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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Patricia Chamings, 2007

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Object ID: WV0378.5.001

Description: Primarily discusses Chamings' nursing education, teaching, and thirty years of service with the Air National Guard.

Summary:

Chamings mentions her childhood in Florida; her mother's nursing career; her nursing education at Orange Memorial Hospital School and the University of Florida; and her early nursing jobs in a community hospital in Florida and at a summer camp in Vermont.

Chamings primarily discusses her career in the Air National Guard, including her decision to join with a friend while teaching at Vanderbilt University, training at the local VA hospital, traveling to Arkansas to train, and going inactive when the hospital was closed. She focuses on her duties as an air evacuation nurse with the Tennessee Guard from 1974 to 1984, including the training, tests, schedule, crews, and temporary duty assignments outside the state. Chamings also describes recruiting a Guard unit at Robins AFB in Georgia, her active duty assignment during Operation Desert Storm, and Dan Qualye's visit while she was at Eglin AFB. She briefly mentions later assignments at WRight-Patterson AFB and the Pentagon.

Other topics include Chaming's reflections on the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro during her time there from 1985 to 1990, especially its strengthening in gerontology and anesthesiology; her leadership in the Association of Air National Guard Nurses; and her opinion of women in combat.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Patricia Ann Chamings 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:

Okay, today is Friday, January 26, 2007, and the time is 2:20 in the afternoon. My name is Hermann Trojanowski and I'm at the home of Patricia Ann Chamings in Greensboro, North Carolina, to conduct an oral interview history interview for the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG]. Dr. Chamings, thank you so much for talking with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it. Could you give me your full name, and we'll see how you sound on the tape recorder?

Patricia Chamings:

You had it right. Patricia Ann Chamings.

HT:

Well, Pat, can you tell me some biographical information about yourself such as when and where you were born?

PC:

I was born in Lakeland, Florida, on June 21, 1940.

HT:

And is that where you grew up, in Lakeland?

PC:

Actually, no. We—we lived there a year or two and then my parents moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, and they were there for probably two years. My sister was born in Williamsburg, and then we moved back to Leesburg, Florida, and I grew up in Leesburg. Went to school there.

HT:

And where is Leesburg?

PC:

Leesburg is between Orlando and Ocala on Highway 27 and 441.

HT:

Okay. Can you tell me something about your parents and siblings?

PC:

My parents—my mother was a nurse, and my father was a citrus broker, and I had one brother and one sister, both of whom are younger than me. My sister is two years younger, and my brother was seven years younger; and he died in 1998 of a heart attack.

HT:

And what is a citrus broker?

PC:

What's a citrus broker?

HT:

Yes.

PC:

They buy and sell fruit.

HT:

Okay.

PC:

And so, he, you know, would buy oranges and grapefruit and whatever and then in the summer watermelons and peaches.

HT:

And your mom, you said she was a nurse?

PC:

She's a nurse, and she graduated from the same nursing school that I went to. She graduated in 1939, and I graduated in 1961, but she didn't work until 1949, and then she worked as a nurse until she was sixty-five years old.

HT:

And what was her specialty?

PC:

Well, she did administration for a while, was the director of nursing at the small hospital in Leesburg, Young's Community Hospital, I guess that's what the name of it was. And then, she worked twenty years in a doctor's office. And then she went down to Belle Glade, Florida, when she was about sixty and worked down there in a general hospital just on a medical surgical unit for about—until she retired. Well, no, for about three years, and then she moved back and worked in Lake Community Hospital for a couple of years.

HT:

Now, did her being a nurse have any influence on your choice of careers?

PC:

Well, she—yes, as a matter of fact. She wanted me to be a nurse, and I did not know what I wanted to be. My high school math teacher wanted me to be a math person, and I didn't really know. I was fairly insecure as a teenager and didn't really know what I wanted. So I said to Mother when she told me she wanted me to go to nursing school—she thought I would be good at that—“Well, if I go there and I don't like [it], I can quit after six months, right?” And she said, “Right.” So I went to nursing school, and, of course, I liked it and I've been in it since 1958.

HT:

A good long time, and what about—you just mentioned that you liked math in high school. So that must have been your favorite subject, I guess?

PC:

Well, no, history was my favorite subject, but I was good in math and science except for physics; and the physics professor didn't like girls in his class, and so he talked dirty and embarrassed us and did all kinds of stuff. So I think all of us dropped out of his class and took something else.

HT:

So after you graduated from high school, is that when - that's when you decided to go into nursing school, is that correct?

PC:

Well, then I went directly—after the summer went to nursing school, starting in September of 1958, and graduated from there in August of 1961. I went to Orange Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Orlando, Florida.

HT:

And what was it like being in nursing school in those days in the late fifties and early sixties?

PC:

Well, I don't exactly know how to explain it. It was—of course, I didn't know what to expect. We had classes. The first six months we mostly had classes in, you know, some skills classes. We were busy forty hours a week doing something, and lived in a dormitory and ate in the hospital cafeteria and, of course, I didn't have any money or a car. The first year we were there none of us could have a car I don't think, but after that a few people had cars. So we got around town on the weekends. And after the six months, then we were working on the units, and we had our class schedule integrated with our work schedule, but we also worked some evening shifts. And then as the years progressed, we covered all the shifts. So we were busy forty hours a week, and, you know, some of us were always working weekends, and we had different kinds of schedules.

