Army Service (April 1943-Feb 1946)
Virginia Nan Henderson Granger
Dog Tags N772086
I voluntarily entered the Army Nurse Corps as a Second Lieutenant. Camp McCoy, Wisconsin was my first station. There I received my basic training for about six weeks and worked in the station hospital waiting for further orders. Due to the shortage of uniforms, I was fitted with uniforms and shoes too tight and waited for the next assignment to be properly attired. With three other nurses, I was sent by troop train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey; port of embarkation. We arrived there in about two or three days with tired, aching feet. The nurses’ barracks had just been built and was unfurnished. The area was shoe-top-deep in mud due the recent rains. Our small room was soon completed with bunk beds, mattresses, table, chairs, and waste cans. Within a week, we were relocated in the permanent nurses’ quarters. At Kilmer we received further training such as marching, learning to salute, putting on gas masks, going through the gas chambers, and wearing backpacks, use of eating utensils and packing a duffel bag, etc.
I worked in the Station Hospital, caring for sick troops preparing for over- seas duty. Thousands of troops were there a few days and then shipped to foreign fields. Every day I looked for my overseas assignment on the Nurses’ board. Orders came suddenly and I was sent to New York Harbor with twenty-one other nurses. We boarded the English ship “Andees,” one of England’s fine passenger liners, converted into a troop ship. On the way to England we took turns working in the “sick bay”, we were called, “Platoon Nurses.”. We landed in Liverpool, Scotland and again, we were transported by troop train to Barnstable, England. We worked in the Station Hospital while waiting for completion of the conversion of an American cargo/passenger ship “Manargo” to a hospital ship. England had been previously bombed by the Germans and was still in complete darkness at night; a new experience in getting around with dimmed flashlights.
Suddenly we were ordered to pack up to “ship out” for the U.S. We returned to New York Harbor on the Queen Mary. From there to Camp Shanks New York for a short Hospital Ship training and received my permanent assignment to the 206th Hospital Ship, Thistle where I worked and lived for almost 2 years. The ship was manned and managed by the Maritime Service. While the hospital was army personal, twenty-one nurses, six doctors, one dentist, one Red Cross lady, and a large number of trained nursing assistants; called “Ward Boys”. On very busy times such as the Southern France Invasion, called “heavy pushes”, additional Surgeons and Nurses were added to the staff
Our first trip was exciting with bands playing, news media taking pictures, troop ships moving out, and our unknown destination. We soon learned Naples, Italy would be the main overseas port and Charleston, South Carolina and New York our U.S. debarkation. Fortunately, I had very little sea sickness and was happy with my assignment. I soon learned to love the sea and I crossed the Atlantic Ocean twelve round trips, plus shuttling from Naples to Oran, Africa.
Going through the Straits of Gibraltar and entering the Mediterranean Sea was a thrill. On one side of that tremendous rock was Spain; green and lush; the other side North Africa with the brown and sandy terrain. The Mediterranean Sea was beautiful with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, flying fish, and proposes following the ship for miles.
The “Thistle” was a slow ship, taking several days to make the voyage from New York to Naples. Since we were a floating hospital, and following the Geneva Convention, we were neutral and unaccompanied by other ships. The ship was painted with a wide lighted green band around the hull, a brightly lit red cross on the upper deck, fore and aft, and on each side of the stacks. We looked like a floating Christmas tree at night.
Our first trip into Naples was exciting and the harbor with Mt Vesuvius in the background was beautiful. But once ashore, we soon saw the effects of war with much destruction of the city and poverty everywhere. Our real war effort was soon begun.
Naples was a collecting area for sick and war wounded; coming from all over Europe. Most of them had received first aid and immediate care on the battlefield; then taken to “field hospitals” just beyond the battle lines for surgery, necessary emergency care, and life-saving measures. From there they were taken to what was known as “Station Hospitals” where further required surgery was done, initial rehabilitation started, life building measures and preparation for the trip home to the U. S. A. What trauma, yet joy, it was to see the happy faces of young men my own age brought aboard with horrific wounds sustained in battles beyond their ability to describe. They were headed home after months and years of service.
Upon being brought aboard the Hospital Ship, our first duty was to make them comfortable, feed them American food, not field rations from a box, tend to their wound dressings and do whatever we could to assure them they would be welcomed home whatever their condition.
After the last Atlantic; Mediterranean trip, army personnel were given a few days leave. The war had ended and the “Thistle” anchored I New York harbor. I was home just a few days when I was ordered to immediately return. We were headed for the Pacific Theater of Operation. We transited to Honolulu for ship repairs. We docked at Fort Kam, Oahu (Pearl Harbor) for several days. From there we sailed to Manila, Philippines and proceeded to the island of Leyte. There we received a load of patients and after several day on the Pacific Ocean, we debarked in Long Beach, California.
From there I was sent by train to a Separation Center in Fort Demoines, Iowa and was discharged from the army before I knew what was happening.
This is just a glimpse of the three years experience I had.