically, all the surgical wards had to be set up, operating tables, cots for the patients.

BH:

But it was really simple to live and work in tents all the time. We put away everything the way it would be used. So as soon as we got the surgical tent up, they could start operating. Then they would go ahead and put the other tents up. It was pretty routine.

HT:

How did you heat water and that sort of thing?

BH:

How did we heat water?

HT:

Yes, for surgery and et cetera?

BH:

Well, our big autoclave took care of sterilizing the surgical supplies, but it also furnished the steam for hot water, for showers. So the enlisted men would have a certain time to shower, and the officers and then the nurses. But the showers were in a tent, sometimes only a canvas around the shower and open on the top.

HT:

There was not a great deal of privacy.

BH:

It was easier to have forty nurses take a shower in about half an hour's time when you had maybe eighteen shower heads all in one big space.

HT:

Do you recall ever being in any kind of physical danger?

BH:

Oh, yes, once we got to Africa we were always in danger of air raids. After Normandy, after the invasion of Normandy, we were always in danger. Artillery passed over us because the German artillery would come in one way and ours would be going the other way. We'd be down here in the middle, but we were safe because they were shooting over us.

HT:

You just prayed that one of those shots was not short.

BH:

Yes, and buzz bombs. What were they, V-2 bombs? We could see them going over and we could hear them. You just prayed that they kept on going.

[Begin Tape 1, Side B]
HT:

—my assistant before we changed the tape. By this time, you've already left North Africa, and I think you were telling me about some of your times in Sicily and being in a building as opposed to in a tent. You said it was almost easier to work in a tent situation than it was in a building.

BH:

Yes, because you have to clean the buildings up, and everything is more compacted in tents.

HT:

Now, when the army came in, I'm assuming they requisitioned these buildings from the civilians, and then whoever—like the university, the university building in Palermo, they had to move out, and the army hospital moved in, right?

BH:

Yes. Of course, there's always the advanced echelons to pick out a site—like in medical, there was a general medical officer who coordinated with other services. They'd help pick out places and see them.

BH:

That must have been a tough job, to try to find something that's suitable and big enough.

BH:

Yes. And it was really simpler just to live and work in tents.

HT:

On the average, how many patients could you take care of?

BH:

This gives the number of patients right here.

HT:

Right. It says 10,600. That's quite a few people.

BH:

Oh, well, yes. Well, see, we were getting all of them from the island of Sicily, as well as from Italy. And we had air raids almost every night in Palermo. Lord Haw-Haw would come on the radio and tell where they would go and get the Americans.

HT:

You said that was Lord Haw-Haw?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Now, who was that?

BH:

He was the propaganda man for the Nazis.

HT:

Okay. Sort of like Tokyo Rose?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And what did this Lord Haw-Haw say?

BH:

He'd name the units. When we were sitting in the harbor to leave Palermo to go to England, he would name the units that were sitting on board ship to go to England, and he'd harass us.

HT:

Tell you to surrender and that sort of thing?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

How did that affect people's morale?

BH:

They just laughed.

HT:

Oh, really? Nobody paid much attention to it, didn't take it seriously? That's interesting. Was this Lord Haw-Haw ever caught?

BH:

I think he was after the war, I'm sure he was.

HT:

I've heard that name, but I don't know much about him. How long were you stationed in Sicily?

BH:

We were there for about three months.

HT:

And then you went on up to—

BH:

Up to England.

HT:

England?

BH:

Yes, in a convoy.

HT:

That was by ship?

BH:

By ship, yes.

HT:

And how long did that take you, do you recall?

BH:

That took us thirteen to fourteen days. We went from Sicily up to England, and landed in Wales—Swansea, Wales—on Thanksgiving Eve of 1943.

HT:

Were you aboard another troop ship or a converted ocean liner at that time?

BH:

We were on a luxury liner, the Santa Rosa. That was our last luxury liner.

HT:

I guess there wasn't much luxury left after they converted the troop ships.

BH:

But they never seemed to bother the cabins that we were in, but they weren't quite as nice as the Argentina. It wasn't as large a ship.

HT:

Now, these were American ships that they converted.

BH:

Yes, cruise ships.

HT:

Did anything happen on the Santa Rosa that you recall?

BH:

No, but it was a treat to go through the Straits of Gibraltar and see everything lighted up, because we were so used to blackouts. We got back to within one or two days of the States then we headed north again to go to England.

HT:

Were you in a convoy at this time?

