The Vietnam War remains probably the most important war for America since World War Two. In the battle to contain communism, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers went to Vietnam – and many nurses were closely involved with them. In the concluding article of the ‘Nurses in War’ series, Matt Goolsby tells us about trauma nurse Deanna McGookin.

The previous articles in the series are on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), World War One nurse Julia Catherine Stimson (here), World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle (here), and the Chief Nurse for the US in the Korean War, Eunice Coleman (here).

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

A US Army hospital in Vietnam.

The Years before a ‘Police Action’

After the Korean War had ended, an unstable peace existed in Asia. America was reeling from the McCarthy probes that seemed to take place under every nook and cranny, the purpose of which was to expose potential communists.

The United States had helped stop the communist aggression in South Korea. Now there were two independent countries on the Korean Peninsula, and an uneasy truce.

The threat of nuclear war was also very real as the Soviet Union possessed radioactive material and had built, as well as detonated, multi-kiloton platform devices. 

As China and the Soviet Union were expanding their territories, the United States was highly concerned about the potential fall of nations to Marxist doctrines. 

The heightening tensions of a further ‘Red Scare’ increased both locally and globally.

Americans were not ready for another declaration of war, so a looming ‘Police Action’ was on the horizon.

 

French Occupation in Southeast Asia

During World War II the Japanese had met with strong resistance from the Viet Minh when they invaded Southeast Asia. The Viet Minh had been assisted by China, the Soviet Union, and the United States with arms and military training since they had a shared purpose.

Once the war had ended, the Viet Minh set their sights against the French occupying forces. Ho Chi Minh, himself a communist, was the leader of these guerilla armies.

French Indochina, which was largely comprised of modern-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, had been a French colony since the late 19thcentury. As many countries learn the hard way, nations often don’t want to be under the rule of a foreign occupier.

From 1946 until 1954, the French battled the ever-strengthening forces of the Viet Minh, who had been trained by the People’s Republic of China from 1950. This was called the First Indochina War.

American involvement with Vietnam had started back in 1946 to thwart the ever-expanding communist influence.

The French forces had been bruised and battered by the Viet Minh for almost a decade and finally surrendered at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7th, 1954, negotiating peace as well as granting sovereignty to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Vietnam was still considered two independent nations by this time as the Geneva Accord signed by the belligerents split the country at the 17thparallel for 300 days with the guarantee of a ‘free’ election being held.

This sounds eerily reminiscent of the Korean peninsula. The oft-quoted words that Winston Churchill said in a 1948 speech to the House of Commons: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”, has been demonstrated repeatedly in East and Southeast Asia. 

 

America’s ‘Police Action’ Begins

On November 5th, 1955, the United States’ conflict, or what is known as the Second Indochina War, began. 

Just two years after the Korean War ended, America was again involved in an armed ideological conflict with communism. Many Americans were highly concerned and tense because of nuclear proliferation and the growing ‘commie’ scare.

The belligerents on the communist side were: North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union along with their allies. The allies involved on the anti-communist side were: South Vietnam, South Korea, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and several others.

Since this war was never officially declared by the United States Congress, it remains a military ‘police’ action that has caused much angst and a continued rift to this day.

History will eventually render a judgment as to whether or not this conflict was necessary, but in my opinion, as somebody who has met many people who participated in the war, it has left an indelible scar permanently on America’s national psyche.

As an example of the wounding it caused, many veterans either became mired in drug abuse to escape the pain or took their lives because of the moral conflict it caused.

America as a nation must continue to help and wisely counsel those who fought in this war so that they can experience some level of healing.

 

United States’ involvement escalates

In December of 1960, the Viet Cong or what was officially called the National Liberation Front, was created to be the anti-government disrupter of South Vietnam and to disrupt and render ineffectual American military advisors. Their aim was also to drive out foreign influence with the eventual goal of uniting the North and South under communist rule.

The Republic of South Vietnam at this time was being governed by Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been appointed Prime Minister during the 1954 Geneva treaty. Mr. Diem was a Roman Catholic, anti-communist, nationalist, and social conservative.

The Vietnamese people were mostly followers of Buddha and had a deep suspicion of Diem’s government. Unfortunately, many of their suspicions were proved correct as Diem governed with more of an autocratic bent and whose administration was rife with corruption.

In 1961, after the election of John F. Kennedy, who decided to draw a ‘line in the sand’ against communism, troops began to be authorized for the increasing conflict between the North and the South. 

By 1963, there were 16,000 U.S. troops in Southeast Asia. This was in contrast to the 900 ‘advisers’ that President Eisenhower had sent starting in 1955.

Also in 1963, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) established Operation Nightingale to recruit nurses for the ever-increasing conflict.

 

The Nursing Field expands

Deanna McGookin was born on February 1st, 1941 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Samuel and Violet McGookin. She was the oldest of three girls, which included Violet and Judith.

The family immigrated to the United States through Detroit, Michigan in June 1950

They settled in Phoenix, Arizona where she went to West Phoenix High School, graduating in 1958.

By 1965, Deanna had become an Assistant Head Nurse in the local Phoenix hospital emergency room. This experience helped her learn how to take care of traumatic injuries and assist with the associated shock.

She joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in 1968 and was given an assignment to Vietnam because of her Emergency Room experience. 

Deanna, like many women during the Vietnam War era, felt an obligation to serve others who may not have had a choice as to whether to go to war or not.

The Vietnam War had more than 5,000 American nurses who served during its entirety. For the first time, 21% of them were men serving as officers in the ANC.

Of these more than 5,000, most had less than 2 years of practice in their profession. The average age of a nurse during the war was 23.6 years. 

The horrors of war must have compounded the already difficult task at hand, especially for those who hadn’t experienced traumatic injuries.

Deanna’s experience was the exception: “. . . I spent my year in Vietnam at the 67th evac in Qui Nhon, which was the headquarters of II Corps. The conditions were pretty much what I expected - but not the bulk, the quantity of the wounded. In Phoenix [Arizona, hospital emergency room], we were used to seeing one or two come in at a time. Now you were talking 50 or 60 at a time, with a wide variety of traumatic wounds. I had seen traumatic amputations of extremities from cotton-picking combines in Arizona. So that was not a horrendous sight for me, as it was for some others. The bulk . . . that there were just so many of them coming in at once . . . that was the issue for me. You had these helicopters land and there could be 60-70 casualties with various stages of injuries. Some of them might not have been as serious as others. It depended on the season. In Tet of '69 we were getting 200-300 patients coming in a day.”

