(Mrs. Anderson passed away at the age of 97 on February 20, 2018)
Lt. Theresa Rizzi Anderson
Nurse – 804th Medical Air Squadron
Army Nurse Corps/Army Air Corps
World War II – Pacific Theater
Air Medal Recipient
I joined the Army Nurse Corps in November of ’42 and I went for my physical. I never weighed much, but you had to be at least 105 pounds and be five feet tall. Well, I never weighed more than 90 to 92 pounds in my whole life. In fact I had trouble in training because I couldn’t gain weight.
So I rode the train to Syracuse, New York because I’m from upstate New York and my mother was sure I wasn’t going [to be able to join] so she said, “On your way, buy a chocolate cake, three bananas and Coke and eat them on the train, so hopefully you’ll – well I knew what she was thinking.
Well I got to Syracuse and got on the scales and weighed 102 pounds. So here we go, I’m 4F. So they sent me to the flight surgeon and he was sitting in there waiting and I said, “Don’t bother, I’m 4F.”
He said, “Why?”
I said, “Because I don’t weigh enough.”
He said, “Little lady, get in here. You’re going. We need you too badly.”
So I got the physical and went on back home. I told my mother what he said and that I still didn’t weigh enough and she said, “That’s alright.” She knew they weren’t going to take me.
So a week and a half, or two weeks later, I got a telegram signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Of course I know it was somebody else’s handwriting. I wish I had kept it. The telegram said, “You are being inducted into the Army Nurse Corps – Army Air Corps by waiver. Make haste to gain three pounds.” [She smiles]
Well, that didn’t work.
So I was sent in November to Rome Air Depot [near Utica, New York]. I wanted to be in the central part of the country or in the west. So what did they do? They sent me fifty miles from home. I was so aggravated.
Did you have to go through boot camp?
No, no, later they did. They just threw us in there. I mean, you got in there. Here’s your uniform. Go to work. And that’s what we did!
Anyway, there were two other little nurses besides me. And the chief nurse hated little people. She was big. Her last name was Savage — big, big woman! To us she was very big. She didn’t like us, so she put us on night duty. We took turns. Four weeks on night duty – one of the three of us. When I did it, I didn’t sleep well during the day – I didn’t eat, so I didn’t gain any weight.
A flight surgeon was on nights with me and found out about this Air Evac nurse – that’s what it was called at the time. So he [asked] me one morning about what was going on, and I said, “Savage won’t release us. She’ll pigeon-hole our requests.”
He said, “I’ll give you the application for you and Sue-Sue.” She was my roommate also from upstate New York.
He said, “You fill it out and give it to me and I’ll handle it from there.”
Which is exactly what we did.
“In the meantime, every night I want you to drink eggnog with eggs in it. At least go to breakfast whether you want to eat or not, you get the biggest breakfast you can get in your stomach.”
So when the time came for our physical – he was giving us our physical – it was right after I got off nights, but I hadn’t gone to bed yet. It came time to weigh me and he said, “Sue-sue, I’ve got to go in the other room to do something. Weigh Teddy while I’m gone.”
He said, “That’s fine. Well that’s all we need.”
So he sent in our application and the first part of January, we got orders to go to Louisville, Kentucky. They were starting an Air Evac school which lasts three months. They already had some air evac nurses in Europe, but they had had no training at all. They had just told them what they could do.
So we had three months of real hard training and stayed there. Then in May they told us that we would be going to the Pacific. So we got everything ready. We got our B4 bags and our APO and the whole bit.
The night before we were supposed to leave, they said they changed their mind. We’re not going. So they said our APO was San Francisco. We figured we were going to Africa or we were going to Australia. So we unpacked and stayed another week or so and then they changed our APO to New York.
“Oh good! We’re going to Europe!”
So a week or so later we went by train to New York City and we went to some Camp Shanks which was brand new – it wasn’t even completed yet. There was nobody there, but part of a barracks and a lot of mud. We stayed there until ready to leave.
They assigned us a convoy. There were three ships – destroyers and the whole bit. And everybody was standing out there on New York Harbor waving like we were going to a party and behind the fence was the Salvation Army band. And as we walked up the gang plank, they played, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.” [She gets a look of frustration on her face] You never saw twenty-five madder nurses.
