Some things take time
At the age of 99, Doris (Gardner) Howard is remaking her WW2 Scrapbook. After carrying around 5 boxes of memorabilia for 74 years, Doris with the aid of friend Mary Johnson, is finally finishing up her WW2 scrapbook.
Begun in 1947, her scrapbook fell apart by 1970 and ended up in a box along with a lot of other items from the duration of WW2.
Her family long wanted to help, but every time we opened the boxes we were completely overwhelmed. Where on Earth to begin? And we ended up putting them away for another year.
In late summer 2018, a friend, Mary Johnson, graciously offered to help. It's taken them a year, meeting most weeks for 2-3½ hours. But the project is finally nearing completion, 7/11/19.
Timeline: Duration of WW2: 05/16/1942 - 10/31/1945
To be a Stewardess: St. Luke's Hospital School for Nurses, Racine, Wisconsin, Aug 1938- Jun 1941
Doris Gardner nursing school pin she wore on every uniform for her career beginning in 1941, a requirement at the time. Cost $25. Pin was not found after returning home from the war. She bought this one in 1945.
Taught by doctors. Nurses sometimes gave lectures like the nurse from Sweden who used to say, "You don't like nursing? You can leave"
Nursing learned by practicum. Nurses never said anything, you were just supposed to watch. Doris was 5'0" and could often not see.
When Sally Lou went to Waukesha they assigned her to surgery."No, no I can't help there. They never taught us properly. I wouldn't know what to do."
"That's all right, we'll teach you."
But when Mary Jane Obslub and Doris went, they weren't as amenable in OB/GYN.
Had to give baths to babies in a closet. Had to gather the babies in the right order, put them in a cart, get them to the right mother under the covers if they were nursing, or prepare a bottle. One time had to prep 6 mothers and babies to go home at the same time.
OB nurse didn't like Doris. Windows had to be open to a certain spot to give babies fresh air before going to their mothers. Mom forgot 3 times and never forgot again.
When checking on babies at 3a she came upon a baby on oxygen. He hadn't been doing well, but when Doris saw him she knew the baby was dying. The O2 funnel had fallen away. The baby was still getting oxygen, but not much. Doris picked the baby up and held the funnel over his mouth and nose. She had all the babies on that floor and more on the second floor.
But she stayed with the baby, holding him in her arms and giving him oxygen. Not being able to get away to call the doctor. She hoped Mary Jane Obslub from St. Luke's would come from checking on the mothers to go call the doctor, but she didn't come until about 4a, Doris holding the baby then entire time, watching him fade as it was clear the baby was dying.
Mary Jane wouldn't call the doctor, so Doris gave the baby to her and made the call. He came very quickly, checked the baby and shook his head. The baby was gone soon after.
Doris shift was over at 7a and she fell into bed, sleeping characteristically soundly. Soon a knock came on the door. It was the head OB nurse.
"Get up and prepare that baby for burial."
When Doris arrived in the closet where the baby's body was, a number of items had been laid out. She wasn't sure what they were, or what she was supposed to do, and the OB nurse wasn't about to tell her.
So she went by intuition, did what seemed right and the nurse never stopped her.
Handsome Hungarian doctor of royal descent. He liked Doris and would always say when he passed her, "Zee horny layer." Doris couldn't figure out why he kept commenting on her nails.
Doris had 104º fever and Head Nurse would check on her throughout the day, though she wasn't her patient. Liked her and took care of her. She had that fever 3 times with an upper respertory
Meeting Mary: Obstetrics Nurse in Waukesha, WI, Care of Mothers and Babies, July 1941-June 1942
While waiting to hear back from airlines to be a stewardess (RN requirement back then), Doris took a job as an Obstetrics nurse caring for mothers and babies. She still often talks about how she loved caring for the newborns. A few stories from that time will be added soon.
There she met fellow obstetrics nurse Mary Rodden. The two were inseparable from that day until the day they were both unexpectedly honorably discharged from the Army in September 1945.
From Doris Gardner's discharge papers, care of babies the qualification to be an Army nurse in war zones.