As her tour progressed, Deanna, like so many others had before, began to question the sanity and morality of the Vietnam War: “We all had questions as to what we were doing in Vietnam, why we were there. We didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Day after day, things seemed to be pretty much the same . . . they'd take a hill, lose a hill, take a hill, lose a hill. Being in the age group where motherhood and children were a big factor, I think you do think: "What are we doing to the future generations of this country? What sort of genius would this blond young man have been had he been allowed to go about his life and do his own thing?" Most of the time you were so busy, just literally, physically busy that--although these thoughts stayed with you for awhile--you soon forgot about them, because it always seemed like there was someone else coming in to take the previous patient's place.”

 

In salute to the ‘Nightingales’

American nurses found different ways to deal with their pain and the emotional wear and tear they experienced. Some found solace in sex, drugs, or alcohol. Most of them just suppressed the pain until they could deal with it later. 

One of the more positive ways of dealing with pain was the way Deanna handled it: “It wasn't so depressing all the time, I must admit. We went on medcaps, medical missions to remote villages, places where there was no regular medical care. We did reconstructive surgery on children, gave them false limbs, and taught them how to get around. These kinds of things helped relieve some of the frustrations I was feeling.”

After her tour had ended, Deanna came back to the states and settled back in Phoenix, Arizona. As with all veterans of war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) haunted her. 

She describes the affects PTSD had on her: “the young boy down the block had a car that backfired all the time. Every time it backfired, I was on the floor and under the bed."

Deanna would go on to serve in Afghanistan and attain the rank of Colonel in the Army Nurse Corps. There’s no evidence that she ever married, a common thread with the other nurses researched for these articles. 

Colonel Deanna McGookin passed away on September 14th, 2013 at the age of 72, having served her country for many years. 

She represents the best of what America has to offer and her life is a tribute to the sacrifices that so many made to help the men and women who’ve faithfully served our country.

May they never be forgotten.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

References

Dan Freedman and Jacqueline Rhoads, editors, “Nurses in Vietnam: The Forgotten Veterans.”, Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, Inc., 1987.

“The Vietnam War and its timeline”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

“Nursing and Medicine in the Vietnam War”, https://ceufast.com/blog/nursing-and-medicine-in-the-vietnam-war

“Find a Grave: Deanna McGookin”, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119126532/deanna-mcgookin#source

“Deanna McGookin on Family Search”, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-G5MV-9S4Y?i=5451&cc=1916040

“Women and War”, http://issues.texasobserver.org/pdf/ustxtxb_obs_1987_07_17_issue.pdf

“Winston Churchill 1948 House of Commons speech”, http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/those-who-fail-to-learn-from-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-it-sir-winston-churchill/

The Chief Nurse for the US in the Korean War, Eunice Coleman, played a vital role in bringing a range of innovations in troop treatment, some of which put nurses in great danger. Matt Goolsby continues his series on Nurses in War and tells us about Eunice Coleman.

The previous articles in the series are on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), World War One nurse Julia Catherine Stimson (here), and World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle (here).

The innovative Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) in Wonju, Korea. 1951.

The innovative Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) in Wonju, Korea. 1951.

Prelude to the Cold War

When World War II ended, the allies who had fought the war against the Axis Powers – Germany, Japan, and Italy – ultimately divided into two ideological camps. 

The first were the United States, Canada, Britain, Western Europe, Australia, and other like-minded nations. These would be the powers who believed in freedom through the rule of law as republics.

The second camp was made up of two large nations, both of whom believed that communism was the way to solve man’s problems. These two nations were: The former Soviet Union and China. 

As these two camps began to divide up the spoils of war in Europe and Asia, a coming ideological storm was looming.

 

Ideological warfare becomes the Cold War

Ever strategic in their control of power, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong looked to gain geographic strongholds - one in Eastern Europe and the other in Asia. Their interests were in expanding communism throughout as much of the world as possible through brute force and oppression.

During the post-war occupation, Germany was divided into Western and Eastern zones. The Western zone was administered by the United States and the Eastern by the Soviet Union. This would ultimately be the symbolic demarcation of the Cold War.

In China, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China resumed their dormant civil war with the nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek. Ultimately Mao Zedong and his revolutionaries would prevail, thus spreading communism through a vast swathe of Asia. 

The empire of Japan, in ruins after World War II, had occupied and controlled Korea during and prior to the war. Korea was now divided between the Soviet Union controlling the North, and the United States controlling the South.

The ones who suffered the most in these ongoing conflicts were those who had been caught in the middle with either no way of escape or very limited ability to flee.

After World War II, survivors of the Holocaust and other nations wanted to have a refuge for the Jewish people who had been so severely abused during the worldwide conflict. The State of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1947 with Israel itself propelled into an Israeli-Arab war in 1948. This led to conflict in the Middle East that has continued to this day.

By the start of the 1950s, international tension was again escalating.

 

Into War again

Korea was now a divided nation with separate republics each stating that theirs was the legitimate claim.

As tensions continued to escalate into 1950 between the North and South, North Korea, with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. It hoped to take control of the peninsula, after the attack on June 25th, 1950.

The United Nations, now a full-fledged worldwide body, adopted UN Security Council Resolution 82 on the same day. This condemned the North Korean aggression. 

Two days later, UN Security Council Resolution 83 was adopted authorizing the use of military force to stop the invasion of a sovereign country. 

Acting on the adoption of these resolutions, President Harry Truman asked Congress for approval of funds to fight on the Korean peninsula and received approval in August of 1950. 

America and much of the world were again at war.

 

The ‘Lucky 13’

The U.S. found itself ill-prepared to go to war in Korea, but had learned a lot from its experiences only 5 years earlier, particularly in terms of trauma care. 

The US Army had drawn down much of its military to such minimum levels that getting nurses to take up the mantle took maximum effort. Most of those brought into active duty status were part of the Army Nurse Corps (ANC).

Deploying with the Army’s 7thInfantry Division were thirteen nurses who worked at the 1stMobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) on September 15th, 1950. The Army had learned that the key to survival for severe injuries was to have a trauma team located close to their position. 

This led to added danger in the conflict, but the rate of fatalities from severe injuries was reduced to 2.5% from 4.5% during World War II.  