HT:

And who ran the hospital? It wasn't affiliated with a like a sister—was it sort of a community hospital?

PC:

It was a—I guess a county hospital.

HT:

County.

PC:

Orange County, Florida. And of course, they had the usual contingent of administrators, and the nursing school was separate from the administration of the hospital. So, we had our own director of nursing and instructional staff and so forth, but when we were on the units, we interacted a lot with the head nurses and supervisors there because they were, of course, in charge of us.

HT:

I imagined eventually you did rotations in the various units of the hospital?

PC:

We did. We were on all the surgical units, the medical units, the obstetrical units. We had rotations through the operating room, and in 1958 all the hospitals in Florida were still segregated. So from time to time we would rotate through the black units and then we'd be on the white units. And we affiliated for psychiatry at DePaul Hospital in New Orleans [Louisiana], and for pediatrics at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. And Charity Hospital had a thousand beds—not all of it was pediatrics, but about, you know, they had about two hundred to three hundred pediatric patients—and one side was white, and one side was black. I was assigned on the black side, which was fine, and had two medical schools that rotated through there: University of Louisiana [LSU] and Tulane [University], Tulane and LSU, and so every other night those residents and students would be in charge, and we worked with them.

HT:

So how long did you stay in New Orleans?

PC:

Six months.

HT:

Six months. Did you enjoy it?

PC:

I loved it. We were there from January to June, and so it was cold and we got in to the rainy season, but we were there for Mardi Gras, and certainly on Saturday nights we were usually down in the French Quarter.

HT:

I'm assuming it was a three-year program, is that correct?

PC:

Correct.

HT:

And did you receive a diploma afterwards or a BS [Bachelor of Science] in Nursing?

PC:

A diploma.

HT:

Diploma.

PC:

And after the diploma, one of my classmate's mothers was the director of nursing at a county hospital in Bradenton, Florida, and she offered as many of us as wanted jobs a job. And, again, I had no real issue, and so I said, “Sure, I'll go down there and work,” and so I did and worked in Bradenton at Manatee Memorial Hospital for a year in the emergency room, is where I got assigned. And I had no clue that I wanted to do emergency room nursing, but I worked there a year, and in 1961 I was the only person in this emergency room.

HT:

No doctors?

PC:

No doctors assigned. There was one doctor on call, and then if the patients came in, if you had a family doctor that's who I would call to see what—you know, to come to see you. And it was, you know, we had a couple of famous doctors. One doctor, Smith[?], who helped with the development of the Smith-Potts, or the Blalock-Smith, pediatric surgical procedure, heart surgery, and he didn't like being called at home, and so he would come by if he was on call and say, “Now, honey, if you don't call me I'll send you chocolates tomorrow.” I'd say, “I can't promise that.” But if nobody came in that didn't have a doctor—So one time he sent this five-pound box of chocolate down there which I didn't deserve, because I would have called him. [laughs] Anyway, that was—it was fun but scary.

HT:

I can imagine. That's a lot of responsibility for one person.

PC:

For a new graduate. We had one really surgical kind of table. So we did all our suturing and casts in that room, and we had four little medical beds on one side, and then we had these two other little rooms that we could stick people if we had to. But whoever would come in, I would have to do the history and, you know, call the doctor, do the vital signs. Then I had to clean up after they left. I had to change the linens. I had to clean the instruments if we sewed them up, and sterilize them, and they don't have to do any of that now. And if some big thing came in like an automobile accident, I'd have to call the supervisor to come help me because I was overwhelmed. After a couple of months, they wanted me to collect the money, too, and I said, “No.” So they built a little box outside the emergency room for the person to collect the money. I said, “I am not collecting the money.”

HT:

That's just unbelievable.

PC:

I learned a lot.

HT:

I could imagine so. So what was your next—where did you go next after that?

PC:

Well, next I went to the University of Florida and worked on my bachelor's degree in nursing.

HT:

Did that take you four years, since you already had a lot of experience in nursing?

PC:

At the University of Florida at the time I went, they were on a trimester system. So it took me five trimesters. I started in August of '62 and graduated in April of '64, but let me tell you one other funny store about the ER [emergency room].

HT:

Okay.

PC:

You know, these doctors don't like to be called. This woman came in on Sunday night between nine and ten o'clock, and it's really kind of slow, and she had a little bit of a headache, but all of her vital signs were good, and there was nothing obviously wrong with her. But when I looked in her eyes, she wasn't exactly there, you know what I mean? She was kind of vacant. So I called the doctor and he said, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” I said, “Well, if you're not going to come see her, I think you need to admit her to the hospital.” And in 1962 you could do that, because insurance wasn't the bugaboo that it is now. So we admitted her, and by 3:00 a.m. she was on a respirator. She had an encephalitis [inflammation of the brain], and, you know, she lived in a trailer by herself, which was what made me reluctant to send her home, but I couldn't pinpoint anything that was going on except that she had a little vacancy in her eyes.

HT:

So if you had not taken care of her, what would have happened?

PC:

She'd have died. She would have stopped breathing.

HT:

Amazing.

PC:

So anyway, then in August of '62 I moved up to Gainesville to go to the university, and did that for five trimesters. Worked over the summer, and then started my master's program. They had just gotten approval for a master's program, and they were recruiting students, and so I said, “Sure.” I mean I always made good grades, and so I was an attractive candidate. I graduated with honors from the university.

HT:

Now, did you—you did nothing but schooling during that period of time?

