Lt. Col. Genevieve “Jimmie” Guitrau Harrold
Army Nurse – World War II
Air Force Flight Nurse – Korean War
Career Air Force Nurse
Mrs.Jimmie passed away five months after this interview was made. She was 93. Thank you for your service, Mrs. Jimmie.
January 1, 1920 – August 11, 2014
“Jimmie,” as she is affectionately called by her friends, or “the General,” as she has been called by her family, served as a nurse in two wars and in two branches of the military, She was a field nurse at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII and she flew numerous missions as a flight nurse during the Korean War. As a career veteran she also worked at military hospitals in the United States and Europe until she retired from the Air Force in 1970 as a Lt. Colonel. Now at age 94, she is one spunky lady who has never shirked back from a duty, a challenge — or an adventure.
When did you become a nurse?
“I graduated in forty-two.
Where did you go to school?
“Lady of the Lake [in Baton Rouge, LA], a diploma program, three years.”
Did you always want to be a nurse?
“I knew I was going to be a nurse when I was seven years old.
Why did you decide to enlist in the military?
“Let’s see, I was 22 years old and didn’t know a thing about the military, I was working after I graduated [from nursing school] for an ENT at 100 bucks a month. Had to pay room, board, laundry, and a uniform AND I had to pay transportation. So I went in and asked for a raise and he said, ‘I can’t afford it.’ “I walked out on my lunch hour down Third Street [in downtown Baton Rouge] to the recruiting office, turned in my resignation the first of December and in January, I was in San Antonio in Basic Training and the rest is history.
How many other women were with you in Basic Training?
“A number of us, I don’t remember. We went through these stages. You had to go to San Antonio [at Fort Sam Houston] to get your issue of your uniforms and then you went to Camp Polk, [in central Louisiana] to learn paperwork – the Army way. And then we went up to Tyler, TX for more instructions.
“And from there we got on a train, cross-country — and all during this time they were forming a hospital – a commanding officer, anesthesiologist, and the doctors and everything. And [in November 1944] we got on a train and went to [Taunton] Massachusetts [to a staging area to be briefed]. And we sailed out of Massachusetts Harbor.
“We got on a ship. The Nieuw Amsterdam was the ship that belonged to Amsterdam. It was a cruise ship and it was converted to a troop ship. I think there were 3000 of us on that ship.
There were 120 nurses with six girls to a stateroom that had been fitted with bunk beds three high. She was on the top bunk because she was so short. All the nurses in her room got seasick except her so she spent most of her time on deck.
“Now, we landed at Le Havre, France and it was cold! Oh GOD, it was COLD! [And we loaded up] in the back of a 2-ton truck, the kind you haul freight in. And it had a canopy for the top. And all of our gear! Oh GOD, it was a mess! We like to froze our behinds off. The ladies took turns sitting in the front seat.
They traveled from Le Havre to Nancy, France to set up their hospital.
“In Nancy, France they had a boy’s school. The German’s had it. And as the Americans moved in, the German’s vanished and we took over the thing. And I’ll never forget this — the auditorium, or where the basketball courts are – that was our operating room. We had enough space to convert it to an operating room – we had six tables and surgeons and everything. “The French young men were at war, so all the older men who were not eligible for active duty, they’re the ones that cleaned up the joint. The Germans [had used] feces and wrote on the mirrors.
“And then they had a big room on the upper side. I don’t know what it was used for, but we were billeted in cots – there were 22 women in that room! You had your footlocker at the bottom of your bed, and then you went down the row [she points down a line]. But we had fun.
So what was fun?
“We worked 12 hour shifts, but you got to sleep sometime. And we had days off too. We got a room [in Nancy at a plush hotel used by airmen and soldiers on R&R], my roommate and I. That’s where we stayed when we were off duty. Which wasn’t very often, because we didn’t make much money and we had to pay for that room!
“But anyway, it was fun. I learned a lot. I met a lot of interesting people.
“[One patient I remember was] in Nancy in a field hospital, and they’re bringing patients off of the field from the war. We were out in a tent, and they brought in this young man on a litter, and the litter bearers brought him in. We didn’t have tables. We had saw horses. And you put the litter on top of the saw horses.
“And this young man – he was FILTHY! Absolutely FILTHY DIRTY! Dirt in his hair and he had a fractured left leg. I’ll never forget that. And he ached all over and he smelled like he hadn’t had a bath in ten years. So they put him to sleep to do whatever they had to do.