BH:

Yes, a convoy.

HT:

Another convoy. So you zigzagged again to avoid the German U-boats and that sort of thing.

BH:

To avoid submarines, yes.

HT:

And after you landed in Wales, what was your next destination?

BH:

Tortworth Court in England, which was near Bristol. We were at Tortworth Court. It was a big—I don't know what you'd call it, not a castle. But anyway, all of our unit was housed in this one building. It was a huge estate, you know. We had left all of our equipment in Palermo to hospitals that were coming in to relieve us. So we had to draw all new equipment. We had all that to unpack and clean and get ready for the invasion.

HT:

For D-Day.

BH:

For D-Day, yes.

HT:

Why did they move your unit up?

BH:

One thing, we had the experience.

HT:

So you were always just behind the front?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Whereas, back in Palermo, less seasoned people could come in, I guess, and take over some of the duties.

BH:

Yes, when we left.

HT:

So experience made the difference, I guess.

HT:

Of course, you knew nothing about D-Day was coming or where they were [unclear] because that was very hush-hush, I assume.

BH:

Well, we knew it was coming, and we knew for sure it was coming when they restricted us to the area. I think I was about the only one allowed off post because I went to London to make a recording at BBC [British Broadcasting Company].

HT:

Well, tell me about that. What brought that about?

BH:

I had a hometown friend from Portsmouth that knew where I was, he was in public relations. He set up an appointment with the BBC. It was to be released, I think, on Mother's Day or around Mother's Day back in the States [BH added later: over Station WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio].

HT:

And do you recall what you said or what the gist of the—

BH:

It was very much like what we're talking about now.

HT:

You say you were the only one allowed off base?

BH:

Everybody else was restricted.

HT:

Was there jealousy because of that?

BH:

No.

HT:

I guess that was quite an experience for you, going to London. Did you go all by yourself, or were you escorted by—

BH:

I went by myself. Train service was good.

HT:

Was that for the day only, or did it take a couple of days?

BH:

Well, I think it was three days.

HT:

How long were you confined to base, or how long was the entire unit confined to the base?

BH:

Well, all I really remember, when they restrict you, you'd have to get everything ready to be ready to leave. You knew that was coming. So we had plenty of time to pack.

HT:

While you were waiting for D-Day, you were still doing general duty nursing?

BH:

We didn't work in England.

HT:

Oh, you didn't work at that time.

BH:

We were busy getting all the equipment moved. [BH added later: We worked to get the equipment unpacked, cleaned, sterilized and ready for use.]

HT:

I see. Did you have to go through any kind of special training other than learning about the equipment and that sort of thing?

BH:

No, but we had more close order drill and road marches.

HT:

Oh, really?

BH:

Yes. But it was a job getting all the equipment ready again.

HT:

I can imagine it would be. This is equipment that had been shipped from the States, I guess.

BH:

Brand-new equipment.

HT:

So you probably had to do some learning about becoming familiar with the equipment and that sort of thing?

BH:

No. It was the same type of equipment.

HT:

Oh, same thing.

BH:

Then too, they had some schools. Like some of the nurses went and some of the male officers, the chaplain included, to anesthesia school, where they learned to give anesthetics, because they knew that the operating room would really be busy and they'd need all the extra hands that they could get. So dentists were giving anesthesia, the chaplain was giving anesthesia.

HT:

When did you actually leave England to go over to the continent?

BH:

We left England on the eighth of June, but we left Tortworth on the fifth of June.

HT:

So you were—

BH:

We were at the port of embarkation when the invasion took place [on June 6, 1944]. We'd see all the air activity, the gliders and the bombers going over.

HT:

I talked to one nurse who was stationed in England at that time. She said that the sky was actually black with airplanes. They didn't know what was going on, but they knew something was happening, and after D-Day, they worked, I think, six or seven or eight days straight with like four hours every night off, and that's all they had off, was just—the wounded coming in was just unbelievable, and you saw that firsthand because you went right over.

BH:

Yes. We landed four days after the invasion [on Utah Beach]. We were the first nurses, American nurses, medical women. We had to climb down the side of the ship. We were on a transport-type ship. We had climb down the side of the ship into a little landing craft and go on into the beach. We were told to select another nurse as a buddy and for the two of us to stay together and keep moving as fast as we could. We had life belts on, and that we should drop the life belts as we moved along, and then they collected the life belts and took them back on board ship to give other troops on the next trip. [BH added later: We were dressed in fatigues, helmets, pistol belt, canteen, musette bag, leggings.]