Upon deploying to Incheon and then moving to Pusan, the nurses who had journeyed with the infantry came under enemy fire and were forced to take cover. On October 9th, 1950, Chief Nurse Major Eunice Coleman wrote: “The whole sky was lit up by gunfire and burning vehicles. About sun-up we got out of the ditch and started treating the wounded. All that day, until 1500, we worked on the roadside; operating and treating for shock. We lost eight men and quite a number of supplies and vehicles. When all was clear, the convoy started again and arrived at Pusan by midnight.” After this event they began calling themselves the ‘Lucky Thirteen’.

Eunice Strange Coleman was born on March 21st, 1903 in Wilbarger County, Texas to Leonard Alvin and Mary Elizabeth Coleman. She was the 3rdof five children. 

She received her Bachelors of Science degree at the University of Minnesota and had been stationed in Duke, Oklahoma prior to the war.

As with many of the other nurses throughout the history of U.S. war, there’s no record of her ever marrying. She dedicated her life to serving others through the Army Nurse Corps.

 

Saving Lives at the front

When the Korean War started, only a small contingent of nurses were working in the combat theater. 

As the war progressed, it’s estimated that more than 1,500 nurses served on the Korean peninsula, all of them women since men were not allowed to serve as nurses in the Army Corps until 1955. 

Even though the women stationed in Korea were not trained or required to fight in combat, they still had to be ready to in case the fight came to them. 

As Mary C. Quinn, a First Lieutenant who served alongside Chief Nurse Coleman in the 1stM.A.S.H. unit said: “The nurse must be armed to fight just as the soldier, sailor, or marine. The nurse’s weapons are knowledge and skills that can be employed to wage war on disease and injury wherever these calamities have laid low a man, woman, or child."

Chief Nurse Coleman learned this lesson and many others during her tour in Korea. 

Having had her nurses treat 360 wounded when their capacity had been 60 and surviving their ‘Lucky Thirteen’ roadside episode, Major Coleman, a devout Catholic, was asked why she stayed in the Korean conflict. She answered: “Because if we are to impress Christianity on anybody out here, we must also live it.” Even the Chinese and Korean prisoners of war were amazed at how they were treated.

The Korean War led to great innovations for saving lives. 

The first was the use of helicopters to transfer wounded soldiers back to M.A.S.H. units.

The aircraft used in the majority of transfers was the UH 13 Helicopter called the ‘Sioux’. This method was a rapid way to assist traumatized and wounded patients to the mobile units. 

In fact, not only were American and allied UN soldiers transported, but also North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were convoyed back where they could be cared for.

The nurses would often work twelve-hour shifts, only to continue on once their shift was over due to the numerous casualties coming into their units.

The second advancement in trauma care treatment was the transport of blood and blood banks to where it was needed most. It was in this conflict that the Army started using plastic instead of bottles to transport, store, and administer blood. 

Storage of blood in bottles often led to breakage in transfer or hemolysis, the destruction of red blood cells, because the bottles had to be stored in refrigerators prior to use.

The third major advancement came in vascular surgery. This led to a reduced level of amputations due to trauma from 49.6% in World War II to 20.5% in Korea. This was a significant reduction in long-term injury care.

The fourth and final advancement came in renal dialysis (kidney). Nurses were the ones to first use dialysis to save lives of those who had hemorrhagic fever thus keeping the severely wounded alive long enough for surgery.

Even while saving lives, Chief Nurse Coleman found humor. 

As the nurses were huddling in the roadside ditch in Pusan, Major Coleman called out their names twice for a response. One of her thirteen ‘Army Nightingales’, as they were fondly called, 1stLieutenant Marie Smarz didn’t answer.

Finally, Major Coleman went down the line touching each one to make sure they were safe. Why hadn’t Nurse Smarz answered? “I was afraid the Reds would hear me,” she replied. 

Major Coleman would go on to be awarded the Bronze Star with V bar for Army Nurse Corps valor. She would also go on to serve at the Kansas City General Hospital School of Nursing. 

Eunice Strange Coleman passed away on August 15th, 1983, living to the age of 80,having served her country for many years in the Army Nurse Corps. 

She exemplified the caring and nurturing spirit that the nurses in our military demonstrate to those in greatest need. The following nurses’ prayer is a testament to what these ‘Army Nightingales’ demonstrated during this conflict.

May they never be forgotten.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

 

 

The Army Nurse Corps Prayer

The Prayer of an Army Nurse.

The Prayer of an Army Nurse.

References

Mary M Roberts, RN, “The Army Nurse Corps, Yesterday and Today”, United States Army Nurse Corps, 1955.

Margaret (Zane) Fleming Collection, Gift of Frances Zane, Women's Memorial Foundation Collection, “The Lucky Thirteen”, Pacific Stars and Stripes, Tom Hamrick, 1951 and other associated articles. (Many thanks to the Women’s Memorial Curator Britta Granrud for her assistance.)

World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle is a unique and all-too often forgotten World War Two nurse. As well as helping many troops with their injuries, she became a Prisoner of War in Germany. Here, Matt Goolsby continues his series on Nurses in War and tells her extraordinary story (following articles on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), and World War One nurse Julia Catherine Stimson (here)).

American World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle. Source: US Air Force, available  here .

American World War Two nurse Reba Z. Whittle. Source: US Air Force, available here.

The World of the 1930s

Leading up to World War II, the world had already seen significant conflict.

World War I or the ‘Great War’ along with the stock market crash of 1929 had plunged the global economy into a ‘Great Depression’. These were nicknamed ‘Great’ events because of their worldwide impacts.

Along with the ‘Great Depression’, China had been deluged by massive flooding and America was suffering from a suffocating drought. China was also becoming a hotspot of war on the Asian continent as the Japanese were expanding their territorial conquests during the Manchurian invasion of 1931.

There was trouble again brewing in Europe with fascism on the rise. Francisco Franco in Spain, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and Adolf Hitler in Germany were all making overtures of war or were prosecuting it in their respective nations.

By this time, air travel had become more commonplace as had automobiles throughout the entire world. The first inter-continental flight had taken place and travel between continents was quicker and easier than ever before.

Telecommunications were now truly trans-continental and many enjoyed radio as well as early television entertainment daily from studios such as NBC, CBS, and the Blue network.

US Army nurses were professionals in their own right by this time and had become essential participants and  dubbed ‘Angels’ by those cared for by them.

