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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Maye Arrington
Interviewer: Sherry Johnson
September 15, 1992
J: My name is Sherry Johnson of the University of Florida. I am doing this interview
for the University of Florida Oral History Project. It is September 15, 1992, and we
are in central Florida. I am interviewing United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel
(Retired) Maye Arrington. During the course of our interview, I hope we will discuss
her growing up in Florida, her training as a nurse, her subsequent service in the US
Army, and her participation in the US Air Force Nurse Program at Brooks Air Force
Base in Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Arrington is my aunt by marriage, so during the
course of this interview, I will call her Aunt Maye.
Aunt Maye, will you please state your full name?
A: I am Agnes Maye Arrington.
J: When and where were you born?
A: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, September 23, 1919.
J: Where is your family from?
A: [They are] all Floridians. [My] parents and grandparents [on] both sides [are from
J: Where did you grow up?
A: Shortly after I was born, the family moved to Lake Okeechobee, and my father was
a commercial fisherman on Lake Okeechobee. We lived in the small fishing village
of Pahokee, Florida.
J: Who was part of your family? Did you have brothers and sisters?
A: In our immediate family, I had an older brother [named] Harvey, and a younger
brother [named] Larry. I had two half-brothers who were away at the time; [their
names were] Cecil Arrington and J.D. Williams.
J: You say your father was a commercial fisherman. He moved to Pahokee for [what]?
A: For fishing for mullet and catfish on Lake Okeechobee.
J: Did you and your family participate in helping him?
A: No, not his children.
J: How were the fish transported to Jacksonville?
A: [They were] iced down in these boats and transported through canals.
J: What was Pahokee like at that time?
A: It was probably a very rural and rustic fishing village. I was just a youngster, and I
do not recall too much of that time. I started to school, and we had a killer
hurricane in 1928, [and] our home was completely demolished. It was on September
16, which was on a Sunday afternoon. Had we not been at a neighbor's home,
nobody in the family would have survived. The clearest place on our lot was where
our house had stood. Two of my uncles [were] from Miami, [and] my brother Larry,
my mother, and I went to [stay with them]. My dad and my older brother Harvey
stayed to help with the clean-up. It was the first time as a youngster that I ever
recall seeing a dead body. We were in the high school building for shelter afterwards
and I can recall the army, the National Guard, and the Red Cross coming to help.
We were sheltered there for a few days until my uncles were able to come and get
us. When we returned to Pahokee tents had been given to the families who were
homeless. We had two tents; one was a kitchen facility and one was for sleeping.
As children, we thought this was one giant camping expedition. We loved it. Ever
after, not realizing the import of the entire situation, when low clouds would start
scurrying, and they would post a storm warning, we would say, "Oh, boy, we get out
of school to have another one of those great times." But our home had to be rebuilt.
About this time, my father switched over from fishing to farming. He raised all of
the things that grew down in South Florida so bountifully. When the lake bottom
was drained following a hurricane, [there were] tremendous-sized peppers and onions
and celery; everything became giant-sized. It was amazing to see how the vegetables
grew--the beans and everything that came off of this soil that had been the bottom
of the lake.
J: So he switched from fishing to farming?
A: Yes, and he was a farmer during my high school years.
J: You attended high school in Pahokee, then?
A: I went from the first grade through graduation in Pahokee.
J: What was a typical school day like in Pahokee, and approximately what year was
this? You said the hurricane hit in 1928.
A: Well, I graduated from high school in 1937. There were approximately thirty-seven
or forty in my class. School was fun. I was a good student; [I was] always on the
honor roll. We lived about a mile away from school. I could walk the mile in ten
minutes in those days, with my legs flying. I would just go to school, and there were
after-school activities. Sometimes we would do homework together as a group. We
would have homework periods after class. It was a pretty studious group. I was
blessed to be associated with some who were a lot smarter than I. They were the
group that was always on the honor roll. It was a good learning situation for me, and
I enjoyed it.
J: Was your high school segregated? Or did you even think about it at the time?
A: Yes, everything was segregated.
And I was always a ham. I was always in the plays and the skits. I sang in the glee
J: When you graduated from high school, did you choose to stay in Pahokee, or under
what circumstances did you leave? [laughter] Aunt Maye made a wonderful face,
shaking her head to say, "No!"
A: Well, I would say facetiously that I did not want to stay in Pahokee and marry a
catfisherman. I really would have loved to go to college. At the time, we could not
afford it. But I could go into nursing school. We did not have enough money for me
to even get the books and uniforms. I can remember that my daddy sold a piece of
property to buy the books and uniforms that I would need. My class at Jackson
Memorial Hospital in Miami was the beginning of a group that did not even get a
stipend for our work that we gave in exchange for our education. But there was a
trade-off. Those before us had worked twelve-hour duty, and ours was the first class
that only had eight-hour shifts. But if you were on night duty, you could be
awakened for class in the mornings or in the afternoons. You would have to sleep
late, until it was time to go to work in the evening if you worked that shift. I had
three wonderful, wonderful years in nursing school; it was a lot of fun.
