Local WW2 Nurse, 90, to be Guest on USNS Comfort
Reno Gazette Journal
RENO NV — Fri, 02 Jul 2010, 10:45 AM
"Comfort Arrives." US Navy official photo
April 1945, the USS Comfort was alone at sea with a full complement of wounded having departed the fiercest campaign of the Pacific, the Battle of Okinawa. As it sailed through the night the lone white ship was lit up brightly as outlined in the Geneva Conventions. The large red cross at the center of her midship side signaled she was a protected floating hospital carrying no defensive arms.
Out of the sky thundered a lone kamikaze aiming full throttle at that very red cross.
The surgery of the Comfort was in full swing as the ship's ARMY medical staff did their best for the soldiers in their care. They could hardly anticipate the seconds ahead as they toiled behind the midship wall directly behind the red cross the pilot had a bead on.
1st Lt. Doris Gardner (now Howard), ARMY Nurse Corps, was assigned to a ward receiving post-op patients and other seriously wounded from the battlefield adjacent the main surgery. She passed a patient and his oxygen tank to get to the medicine cabinet. While loading a syringe of "liquid gold" (penacilin), the kamikaze plane crashed through the Comfort amidships. The wing-tip took out the elevator shaft behind the medicine cabinet wall. The explosion threw Gardner 20' into a bulkhead. "The elevator shaft went but the medicine cabinet wall stayed. If that wall had gone, we would have lost the entire ward. The oxygen tank would have seen to that. But for some miraculous reason the tank didn't move an inch. It didn't even fall over."
Just beyond the wall the surgery was decimated. The medical staff and the wounded they were tending were killed instantly. To this day the six nurses who were killed are known to be part of the deadliest attack on women in uniform in US history.
Dazed, the petite 5' tall, 90 pound nurse picked herself up and began caring for those less fortunate. Her hearing was completely gone for 10 hours and her back was injured, but not enough to keep her from caring for friends and strangers alike, using hand signals to take orders.
Doris Howard getting a personal tour of the hospital ship USNS Comfort by Director of Nursing, Commander Mark Marino
Sixty-five years later, Reno resident Doris Howard has been invited by the Commander of the USNS Comfort to be his guest at the Changing of Command ceremony onboard the ship in its dock in Baltimore, Maryland on July 8th.
Asked if she were up for the trip the 90-year-old replied, "I wouldn't miss it for the world. I loved my days on the Comfort. I'll never forget when we were invited to go up on deck to see our sister ship the USS Hope going by. We were all stunned. 'Do we look like that?' They were beautiful ships with the noblest of missions."
Doris Howard left her Bay Area home of 45 years and moved to Reno in 2005. "Oh, I love Reno. Every day I treasure the beauty I see here. I see the Sierra from my bedroom every morning when I awake. How could it get any better?"
Doris will be accompanied by her son, Billy Howard of Reno. She will be escorted on a tour of the Comfort by Director of Nursing, Commander Mark Marino before celebrating at a ceremony for Capt. J. J. Ware, outgoing Commanding Officer of the Comfort.
"What an honor it is to return to the Comfort. I want to run and see my stateroom, but I keep reminding myself this is a different Comfort than the one I was on, new and modern. She has given aid in Haiti recently and I have always kept track of the many humanitarian trips she has made throughout the world."
Doris doesn't have much time to prepare for her trip. This week she cleaned three flats of strawberries and blueberries for canning and harvested peas from her South Meadows garden.