 

Nurses as captives

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, for the first time ever, five Navy Nurses were taken captive by the Japanese on Guam on December 10th, 1941. These five were fortunate as they were repatriated to Mozambique, Portuguese South Africa in August of 1942.

Nurses had been casualties of war since the Spanish-American conflict, but none had ever been taken captive. All told, 68 Army and 16 Navy nurses were taken captive during World War II.

Other Army and Navy nurses taken captive in The Philippines were not as fortunate as those who had been repatriated to Mozambique.

The Japanese began their assault the day after their Pearl Harbor attack and by April of 1942 had captured Bataan, the prelude of the ‘Bataan Death March’.

When Corregidor fell to Japanese forces on May 6th, 1942, 11 Navy and 66 Army nurses had been captured and were later interred that Summer at Santo Tomas Internment Camp which had previously been the University of Santo Tomas.

The nurses who were captured were fortunate that they were transferred to internment on April 8th, 1942, just two days before the infamous Bataan Death March started that had driven American and Filipino prisoners close to seventy miles on foot and was the scene of numerous atrocities.

On a personal note, one of my uncles was taken captive and forced to march to Bataan. He was never the same once liberated, but was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.

The ‘Angels of Bataan’ as they were referred to by the men or the ‘Battling Belles of Bataan’, survived in captivity for three years without losing a single nurse and were liberated by American forces on February 2nd, 1945.

 

Battle Tested

In the European theater, a brave young woman named Reba Z. Whittle made history that is little known to this day.

Reba Zitella Whittle was born in Rocksprings, Texas on August 19, 1919.  Destined to have a lasting impact, she applied for an appointment as a Reserve Army nurse after graduating from the Medical and Surgical Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas in June 1941.

Having spent a year in college as a Home Economics major at North Texas State College, Reba was better educated and a little older than other applicants of the Army Reserve Nurse Corps.

She was initially denied an appointment as she was 5’7” and only 117 pounds. The requirement was actually seven pounds heavier but was waived due to her educational qualifications. She was advised to diet and rest to increase her weight.

Her initial appointment to the Army Reserves came with orders in June of 1941 that stated: “Assigned to active duty with the Army of the United States for a minimum period of one-year, effective June 17, 1941, and will continue on this status until relieved for the convenience of the Government or otherwise."

An important fact to remember about this time period in world history is that many people saw the looming threats that were developing and felt a compelling desire to be involved. Their sense of duty to their countries still rings true to this day and is a tribute as well as a lasting legacy to the many who sacrificed so much for our freedom from tyranny. Regardless of the allied power that they represented, they banded together during this worldwide conflict that cost so many lives.

After taking the oath to defend her country, Reba was given the rank of 2ndLieutenant as a Reserve Nurse in the Army Nurse Corps. She was ordered to report to the Albuquerque Air Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico and then assigned to Kirkland Field, New Mexico at Station Hospital and then at Station Hospital, Mather Field, California where she would spend the next 27 months as a general duty war nurse.

Her life would forever change in January of 1943 when she volunteered for the Army Air Forces School of Evacuation. All of the applicants of the school were volunteers as the potential for casualties ran high.

The Army utilized a C-47 cargo transport aircraft that served a dual-purpose. Its first role was to transport soldiers and their cargo to the battle-lines. Once having transported their initial load, the planes would then switch roles to become an evacuation air ambulance for the wounded. Since the planes were not identified as a hospital transport and didn’t have a Geneva Red Cross insignia, the assignment was very risky for the crew.

Lieutenant Whittle started training at the Army Air Forces School of Air Evacuation at Bowman Field, Kentucky on September 23, 1943. Prior to her arrival, the training had expanded from four to six weeks. 

According to the book, The Forgotten POW, the following details were highlighted as part of her training: “The intent of the program was to make the nurse largely self-sufficient on the flight. The nurse was required to use the equipment and medical supplies provided on the plane for treatment to relieve pain, to prevent hemorrhage, to treat shock, to administer oxygen, and in every way to meet any circumstances that might be encountered. In contrast to the hospital ward situation, all of this was to be done in the absence of a physician. Only in rare instances did a flight surgeon accompany a patient on a flight.”

Having completed her training, Lieutenant Whittle was assigned to the 813thMedical Aeronautical Transportation Squadron in Great Britain. The unit was initially stationed in the city of Nottingham, but later it moved to Brighton and then to Grove. During her time there from January through September of 1944, she flew 40 missions, 80 hours of which included combat time with a combined flying time of 500 hours. She quickly became a veteran combat nurse who coincidentally, had read nurse Juanita Redmond’s book titled: “I served on Bataan”, published in 1943. This is where she learned about what had happened to her fellow nurses captured in war.

Little did she know she would be next.

 

Lone POW

The day of September 27th, 1944 was not a good one for 2ndLieutenant Reba Z. Whittle.

In her diary that she began not long after being captured, she wrote that on Wednesday, September 27th, she left England with the intention of returning and going to London the next day, her day off. 

As it turned out, this was not to be: “Was sleeping quite soundly in the back of our hospital plane until suddenly awakened by terrific sounds of guns and cracklings of the plane as if it had gone into bits. For a few moments I hardly knew what to think. Can assure anyone a more than startled expression and sensation. Suddenly looked at my Surgical Tech opposite me with blood flowing from his left leg. The noise by this time seemed to be much worse. But to see the left engine blazing away - is simply more than I can express - But never thought I would land on the ground in one peace [sic]. My prayers were used and quick.”

After the plane had hit the ground and all but one of the crew had got out, there were more surprises to come: “Immediately we saw soldiers not many yards away. At first we thought they were British soldiers. Second glance we recognized they were German GIs. This feeling is one never dreamed of having. But thought - we've had it chum. The first thought in my mind - my boyfriend and he would be waiting back at my quarters that evening. But how thankful and grateful to be alive.”

War has a tendency to bring out the best and worst in humanity, but the ground soldiers or ‘grunts’ who served in the German Army were surprisingly gentle and concerned: “They took a glance their guns pointing and immediately one took out a bandage and put around my head as it was bleeding. The surprised look on their faces when they saw a woman was amazing. But they bandaged us and away we marched our ship still burning.”

The unfortunate mistake that the navigator made during the crew’s mission was to get off course. Instead of flying to France, the mis-navigation took them to Achen, Germany where they were shot down.