PC:

Well, that's not exactly true. The first six months I was there, from September to about February, I was the night supervisor in the student infirmary, and I worked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from midnight until 8 A.M., and I had classes on Monday all day and I just about died before I got through the end of that day. The reason I was the night supervisor—because I was still a relatively new graduate—the other nurse was a black nurse, and so she couldn't be the supervisor, which I thought was very unfair. Anyway, after six months I got several scholarships, and so I was able to quit working and only study for the next four trimesters, which was a luxury.

HT:

See, did you get any scholarships to help you with the financing?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

To go to school?

PC:

Well, when I started the tuition was only ninety-three dollars a semester, and so all I needed was rent money and food money and stuff like that, and I earned that by working three nights a week. After that—and I got a scholarship, you know, a state scholarship and that paid all my expenses.

HT:

And so after you got your master's degree, what was your next adventure?

PC:

Well, the scholarship I was talking about was still for the bachelor's.

HT:

Oh, the bachelor's, okay.

PC:

Right, and then I worked the summer on a specialty unit at Shands Teaching Hospital, and then started my master's, and I got—they had educational traineeships then, and so I had a traineeship, and I also was a graduate assistant and helped teach public health, and I was making more money going to school for my master's degree than I'd ever made so far working full time. So after I did that, got my master's degree, that took three trimesters. So I graduated from there in August '64—'65, excuse me, and I worked for two or three months as a research assistant for somebody that was doing some research, and then I got offered a position as—they called them a Nurse II, which was a supervisor. So I was responsible for the general surgical unit, and we had forty-two patients and twenty-eight staff, and at the University of Florida then we had twenty-four-hour responsibility, and we didn't have any supervisors on any other shifts, just one person. So I did that for four years, I guess, three or four years.

HT:

And I know you got your Ph.D. later on. When did you receive that? Do you recall what year that was?

PC:

Oh, yeah, I got—I finished in '78, but in 1969 I moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

HT:

Oh.

PC:

And the summer of '69 I was a camp nurse in Vermont, which was a great experience, and we had some adventures there as well.

HT:

A camp nurse, I'm assuming you mean like summer camp?

PC:

Yeah.

HT:

Okay.

PC:

Summer camp, and we were—I had a friend, and we both decided we were going to go to Vanderbilt [University, in Nashville, Tennessee]. She was going to a doctoral program, and I was going to teach, and so before we went we'd be camp nurses. So we called up this camp that had advertised in the American Journal of Nursing and talked to him on the phone, and he said, “Well, you all sound just like the nurses we'd like, so you're hired if your references check out.” Of course, they did, and previously they had had two nurses from Florida that wore white uniforms and were very kind of formal, and we asked him if we had to wear uniforms, and he said we could wear whatever we wanted to. So we went up there with two dogs and I think we took one uniform each, but we didn't intend to wear them unless he made us, and so we wore shorts and whatever everybody else wore, and we got that camp organized.

When the campers came through we checked their health records, and we noted all the ones that had allergies or other problems, we had one diabetic. And, you know, he said it was the first summer they hadn't had anybody hospitalized, but we also had an outbreak of food poisoning. So we took care of about 120 kids from time to time. We kept the sickest ones in the infirmary, and we organized the counselors to check on them every hour and to take fluids, and if anybody started running a temperature, we'd move them up to the infirmary. So we got over that, and about four weeks later we had the same thing again because the chlorinator had broken and it was pouring raw sewage into the lake, and half these kids got sick again, so.

HT:

Because they were swimming in the lake, I assume?

PC:

Yeah, well, drinking the water, because there was a seal that broke between the lake water and the drinking water, and it was contaminating it, and so if you drank water you got sick. I didn't drink much water, so I didn't get sick. But CDC [Centers for Disease Control] was up there checking us out, and we still didn't have any children hospitalized, but several folks around the lake did have to take their kids to the hospital.

HT:

Amazing.

PC:

So that was a really nice experience.

HT:

And where in Vermont was this?

PC:

Ely, which was on Lake Fairfield [Lake Fairlee], and it was right on the border between Vermont and Connecticut, a beautiful area.

HT:

How do you spell Ely?

PC:

E-l-y.

HT:

Oh, Okay.

PC:

And when we finished camp we drove down to Nashville, Tennessee, and bought a house and moved in, started working. I was teaching at Vanderbilt.

HT:

Is that the first time you had actually taught?

PC:

I'd taught the last year I was at Florida.

HT:

Okay. And did you enjoy teaching?

PC:

Yeah. I did it from about 1967 until 19—2006.

HT:

Okay.

PC:

Yes. No, 2005. I retired December 31, 2005.

HT:

Well, I know eventually you joined the Air Force Reserve.

PC:

I did.

HT:

How did that come about?

PC:

Well, when I was in Florida I had a friend who was in the reserves, and she said we should check it out. So this friend that I was going to go Tennessee with, we decided to look into it, and so we called the recruiter and got all that stuff done, and before we left to Gainesville we had gone to Moody Air Force Base, which is in south Georgia, and had a physical, gotten all the scoop.

And then when we got to Nashville they had a hospital, a medical unit there, and it was at the air force base [Arnold Air Force Base] that was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But the commander was the chairman of the OB/GYN department [Obstetrics/Gynecology], and they had about—well, six nurses in the unit, but they only had one before we got on board. So we added two more. There were a hundred people in this unit, and shortly after we got accepted—which my commission—I was sworn in on April 29, 1970—they closed the base at Murfreesboro, and our unit was then training at the VA [Veteran's Administration] Hospital in Nashville, which is right across the street from the Vanderbilt University Hospital. And the medical students and the physicians have practices in both places.