I’ll bet! [I laugh]
Anyway we got on and went down in the Atlantic. Next thing you know we were down by the Florida Keys. We called it Torpedo Junction because they had a lot of U-boats waiting. We went through Torpedo Junction at night. You never saw more scared people in your life. Every once in a while you’d hear the engine — and then it’d be quiet. And every we’d hear the engine, we could breathe. And when it was quiet, we didn’t breathe. We had our life jackets right there beside us and we stayed in our clothes.
We got around the Florida Keys by daylight, which was fine, but then we were confused. We didn’t know where we were going. Maybe we were going to Africa or something. Then we ended up in the Pacific, and then they told us we were going to Australia.
So you went through the Panama Canal?
We went through the Panama Canal. When we went through, they had to pick up something so we stayed there about 5 or 6 hours – didn’t get off. They wouldn’t let us off the ship.
We went down the equator and we ended up in Brisbane, Australia after 32 days on board ship. And the last four or five days they ran out of food. So we were eating twice a day and then we were eating once a day because there wasn’t enough food. And being young, who cared?
I’ll bet you really lost weight then!
But I was already in so I didn’t care.
Oh, while we went around, and going toward Panama, they told us that since we had a convoy, one of the officers – didn’t mention who or what outfit he was with – was an informant for the Japanese and for the Germans. So they had U-boats waiting for us off the coast of San Francisco. That’s why they rerouted us to New York. And we went around the Atlantic through Torpedo Junction and then into the Pacific.
That’s why it took us so long to get there. It took us 32 days.
So we got into Brisbane, Australia and they put us in a little town three miles north of Brisbane, that was called South Point. They put us in a motel there and then name of the motel was San Sue See which means, “without sorrow.”
Well those Aussie women loved us to death [she said sarcasticly]. When we went to breakfast we had an egg in an egg cup. So you’d tap the top of the egg so you could eat the white. Well we’d tap the top of the egg and here comes all of the white flowing all over. Well I think all they had done was stick it in hot water and pulled it right back out again. So we said [to ourselves], “We’re not eating breakfast!” So we didn’t eat breakfast at all.
So come time for lunch, we said, “We’ll have a lot of meat in our food.” Then they gave us vegetable soup and there were ants swimming all around in it.
We said, “Well, we know how these women feel about us.” They never spoke to us. They kept their rooms clean and we never saw any of ‘em. They stayed away from us all together – us rich Americans.
So we didn’t eat there at all. We’d sleep late and then go down the street to a little hole in the wall, but it had the best food you ever put in your mouth. So for breakfast we had steak and eggs and all the trimmings that go with it! And that’s where we ate till we got ready to leave.
Oh, one time Eleanor Roosevelt came…[she whispers] ugly woman…
[I chuckle] She wasn’t very pretty…
She was riding around through all the barracks and stuff and before she left she told those people, “When these soldiers go home,” and we were considered just a soldier – expendable – “when they go home, you need to take them all to Angel Island,” – now I don’t know where Angel Island is, “to be re-civilized before you put them back into civilization.” That’s what that FEMALE said.
[I chuckle at her response] Angel Island was the uh – that’s in San Francisco. That’s where they detained Chinese immigrants, I believe.
Well, the chief nurse told our flight surgeon, “No way. Those nurses are not gonna fly. We need them on the ground. I never heard of a nurse flying in an airplane to take care of patients.”
She’d never heard of us! So he was fightin’ for us, but it didn’t do any good. So they sent us to Port Moresby. That’s north of Townsend and there’s a jungle back up in there. All of it was jungle pretty much. Well we got to Port Moresby and they had a barracks built up and it was called “Bickering Heights.”
But with twenty-five of us in there, we never did fight! We worked together for twenty-two months.
Anyway, we went up and they handed us a .45.
“You take it apart. You clean it. You put it back together. You shoot it.”
But they told us, “You are Red Cross. You can NOT kill anyone. So you won’t get to shoot the gun, BUT if you’re captured, save a bullet for yourself.”
We had five or six shells, not that it mattered. We got one clip anyway. That’s all we got. So anytime we flew, we had to take the .45 with us.
This was my flight suit. [She shows me a photo] We all had the same thing – and combat boots. That was your flight suit. That’s what you wore every day. And see the gun.
I had a picture that I sent to my mother and I said, “I want you to notice my pride and joy. My wings!” We wore gold wings.