Journey Begins: Camp Grant, IL, Mar-Jul, 1942
All actions and tasks must lead and work toward promoting the wellness of Warriors and their families, supporting the delivery of Warrior and family healthcare, and all those entrusted to our care and ultimately, positioning the Army Nurse Corps as a force multiplier for the future of military medicine.
Colonel Flikke's small headquarters in 1942, though it contained only 4 officers and 25 civilians, supervised the vast wartime expansion of nurses, in cooperation with the Red Cross. She only took unmarried women age 22-30 who had their RN training from civilian schools. They enlisted for the war plus six months, and were discharged if they married or became pregnant.
The Chief Nurse, Captain Finch, at Camp Grant, IL, at the start of Doris' military assignment, was coincidentally the Chief Nurse at Oakland Regional Hospital (a.k.a. Oakland Area Station Hospital), Doris' final assignment before the unexpected discharge: 3+ years and 2000 miles apart.
From the Freezer to the Fryer, From Hotel to Hospital: Torney General, Palm Springs, CA, Aug 1942 - Mar 1943
Doris: "Nurses traveled together in groups of six. Two nurses had come from Boston, one was considered a 'troublemaker, endlessly questioning 'Why do I that to do this? Why do I have to do that?' The other was a jovial woman of some size. We found out later she was pregnant, which is likely why she was being transferred away from her base. Another nurse on the base I didn't know well. She was in love with a soldier stationed at Camp Grant and had wanted them to marry, but he wanted to wait until the war was over: 'What if one of us is wounded or killed? Should the other be trapped in a marriage. What if we have a child and one or even both of us are killed, how fair would that be to our child.' She had a friend that came along with us.
We went to Los Angeles from Chicago on the Super Chief (the southwestern route) and stopped at Harvey Houses along the way.
We were left off in San Bernardino, California, and took a local train out to Palm Springs Station, open air and unstaffed. We were left off with no one in sight, 6 nurses all alone in the lonely desert, "out in the middle of nowhere," around 6p on 1 August 1942, with no staff and no phone in sight to alert the Army we had arrived.
They looked all around the building. Nothing. They looked far to the horizon.
"Well girls, it looks like the Army's forgotten we were coming. We'll have to hike it."
They looked out and saw three things in every direction: golden sand, cactus and a darkening blue sky.
None of them: the two from Boston, the two from Wisconsin and the two from Illinois had never seen (or felt) anything like it before. Doris fell in love with it instantly. Heat, it turns out, was her thing.
"Okay, but which direction should we go?"
Puzzlement. They looked and looked for something on the horizon, tracks, a road, anything. There were no clues.
"There must be a phone in here somewhere," Mary declared.
"Come on girls, let's find it before we die out here of dehydration!"
The station was unlocked, the windows were open to let in any (hot) breeze that might come along. But no phone in sight.
"Well don't this beat all! Where did they put that phone?"
An hour had gone by trying to figure out the next move before they were stranded their for the night. One nurse heaved a sigh and put her leaned her up-stretched hand on a wood panel in the middle of a wall. Boom! All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, was a telephone two inches from her face
"How'd you do that, Angel?"
"I have no idea! I just leaned against this wall and now I'm staring at a phone."
To keep the phone free from as much dust as possible, phones in remote desert stations were encased in a murphy-bed style cabinet. Press on one side and the phone flips around in front of you with ¢5, ¢10 and ¢25 slots and a horn jutting out with an earpiece on a hook.
They immediately called the base. "Oh you're here! Gee that's the bees knees. We'll be out there in a jiffy."
About an hour later as dark was descending, a row of jeeps drove up with the boys cheering to see the nurses. They hoisted them into the jeeps and off they went for an hour's ride to the astonishing, beautiful gem and Hollywood star favorite, the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs to turn it into the US Army Torney General Hospital supporting the troops training for Patton's North Africa campaign.
The soldiers told the nurses they were really happy to see them. The hotel had six nurses already just starting the work and these six new nurses brought the total to 12. Now something could really get done.