“And after the doctors were through, the other nurse and I, we washed his hair, we gave him a complete bath and put a new gown on him and put him on the litter and he went to the rear to the hospital. “He had the bluest eyes I have ever seen. He was from the Minnesota area. He was seventeen years old. I often wondered what happened to him.
She said that her work was hard, but rewarding. Patients would come in bloody and beat up and she didn’t know if these soldiers would make it or not, but with the team’s efforts, the soldiers weren’t completely well, but they were well enough to be transferred to another facility. Her unit, based in Nancy, France, moved along in field hospitals into Belgium during the Battle the Bulge.
“And then we went to Arlon, Belgium and the Army had — I don’t know if they appropriated it or something — but there was a high-falutin castle that somebody owned and they billeted the females in that. You know a room that was built for two, we had four.
“They had our operating room in tents on the grounds of this castle. And there was a staircase that went up to a landing – a curvy thing. The stairs were as wide as a couch or wider, and we were at the top in our billets. “And I was a surgical nurse in the operating room. And we worked twelve-hour shifts. But yes it was fun, [and] we worked our butts off. But you know what? I enjoyed every bit of it.
Were the ladies, who roomed with you, all surgical nurses?
“Oh no. We all had different jobs. We had an anesthesiologist with us.
“And we had a [messenger] runner, and he came up and said, ‘Miss Guitrau, you have a visitor!’
“Visitor? At 8:00 in the morning after a twelve-hour shift? Well it was laundry day and we had our laundry in pillow cases taking it down to the laundry – my roommate and I.
“And it was my brother, who I hadn’t seen in three years and he was stationed in Luxembourg. He and his sergeant got permission for the jeep.
“So when I looked down, I was at the top of the stairs and he was down at the bottom and I ran up and [motions a hug]. First time we’d seen each other in three years. And then he said, ‘Let’s go eat!’
“I said, ‘Haven’t you had breakfast yet?’
“He said, ‘No, let’s go to that bistro around the corner of the road.’
“And all he did was drink and eat. I said, ‘How are you going to drive that jeep back to Luxembourg?’
“[Later] we were dating some fighter pilots and they were in Stuttgart and they were flying P51s or whatever, and when they dropped the bombs in Germany, they’d buzz our hospital to let us know that they were headed home.
“And they would come in and wine and dine us. They would get a car and stay at this hotel, which wasn’t very far from where we lived. And here again, all of the waiters and housekeeping staff were old or very young because all the able-bodied men were fighting in the war.
“But the French people were very gracious and very charming. Food was magnificent and they used what they had, Spam, eggs, fresh vegetables. The bread was outstanding.
“And then one day the pilots invited us up to Stuttgart. Well how in the h— are we going to get up to Stuttgart?! Trains weren’t going. Railroads were all up. Had to ride from Nancy to Stuttgart over a rutted road with potholes and bomb craters. And it was COLD, oh god, it was COLD! So we road in the back with the enlisted men and the two of us. We’d take turns and the co-pilot would come back and let us go sit up there and warm up with the heater. And then we’d stop and we’d switch. We were just two females with a bunch of men!
(Click here for a video clip of the following story.) “We got to Stuttgart and the guys that we were going to date, didn’t have any BOQs (Bachelor Officers Quarters), they didn’t have any hotels, they didn’t have anything. So they’d farm us out to these German houses.
“So [my roomate] lived in one house and I lived in the other house. And the guys would come and pick us up in a jeep and take us out to eat and take us back. And this time when we went back to Nancy, we did get on a train. And we were late getting back. And we thought we were AWOL.
“I think between us, we had five dollars in cash. And in the train station there was a lady selling orchids. I’ll never forget it! How much were they? Five dollars.
“So we pooled our resources and we were [going to give it] to the Chief Nurse because we knew we were going to get our a—– chewed because we were late.
“We went and reported and, ‘Why were you ladies late?’
Well I guess it didn’t hurt!
“No, it didn’t hurt, but we were out of cash!” [laughs] Oh, man….. [she smiles]
“While we were at Nancy, the war ended.
Their hospital was disbanded and they were then staged in Marseilles, France to board a ship to Japan because the war was still going on there. They had to get a flu vaccine before going that made her very sick. They waited there for six to eight weeks, but the war ended before they were sent. During that time she was able to spend some time sightseeing the south of France.
Did you ever have any inhibitions about going into war? The battle area? Did it ever make you scared or nervous?
“No! New experience, Honey! You just DO it!”
In Part 2, Mrs. Harrold shares her experience as a flight nurse during the Korean War.