And so then, you know, that lasted about a year, and [President] Richard Nixon, you know, closed down that unit, and so I was inactive for about a year and a half. I signed up for an Individual Mobilization Augmentee program, and they had us in another—By this time another friend that was on the faculty was also in the reserves, and so we were assigned to some unit, I forget, but to train at Little Rock Air Force Base, [Arkansas].

So one weekend on Friday afternoon we left Nashville and drove to Little Rock. Stopped in Memphis and had dinner. It was raining like cats and dogs. We got there very late in the evening, you know, after 10:00 [p.m.]. Worked all day Saturday and all day Sunday at Little Rock Hospital. Got in the car and drove back to Nashville, which is about an eight-hour drive, and on the way in to town we said, “Well, we ain't doing that again.” And so we [laughs] went inactive, and that lasted until 1974 when somebody told me that the AirEvac[uation] unit in the Tennessee Air National Guard had some vacancies. And so I went out there and checked that out, and at the time they had room for about eleven nurses, and I was number nine.

So, from 1974 until—I mean, yes, '74 till '84 I was in the Tennessee Air National Guard and flew AirEvac. Our mission was to evacuate wounded from close to the enemy lines, just behind the lines. So, we flew on C-130s and we practiced hot loading. We would get the patients ready in a mobile air staging facility and, then, load them up on the airplane, and we could load them, a patient, every thirty seconds.

HT:

And you were obligated to go active every year for a certain—

PC:

Two weeks.

HT:

Two weeks. You do it in the summertime, I think.

PC:

Right. One weekend a month and two weeks and some time during the year. Usually it was in the summer. And then in the flying squadron we had to fly at least twenty-four hours a year, but we were—we could fly forty-eight, and most of us flew forty-eight.

HT:

Did you ever think about going full time with the military?

PC:

No, because I liked what I was doing: teaching. And I also would get annoyed with the military because it was a lot of hurrying up and waiting, and I figured I'd be court-martialed pretty quickly if they had me there full time. Patience is not one of my better characteristics. [laughs]

HT:

Now, you never went overseas, I assume, did you?

PC:

No. With AirEvac we flew around a lot, so I got to the Azores [Islands] a couple of times, and we went to Newfoundland [Canada], and we—I mean we went to a lot of the bases in the West. Several times I flew active-duty AirEvac for two weeks at a time, and we would—we would fly twelve hours a day. I mean we would be on the airplane twelve hours. We were only in the air about eight, but we would go all over the country taking people various places.

HT:

Well, what kind of training did they give you so you could do all this?

PC:

For the original hospital unit I didn't have to do anything. You know, they just swore me in.

HT:

So no basic training, nothing like that?

PC:

I didn't do any of that, no. Now, after I got in—and I went in as a captain, because I went in when I had a master's degree. After that I think most people do have to go to some sort of officer's training school which is at least a week or two, and in 1975 I went to six weeks of flight training. That was down at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio [Texas], and we had six weeks of that and lots of academics and some simulated stuff, and then one airplane flight. It was not until I got into the Guard I figured out I got air sick, and so I would have to lie on my physicals every year. It said, “Do you get air sick?” And I'd say, “No,” and everybody in the unit knew. We laughed about whether it was a one-bag or a two-bag trip. [laughs] That was a sick-sack, not my luggage.

HT:

I'm assuming you didn't have to take any kind of physical either in order to be commissioned a captain at that point because you—they just swore you—

PC:

Any kind of a physical?

HT:

Right.

PC:

Yeah. Or physical training?

HT:

Well, yes, physical training, yes, I'm sorry.

PC:

To get in I didn't have to do any physical training, but annually we had to, you know, be able to run a mile in so many seconds or minutes, and, you know, this and that and the other things. So we did have to stay in shape. And they—of course, we had a flying physical every year, and every three years we had to go to the altitude chamber and, you know, it was pretty rigorous. I stayed in shape.

HT:

What did your friends and family think about you joining the Tennessee National Air Guard?

PC:

Well, I think they probably thought it was terrible, but I didn't ask them. I just told them, which is the way I usually do things. You know, I think they liked it by the end. When I first got in the military I was bored, and every month I'd say, “Well, I don't know if I want to do this,” and then my paycheck would come, and as small as it was, it was money that I didn't have before, and so I'd say, “Well, I'll stay another month.” And when it got to be ten years, I knew I was there for twenty, and then I ended up staying thirty because I made full colonel before I was in twenty years, and, you know, they don't kick you out until till you're sixty.

HT:

So you had the option to leave? I mean you could have left one month after?

PC:

I could have left any time.

HT:

OK, so you were not tied down to a certain length of time?

PC:

No. No. I mean I signed up for two years, and after that I never had to sign up for anything again, but you could leave any time you wanted. It was not like during the—when the men were drafted, they had to stay.

HT:

Right. Well, where were some of the places that you were stationed when you went around during your active duty days?

PC:

Well, in the Guard we did some training in Buffalo, New York, two weeks. We did some at Hanscom Air Force Base just outside of Boston. In all these things, usually we would have some sessions, days when we would set up mobile air staging facilities and have airplanes flying in and out and load patients and treat them in the air and stuff like that. A lot of our stuff was simulated.