Over a few months the grand hotel became a hospital. Soon after adjunct buildings were added as a base.
Army nurses lead the way for the now typical 12 hour shift. The day duty nurse for the surgical and post-surgery wards was Mert Onsrud, another Wisconsin girl from La Crosse. They got to know each other at shift changes as Doris came on for night duty.
One day a bus full of soldiers was in a bad accident and one soldier, a man of Italian name and ancestry, was badly injured. Mert worked to save his life that day and turned his care over to Doris at shift change. Doris read the chart. The doctors and surgeons did not expect the man to live.
The next morning Mert came in crowing. "Well Gardner must have done something right. He's still with us and much improved."
"Well, there isn't much I could do to help him other than do my duty. I took his temperature, gave him his shots and talked to him through the night, like any other nurse would do."
From then on. Doris and Mert became fast friends and joined Mary and Doris for the duration of the war, now three were inseparable.
Doris' room for the year was the second window from the left below the tower. Doris has many pieces of memorabilia from the year she spent in Palm Springs. Plenty more to come soon.
Waiting: Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg, CA, Apr - Jun 1943Attempted sexual assault on Doris. Narrative soon.
Crossing the Equator, 1st of many times: SS Lurline to Brisbane, Australia, Jun 1943
Doris, Mert and Mary finally got assigned to the troop transport ship, the former Hawaiian Islands luxury liner from San Francisco, the SS Lurline. The ship left in convoy sailing out from San Francisco and the nurses saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time by going under it. They wondered if they would ever see it again as they sailed toward the war.
The trip took nearly a month to get them to their destination of Brisbane, New South Wales, Australia, to board ships heading into Japanese enemy territory. Once in Brisbane they were assigned instantly.
"Stand Down:" SS Monterey to New York City via Panama Canal, Jul - Aug 15 1943
Nursing Duty on the Troopship
The Officer's Sundeck - "Stand Down"
Three days Leave in New York City
Spying Reno: The Overland Ltd to Camp Stoneman, Aug 1943
From New York Mert, Mary and Doris took a train to Chicago. From Chicago 6 nurses took the Overland Ltd train to Oakland. This time they didn't stop at Harvey houses. The Overland Ltd was a swank train, making only a few stops, so traveled quickly. Their booths and dining car were 1st class.
Not in Convoy. USAT Etolin: transport ship crosses the Pacific alone to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Sep 13 - Oct 14, 1943
The shipping line's Etolin logo which could be seen around the ship was Ætolin.
Etolin was ready to leave San Francisco Bay in convoy heading for New Guinea. The day all were to leave, the engineer called up to the captain and asked that he consider holding off setting sail.
"What for, engineer? This better be good."
"Sir, there's a part I've been waiting to arrive, sir. Should have been here by now, but I was just informed the part will definitely be delivered tomorrow, sir."
"Do we absolutely have to have this part?"
"Sir, I'm afraid the ship could be compromised without it. I'm not sure we would be able to keep her afloat unless we have it."
"Very well, then. We'll stay behind."
The part did indeed come the next day and the Etolin set sail for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Alone. The ship was not a large double stacker like the Lurline and Monterey. She was small and largely defenseless. She may have had some gunnery aboard, though Gardner never saw them. But in an attack, the ship would not have much for defense, the reason to go in convoy. Their only hope was to move fast, perhaps even catch up to the convoy and escape detection by either air or submarine.
It took one month and one day to arrive at their destination. They didn't come across the convoy, making the treacherous trip alone and unscathed.
This was not the first time Gardner felt that anyone she met—new friends with the nurses or officers she dated—could be gone at any moment. "You might meet someone during the day and they'd be gone before the time set for a dinner date. This was always on your mind during the war."
The Japanese Boy: Maetsuycker to Brisbane via Townsville and the Coral Sea, Oct - Nov 1943
was a Dutch ship of the Netherlands with a Dutch and Javanese crew, administered by the Australian Navy with US medical personnel.