She wrote back and she said, “Who cares about your wings! What’s that on your shoulder?” I had forgotten ‘cause we didn’t tell her that we carried a .45.
And when I had a flying sergeant, we’d get in the plane and I’d hand him the .45 – ‘cause it was heavy – I said, “Little, if we’re captured, you better save a bullet for me or I’ll haunt you!” [I chuckle] But we never had to use it, thank goodness.
One time we were flying to Brisbane with patients. They told us to fly over the sea. Don’t fly the land because the Japanese had Wewak [New Guinea]. They had a stronghold there. Well, our smart aleck lieutenant decided we were going to fly over the beach on Wewak. We almost ended in the water. They started shooting at us and we went back over the sea.
You see, when we went in [to the Nurse Corps], they told us, “If you ever have to ditch the plane, you decide. Are you going to go down with your boys, or are you going to get out?”
Don’t know till you’re there, I guess.
I don’t know. I think now, if I had gone down with the boys, I’d have been stupid. Because you can’t do anything more once you’ve drowned. I think now, I would have jumped out with the rest of them. I’m hoping I’d have been smart enough to do that. But I don’t know.
But anyway, this chief nurse didn’t like us and she put us all in the station hospital and I was sent to the Romance Ward.
The Romance Ward?
Athlete’s feet. Anything you want to know that’s contagious and not worth…[she trails off giggling]. That’s where I stayed.
Well, come time to pick up patients, our Major talked her into letting one of the nurses fly – like we were supposed to! [We were trained to] pick up patients!
They decided Station Hospital should be the first to go. So one of ‘em volunteered. We started taking patients who were going home if they were well (so we wouldn’t mess up anything…) – we were going from Port Moresby [New Guinea] to Brisbane [Australia].
The first nurse to take the flight down [who was not trained in air evac] said, “I’ll go!”
Well she was sick. Air sick all the way down. Air sick all the way back. Nobody took care of the patients.
The second flight that went down. It was one of our nurses. Everything went fine!
So the third flight that went down, one of the station hospital nurses said, “I’ll go!” Sure enough, she was sick all the way down. She was sick all the way back. So all the station nurses said, “No, we’re not going.”
Until we got it set up to go into the forward areas, we went just to Brisbane. We stayed overnight. Drop your patients off. And the next day you got back on your ship and came back up to Port Moresby.
Mary, our chief nurse, would say, “Teddy, tomorrow you fly.”
Sometimes there were two of us. Sometimes there were three. Never just one. Only one nurse in each airplane. You never knew where you were going. You just knew you were going to an island. The pilots knew where we were going. We never knew what we were picking up. All we knew is we were picking up patients and bringing them back to our own area because we had station hospitals.
So it went on like this – “Mary, you fly.” “Teddy, you fly.”
We’d get up 4 o’clock in the morning – powdered eggs, toast and what-have-you, and we’d have one of our drivers there sitting there waiting for us in the dark because it was 4 o’clock. We’d go to the strip. Where the strip was, how you got there, I don’t know. It was dark! You couldn’t see anything! So we’d sit there and we’d wait for our C-47. And we’d get on there with our pilots and if there were three of us going, there were three planes. If there were two of us going, there were two planes. They knew exactly how many were going. Never more than one of us (nurses) to one island.
So we’d get on the plane and up into the forward area – of course it was all islands. And they had to fly through the Owen Stanley Mountains – two big peaks – and they flew in between ‘em. On your plane, with your regular crew, they always carried supplies up to the general, for what they needed, and then we’d bring patients back so you never had an empty plane.
And when you got where you were supposed to go, it was daylight, and there were a lot of people out there and they had two or three ambulances and you got out of the plane and you waited. These people knew exactly what they were doing. They would take the supplies off the plane and they would bring the patients. We had litter patients and walking patients. You never knew until you got them. You could put two tiers of litters, or you could have some litters and what we called bucket patients. ‘Cause that’s what those planes had in those days. They had buckets. Those were walking patients. And they put’em in the plane and they handed you the manifest, — you got in there and you got out of there as fast as you could go!
I mean, in and out in a fast hurry! I mean, people who had to take’em out got the supplies out of there as fast as you could think of. Before you knew it, the ambulances were empty and we were on our way back to where we were stationed. When we got there, there were ambulances waiting. They’d take the patients out, put’em in the ambulances and take’em where they were supposed to go. We never saw’em againl We never knew who we had except for the manifest.