HT:

So you got off the big ship and onto a smaller landing craft ship. Did it dock somewhere, or did you have to jump in the water after a while?

BH:

It went in to the shore, got all the way into the sand.

HT:

Got into the sand. Were you near a small village or a town?

BH:

No. We were out on the seacoast. Of course, there was troops all around, guns, big gun emplacements, and navy ships were still firing.

HT:

Were the Germans firing back at you?

BH:

Yes, the Germans were still firing back. It was dangerous. It was a hot situation.

HT:

Were there casualties in the nursing—

BH:

No.

HT:

No nurses were hurt.

BH:

One time, a sniper's bullet did go through a corner of the tent that I was in. We were over in my corner because one of my friends had gotten a Coleman burner, which wasn't legal, but we were frying bacon. We'd gotten bacon from the mess tent, and we were frying bacon in a mess kit over in my corner of the tent. The sniper's bullet went through two corners, catty-corner, over in the opposite corner.

HT:

That must have been scary.

BH:

Yes. It didn't stop us.

HT:

So as soon as you landed on the beaches, what would you have to do next, start setting up tents and things like that?

BH:

We didn't get to our main point that night, but they took some of the nurses to help an aid station that was there on the beach. No, I wasn't in on that.

HT:

Was it overwhelming for you and the other nurses, with all the casualties that came in in such a short period of time?

BH:

No, because we'd had so many in Sicily, in Palermo, that we knew what to expect.

HT:

So you were seasoned troops, so to speak.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And then as the front moved, I guess you moved right behind them.

BH:

We moved right behind them. Sometimes we'd leave patients in one tent and then the next hospital unit would come up and take over, and we would go ahead and follow the troops. [BH added later: Our hospital was credited with six campaign stars.]

HT:

Now, did you wear guns at this time, the nurses?

BH:

No. No. Medics never had guns.

HT:

Oh, really?

BH:

Medics never had guns.

HT:

Doctors or nurses.

BH:

No. I don't know whether they're allowed to carry them now, but under the Geneva-Red Cross—

HT:

Convention? I guess that's in case you were captured, maybe, that's the reason why perhaps—

BH:

Well, we were supposed to be respected—we wore our red cross armbands, and of course, all the hospitals had the red cross on the tents, on the roof of the tents. All the ambulances had a red cross on them, and they were supposed to honor those and not fire on them.

HT:

But that didn't always work because your tent was fired on by a sniper.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

I guess that person didn't see the red cross.

BH:

Now, I don't know whether the medics are allowed to carry guns now or not.

HT:

I don't know. You had women nurses. I guess all the doctors were men.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Were the medics, men medics, enlisted medics—

BH:

Yes, enlisted.

HT:

Sort of aids and that sort of thing. And all three of you worked together.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

That's truly amazing.

BH:

It was like one great big family. And we stayed together. Most of the original group from Fort Knox stayed together.

HT:

Oh, really. The entire time?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

So there was quite a bit of bonding, and you took care of one another, I assume, that sort of thing.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

That's wonderful. After Normandy, what was the next event that happened?

BH:

Well, we kept moving along with the troops and we got close to Paris. Right after Paris was liberated, we all got to go into Paris for a day dressed in our fatigues and leggings and our helmets. We went from Paris to the Netherlands. We'd set up different places and maybe work there a week or so at a time.

Then we were up in Holland during the Battle of the Bulge, and we weren't very far from the Battle of the Bulge. We were there at Christmastime, and we were on the alert that we might have to retreat. When any of the trucks came back, they had to fill up with gasoline, and they backed into the parking places so they could pull out in a hurry, you know. What few things we'd gotten [from home] for Christmas, we decided that we weren't going to let the Germans get. So each one of us had two or three cans of lighter fluid, and we were going to burn anything that we had to leave. Because we would only be allowed to leave with our musette bag, which is like a backpack, and carry two blankets with us. So we were going to burn everything.

HT:

But the retreat never happened.

BH:

No, never happened. But we were busy then during the Battle of the Bulge.

HT:

I imagine so, yes. Talking about Christmas and everything, did you have correspondence with your family back at home during all the time you were in North Africa?

BH:

Yes. We had—what was it called, VE mail or V-mail, and our mail was censored.

HT:

I was going to say, what was it? Did they actually block out or cut out things?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

So I guess you were sort of careful what you said in the first place.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

You probably never told them exactly where you were.