During the crash, Reba sustained a concussion and a severe laceration that were later treated by a German doctor. Her ordeal would continue as the Germans who’d captured them drove them deeper into Germany.

Traveling on weathered roads with injured POWs inside a cold and dirty truck, the German Army would periodically stop at different towns to take meal breaks or to discuss what to do with the prisoners. One such encounter between a German doctor and Lieutenant Whittle is indicative of the difficulties of war: “Next stop was a German hospital where they unloaded the wood. A German officer takes us in. Where more questions asked. And just what I was - a Dr. came in and looked all over and asked me questions of being a nurse. Shook his head saying, ‘Too bad having a woman as you are the first one and no one knows exactly what to do.’"

Her travels would continue throughout the German countryside as she was assigned to hospitals along a circuitous route that the German command determined on a seemingly random basis. As she landed in different locations, her nurse training met with practical experience to help the wounded American and British POWs.

Along the way the astonishment of the wounded that a woman had been captured and how it had been done continued to intrigue those she met.

 

Free at last

As Reba’s internment continued, her writings demonstrated the perseverance and dedication that nurses in war exhibit and especially the concern they show for those in their care.

At the end of November 1944, Lieutenant Whittle’s writing in her diary suddenly stopped. It’s been surmised since she never wrote a reason why or told her husband, that she was just too busy taking care of preparations for the holiday season. 

Throughout her writings she would express her spontaneous crying when she felt desperate, though she never seemed to waiver in her hope that she would be freed.

Towards the end of her journaling she had learned that the International Red Cross had heard of her plight and was trying to repatriate her through official bureaucratic channels. Undoubtedly, this provided hope where there had been none.

Reba Z. Whittle was finally repatriated on January 25th, 1945, having spent four months as a German prisoner of war. She was the only American female nurse to have been captured in Europe during World War II.

After being freed, Lieutenant Whittle was sent home and was able to spend one night with her fiancé, Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Tobiason, who would later return to duty in England. She also received a telegram from then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt thanking her for her service:

As your Commander in Chief, I take pride in your past achievements and express the thanks of a grateful Nation for your services in combat and your steadfastness while a prisoner of war. May God grant each of you happiness and an early return to health.”

 

Not long after coming home, Reba was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in action and also the Air Medal for serving in unarmed and unarmored aircraft.

A month later, 2ndLieutenant Whittle was promoted to 1stLieutenant. Unable to return to flight duty due to recurring headaches from the injuries she sustained and other maladies, she remained on active duty until August, 1945 when she married Lieutenant Colonel Tobiason at Hamilton Field, California and resigned her commission.

Reba had never been declared a POW officially. She spent the next 10 years petitioning the Department of the Army to get a disability retirement only to be frustrated by bureaucracy. She finally settled for a meager amount in 1955, trying to reapply in 1960.

By that time the case was determined to have been closed. She never did anything further about the medical and psychiatric disorders she’d suffered from being a prisoner of war. However, her legacy has lived on in her two sons, one of them having graduated from the US Naval Academy and becoming a pilot who flew in the Vietnam conflict. 

Reba passed away from cancer in 1981, but her husband again petitioned the Department of the Army. In 1983 Reba was finally officially recognized as a POW of World War II. 

None of us can truly know the struggles and difficulties that a POW must go through, especially when they return. Reba exemplifies the best in humanity and serves as a lasting role model for the Army Nurse Corps. 

She is justified at last.

 

What do you think of Reba Z. Whittle? Let us know below.

References

Lieutenant Colonel E.V. Frank, AN, “The Forgotten POW: Second Lieutenant Reba Z. Whittle, AN”, US Army War College, February 1990.

“The 1930s”, https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/1930s

“Angels of Bataan”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_of_Bataan

Julia Catherine Stimson (1881-1948) was a nurse who led a remarkable life. This included playing a key nursing role for the United States in World War One, notably leading all American nurses in France. Here, Matt Goolsby follows his articles on US Civil War nurses Clara Barton (here) and Cornelia Hancock (here), and continues his series on Nurses in War.

Julia Catherine Stimson in 1920.

Julia Catherine Stimson in 1920.

Into the Twentieth Century

The early 20th century in the American experience brought forth several foundational technological changes.

The automobile was introduced along with the highly efficient manufacturing assembly line innovated by Henry Ford. Many Americans could save for and afford a new Model T nicknamed ‘Tin Lizzie’ for a mere $300.

The Wright brothers championed flying in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, thus forever changing the nature of travel.

With these technological innovations, the nature of warfare dramatically changed. 

By the start of World War I, the mechanisms of war utilized a much broader array of innovative weapons that included: aircraft that dropped artillery over the battlefield, tanks that charged positions indiscriminately, flamethrowers that were used to ‘vacate’ captured trenches, and submarines that decimated convoys carrying much needed supplies.

Fortunately, medical care had also made huge advances forward in the treatment and care of the critically wounded.

One of the modern inventions of the day was the X-Ray machine. Cumbersome for the time and unable to be used on a mobile platform, Madam Marie Curie developed smaller, portable units called “Little Curies” that could be utilized at field hospitals.

 

Educational foundations

The United States Army had come a long way since the Civil and Spanish-American War eras by the early 1900s both in its view of the medical profession and nurses in particular. Numerous advancements in the care of the wounded led to a much greater survival rate despite the weapons used in World War I.

Gone were the days that nurses were ‘Volunteers’ or on contract. They were now fully-fledged members of the US military. Stepping into the spotlight at this time was Julia Catherine Stimson.

Julia was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on May 26, 1881 to Dr. Reverend Henry A. Stimson and Alice Wheaton Bartlett Stimson. She was the second of seven and was born into a prominent family that had distinguished itself in Public Service. 

Dr. Lewis Atterbury Stimson, her uncle, was a surgeon who was the first to perform a public operation utilizing a procedure known as the ‘Joseph Lister antiseptic technique’. He also wrote the original charter for Cornell University’s medical school and helped to secure an endowment to open it.

Julia’s cousin Henry L. Stimson, her uncle Lewis’s son, became the Secretary of War and Secretary of State under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His sister Candace also served in World War I administering the anti-tetanus serum. 

Public Service was born into the Stimson lineage.

A recurring theme throughout Julia’s life was the transient nature of her career path. Having had a father who was a pastor, there were times that the family relocated from its Northeastern locale.