Sometimes we were in the air twenty or thirty minutes. Sometimes we were in the air a little bit longer. And we flew, in those days, 10,000 feet was as high as the plane would go. Once in a while we’d have problems with respiratory patients and you’d have to go up front and ask if they could go lower. Well they’d go down to 8000 feet, but they couldn’t go any lower because it was jungle. They were very good. They did exactly what we asked them to, so we never had any problem with the airplane.
One time I took back a load of mental patients – we called them disturbed patients. And we had one patient who was on a stretcher and to control him, we had to wrap him in army blankets. And they had him on the stretcher all wrapped up in the army blankets and they were wet. Well if you’ve got a wet blanket, you can’t get out.
It binds up?
It binds you. Well this one patient we had, he decided to wake up. He started fighting. Oh my god. I happened to have a sergeant with us.
We were supposed to have a sergeant with us each time. I think I had a sergeant three times. Then after that, we were so busy, they had to go by themselves. They had two weeks nurses training at Louisville General Hospital. That’s all they had. And those boys went by themselves to get a load of patients like we did, and bring’em back. I often wondered how those kids managed to do it.
But anyway, I had this load of mental patients and we were trying to calm him down. And of course he was fighting and the plane was rocking and the crew chief came out with a big hammer in his hand [she motions it lifted above his head]. And I said, “What are you gonna do with that?”
He said, “I’m gonna hit the SOB over the head. He’s not about to crash us in the jungle!”
We had a foot locker that was our first aid locker and there were little vials in there with a needle at the end of it. So I went and got that. And while they held him – there was no alcohol sponge nor nothing. You just popped it right through their clothes. So I gave him a little shot of morphine and in a little bit of time he calmed down and we got the patients home without any problem.
But that’s all we did. We’d fly from one island to another. And once in a while they would separate us.
There were four flights and there were twenty-four nurses plus a chief nurse. So if you were going someplace else, like I went up to Finchaven – north of Port Moresby – I don’t know. All I know is it was north. There were six of us and we were stationed there with our flight surgeon for five or six weeks – whatever it was – and we’d go from there and pick up patients and come back to Finchaven and there was somebody waiting for us there to take the patients ‘cause there were nurses somewhere in a station hospital. We never saw anything. All we ever saw was the strip. And that was it! They never told you where you were going. They never told you anything except, “You fly.” That’s exactly – you never heard another word from’em. The next morning you got up. You did what you were supposed to do.
People say, “What islands did you go on?”
I have no idea where we went. All I know is it was in the jungle. There were trees all around everywhere. You could hear gunshots in the distance.
So it was a battle area of some sort.
No, no, no. Whatever was going on, was going on [motions with hand as the fighting was in the distance]. You could hear the gunshots, but we never felt like we were in any danger. We really didn’t think so.
But apparently we were, because one night, Mary, our chief nurse, said nobody flies tomorrow. Maybe we are going to have a holiday, or a party, or something! Next morning we got up and she says dress like you’re supposed to. General Whitehead’s coming to give you all a medal.
“Why are we getting a medal? What did we do?”
“You’ve been flying combat!”
And they’d been keeping track of our hours. We didn’t know they’d been keeping – once we flew over one hundred combat hours, then they gave you the Air Medal.
So sure enough, we all stood in a row with our sergeants and Whitehead came up and gave you your Air Medal and shook your hand and he went to everybody and that was it for the day. You got an Air Medal!
Wow! That’s cool!
Oh hurray, hurray, we got an Air Medal. [She shrugs her shoulders.] The thing that bothers me was that we didn’t know we were flying combat. Not that you could do anything about it ‘cause we continued to fly anyway.
What did you think about the jungle?
I could do without. I could well do without it. There was nothing around you. You couldn’t go anywhere. You’re stuck on this little mole on the top of everything. It was just there. There was nothing you could do. So when we weren’t flying, we were cooking. We slept on a cot with an air mattress and you did your own sewing if something had to get sewed. But what do women do with the needle when they are through with it? Popped it in the mattress. [without thinking] We spent more time blowing up air mattresses! ‘Cause they wouldn’t give you another air mattress. And you’d forget and stick your needle in it again! We weren’t very bright.