HT:

That's what I was going to ask you if some of it was simulated.

PC:

Simulated. And sometimes we could do our active duty—well, we had to be on active duty if we went out of the country. So on the Azores trips—and I did a couple of those, we had to be on active duty, and sometimes it could be extra or it could be part of your two weeks. Most of us, if we got extra days we, you know, just got extra pay, and on one of the Azores trips it was in 1989—'80, I think, when the weekend of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt and had those raids succeeded, we probably would have been flown to Germany and brought back some of the hostages, but as it was, we flew back with a planeload of dependents: crying babies and, you know, tired mothers, and people like that. But that's what we were there for, so we did it.

HT:

Well, it sounds like you enjoyed your work for the most part.

PC:

I did. I loved it. Now, one of your questions here says, “Did you ever have any fearful experiences?” And some of them were on airplanes. You know, when we would have to land on three engines and, you know, little things like that. We, also, you know, on our Wednesday night sessions, would do a bunch of touch-and-goes, which they weren't supposed to do with passengers on board, but, you know, we were just the flight crew back there taking care of simulated patients. So they—we did it, and it wasn't always calm.

HT:

Now, I've never heard the term “Wednesday night sessions,” before—

PC:

Well, we had to fly forty-eight or twenty-four times a year, and they would fly every Wednesday night and then some weekends. So we always had one weekend trip a month. So usually with the ten years I was in the Guard, I was usually doing something like that two weekends a month: one for our regular training, and one for flying, and then I flew several other Wednesday nights. Some people went to prayer meeting. We went to the base and flew.

HT:

Well, I'm assuming that you worked with both men and women most of the time, is that correct?

PC:

Oh, yeah.

HT:

So do you think you were treated equally the majority of the time?

PC:

Absolutely. Well, I mean, there was always some derogatory stuff going on with the men, and there were some women that slept around, but one of the things that we did, they always—you know, in our flight suits there are those green bags that look terrible on everybody, and so the guys were always talking about how we looked, and they would rate us. And so one Saturday we decided that we were going to rate the flight crew when they got on the airplane Sunday morning, and, of course, we told them we were going to do that, and we had these placards, and—that was when the movie Ten was out.

HT:

Yes.

PC:

So we had these placards and we were going to hold them up. We were all sitting on the side where they had to climb on board. All of them got on with their flight jackets tied around their waist, so we would, you know, have trouble rating. We rated them anyway. They were so embarrassed. We said, “Well, now you know how it feels.” The other thing is—and this is kind of ugly—but they had a rule that whoever had to use the Port-A-Potty first had to empty it, and, of course, the men could use the relief tube that was in the back, and the curtain in the Port-A-Potty were on in a stand back there by the relief tube. So, we decided to avoid all that. We learned how to empty our bladders in a cup and pour it down the relief tube, and so the only thing in the Port-A-Potty was whoever had a bad GI [gastrointestinal] system, [laughs] and that made them a little bit distressed, because we didn't eat the garbage they ate. We didn't have any of those problems.

HT:

Good heavens.

PC:

We had a lot of fun, but—

HT:

Sounds like it.

PC:

There was a lot of give and take.

HT:

Would you recall what the hardest thing you ever had to do while you were with the Guard—and this could be physically or emotionally?

PC:

Well, we had a couple of plane crashes.

HT:

Oh, gosh.

PC:

And so we lost some of our friends.

HT:

These were serious plane crashes.

PC:

Huh?

HT:

These were serious plane crashes?

PC:

Yeah. Well, I mean, one of them—there were four people on board, so four people died. It was just the flight crew and the load master, you know, the pilot, co-pilot, the navigator, and the load master, but they were our friends. And then another one, you know, a couple of people survived from that one. I think there were six people on that one, and they did something on landing and the plane flipped over and caught on fire. So, I think dealing with that and going to the funerals and all that stuff was probably the hardest. None of it was really hard. The altitude chamber was not pleasant. You know, they took you up to altitude and—

HT:

It was simulation, right? I've never been to altitude chamber. That's all simulated?

PC:

Well, no, this is real.

HT:

Oh, okay.

PC:

I mean they would—they had this chamber, and they have one at Brooks and they have one at Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base, Ohio], and we would go to one place or the other every three years. And, you know, they would take you up to altitude and then they would make you take off of your oxygen mask and follow their commands. What you're trying to do is recognize your symptoms of hypoxia, because if you are at altitude in an airplane and the oxygen system screws up, you need to be able to get on supplemental oxygen so that you can save the aircraft, and if you remember [professional golfer] Payne Stewart's airplane, that's what happened with that. You know, they all got hypoxic up there and didn't recognize it and they flew till they ran out of gas, and then they hit the ground. And so we would do that, and then they did a rapid decompression. Do you know what that is?

HT:

I do know.

PC:

Well, if the door blew off an airplane and you were at 30,000 feet, you know, then it would be a rapid decompression, and so they would do that to us, and we had to equalize the pressure in our ears and do that so that you didn't rupture an eardrum, and you had to do all this stuff pretty quickly. So the training was real, and was kind of scary. I was always nervous doing that, but I managed.

HT:

Now, the other people in your unit that were other nurses, of course, and doctors—were there other people?

PC:

In the Guard?

HT:

Yes.