The Japanese Boy
The Chief Medical Officer, scouring the embattled beaches for American wounded, saw a boy all alone on the beach. He was not running for cover, laying in the sand. Was he dead. As the Captain approached, he saw the boy was alive and crying. He couldn't move. Quick examination and ___ knew why. The boy's leg was compound fractured. A quick look around, no adults in sight. No matter, the boy would die soon without treatment. Should he take him. The captain had to make a hasty decision before he too might be incapacitated. He scooped the boy and headed to the ship. The gangway was pulled in after him and the ship made sail immediately to get out of the worsening situation.
The Maetsuycker stayed in Townsville harbor for a few nights on its way down to Brisbane. Mary, Mert and Doris went ashore, walking all over around town, including down Flinders Street.
Walking along the streets in summer uniform, a woman stopped to talk with them. She was in Townsville when attacked by Japanese flight squadrons in July 1942 and was so grateful for the protection the town received from the Australian and US military and Dutch ships turned over to Australia after Japan took the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), some of which, like the Maetsuycker, were Dutch and Javanese crewed, administered by Australia with medical crews provided by the US Army.
The nurses told her they had been on transport ships for over a month, and they were desperately trying to get down to Brisbane to get onboard a hospital ship as nursing staff to do more to help the war effort. The nurses were prepared to continue to go deep into enemy territory to help save the lives of the boys on the battlefront.
The woman pointed up to a house on a slope.
"You see that house near the base of that hill over there? That's my house. It would mean ever so much to me if you ladies would join me for dinner and are welcome to stay for the night."
The nurses were astonished.
"We have to be back onboard tonight. But what do you think, girls? Shall we go for dinner?"
"Of course. That would be lovely."
"Then it's settled. 6:00."
Hospital Train: to Sydney, Australia, Jan 1944Photos, narrative coming soon.
Passenger Train: to Brisbane, Australia, Jan 1944
The next morning after their whirlwind tour of Sydney and her harbor, Mert, Mary and Doris were on a passenger train back to Brisbane.
Ship for the Mentally Ill: Under Guard on the USS Monticello to San Pedro, California, Jan - Mar 1944
Early the next morning the nurses were ready to be assigned duty and walked out onto the pier where many ships were awaiting medical crew
75 nurses were waiting to board ships and tend to the wounded and the sick.
Mary, Mert and Doris headed out and staked their spot. They had their dress uniforms on and carried their bags.
The sun was bright that hot mid-summer day in the Southern Hemisphere. But they didn't care, they were eager to get onboard and get to work.
Still they waited.
The sun moved high in the sky. Still they waited.
They stood nearly at attention the entire time. So far no ship had boarded them. The nurses were down to a few dozen and boarding constantly and ships sailed. Still they waited.
By late afternoon they were very tired. All the other nurses were onboard ships, working hard. The three nurses who had gone to Sydney and back were all alone on the pier.
"Oh come on, captain! Take us onboard!"
Still they waited.
As the sun was moving into the western skies, all the ships needing medical staff had departed.
"Well, what's wrong with us? Nobody wants us? Did we do something wrong?"
"Well, there's that that's been sitting there all day. We'll be onboard that one."
"You think so? I think we would already be onboard if that were true. It's just sitting there. I don't think they're a hospital ship."
"No red crosses anywhere. But it could be a troop carried. Look at the size of it."
"Yah, two stacks, like the Matson ships."
"I still miss the Lurline. What a beautiful ship!"
"Can you see the name on it?"
"Can't quite make it out. Looks like Mountain Jello"
"That's a great name for a ship"
"Have heard stranger."
"Better than the Maetsuycker, don't you think?"
"I still can't pronounce that right. Good thing we didn't have to staff it. 'Yes, sir! Reporting for duty on the May I Have Some Sugar, sir!"
"Mary! You're going to make me pass out!"
"Oh, I think it's the Mount Hello"
"Well why don't they give us a nice Mount Hello and welcome us aboard? I am too hot."
Time passed. The ship sat. The women stood.
"Do you think we did something wrong and that's why they don't want us?"
"That could be very likely. Except we haven't done anything wrong."
"Well we know that, but apparently they don't."