The thing that bothered me really was that we never had a staff meeting with our head nurse, or with the nurses together. Never had a meeting with our flight surgeon. Never, ever. Did anyone tell us what was going on?
We [the nurses] were across the road from the men. We were by ourselves in a little alcove behind everything – there was nothing behind us. We were always on a hill and we never saw the men, except at the mess hall. The officers didn’t eat with us then. We sat with other enlisted personnel.
One morning we got up and some of our enlisted men were patrolling with a gun — and never had before. We asked them what was happening. And they said that they caught two Japanese coming down into our area back from the jungle some place. Well we were told, “They were hungry. They came to get food.” Well this happened two or three more times. How close they were, I have no idea. But they were close enough that they could walk into our area.
Other than that, we never saw anybody.
Why were you so secluded and kept in the dark about everything?
We never thought about it, but apparently it was something that — was dangerous? We didn’t think it was dangerous – at the time, anyway.
Maybe they didn’t want to tell you so that you wouldn’t get nervous.
[She grins] We were young. Who cared! Somebody asked me one time, “Did you ever think you weren’t going to go home?”
[Shakes her head] That never entered anyone else’s mind. You go fly. You pick up patients. When it was over you’re going home. Well it didn’t always end that way, ‘cause we lost one nurse on her way. It crashed in the jungle. We never did find ‘em. ‘Cause the jungle’s so thick, you couldn’t see where you were going. And they did say something about there were headhunters in the jungle. So…[she shrugs her shoulders.] We never knew what happened to Myrtle. They just disappeared.
And then we had – we called them the “Fuzzy-Wuzzies.” They were the natives. They were Aborigines. Our boys kind of civilized them a little bit. They’d walk around and our boys would cut the sleeves out of their t-shirts when they got old and give them to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. And they would walk around with a loin cloth…period…and a t-shirt over it.
They learned two words. “Hi, Joe!” Everybody was “Hi Joe.” That’s all they ever said. And there was a pineapple plantation.
On New Guinea?
Yes, and the Fuzzy-Wuzzies — they civilized them and put clothes on ‘em and taught them English and they worked the plantation.
Well, their hair was all piled up high — and we were taking Atabrine tablets for malaria. Well, once in a while, General Whitehead would call Mary.
He’d say, “We are having a dance. Send the nurses.”
Command performance. You had no choice. You’d go up to wherever the General was and you’d go to a dance.
Well he looked at me and he said, “Teddy? I think we’re going to put you behind the lines.” He said, “As little as you are and as yellow as your skin is, you’d pass for a Geisha girl.
Well we didn’t take any more – and we didn’t get malaria. But what we did with our Atabrine tablet was we gave ‘em to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. And they would wash their hair in it. ‘Cause it was a little pill and they would dissolve it and they’d wash their hair in it. And they’d have the prettiest orange hair you ever saw in your life! [She grinned]
[Their orange hair] standing high and in a white t-shirt! They were in seventh heaven! They thought they were the best things in the world!
We hopped from one pilot to another. You never knew who your pilots were [going to be]. They just waited until you got in the plane and then off you went.
We were serviced by the 40th Squadron, I believe. Anyway, they knew where to go and all that stuff.
But [after a while] — I had gone on a blind date with [a pilot]. We went where they were getting their promotion and silver bars. I ended up with a little blonde man with blue eyes, but he wasn’t very big. He was so drunk. Oh, my, God.
I had just gotten back from Brisbane and I was going to bed and [the nurses] forced me to go on a blind date. Even helped get me dressed.
So we got there and he looked at me – he was so drunk – and said, “Chicken! Let’s dance!”
Well when that kid got on the dance floor, he had wings for feet!
Wooooooo! That boy could dance! Oh my God. We danced all night!
So on the way home I told the other girls, I said, “He can dance, but I’m through! The man doesn’t have a brain in his head. I don’t want to see him anymore.”
Well, you do.
So the second time – see, you couldn’t go anywhere ‘cause there was nothing up there. They had to come in a jeep to pick you up. There was no PX – nothing! Just you. And they’d come pick us up and we’d go to Moresby and we’d go dancing. They had a juke box and they had a ramp over the Coral Sea where you could dance.
And we would go down there and we’d go dancing and then they would take us back to the barracks. Well the second time he came to pick me up, all the way there and all the way back, his hands were everywhere. [She waves her hands around and has a startled look on her face.] And he looked at me and he said, “Chicken, I just washed my hands and I don’t know what to do with them.”
And I said, “This is it! Never again will I ever have anything to do with this kid!”
Well, I ended up marrying him. [She grins]
Every time they would come to pick us up – and we never knew how often or who was coming – every time they’d come, he’d get out of the plane and he’d say, “Come here chicken. I want you by me.”
So that started us dating…well we got married over there.
Over there? Really? That’s cool!
We got married and couldn’t go any place for a honeymoon for two weeks.
But anyway, we were ready to get our promotions and we had recruits coming in. And one of them was a Jewish girl and she wore the Torah around her neck – a little tube. Well our chief nurse was Jewish, our flight surgeon – he was also Jewish…I was the only Italian girl.
So it came time for us to get our promotions. Everybody would get first lieutenant — but me. The Jewish girl got first lieutenant in my place.
Anyway when we got back to barracks I said something to Mary. She said, “Let it go.”
I shouldn’t have done that, but I did.
At that time things were bad. We had run out of food. Our flight surgeon would come over and say, “Mary, I can feed six nurses,” or “I can feed five nurses.”
There were twenty-three of us!
“I can feed six!”
The hell with the rest of ‘em. Who cares!
So five or six would go and the rest of us – our noses were out of joint. We were really upset.
So sometimes when the pilots would come they would steal away some — one time we got a five gallon can of milk. You talk about people drinking milk in a hurry! We had to, or otherwise it was gonna go bad.
One time we got a sack full of onions. Onion sandwiches are good when you’re hungry!
I’ll bet they are!
And we got some crackers. You learn that if you put crackers in the oven, they will get crisp again. And then you learn that if you put potatoes in [a little] water and keep stirring, potatoes will fry in water!
You had to stand there and keep stirring and keep adding a little water at a time. So we ate!
Everybody ate. Six of them would go and eat like the Queen of Sheba and the rest of us – it was our own fault. Our noses were out of joint. We were just mad.
Why couldn’t he just give a little to everyone? No. “I can feed six nurses,” or “I can feed five nurses.” He didn’t care what happened to the rest of us. So we were really upset with him.
[But] I had been in Brisbane, Australia, Dutch New Guinea, and we ended up on Biak. From Biak we went onto the Philippines. We stayed most on Biak ‘cause we were going to the Philippines because that’s where all the fighting was going to – from the Philippines on to Japan. So they put us there on purpose until we would go to Leyte in the Philippines.
So we stayed on Biak eight to ten months – all of us at this time. They didn’t separate us. Like they would take six nurses and a flight surgeon and they’d send you to another island for four or five weeks. And another six – because we were four flights altogether. And some of the others they would send to someplace else. And then when you did whatever you did, you’d come on back. So we’d go back to the big house.
In the beginning we’d fly from Port Moresby in the beginning of the jungle to Brisbane. We flew the Coral Sea to Brisbane and dropped off patients that were well enough to go home, but were not well enough to fight anymore.
And when we got to Port Moresby they realized they needed us a lot worse going to the front than going down to Brisbane. So I don’t know how the patients got back. I guess by hospital ship. But once we got up there, we never went back. We always went ahead to another island.
Island-hopped all the way up?
Island-hopped all the time.
One island I went to, they had gliders. An airplane would pull a glider and they had all these soldiers in the glider and they would drop the glider and the soldiers would get out and go to the area where they are going to fight.
But one time, they dropped them too soon and they brought us a whole bunch of soldiers with broken ankles. They were too close to the ground when they dropped ‘em.
So we picked ‘em up and brought ‘em back. We don’t know what happened to them after that. We just took care of them while they were in the plane. They sent them to a MASH unit to get them set and then we would pick them up.
Did you pick up only Army soldiers or any of the wounded from other branches?
We picked up soldiers, period. I don’t know if they were Marines – all we knew was they had a slip with their name on it and what was wrong with them and what their rank was. It didn’t matter. We just picked up wounded soldiers and brought ‘em back.
Anyway, I got married. Got pregnant. And they started sending us home. And I came home in February. They flew three or four of us together. We’d fly to Brisbane and then we’d get on the plane and fly to Hawaii. And from Hawaii we’d fly to San Francisco.