PC:

In the flying unit we eventually had during the build up—and I forget exactly what years these started, but probably the early eighties we doubled the size of our unit, and so we went from eleven or twelve nurses to twenty-six, and then we had three times—we had about seventy-five medical technicians and then some administrative support people. So in our medical evacuation unit we didn't have any doctors, but on the base—at the Guard base—they had a bunch of doctors that were responsible for flight physicals and physicals for everybody in the unit and all that kind of stuff. Some dentists and all that kind of stuff. This was the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee National Guard, and we were the ones 118th Air Medical Evacuation Squadron. There are only two AirEvac squadrons in the country, and the other one is at Van Nuys [Army] Air Force Base.

HT:

How do you spell Van Nuys? V-a-n—

PC:

V-a-n N-u-y-s.

HT:

That's in California, isn't it?

PC:

Yes. It's V-a-n capital N-u-y-s.

HT:

That's right. Okay. Well, did you ever consider yourself to be in any kind of physical danger while with the Guard?

PC:

Only, you know, when the airplanes were not functioning on all engines.

HT:

[laughs] That would be kind of scary.

PC:

Right.

HT:

Did you have any embarrassing moments that you can recall or humorous moments?

PC:

Any embarrassing or humorous? We had lots of fun, and I'm sure I was embarrassed plenty of times, but I don't remember anything specific.

HT:

How about anything unusual ever happen on any of these flights or while you were on duty?

PC:

Nothing that I could know right now, but, again, we had lots of fun.

HT:

Now, I'm assuming when you went out on two weeks you were not in military mode twenty-four hours a day, so what did you do in your spare time while you were out?

PC:

Well, when we flew somewhere, our work was on the airplane, and so when we hit the ground we had free time. And depending on where we were, you know—if we were in El Paso, Texas, we usually went to Mexico on Saturday and shopped and bargained and drank a little tequila and stuff like that. And if were in Salt Lake City, Utah, we went skiing. If we were in Miami, Florida, we may have gone to the Everglades or, you know, done something like that. But the one time I remember we were at Homestead Air Force Base [Florida]. I wrote a third of my dissertation down there, and I got a good start on it, so I was able to get it finished after that.

HT:

But it sounds like you went to a lot of interesting places—

PC:

Oh, we did.

HT:

—during all of those years. Just wonderful.

PC:

We did. Yeah, and when we went to the Azores we stopped one night in Bermuda, and so we rode all over the island and stopped a number of places and ate scones, and talked all the way back on the bus about what scones might be good for, because we thought they were hard of rocks of things. [laughs] We thought of a bunch of things you could use scones for.

HT:

From that period of time, do you have any particular heroes or heroines that stick out in your mind—and that could be anybody?

PC:

Not particularly. I was very impressed with the nurses that I flew with on active duty, and, of course, I was kind of scared of them. They outranked me a bit, but, you know, they were hard-nosed about the safety issues and the kinds of things that you needed to do in emergencies, and so, you know, I attempted to perform pretty well, and I think I did, but I was impressed by them and also kind of scared of them.

HT:

And these were regular—

PC:

These were active-duty.

HT:

Active duty. Army Air Force?

PC:

Air Force. On AirEvac it's always Air Force.

HT:

Okay. Well, do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

And do you think—have you always been that way, or do you think being in the military thirty years, I think, you said or close to it helped make you that way?

PC:

Well, probably the military and all of my experiences and my education have moved me from an insecure teenager to a pretty secure adult, and, you know, I've had responsible jobs from the time I was a teenager. I was a lifeguard for three years every summer from sixteen to the time I went to nursing school. You know, when I was a camp nurse we also substituted as instructors in tennis and water skiing, and we accompanied the campers on trips and other outings so we were the lifeguards. And, you know, I've always been pretty responsible, and, so, you know, at twenty-four I had a supervisory position in nursing, and I've always done stuff like that.

HT:

Well, what kind of impact do you think military has on your life?

PC:

Well, of course, it's—I did it for thirty years. So it was my second job most of my career, and occasionally I would have third jobs, but always I had a second job with the military. And so I would have to keep up with my educational courses that the military had to have. I took Air War [College]. So, you know, with my second job I always had things to do, and usually I had responsible positions. Like in the Guard I was a flight instructor and a flight examiner, and I was the educational coordinator for the unit most of the ten years I was there. So I had to organize all the training sessions.

In 1984 I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and took a position at Emory University, and so I had to find another military position, and I commuted back to Nashville once or twice because I didn't want to mess up my continuation of my points. And then I interviewed with the commander of a new unit that was going to start at Robins Air Force Base—and this was the Detachment 3 of the 13th Contingency Hospital—and so I went to interview with him on the way out of town to go to Nashville for my Guard duty, and we talked for an hour or so, and I said, “Well, when are you going to make your decision about, you know, whether or not I can join the unit?” I was interviewing for the chief nurse position.

“Oh,” and he said, “I've already made it. You can have it if you want it.” [laughs]

I said, “Oh, Okay.”

And so he told me he had already hired a first sergeant, so I would have to interview with him. And, of course, the first sergeant told me that he was a package deal with his fiancée, and so the four of us basically started this unit. We recruited a hundred people in about six months, and we had twenty-six nurses. All of them had bachelor's degrees. It was a great experience, and I did that until 1997—'87, not '97; and then I accepted a mobilization augmentee position at Andrews Air Force Base, [Washington, DC] with the command nurse, and I did that from '87 until '92, I think, and then I did a lateral [move to] air desk—that was systems command, the material command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And I was with the command nurse there until '97, I think; and then I went to the Pentagon as IMA [Individual Mobilization Augmentee] to the chief nurse for REM, Reserve Emergency something or other. I forget what REM stands for. I did that until I retired.