When Julia was five, the family moved to St. Louis so that her father could take the job of pastor at the Pilgrim Congregational church, part of the United Church of Christ. Seven years later, the family relocated to New York where her father took the job of Pastor of the Broadway Church in Manhattan, New York City and where she attended the Brearley school. This is where her education took a profound turn forward as shown in her writings. 

The private Brearley school for girls was founded by Samuel A. Brearley Jr. in 1884 as an institution whose mission as their website states is: “To provide young women with an education comparable to that available to their brothers.”

Women were not given the same opportunity for education in the late 19thcentury as their male peers, so this proved to be a foundational event in her young life.

Upon graduating from Brearley, Julia began studies at the Vassar Women’s college in Poughkeepsie, New York. She started her college career at the tender age of 16 and graduated in 1901 with an A.B. degree along with her eldest sister Alice. Her three younger sisters also graduated from Vassar; Lucille in 1904, Dorothy in 1912, and Barbara in 1919.

It is of note that when she graduated she wanted to become a physician, but her parents and uncle Henry Stimson discouraged her from entering the male dominated world of medicine. Her youngest sister was later able to enter the medical profession as an orthopedic surgeon, as their parents relaxed their standards with the most juvenile offspring.

 

Personal experience leads to Nursing

In 1903, Julia was hospitalized for a chronic skin condition, and it was there that she met who was to become her mentor, Annie Warburton Goodrich, head of the New York Hospital Training School for nurses. Ms. Goodrich would later go on to become the first Dean of Yale School of Nursing.

Through this relationship, Julia enrolled in the New York Hospital training school and graduated in 1908. She became supervisor of nurses at Harlem Hospital from 1908 to 1911, thus honing her leadership skills.

Her career would be further refined through numerous posts until the latter part of World War I when the United States entered the war.

A succession of graduated experiences included being the head of social service at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, and later becoming the Superintendent of the Training School for Nurses at Barnes Hospital and then St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

She even managed to fit in a Graduate degree in Sociology while living in St. Louis.

The many work and life experiences that Julia had, prepared her for the trying times to come.

 

Chief of Nurses

With the American entrance into World War I on April 2, 1917, Julia Catherine Stimson volunteered to join the US Army Nurses Corps and became the Chief Nurse of Base Hospital #21 at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. This unit would soon be transferred to Rouen, France to care of the wounded on the front lines.

She effectively organized and selected the nurses who would accompany her to the European theater. Her writings attest to the joy she felt at the privilege of being able to serve in a larger cause:

“Don't you worry about me one least little bit. I am having the time of my life and wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world.”

–       Written May 25, 1917 onboard ship.

–        

Her humanity and compassionate spirit come through in much of her writing, although it was often mistaken that she was a cold-hearted administrator:

“In the blinding light of war, her dominant personality stood out in the same bold outlines as did her Amazonian physique. Her regular, boyish features habitually wore a thoughtful expression, which brought to the observer an impression of dignity and power. Her well-trained mental processes, clean-cut often to the point of brusque speech, were as direct in their focus as were her keen blue eyes.”

 

While some may have found this complimentary, she took offense at how she was portrayed by some of her peers and complained that she was unfairly characterized. It is written that she was a shy and sensitive woman who clearly knew what her work in life was to be.

She demonstrates her sensitivity to the horrors of war in a letter dated, July 16, 1917 from Rouen, France:

“On the fourth of July we thought how like a home Fourth it was, but here the popping and the shots sound every day. And it is not fireworks that are being shot off. At neighboring camps there are experts in bayoneting, experts in gassing, experts in Hate Talk. There are actually special men who sometimes talk to as many as three thousand men to make them feel that their chief business is to kill. It is incomprehensible. Whenever will this toppling world right itself?”

 

As the war continued, Julia was right in the middle of treating the most critically wounded. Her courage along with the nurses in her charge was evident numerous times in her letters. She writes of an incident that occurred on September 28, 1917:

“A nurse was holding a droplight over the bed, another nurse was holding the arm, a doctor was adjusting the tourniquet so that the vein would show up well, then the two men who were working were bending over the arm, I was handing them instruments, for I was scrubbed up, since everything must be sterile. The patient was just gasping, rapidly growing worse, but the point went in successfully and the blood began to flow into his vein, when all the lights went out and the patient stopped breathing!”

 

Unfortunately, the patient she wrote of passed in the middle of being treated. However, her fortitude was put to good use many times as demonstrated when her younger brother Philip, himself a doctor who was assigned to a company of the US Army in France, was wounded by random shrapnel fire. 

After being treated, Julia worked diligently to have her brother transferred to her hospital unit to be in her care and had a personal escort from her hospital unit, a Captain Veeder, also a doctor, travel with her 130 miles via ambulance to retrieve Philip. They drove all the way back to her assigned hospital unit in Rouen where she was able to oversee his care and convalescence. It is remarkable what she did to care for others!

 

First Colonel of the Army Nurse Corps

As the war continued on, Julia was reassigned to the American Red Cross in Paris where she became the Chief Nurse in France with 10,000 nurses reporting to her. Her administrative abilities came to full fruition with this assignment and the next in November 1918, as she became the director of nursing for the American Expeditionary Forces.

The relationship between the American Red Cross and the US Army was and is a close one as the Red Cross has a unique charter of working in an integral way with the US military. 

When the war ended, Julia returned to the US and was appointed the acting Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and the Dean of the Army School of Nursing. Her appointment became permanent at the end of 1919. 

With the passage of the amended Defense Act on June 4, 1920, she became a major in the US Army, the first and only woman of that rank at the time. 

She went on to serve as the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps until 1937 when she retired having served her country for twenty years caring for those in need. 

When World War II broke out, she was recalled to Active Duty to recruit women for the Army Nurse Corps. She was promoted to the rank of Colonel shortly before she passed away in September of 1948 at the age of 67. 

It is awe inspiring to read about the courageous nature and beautiful spirit that Julia Stimson graciously demonstrated throughout her life as well as the relationships she developed that lasted her entire career.

May we each be motivated to live a life that inspires and moves others to good deeds.

 

What do you think of Julia Catherine Stimson? Let us know below.

References

Julia Catherine Stimson, “Finding themselves: The letters of an American Army Chief Nurse in a British Hospital in France”, The Macmillan Company, New York, September 1918.

Lavinia L. Dock,Sarah Elizabeth Pickett,Clara D. Noyes,Fannie F. Clement,Elizabeth G. Cox, Anna R. VanMeter, “History of American Red Cross Nursing”, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1922.