An Army Captain came walking along the pier
"At ease, girls."
"Say, Captain... Curlew?"
"That's it, Lt. Rodden."
"Do you know if that ship over there needs medical staff?"
"They say they do, but they are refusing to board anyone."
"We haven't seen anyone leave the ship. Maybe they're waiting to pick up patients?"
"They have a full complement of wounded they are taking to..." He flipped a sheet on his clipboard. "They're final destination is San Pedro, California."
"Near San Francisco?"
"Port of Los Angeles."
"Hollywood! Maybe we can get some leave for a day or two and catch a glimpse of Tyrone Power."
"I'd look for Gable and try to cheer him up."
"Oh, I don't give two hoots for Gable anymore. Randolf Scott for me."
"Oh, he's so old hat."
"I'd wear that old hat any day."
"Are they going tomorrow?"
"Supposed to be under way now."
"Well isn't that the limit?"
"I'd rather be on that ship than standing on this pier, sir. Isn't there something you can do about that?"
"We're just waiting for the captain to give the word. But it's taking an awfully long time. We had a good dozen ships load up and leave while the Monticello has just been sitting there. They say they want nurses. I'll keep you posted."
"As in Thomas Jefferson. Looks like a nice ship."
"You think it's Italian?"
"Maybe it was in New York harbor when the war broke out and the US confiscated it from Il Duce."
"I don't want to go back to the tent barracks. We'd be the only ones there."
"Maybe they can find us some quarters in the hospital. I'm not staying out here alone tonight."
The ship gutted. Shell-shocked in the hold, F Deck. Open. Free to roam in open space.
B Deck - Suspended Cages - Locked Ward
Narrow gangway lead to the locked ward— where the men had lost their minds in the war—2 cages suspended above the 7 floors to the hull. As the nurses crossed, they knew one lurch of the ship or even a bout of dizziness could send them over the side.
As they approached....
Captain Bayard Henry Colyear.
Picking Up Mentally Ill Patients in Enemy Territory
Heading South into the Cold
Up the Coast of South America
Living on the USS Comfort: test run, commissioning, maiden voyage, all legs from San Pedro, CA, Mar 1944 to San Pedro, CA, Jul 1945
Typhoid fever was a constant threat in the South Pacific. If anyone on the ship's staff or crew was diagnosed with the malady, the ship was immediately quarantined and no new patients could be taken onboard.
Nurse Gardner came on duty at 1900 hours. The ship was vacant except for the sick bay where Captain Moran lay with a diagnosis of typhoid fever. Gardner checked to see if the sleeping captain was comfortable. Then shook the thermometer five snaps and placed the glass under his tongue. She stood watching to make sure the mercury tip stayed in place. Moran didn't move
Gardner slid the glass from under his tongue, read the thermometer and immediately snapped it again, this time 10 times. She checked to make sure the mercury was completely out of sight, all the way back home, and stuck it carefully and exactingly back under his flaccid tongue. She checked her watch and held the thermometer in place firmly, but not forcefully, under his tongue. While she waited for the three minutes to be up she checked his breathing. His chest was moving up and down pretty fast. Not labored, but rougher than normal.
The thermometer came out. Her first reading was confirmed.
Gardner stepped to the hatch and called the first person she saw, a sailor over whom she had no rank.
"Sailor. I need some ice in here stat. Can you do that for me?"
"I will try ma'am."
"Ma'am? How much should I get?"
"Get me a full bucket."
The young man turned. Doris looked back at Captain Moran.
"Better make that two, sailor."
He headed out the hatch. Did he understand this was a medical emergency?
"I need them now," she called out to the empty corridor.
The nurse heard his footsteps heading fast down the passageway.
Gardner pulled Moran's sheets carefully down to the bottom of the bed. She pulled his eyelids up. He was not focusing.
"Captain Moran. Can you hear me?"
She grabbed a dry towel, ran it under the water until it was cold, wrung it out thoroughly, folded it neatly and put it on his forehead.
She shook him gently a few times. Unresponsive.