J: So you began your training at Jackson Memorial [Hospital] in Miami in 1937?
A: Yes, and I graduated in 1940.
J: You did not pay any tuition, but you were supported by your family, and the program
gave you housing and meals?
J: But [you received] no [monetary] compensation?
J: What was the curriculum like? What did you study?
A: [We studied] anatomy, physiology, and all of the practical aspects of nursing. We did
not have a facility for psychiatric patients, so we got very little in the way of
psychiatric training. We had all of the various things that you would see in a large,
general hospital. (This was a large city hospital.) [We had] pediatrics, surgery,
orthopedics, contagious diseases.
I can remember having to go work on the TB ward, which was isolated from the rest
of the hospital. We would have to go relieve the regular night nurse; she worked
twelve hours. As a student, [I] had to go over from eleven o'clock until whatever
time she returned. It was spooky [being] alone with all of these TB patients. I was
always afraid that someone would hemorrhage or start coughing or something like
that. Besides being out in the building alone with them, nothing ever happened, and
I thank the Lord for that. [laughter]
J: When did you decide that you wanted to be a nurse? Was this always a childhood
dream, or was it a matter of practicality?
A: It was the alternative to college and an opportunity to get away [from Pahokee]. I
wanted to do something more with my life than to stay and work in the five and
dime. There were no opportunities there for young women.
J: After you became a part of the nursing profession, you decided to make it your
A: I was in love with it right away. I was really happy that that turned out to be what
I should do, because I really enjoyed nursing.
J: So it became your life's calling.
A: Yes, it did that.
J: And you graduated in 1940. What was Miami like then?
A: After three years as a student nurse, I did not know too much about what Miami was
like. I can recall some highlights.
I can remember when Sonja Heine, the Olympic ice skater, came [to the city]. They
froze the Orange Bowl, and she put on an ice show. This was quite a highlight. One
of my aunts and uncles took me to see Sonja Heine.
Of course we had the University of Miami football team, the Hurricanes. I had liked
football from childhood. Even in Pahokee, we had a great football team [called] the
Pahokee Blue Devils. Some of our young athletes went on to play for the University
of Miami and for the University of Florida.
J: After you completed your nurse's training, where did you go?
A: For a short time, I did private duty [at Jackson]. I was offered a staff position, but
it would be out on one of the wards. It was distressing to me, as a young woman, to
be in an understaffed hospital. At night, I would go home tired, [only] to recall that
someone had asked me for a drink of water. [And I would have been] so busy that
I did not get back to give that individual a drink of water. It would prey on my mind,
and [I thought,] "When I have the opportunity, I am going to do private duty nursing,
so I can see that one person will have everything that I have to offer to make them
comfortable during my time with them." So I did private duty until I went into the
J: Let us talk about the army for a little bit. Under what circumstances did you join,
and what year?
A: It was in my mind when I graduated. We each had a turn on the eve of our
graduation to talk about what we would like to do upon graduation, and the faculty
was there. When it became my turn I said, "I think I would like to join the army or
the navy." The superintendent of nurses of our hospitals said she did not think I was
the type that would fit into military nursing. So I did not go right away, but it was
what I had thought of.
Then [came] all the rumblings in Europe, and to see the headlines in the Fox
Movietone news in the theaters about what was happening in Europe [affected me
even more, after I] saw how Hitler was crushing one country after another in Europe.
They started converting some of the CCC camps into military bases, and it just
seemed like it was something that I really felt led to do. I really wanted to be a part
of what was going on.
You had to become a Red Cross nurse in those days. That was the route you went;
you became a Red Cross volunteer nurse until you submitted your papers to the
army or to the navy. I chose the navy. But I was so thin in those days, and my vision
was not 20/20. [Therefore], the navy would not accept me. I thought, "OK, I will
try the army." I assume that I had leadership abilities even in those days because
several of my friends followed suit; they decided that they would like to come along
with me. So three of us came on active duty in September of 1941.
With all of this leadership ability that I spoke of, I decided that we should write to
the Surgeon General of the Fourth Corps Area and tell him [our choice of stations].
The only bases I had ever heard of were Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Sam
Houston in Texas, or Fort Benning in Georgia. Georgia is right next to Florida, so
we wanted that to be our number one choice. We did not want to get too far away
from home. Then we decided to soften it up by saying, "Or any other base where we
could be stationed together." When our orders came, they all said Fort Benning,
Georgia. We were so elated that we sent [the Surgeon General] a thank you note.
I think that is in some colonel's memoirs somewhere, that this green, second
lieutenant wrote a thank-you note for being given the assignment they wanted. We
thought it was pretty neat, and we went by train to Fort Benning.
J: You went from Miami? Did you enlist in Miami?
J: Do you remember your friends' names that went in with you?
A: Ruth Hutto [was] from Plant City, [Florida]. Esther Hansen, whose home was in
Minnesota, was living on Miami Beach. She had become a Miamian.
J: Were you automatically inducted as officers?
