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.