She repeated the procedure twice more, putting the towels next to his face and neck
"Where is that boy with the ice?"
She grabbed his chart and the clipboard and fanned him with it until she grew tired.
She fixed two more towels, lifted his arms and carefully placed the towels in his armpits and lowered his arms again.
She raised his sheets high over him and fanned him with it until she grew tired again.
"Where on Earth can he be?"
She pushed the captain over on his side to get air on his back. The petit nurse jammed a pillow under his dead weight to keep his back exposed.
"He's not coming back."
She refreshed the six towels, drew a pan of cold water and sponge his back. The boy appeared in the hatch. He had no bucket.
"Bring the ice here, sailor."
He walked over and stretched his hands out. Three pieces, each half melted.
"I'm sorry. I tried. ma'am, but the galley only gave me these. I don't think they believed me, ma'am."
He hung his head.
She pulled his chin up. "That's all right sailor. You did your best. Now do you think you can find an Army Corpsman for me?"
"Anything I can do for you, Gardner?"
"Yes, yes, yes Sgt. ___! I need some ice down here stat—a lot of it, 2 buckets to start with—
"Yes, ma'am." He saluted and turned 180°
"Do it fast, Sgt. As soon as you get back I'll need you to deliver a message to the bridge."
"Directly, ma'am." He went through the hatch with a puzzled look on is face. He'd never known a nurse to have a message delivered to the bridge before. Something big must be up.
The ships island-hopped throughout the lower South Pacific picking up patients often in enemy territory. In a few places the nurses were given leave to go ashore. They were always told by the Army to look for signs of any kind of what happened to Amelia Earhart.
Doris began gathering a seashell collection which she still has to this day, picking up shells from beaches they weren't told the name of. She wonders if some of the shells she has are of now extinct shellfish as coral reefs she visited are in rapid decline.
Meeting the Natives: Papua New Guinea
Softball game break.
Face to face, alone, with a near-naked Papua New Guinea native.
Ships sinking all around
While off New Guinea, Evelyn Bachelor, who slept above Doris in their stateroom, procured a large bunch of bananas still on the tree limb.
"All right girls, who wants a banana?"
Mary, Mert and Doris stared at Evvie.
"Whatcha going to do with those?" asked Mary.
"Eat 'em. What else?"
"Are you sure they're all right?"
"Sure I'm sure. Why wouldn't they be?"
"Spiders," Doris whispered softly.
"Oh, there aren't any black widows in here. They long would have fallen out how far I had to carry these. C'mon, have one!"
"Oh don't be silly."
Frowns all around.
"All right. You know what that means."
All of a sudden the bananas were hanging from the (ceiling) above Evvie's bunk
"Hey, how'd you do that, sister?"
"Well there they are. You want one, pull one off."
The others never took one. Too many spider fears.
Over the next week, while Doris was lying on her bunk, she would hear a snap!. Evelyn had pulled another banana off the stalk, peeled and ate it, moaning with pleasure all the while.
Sadly, for the four women who shared a stateroom on the Comfort, Evelyn Bachelor later committed suicide.
Mary JensenMary Jensen was in Central Supply. She always had us looking out for Amelia Earhart. Either for the wreckage of her plane or if she were still alive and in cognito. Interesting that we ended up together at Oakland Regional Hospital, the former Oakland Hotel where Ms. Earhardt had famously stayed.
I never thought much about smoking, but Mary was always saying, "Let's have a cigarette!" And we would.
Hotel Oakland, Oakland Regional or Oakland Area Station Hospital Oakland CA, Aug - Sep 2, 1945
Off-boarding the Comfort Doris, Mary and Mert were ready to retire from sea duty, so they applied for their next assignment at Oakland Regional Hospital, also known as Oakland Area Station Hospital. Doris doesn't recall if they chose it because Captain Finch was there, or if they were just trying to get back to the Bay Area they had known at Camp Stoneman. Either way, they were yet again under the same Chief Nurse, Captain Finch, as they were at the start of their World War 2 assignments at Camp Grant, Illinois, which had been just over 3 years before and 2000 miles away.