 “Twelve Technological advancements of World War I”, http://mentalfloss.com/article/31882/12-technological-advancements-world-war-i

“Alumni of Vasser College – Julia Stimson”, http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/alumni/julia-stimson.html

“Lewis Atterbury Stimson – Partial Biography”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Atterbury_Stimson

“The Brearley School”, https://www.brearley.org/page/about/our-history

“Julia Catherine Stimson and the Mobilization of Womanpower” – Marion Hunt, http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/mowihsp/articles/Stimson.htm

“The history of Red Cross Nursing”,https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/nursing.html

Legendary American Civil War-era nurse Clara Barton was extraordinary in many ways. Not only was she an important nurse in the US Civil War, she also played a key role in bringing the Red Cross to America. Here, Matt Goolsby follows his first ‘nurses in war’ article on Cornelia Hancock (available here) and tells us about the life of Clara Barton.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

Humble Beginnings

The United States was a very agrarian based nation in the early part of the 19th century. Travel and communication were typically slow and arduous.

By the time of the Civil War, the northeast region of the U.S. was experiencing the growing pains of the Industrial Revolution that had started in England in the 1700s. Railroad lines were expanding at an exponential rate as the demand for goods transversed the entire region of the rapidly growing country.

Communication was also becoming a transcontinental medium to rapidly transmit information from one region to another through the use of telegraph lines. Newspapers began publishing stories next day instead of relying on couriers delivering accounts that took days if not weeks to send and receive.

One would assume that the rapidly expanding use of technology and industry would have affected how the medical profession cared for the sick, wounded, and dying soldiers who were the casualties of the Civil War during this time. In reality, it exposed the glaring weaknesses and woeful practices utilized in treatment that spawned a desire for improvement of those who were most vulnerable. Against this backdrop, a formidable leader and role model emerged.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts to Captain Stephen Barton and his wife Sarah Stone. She was the youngest of five children: Dorothy - 17, Stephen - 15, David - 13, and Sally – 10 at the time.

Coming from very unpretentious beginnings, Clara as she was fondly known by, was a timid and shy child. Her elder brother David spent much time with Clara riding horses and enjoying the outdoors which helped to relieve some of the timidity she first felt.

The Barton home where Clara was born still exists to this day in its original location and is a museum to her life and testament to the simple yet solid foundations her family was known for.

The Barton family, whose beginnings can be traced back to 11thcentury England in the Domesday book, otherwise known as: ‘A great survey’ commissioned by William the Conqueror, shows that the family was awarded land due to their loyalty to king and country.

The Barton family in America first appears in 1640 in Salem, Massachusetts after Edward Barton emigrated from England as one of the early colonists. After several moves throughout New England, the Barton family finally settled in North Oxford, Massachusetts and took up daily living with their Universalist religious background.

Of particular note are the facts that Clara’s family established the first Universalist church in Oxford and ordained its first Pastor: Hosea Ballou who is considered one of the fathers of American Universalism. As described in the story of Clara’s life by Percy H. Elper: “Yet her father and mother, however liberal in their creed, never relaxed from the deepest habits of all that was best in Pilgrim and Puritan. No matter how snowy, no matter how the winds hurtled over the hilltops — the Barton family not only drove five miles to church every Sunday, but maintained, during the other six days of the week, the deeper fundamentals of conscience and honor peculiar to their forefathers' faith.”

 

Foundational Nurse Training

In 1832 Clara and her family experienced a significant medical crisis that helped form her future nursing skills and made clear the talent she innately possessed.

Her brother David was severely injured while working on a barn-raising when one of the boards he was standing on at the peak collapsed under him. He fell to the ground sustaining a severe head injury that laid him up in bed for nearly two years. 

Clara, perhaps from the closeness she felt to her brother while riding horseback in the woods, spent the entire recovery time caring for David. She also was the one who applied the prescribed treatments of the time for him that consisted of: Leeches, setons (stitches to relieve infection), counter-irritating blisters, and blood-letting to relieve his fever. She is quoted as saying: “For two years I only left his bedside for one half day. I almost forgot that there was an outside to the house.”

After David had finally recovered from his injuries, (when the new treatment of steam baths came into use), Clara had to sequester herself for recovery time from the care she had provided. At the tender age of 11, it was a portent of things to come.

 

Civil War Service

After spending 18 years teaching and then another 5 years living and working in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of the Interior and Patent Office, Clara saw firsthand what many of the men who were involved in the Civil War would experience through its long, arduous journey.

In April of 1861, the Massachusetts 6thregiment heeded the call of Abraham Lincoln for 75,000 troops and proceeded to make its way down to the nation’s capital. On their way they passed through Baltimore, Maryland where a crowd of 10,000 opponents of the beginning conflict assaulted them. This left four dead and 30 wounded.

They fought their way through the crowd and arrived in Washington the following day: April 16, 1861. Clara witnessed the regiment as they arrived by train and was there to greet them. 

This was the first time she had worked as a ‘Volunteer Nurse’ and experienced what would become her life’s mission to apply healing to those wounded in conflict. In her own words she testifies: "Among the soldiers, I recognized my own early associates. We bound their wounds, and fed them." There were many from Worcester, Massachusetts including Sergeant J. Stewart Brown and Joseph M. Dyson who she knew by name.

As the war progressed, Clara became acutely aware of the need for frontline care for the wounded and dying. Her desire to care for them put her in mortal danger numerous times. She writes of her time with the soldiers at Antietam in September of 1862: "We were in a slight hollow and all shell which did not break our guns in front, came directly among or over us, bursting above our heads or burying themselves in the hills beyond. A man lying upon the ground asked for a drink, I stopped to give it, and having raised him with my right hand, was holding him. Just at this moment a bullet sped its free and easy way between us, tearing a hole in my sleeve and found its way into his body. He fell back dead. There was no more to be done for him and I left him to his rest. I have never mended that hole in my sleeve. I wonder if a soldier ever does mend a bullet hole in his coat?”

These experiences as gleaned from her writings, demonstrate the conviction of purpose and character that she had developed since her time caring for her brother’s injuries.

There are several key traits of Clara’s personality that are apparent in both her writings and of those who knew her.