HT:

So, you—

PC:

So, I went—the mobilization position you only did two weeks a year and three days a quarter, and the big change was that I went from weekend duty to I had to do them—do those days during the week. So, that got harder.

HT:

So some of these things you were doing long distance, because you were living here in Greensboro [North Carolina] during some of that time?

PC:

Well, I had to travel to those places—

HT:

Right, exactly.

PC:

—to do it.

HT:

That must have been kind of tough.

PC:

No, not usually, except when there were big snow storms. [laughs] Then sometimes getting home was a problem.

HT:

I could imagine. Did you drive to Andrews Air Force Base from Greensboro?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

Oh, my God.

PC:

Yes, five and a half hours.

HT:

That's a long—and you couldn't have driven to Wright Air Force Base.

PC:

I did.

HT:

Oh, my.

PC:

I didn't want to be up there without my car, especially for the two weeks.

HT:

Well, that's true.

PC:

And one time—well, 1993 I got stuck in Knoxville, Tennessee, for three days during that big blizzard, and I very carefully stopped at a motel with a restaurant. The restaurant never opened after Friday night, so Saturday night we had a ham sandwich from the Red Cross and Sunday the grocery store a mile up the road opened, and I got some carrots and yogurt, and Monday I managed to get up the road another eighty miles and stopped at a pizza place. Got home on Tuesday.

HT:

Oh, my goodness. Well, if you had to do it over again, would you join the military and do the same sort of thing?

PC:

Well, I think I would. I had a really good time, and you know I was not really committed until after ten years, and then I was in for twenty, and you know I made colonel before that, and I said, “Well, I might as well stay as long as I'm enjoying it,” and at age sixty, of course, you get some retirement. So, you know, it's helped out financially.

HT:

Well, how do you feel about women being in combat positions these days?

PC:

Well, I think if women are going to be in the military, they need to be available for whatever the military needs them for; and I'm sorry anybody has to be in combat, and I certainly wouldn't want to be in combat, but I think we need to keep ourselves in a position where we can do all the jobs that we're trained for.

HT:

And how do you feel about—of course, in the last couple of years we've had a lot of reserve units activated and that sort of thing, which we never had any problem in your day. How do you feel about that situation?

PC:

Well, I think it's riskier these days to get in the reserves, and that might have colored my willingness to do some of these things, but I managed to not get called up until Desert Storm, and I did get activated for that. I did. I was called on Friday night about ten o'clock, and I had a week to get to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. And I mean I was in the contingent of about two hundred people that showed up that week, and then we were responsible for making sure everybody was trained. And most of these people were nurses and some of them were medical technicians, but some of them were physicians, but we had to get them all up to snuff. And I was assigned as the assistant to the chief nurse, and so you know we had to—our mission was to double the size of the hospital, and so we had to make plans for moving out all the extraneous office equipment so that we can move beds into spaces to put patients. As it turned out we only got fifty patients from the war. Our most famous one was [Major] Rhonda Cornum, who was the army flight surgeon. Her husband was a flight surgeon in the air force and stationed at our place. So after they released her—she was in that helicopter crash and captured. After they released her they flew her to Eglin, and we had to re-break her arms to fix them, and it was sad.

HT:

And so how long were you activated?

PC:

Sixty-two days. Sixty-two days.

HT:

And that was in '91, I guess, is that right?

PC:

Yes, that was in '91, February.

HT:

And where were you working at that point?

PC:

Where was I assigned before then?

HT:

No, were you already retired by that time or?

PC:

Oh, no, I retired in 2000.

HT:

Well, 2000. Okay, so what were [you] doing on your regular job?

PC:

I was teaching at Vanderbilt. I mean at UNCG.

HT:

UNCG.

PC:

I was staying at UNCG from 1985 till '90. In the fall of '90 I was on leave of absence, and I came back and I taught a year and then I was activated in January of '91. Anyway.

HT:

Sixty-two days is a long time to be away.

PC:

Yes, it was.

HT:

It's a good long time.

PC:

Somebody else had to take my teaching slot, but it all worked out.

HT:

And so you spent the entire time at Eglin?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

Right.

PC:

Our most exciting thing there was [Vice President] Dan Quayle was coming to visit. So we had to go through the White House pre-visit work and plot out what would happen if an accident happened or somebody shot him or any of those things. I said, “Well, if he gets shot in the head you need to take him to Pensacola [Florida]. You don't want to come here, because we didn't have any neurosurgeons.” [laughs] But I worked with the Secret Service on doing all that stuff.

HT:

Gosh. And was he just on a regular fact finding visit or what was—

PC:

Say that again, now.

HT:

Was he on a regular fact finding visit or what was he doing at your base?

PC:

Making a speech.

HT:

Okay.

PC:

And I didn't get to hear that, but you know they were I think just politicking.

HT:

Well, you were quite involved with the Association of Air National Guard Nurses at one time?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

You were president and vice president, was that a positive experience?