BH:

No. We weren't allowed to.

HT:

That name was APO, I assume. Is that right?

BH:

Yes. We followed the troops across the Rhine, and then we thought we were going to get to go on into Berlin after Berlin was captured, but the word came down that we weren't going to go because we were going to start returning to the States. This was in May. I didn't get back to the States until the end of November.

HT:

That was in 1945?

BH:

'45.

HT:

So were you stationed in Germany, I mean actually—

BH:

Yes, several places in Germany.

HT:

That was after the war had ended, I guess.

BH:

No. It was during the war, we were still sitting out in a field and had been taking care of casualties when peace was declared.

HT:

Do you recall where you were on VE [Victory in Europe] Day?

BH:

VE Day we were—it was the 8th of May. I think we were in a field near Wiepke, Germany. We were in Bad Salzufen when President Roosevelt died. We were set up in a nightclub there, and the operating room was in the ballroom and the bar. The post-operative wards were located in other parts of the building.

HT:

That must have been one of the most unusual places you've ever set up.

BH:

Yes, because we had to do our scrubbing for surgery at the bar because they'd set up the scrub sink at the bar.

HT:

Was that the most unusual place you were ever set up, was in a nightclub?

BH:

It really wasn't unusual. It was just different.

HT:

When you were transported from place to place, everything had to go by truck or was it by train?

BH:

Truck. Everything had its place on the truck. Certain trucks were for certain things.

HT:

How long did it take you to break up and set up the hospital?

BH:

Oh, we could break down in one day and leave and set up and be ready to take patients by the end of the second day.

HT:

That is absolutely amazing. And what about lighting?

BH:

We had generators.

HT:

Oh, you had generators. Okay. So you were truly mobile. You could set up just about anywhere if you had to.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Do you recall any humorous stories from either North Africa or Sicily or Normandy? Did anything unusual happen or humorous or embarrassing or anything like that?

BH:

Embarrassing I wouldn't tell now. [laughs]

HT:

Well, you can keep it clean if you want to.

BH:

Oh, it was always clean. Really, not too unusual.

HT:

Sounds like you were busy just about all the time, didn't have many days off.

BH:

No. If you weren't busy, you were getting supplies ready to move to the next area.

HT:

Was your unit the only unit like this, or were there other units?

BH:

Oh, there were others [RH added later: but we were first].

HT:

Other units that did the same thing.

BH:

But they came later.

HT:

When the Second World War ended, you were still stationed in Germany at that time?

BH:

Yes, we were still in Germany, and that's when they decided to let the people with high points return first in rotation, and they split our unit up. The ones with the higher points were sent to staging areas near the ports.

I didn't have quite as many [points]. The rest of us were assigned to another evacuation hospital in Stuttgart, Germany. There we were set up in the Robert Bosch Hospital, which was a very modern hospital. The Germans had part of it, and we had part of it. Finally, we got orders to go to Le Havre [France] for our return home.

HT:

And when was that?

BH:

For me, that was in about November.

HT:

November of 1945.

BH:

Forty-five, yes.

HT:

Were you thinking about leaving the [Army] Nurse Corps at that time, or had you decided—

BH:

Oh, yes. Everybody was real anxious to get home. When we joined the army, and if we wanted to return to our original civilian jobs, they were supposed to give them back to us. So I got home in November of '45. Then I went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to my hospital, and I worked in surgery there for a short while. Then I had a chance to go back to Portsmouth, Ohio, and help two young surgeons set up another hospital in my hometown. They had purchased this hospital from a very old doctor that had his own personal hospital. I set up the operating rooms.

After a time I went out to Phoenix, Arizona, with some friends and did private duty nursing for a while and making up my mind as to what I wanted to do. I was accepted in college out at [University of California at] Berkeley. Then I decided I was never a real good student, and I decided I'd come back into the army. That's when I went back into the army, in 1948.

HT:

So you rejoined in 1948?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

When you got out the first time, what was your rank, do you recall?

BH:

It was a lieutenant.

HT:

First lieutenant?

BH:

Yes, but then they promoted us to captain by a battlefield promotion on separation.

HT:

What made you decide to rejoin the army?

BH:

Retirement benefits, for one thing. I didn't want to have to worry about walking down the hall with a bedpan in one hand and a cane in the other when I got to be seventy. I did it for the security.

HT:

Good reasons.