The first is that she was never interested in money, only in solving humanities ill fortunes. This is best described later as she would later become the founder of the American Red Cross and would petition the U.S. Government to have its purpose expanded as a humanitarian relief organization for natural disasters as well as their charter to aid the wounded, sick, and dying in war. 

The second trait that also is very apparent is her love for her fellow man and the ability to rise to the occasion when events merit it. I’m reminded fondly of Mother Teresa and her ministering to the poor, sick, and weak ‘untouchables’ of India who she cared for during most of her adult life.

Towards the end of the war Clara was recognized for her gallant service by being named the Superintendent of the Department of Nurses under Surgeon McCormack who was Chief Director of the Army of the James stationed at City Point, Virginia.

As was always the case with Clara, she never settled for comfort in the ‘safe’ zones, but wanted to be attending to the infirm on the frontlines. 

Her oldest brother Stephen would also become a victim of the war and perhaps one of her greatest motivations to fulfill her duty as a nurse.

Stephen Barton had been mistakenly identified as a Confederate by the Union due to his living in North Carolina and had been neglected for a long period until Clara got word of him being hospitalized in Washington D.C. By this time, his health had deteriorated beyond hope.

Not long before he passed away in 1865, she wrote of hearing one of his final, moving prayers: "Oh God, whose children we all are, look down with thine eye of justice and mercy upon this terrible conflict, and weaken the wrong, and strengthen the right till this unequal contest close. Oh God, save my country. Bless Abraham and his armies.” She also painted a vivid portrait of what the conditions of where he passed were: "And there under the guns of Richmond, amid the groans of the dying, in the shadows of the smoky rafters of an old negro hut, by the rude chimney where the dusky form of the bondsman had crouched for years, and on the ground, trodden hard by the foot of the slave, I knelt beside that rough couch of boards, and, to the patriot prayer that rose above, sobbed 'Amen.'”

 

American Red Cross Founder

For four years following the Civil War, Clara Barton helped find those men who were missing in action from the official records of the war’s dead. While still living in Washington D.C., she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers to identify those who were killed or missing in action to try to relieve the suffering of family and friends.

During this time, she met and befriended Susan B. Anthony as well as Frederick Douglas. These relationships would leave a lasting impression on her as she championed women’s suffrage and civil rights for the rest of her life.

The years of Civil War work for others had taken their toll on Clara. After seeing her doctor and following his orders to get rest and recuperation from her many travails, she decided to visit Europe in 1869. Her first visit was to Liverpool, England and then on to Paris. Her final stop was to be where her life’s calling was forever changed.

Arriving in Geneva, Switzerland for the end of her vacation period, she was visited by the president and members of the “International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded in the War”, which would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since Clara had such an outstanding reputation even with the international community, she was asked why America didn’t honor the recently signed ‘Geneva Convention’ and why after such a conflict as theirs, they wouldn’t be interested in it? Her answer was simple: “I listened in silent wonder to all this recital, and when I did reply it was to say that I had never heard of the Convention of Geneva nor of the treaty, and was sure that as a country America did not know she had declined.”

Not long after she had arrived in Geneva, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Clara was able to see first-hand how the Red Cross in Europe was operating and how it contrasted with her experiences in the Civil War: "As I journeyed on and saw the work of these Red Cross societies in the field, accomplishing in four months under their systematic organization what we failed to accomplish in four years without it — no mistakes, no needless suffering, no starving, no lack of care, no waste, no confusion, but order, plenty, cleanliness and comfort wherever that little flag made its way — a whole continent marshaled under the banner of the Red Cross — as I saw all this, and joined and worked in it, you will not wonder that I said to myself 'if I live to return to my country I will try to make my people understand the Red Cross and that treaty.' But I did more than resolve, I promised other nations I would do it, and other reasons pressed me to remember my promise.”

One is struck with the irony of Clara’s timing in situations where war breaks out. It seems that she was called for just a time as these.

In early 1871 the Franco-Prussian war ended, but the battles continued throughout both Germany and France until the late summer of the same year. Clara stayed through this entire time ministering to the sick, treating the wounded, establishing clothiers who would fashion garments for the poorest, and soliciting funds from aristocratic donors who included Grand Duchess Louise of Baden, Kingdom of Prussia. Her willingness to befriend any class of person is another testament to her savviness and skill.

By 1874 Clara was worn out from her time in Europe and lack of recuperation. She was no stranger to loss having found out that her sister Sally had died before she could see her one final time in Worcester. Her only remaining relative in her family circle was her brother David whom she had nursed back to health as a child.

She spent several more years convalescing and writing friends, family, and officials of her intentions to establish the American Red Cross. With great perseverance, she was finally successful in 1881 with President James Garfield’s administration and it was established. An assassin’s bullet struck down the President and delayed the formal establishment of the association while the nation mourned for 80 days. 

Finally, in 1882, the Red Cross was formally established with ratification by Congress and the signing of the Geneva Convention by President Chester Arthur. Its role had expanded from not just treating the wounded and dying from war, but also those who experienced natural disasters.

At a convention of the International Red Cross in Geneva during 1882, the President of the International organization gave Clara the credit for the new American branch: "Its whole history is associated with a name already known to you — that of Miss Clara Barton; without the energy and perseverance of this remarkable woman, we should not for a long time have had the pleasure of seeing the Red Cross received into the United States."

Clara would serve as the President of the American Red Cross until June, 1904. Her tasks of running the organization along with doing fieldwork are unheard of in this day and age. 

As the years went by, Clara would write her autobiography titled: ‘The Story of My Childhood’. But the Clara Barton that I read about was gleaned from the book titled: ‘The Life of Clara Barton’, by Percy Elper who was the only authorized biographer of her life by the family. He used her unpublished war diaries, letters, eyewitness accounts, and conversations to write a truly compelling picture of this unique lady. 

Clara died in her home in 1912 at the age of 90. Her stature and legacy on American society have had a tremendous impact on so many people. We have much to learn from her compassionate and caring nature for those in need.

 

What do you think of Clara Barton? Let us know below.

References

Percy H. Epler, “The Life of Clara Barton”, The Macmillan Company, New York, July 1915.

 “Evolution of the Railroad”, https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/videos/evolution-of-railroads

“Nursing History – Clara Barton”, 

https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/enterprise-assets/about-us/history/history-clara-barton-v3.pdf

“Biography of Mother Teresa”, https://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160

“The Domesday Book”, http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/

“Clara Barton – Library of Congress”, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018651854/

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones