My Great Aunt Mabel was a nurse who trained at the Mayo Clinic and then enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. I thought about her, and about all those who served or are currently serving in the military, during this past week while reading the many tributes related to Veterans Day. And while it is right and fitting that we remember the brave men who fought and died in service to our country, it saddens me that we so often overlook the women who also played a role. They too left behind families and loved ones to travel to foreign lands where they endured hardships and made great sacrifices in the name of patriotism. More than a few of them died serving our country. They deserve a place in our remembrance of history, as well as in our hearts when we pay homage and give thanks.
Mabel wrote dozens of letters and sent them back home while she was in service. We’re not quite sure to whom they were addressed — so many of those who might have known are no longer living — but we assume they were sent to one of her sisters, one of whom was my maternal grandmother.
The letters begin with her first assignment at Camp Hale, CO in January 1943 and take us from there as she was deployed to Charleston, SC to San Francisco, CA to crossing the Pacific Ocean to serve in Australia, New Guinea, Manila and finally Luzon in October 1945. I’ll be posting them here occasionally over the next several months as a tribute to one of the many strong women in my family, but also as a means of remembering a part of history too often overlooked or forgotten. As a celebration of women whose stories are seldom told but whose role was of immense value to our troops and to our country.
Camp Hale, Colorado
Jan. 12th, 1943
This is the army sure enough and it is everything they said and more. So far we have gotten a tremendous kick out of it all – certainly is different. The place is so new it isn’t completed by a long ways. They are beginning to get more and more supplies now so expect the worst is over. The first nurses came about Nov. 26th and there wasn’t a thing they say. They really started from scratch! All they had was aspirin. They were so happy when they finally got some sulfathiazole. The Corpsmen are a great help and do much of the work and help us raw recruits out of many tight spots. I landed in a surgical ward and we have a little bit of everything.. hernias, orthopedics, appendectomies, obstructions (I don’t wonder they get such, some of the food is very heavy) spinograms, skull fractures etc. etc. All these ornery mules here raise havoc with many of the men. I didn’t know there were so many mules! We see them go by on the way up the mountains every day. The altitude is a bit rough on some of the newcomers. It is so dry that we about crumble. The water isn’t too bad but is quite highly chlorinated so we have to get used to that. Most everyone get sore throats and colds. “Pando throats” and “Pandomonia”.
Note: Pando is a railway stop town in the mountains of Colorado near where Camp Hale was constructed. More information about Camp Hale and the famous 10th Mountain Division that trained there can be found HERE.
Note: Sulfathiazole is a sulfa drug once commonly used to treat bacterial infections; it has since been replaced by less toxic sulfa drugs (sulfonamides) and other antibiotics.
7 responses to “Remembering, paying tribute”
Amazing letter, and how lucky you are to have a piece of history, and how generous of you to share it with *us*. I’m always fascinated to hear about the women who blazed trails before us, and so many times the females who served in the armed services are unfairly discounted.
Thank you for sharing.
I admire how you’re looking back on the lives of your family. You make me think of a flip side to the war, the one completely obscured by the rarely told stories of the men in my family who did and witnessed unspeakable things.
Here’s an image that hit me strong as I read about Aunt Mabel: I had an uncle at Pearl Harbor. He floated in the capsized hold of a ship, the bodies of some of his best buddies bobbing around him, for days. When they got him out, my grandfather took a long train ride to California to pick him up. I never have, until now, imagined my grandmother back home in Alabama waiting to see what those crazy men with planes and bombs had done to her son. Makes the train ride itself seem positively bearable by comparison.
Thanks for helping me imagine that.
I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. People don’t always find it comfortable to look back at history, especially at times of war, but I think it’s important. And I think it’s valuable to see from a different perspective events that have become “textbook” history.
At some point between the bombs dropping and the end of the long train ride home, there was a medical team who cared for the injured soldiers.
I hope you’ll continue to read and find value in the letters as I post them here.
I love first-hand history. Is this a woman that you knew personally or only through her letters? Be interesting to compare your personal recollections with the young woman in the letters.
Now you’ve gotten me thinking again. Dang it. I hate when you do that.
She came to visit us once when I was very young. I don’t remember her at all. She got married for the first time at about age 60 (was happily married for 25 or so years until her husband died) and lived in Seattle. I wish I had known her.
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading your aunt’s letter. I had an uncle declared “missing and presumed dead” in the war. He took his buddy’s plane up on an air raid from England into Germany. That’s all the family knows.
This was a more poignant Nov. 11 for us after our son’s good friend Dennis Brown was killed in Afghanistan in March. I still remember seeing some of the ‘broken’ men (my term as a little girl) at cenotaph’s after the war, those still in bandages, casts, slings and on crutches or in wheelchairs. My dad took me to the services every year.
Have another Great Brittain flag. This time from my home computer. 🙂