BH:

And I'd definitely made up my mind this is what I wanted, and I've never been sorry.

HT:

After you rejoined in 1948, where were some of the places you were stationed?

BH:

I went to Percy Jones [Army Hospital] in Battle Creek, Michigan, general hospital. It was the old Kellogg Hospital. It was a general hospital, but I preferred smaller hospitals. So I signed up, volunteered for overseas again, and went to Germany in 1948. I went for two years. I went to Heidelberg. We were only supposed to stay two years, but it was close to three years because Korea broke out.

HT:

Were you ever stationed in Korea?

BH:

No.

HT:

But I know you went to the Orient later on.

BH:

I had orders to go to Korea. Then on a physical, I came up with a possible cancer so they red-flagged me and I didn't have to go to Korea, but then a couple years later I went to Japan.

HT:

During the Korean War, was there much difference—how to phrase this? Were any of your nursing friends stationed in Korea, and how did they react to the situation over there as opposed to the way it was in Europe during World War II?

BH:

I can't remember if any of my friends were stationed in Korea, offhand.

HT:

So you were stationed in Europe during the early fifties.

BH:

Yes, in Heidelberg [Germany], 130th Station Hospital.

HT:

And where did you go after you left Heidelberg?

BH:

I went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, from '52 to '55. They closed up Camp Atterbury, and I was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas. From Fort Riley, Kansas, I went to Brooke Army Medical Center for advanced nursing administration school.

HT:

While you were in Indiana and Kansas, you were still doing general duty nursing.

BH:

Yes. They could put me anyplace, and I'd work.

HT:

Right. Which did you enjoy more, being stateside or overseas?

BH:

Oh, I enjoyed overseas as much as stateside.

HT:

Because you've been a variety of places. That's wonderful. Were you transferred, or did you always ask for transfers?

BH:

No. They transferred you automatically. [BH added later: We were given the opportunity to list our preferences but we did not always get what we wanted.]

HT:

Every couple of years.

BH:

Yes. Then from Fort Sam, from that school, I went back to Fort Knox. I was at Fort Knox for maybe three and a half or four years. Then I was sent to Japan.

HT:

That's where you met Gracie Roberts in Camp Zama.

BH:

Yes, Camp Zama.

HT:

And what kind of work did you do over in Japan?

BH:

I was supervisor of the outpatient department.

HT:

After you left Brooke to receive administration-type duty, you sort of left the general duty nursing and became an administrator.

BH:

Yes, and became a supervisor in administration.

HT:

Did you like that as opposed to general duty nursing?

BH:

I'd rather have general duty. I didn't have all the headaches. [I missed the patient contact.]

HT:

But somebody has to do it.

BH:

Yes. I was in Japan two and a half years when I had orders to come home. I was scheduled to go to Fort Riley, Kansas. But the chief nurse at Fort Knox, I had worked with her before, and she was getting ready to retire. She talked Washington into changing my orders from Fort Riley to go back to Fort Knox, since I knew the situation and had helped move when the new hospital was opened. She had enough clout that she got me back to Fort Knox. I stayed at Fort Knox until I retired. I retired as assistant chief nursing service.

HT:

In 1964, I think you said.

BH:

So I was at Fort Knox three times.

HT:

You were in for a total of about twenty-two years.

BH:

Twenty-two years, yes.

HT:

What kind of changes did you see in the nurse corps during that time?

BH:

Well, they admitted men to the nurse corps. That was probably about the biggest change.

HT:

This is a question I haven't asked you yet, but during your time, did you ever see any kind of discrimination against you personally or against other women in the military because they were women?

BH:

Oh, during the Korean War, they recalled some of the reserves, and there was one doctor who was very, very bitter about being recalled, and he made it rough for the nurses. That was about all. They used to brag, “Oh, yeah, join the reserves, and you get a full day's pay,” you know, a couple of days a month? But then when they get recalled, they weren't happy.

HT:

Now, were women recalled as well as men?

BH:

Nurses, yes.

HT:

Nurses were recalled.

BH:

I have a friend from Columbus, Ohio, who was recalled. She was very bitter. She'd been sent to Hawaii. She was very bitter about it.

HT:

Now, they were recalled for what length of time?

BH:

As far as I know, for the time they were needed for Korea.

HT:

For the duration. Interesting. In general, tell me about your social life. What did you nurses do for fun during your overseas duty, during World War II?