PC:

Oh, yeah, and every year we met at AMSUS, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, and they would meet every fall somewhere. Usually in November in San Antonio or Washington or Anaheim [California]. Those were about the only places that could accommodate the number of people that were there, and so we were trying to improve the rank structure for nurses in the Guard. In most of the Guard units, a lieutenant colonel is the highest rank you can get as a nurse, and colonel was the highest rank you could get nationally as a nurse in the Guard anywhere, and so we now have a general's position and there probably are some colonels, but still mostly in the Guard there are only a few colonels, and they are commanders of units. The rest are lieutenant colonels, and that's one of the major reasons that I switched form the Guard to the reserves is because—so I could get rank, and I switched in '84, and I was promoted in '87.

HT:

Now, you came to UNCG I think in 1985, is that correct?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

And you came from Atlanta?

PC:

From Emory.

HT:

From Emory, right. Well, can you tell me something about your time at UNCG? What was it like in the mid eighties?

PC:

Well, when I came to the School of Nursing in '85 they had just gotten two computers. We did not have computers in the School of Nursing. The budget, operating budget, was $39,000 a year for the whole school, and by the time I stepped out of the deanship it was only up to $42,000. So it's improved significantly—significantly since then, but I think the School of Nursing was sort of step-child, and, of course, I followed a dean who had been there since the founding.

HT:

Dean [Eloise] Lewis.

PC:

Right, and it turned out to be sort of an interim position. I was only there five years.

HT:

What was the school like in those days? I'm talking about the whole university, because it was much smaller than it is, I assume.

PC:

Well, the deans were a pretty close-knit group. We didn't have a provost. That position was called vice chancellor. Fred Drake was the financial vice president—and, of course, he died some years later of throat cancer—but he was adamant about all of the parking being open. So there were no designated spaces for anybody, even if you had to go out half the day and come back you had to look for a parking space. And so some of the philosophy seemed kind of tight. You know, it wasn't very flexible.

HT:

Now, you were there during Chancellor [William] Moran's tenure?

PC:

Yes.

HT:

What was he like? Do you recall?

PC:

Well, I thought he was kind of stiff.

HT:

Did he get along with the faculty, for the most did he get along?

PC:

He wasn't very accessible.

HT:

And I kind of remember there was a vice chancellor of academic affairs, name of Elizabeth Zinser, was she there when you were there?

PC:

She was.

HT:

I could remember there was a big controversy about her leaving, going to Gallaudet [University] and coming back, and there was just all kinds of—

PC:

Right. Yeah, I was there through that.

HT:

How did the School of Nursing change during your tenure if you recall?

PC:

Well, for the first time we were able to establish some scholarships. We didn't have any scholarships before, and I was pretty good at raising money. We started a board of visitors. Probably some things didn't change, but we sort of got more on a scholarship kind of path and developed some research grants. We got some of those. We had a director of research for the first time. The size didn't change particularly, but—

HT:

How about the caliber of the students?

PC:

They've always been—they're pretty good.

HT:

Pretty good. They've always been pretty good students.

PC:

Now, I think we had some—we did change the curriculum the second year I was there. We put in an emphasis on gerontology, because with the way the country was going in terms of aging, we needed to prepare our students for that. We started the anesthesia program which now is our biggest graduate program, and, you know, we first started with Baptist [Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center] first, and that was in '88. Then in 1990 we brought on Raleigh School of Anesthesia, and now we have over a hundred students in the graduate program that are anesthesia students, which is the biggest program.

HT:

Wow, I did not know that. That's wonderful. You mentioned Baptist. That's Baptist—

PC:

Baptist Hospital, Wake Forest.

HT:

In Wake Forest.

PC:

And they don't have a nursing program over there, and I think Sandra Ovellette—her name was Maree at the time, but she's since remarried—had talked to Dr. Lewis at some point, and Dr. Lewis sort of thought that nurse anesthetists weren't really nurses, and so that was a dead end for them. So six months after Dean Lewis stepped down, they were back in my office wanting to know if we would consider—and so it took us a year to work out the agreement and the curriculum with the help of some consultants, but we did it, and we started the program in '88. We got a big grant to do it.

HT:

That's a wonderful thing. Well, I suppose you've sort of been keeping up with what's going on over the School of Nursing. Are there any plans for an addition to the building to your knowledge or expanding physically and that sort of thing?

PC:

They've talked about it, but I don't know anything specific, and I—since I retired I really haven't been involved over there. In fact I think the first time I've been back to the university was when your reception was.

[Omitted discussion of reception]

HT:

Well, I don't have any other questions. Is there anything you'd like to add to the interview that we haven't covered? We've covered such a variety of things this afternoon.

PC:

We did. I don't think so.

HT:

Well, it sounded like you had a great time in the military over those thirty years.

PC:

I did. It was a good experience, and it helped me financially, and I made a lot of friends. I still keep up with some of them.

HT:

That's the way it is with me. I still keep up with some friends that I met when I was in Charleston [South Carolina].

PC:

Yeah.

HT:

Thirty-five years ago. It's just amazing.

PC:

Well, as part of my experience with the Pentagon, we were in Charleston one weekend to fly on the C-17 [Globemaster III]. So that's our newest airplane, and it's as big as barn, and it will hold I don't know how many patients, but it will also hold tanks. All the aircraft—well, not when I flew active duty, but, you know, the cargo one way and patients the next.

HT:

All right. Well, again, thank you so much.

PC:

Thank you.

HT:

It's been wonderful talking to you this afternoon.

PC:

I enjoyed it, and I appreciate your interest.

HT:

Great, thanks.

[End of Interview]