When we weren’t flying, we were cooking – in our heads [imagining good meals]. We’d sit on our bunks and we’d cook. And I always wanted another pineapple salad. I CRAVED a pineapple salad! So when we got to Hawaii, the Red Cross ladies had a stand out there so you could get what you wanted. I asked them, “Do you happen to have pineapple?”
“Oh honey, yes I have pineapple!”
Well, I ate pineapple!
When we got to San Francisco, we knew everything was rationed here in stateside, and we’d been sitting over there for two years and we needed shoes! You couldn’t buy ‘em over there!
Well the four of us walked in there and another nurse said, “We need shoes. We’d like some rations for shoes.”
He looked at her and he said, “Lieutenant, do you know there’s a war on!”
And from San Francisco, I drove Sue-Sue and I, and we rode the train all the way to Fort Dix. And we came home.
That was in ’45.
The war was over?
Oh, no. We came home in February. I got out in June – my orders were through June. Ted came home in July.
We went to South Carolina for him to be reassigned and then they dropped the atomic bomb. So when they dropped the atomic bomb, everybody got out.
How long had you been a nurse before the war?
I graduated in ’41 and in ’42 I went in to the service and stayed in til ’45.
Was your weight ever a problem anymore during your time in the service?
Anytime we had to go some place we’d have to weigh – and we did two or three times, we all had it made. The nurses would stand all around me and one of the nurses would put her foot on the back of the scale. I’d stand on the scale. They’d push it up to 105. I’d get off. I’d weigh 105 pounds.
Ha ha ha!
And it worked beautifully! Nobody knew but us. You know, we didn’t tell anybody.
And I never knew whose foot was behind on the scales. Somebody’s foot was on the scales on purpose!
And I was pregnant.
Skinny as a rail.
Ugly as sin.
Your husband was over there for, how long?
He came home in July. He was a captain with a C-47 and they invited him to stay when we got into Leyte in the Philippines. If he would stay and take the squadron to Japan, they would make him a Major.
He said, “Put it in your pocket. I’m going home.”
So he had six weeks and we were going to South Carolina for him to be reassigned and when he got there they told him he had to fly co-pilot for a year.
He said, “Why do I have to fly co-pilot?”
“Well, to get yourself acclimated to flying the way you’re supposed to.”
Because apparently we didn’t fly right when we were over there.
Several people said, “Oh, y’all won’t stay married.”
Four of us got married over there. I know, of the four of us, two of us stayed married. We were married fifty-four years.
Wow, that’s great!
Two other couples, when they got stateside, they divorced.
How many kids did you end up having?
I have three – two sons and a daughter – and they all live close.
Well that’s the story of my life! It isn’t very much.
It is a lot for me! You got an Air Medal! You were in combat and didn’t even know it!
[I chuckle] Well, it says something to me!
It was your choice to go over. It wasn’t like they drafted you.
They didn’t draft women.
So you just said, “I’m a nurse. I want to go.”
Yes. We all volunteered.
Well that showed some spunk! [She smiles]
And I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were parts of it that were ugly, but you don’t remember those parts.
Well that’s an experience! My goodness! [She smiles] And get to travel halfway around the world!
Yes, we went to Sydney Australia on leave – when you were able to get one. In fact they whole time I was over there I only managed to get off twice. And you stayed a week and then came back up.
First of all you didn’t know if you were going to get leave – they needed you! ‘Cause there were always two or three of you flying all the time. So when you got off, you went!
Then on our way home, we stopped in Hawaii. Our plane had technical trouble, so they put us up in a beautiful area! But they said, “You can’t leave because if the plane is ready to go and you’re not on it, you don’t go.”
So we couldn’t leave. We stayed three days and we stayed within maybe a block. Couldn’t go anywhere else.
It wasn’t like we were going to miss that plane home!
Not after two years in the jungle.
I don’t remember. There’s so much of it I can’t remember.
Well you remembered a lot!
That’s ‘cause we did it every day! We did it all the time.
Well I certainly appreciate you taking the time to talk with me!
I don’t have much to say.
But people like me who were not raised in that time, don’t know much about it. I was born twenty years after that, so it’s all interesting to me. And I do this project for several reasons – to honor veterans with a recorded history of their service and to teach following generations about what people did to serve their country. World War II was a HUGE war that had HUGE consequences. If it had happened another way, we could be speaking German or Japanese and be in a militaristic state. I’m very adamant about educating others. I do this so they won’t forget.
Well, thank you.