BH:

Well, we dated, went to the movies, dances. Of course, we could travel a lot after the occupation, and I traveled to Paris and Spain. I took a cruise on the Mediterranean. I got to Egypt and Turkey and Greece. Then in Japan, another nurse and I took space available flights from Tokyo and went to the Philippines, to Okinawa; Bangkok; New Delhi, India; and Hong Kong.

HT:

So you did quite a bit of traveling during your twenty-two years.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

That's amazing.

BH:

I've been almost around the world but not quite.

HT:

That's wonderful. It truly is. And what is your favorite place? Or do you have one?

BH:

I don't really have a favorite place.

HT:

Were you ever able to revisit some of the places you had been during World War II?

BH:

Yes. I got back to Paris. But of course, the United States is the best place of all.

HT:

This is going back to World War II days. What were some of your favorite songs and dances and movies from that period of time? Do you recall?

BH:

Oh, my. That's so long ago. That's so long ago.

HT:

What impact do you think the military had on your life in the long term? I know you stayed in for twenty-two years. Most of the ladies I've talked to stayed in for just a short period of time, but you made a career of it so your experiences were a little bit different. What kind of impact did being in the military have on your life?

BH:

It was my job, my career, and I did the best I could whatever assignment I had.

HT:

I'm sure if you hadn't been in the military, your life would have been quite different. You just mentioned all those places you traveled to visit that you probably would never have had the opportunity otherwise.

BH:

No, I would never.

HT:

When you got out, right after you came back from Europe, from World War II, were you encouraged by family and friends to stay at home and not reenter the service? What kind of pressure did they put on you?

BH:

Well, they really didn't put any pressure. They didn't know what to do with me. I was the first one to have left home, and I was gone for three years. Everything had changed. My younger brothers and sisters had grown up. It was just different. No one talked your language.

HT:

Did you feel kind of out of sorts when you first got back?

BH:

No, not out of sorts.

HT:

I've talked to a couple of women who said they felt kind of strange, having been in a very disciplined environment for a length of time. Then they came out, and they had all this freedom, and I guess they didn't know what to do with it and they felt kind of lost for a little while, and they missed not having that discipline. But I guess being a nurse, you always had discipline, even from the time you—

BH:

Yes, and we had discipline in our homes, too, growing up that they don't have now, younger people didn't have.

HT:

Can you describe your adjustment to civilian life the first time you got out of the military and also the second time, when you retired? What was your adjustment like?

BH:

Well, I'd say it was kind of hard to adjust. When I got out the first time, I was undecided what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to get back and obey the house rules of the family—

HT:

So did you live at home?

BH:

Yes, until I went to Cincinnati for a while. Then when I retired the second time, [BH added later: I moved in with my widowed mother. After she passed away I moved to North Carolina in 1975].

About 1980, I decided I wanted to do some volunteer work. So I found work with the [American] Cancer Society, I went in every day I was in town and did office work, no nursing but office-type work, took care of their mail, their new donations and new deposits.

HT:

When you retired in 1964, did you ever do any nursing after that?

BH:

Yes. In a small hospital in my hometown, Portsmouth, I did relief nursing for the emergency room, registered nurse two days a week and for the pediatric nurse two days a week, jobs that no one else wanted but I liked them. I worked there maybe eight years part time.

HT:

But just part time?

BH:

Yes, four days a week.

HT:

I don't think we've discussed this, but how has nursing changed in the last fifty years in your eyes?

BH:

You don't want to get me started on that. You don't want to get me started on that.

HT:

Well, you can tell me briefly what your thoughts are.

BH:

It's changed a hundred percent. Nurses don't take care of patients, they take care of the machines nowadays. You walk through a hospital now and you see the condition of the patients—well, then, too, I've had my share of being a patient. I've had four major cancer operations so I've had my share of being a patient, and I know what care you don't get.

HT:

And you probably can remember the exact amount of care you gave your patients.

BH:

Yes. [BH added later: I realize the entire medical picture has changed so I try not to be critical. Modern day surgery, care, and equipment is so different.]

HT:

Not receiving it now makes quite a bit of difference. Well, if we can backtrack a little bit to World War II, what was the mood of the country like in those days, do you recall?

BH:

I wasn't in the country. I was out of the country during those days.

HT:

Well, before you left, after Pearl Harbor in 1941? Of course, you left fairly soon after that. What was the feeling of the country at that time, do you recall?

BH:

I never much thought about how the country felt.

HT:

And do you recall who your heroes or heroines were from—

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

HT:

Before we changed the tape, Major Heath, we were talking about your heroes and heroines, and you were talking about Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt. Can you tell me a bit of your thoughts about her?

BH:

Well, I just think she was a very outstanding person, and I think she was very much interested in the United States with all that she did and all the places that she went.

HT:

And what about President Roosevelt?

BH:

I think he was a great person, really.

HT:

And you mentioned that you met General Patton because you were in his unit. Did you meet any other generals such as General Eisenhower while you were in the service?

BH:

I never met General Eisenhower, but during my second trip overseas, I had to do private duty care for two generals. One I had taken care of him in an emergency. Then when he had to have surgery later on, my commanding officer called me wanting to know if I would be willing to take care of him again. I said, “Well, sure.” He said, well then, he'd have the surgery, but he wanted me to take care of him. He [the general] was with the troops that had gone all through the same places that I had. We had a lot to talk about.

HT:

And who was this general?

BH:

I'm not going to give you his name.

HT:

Oh, okay. All right. And did you have a chance to meet anyone else who was well known?

BH:

Well, Bob Hope.

HT:

Oh, okay.

BH:

The USO [United Service Organizations], Adolph Menjou, the USO. That was in Sicily. That was the only time I ever saw any USO shows.

HT:

I would imagine the USO shows were quite well received.

BH:

Oh, yes. Bob Hope was very well received.

HT:

Of course, I saw Bob Hope on TV for years. Were his shows like that?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

And what about President Harry Truman? Do you have any thoughts about him?

BH:

No.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be an independent person?

BH:

Very.

HT:

Have you always been that way?

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Do you think that's one of the reasons you joined the military or decided to make it a career, because this was not a very common thing for women to do back in those days.

BH:

No. And years ago, nurses, for some reason, didn't have a good reputation, civilian ones.

HT:

Oh, really?

BH:

My family didn't want me to go into nurse's training to begin with. There was always some kind of stigma attached to nurses.

HT:

I've heard about WACs not having a very good reputation.

BH:

This went way back in civilian nursing.

HT:

I had never heard of that. Do you know who started it or why?

BH:

I have no idea. I think it was ignorance probably.

HT:

And you proved them wrong.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

I think that's changed now. I know nurses in the fifties and sixties had real good reputations. Maybe that changed after the war in Korea and that sort of thing. Now I think nurses, their reputation is that they're overworked and underpaid.

Would you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trailblazer because you did join the nurse corps?

BH:

No. Just a common, ordinary person.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

BH:

Not much. Not like someone radical.

HT:

From the seventies. How do you feel about women being in combat positions these days? During the Gulf War, women actually flew combat aircraft and that sort of thing.

BH:

I can't see women with a family in the service. In the first place, their main interest is going to be in the family and not in the army. It was horrible to look out on the post and see all these pregnant women wearing fatigues out on the exercise field, PT [physical training] with the men. I just can't see it. But that's life now.

HT:

Things have changed considerably in the last fifty years. Right.

BH:

Yes.

HT:

Well, Major Heath, we've covered a variety of topics this afternoon. Can you think of anything that we haven't covered that you would like to add to the interview?

BH:

No.

HT:

I may have asked this before, but can you think of any unusual things that happened to you while you were overseas, any interesting stories?

BH:

I've had a very uneventful life, really.

HT:

I wouldn't say that. You've been to a lot of different places and seen quite a bit of different things.

BH:

I'm not a superlative person. I don't speak in superlatives.

HT:

Well, it's been wonderful listening to your story of twenty-two years in the military. It's been quite a life. You've seen quite a bit.

BH:

I'd do it again.

HT:

No regrets?

BH:

No regrets. I'm really thankful.

HT:

Well, it was interesting. You probably did not have many dull moments at all.

BH:

No.

HT:

And I'm assuming it's very gratifying helping so many people who were wounded and sort of patching them up.

BH:

Yes. Yes. Very much.

HT:

And it was never difficult for you to take care of the wounded boys and that sort of thing, I assume?

BH:

You had to be sensible.

HT:

It sounds like you worked with a bunch of wonderful people.

BH:

It wasn't that I was not sympathetic. I was. But then, you had to be level-headed, too.

HT:

You had to keep your wits about you because you'd be overwhelmed, I assume if you saw all this that was going on. That's wonderful. Well, again, thank you so much for the interview. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.

BH:

It's been interesting. I would do the same again.

[End of interview]