A: We had what they called "relative rank" in those days. We were called "Miss." It was
not until the war really started that we were given official rank comparable to the
male officer. We became Army of the United States. That was several years later.
The women in the Army Corps who came in as line officers saw to it that they at
least had equal ranking with the males. When I came in, we were making $70 a
month. Of course, we had food, and our uniforms were literally left over [from]
World War I. We had canvas shoes. We had more fun making fun of the uniforms
that we had. [laughter]
J: In tents just like your childhood. [laughter]
A: No, we lived in the nurses' quarters area in Fort Benning. It was a huge station
hospital with many ramps. It was the home of the infantry school. That is where the
parachute schools were. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. Of all of the
things that I could have chosen to do, not anything afforded me the experiences that
I had because I was a nurse. The places that I have seen and the things that I have
done were because I was a nurse. I will always be grateful for that.
J: After you went into the army from your civilian nursing experience, did you have to
undergo a different type of training, or did they put you on duty immediately?
A: We did not have what they call "basic training" in those days. We were issued these
white uniforms. We got ready, and we were assigned to the different wards in the
hospital. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, we did have some field training exercises.
We had some camouflage and concealment classes. We had stepped up and
intensified first aid classes. Later on, [we had] preparation for going overseas. We
were forerunners of what became the MASH [mobile army surgical hospital]
hospitals. We were called field hospitals. There would be eighteen nurses, but we
could break up into three units of six nurses each, with physicians and corps men.
After a while, we could see our friends were being assigned to go to Europe. After
Pearl Harbor, those that lived in my quarters decided that we were going to be split
up. We did not want to be, so we had to sign up to go together. We put a sign out
on the bulletin board that we would like to go out on the next shipment. We were
selected to join the group in California to make up what was called the 31st Field
Hospital. Some of the nurses came from South Carolina [and] North Carolina, and
that made up our field hospital. We had some further training in California. We
went from Fort Benning on a train. The eleven of us had a great time on that trip.
It was memorable; we had a whole car to ourselves. If it had been air-conditioned,
it would have been wonderful; it even had a shower. Of course, it did not work
anymore, but [we managed]. Two of us would go back, one would fill a helmet, and
the other would lather up, and to rinse we would throw the water on each other in
the shower. We stopped along the way, and they would switch us off the track. We
got to see all of the cities along the way: Cheyenne and Kansas City. One time, our
train was attached to a unit that had a lot of young officers on it, and they were all
headed for Alaska. We really had a wonderful time; our hearts were young, and we
all were really ready to get into the war and get it over. It was all very exciting.
J: From California, where did you go?
A: We went to a staging area in Hawaii on the big island of Oahu. When we went to
California, nobody told us where we were going; it was just a military movement.
We had decided that we were going to have desert training because we were
probably going to go over to Europe or North Africa where the desert training was.
That is what we were there for: desert training. We kept trying to guess where we
were going, and we passed by a place that was in the brilliant sunlight. [There was]
nothing but army tents, and it looked so hot. [We thought,] "Oh, no, that can't be
it!" Well, as the fates would have it, that was the name of the camp: Ohno.
So we spent some time at Camp Ohno, and then they sent us back to Texas. That
was another experience. Nobody but our outfit, the whole hospital, [was on the train]
all the way from California back to Texas. This was real training for battle
casualties. We had surprise gas attacks. One time, they had the small army planes
dropping floursack bombs on us. We were supposed to have a surprise aerial gas
attack. We would put on our gas masks right away. But the pilot got his instructions
mixed up, and the canister was dropped at a station hospital--the real hospital at
Camp Howe--so it was a tearful day. [laughter] They were all crying all over, in
surgery and everything.
[The hospital] was called Camp Howe. We immediately called it "Lousy Howsie."
Then we packed up again and went back to California, to Camp Stoneman. This was
our second go-around to Camp Stoneman. We got out of these army blues that we
had been in, our WWII outfits, and into the new tan, green, and olive drab of the
army. This time for sure, [we] loaded up and went down to the pier where our boat
was. There were several field hospitals; we were not the only females, but we went
on board together. As the women loaded on this ship, the band played "Lay That
Pistol Down, Babe." [laughter] But it was kind of teary; we had no idea what we
were going into. It was 1943, and the war was really raging. People were sitting out
on their front porches and standing in their front yards by the fences, and they were
crying and waving goodbye to us. It was a special, emotional time for us.
Going over aboard ship was another experience. A lot of marines that were on
board ship with us were the ones who were killed on Tarawa. There were sixteen
nurses in our stateroom, and some people were seasick before we ever left the dock.
Of course, we did not know where we were going, and we were in what was the
U.S.S. America. It was called the West Point during the war. I think that was it; my
memory is not as bright as it used to be. We were not with an escort. There were
a lot of subs in the Pacific, and there were a lot of unknowns. It could be
frightening. We arrived at Oahu and docked in Honolulu. Then we were taken to
Chofield Barracks. We just adjusted to everything that happened quickly. Then we
went to Koko Head, where we did more training in a staging area. And then we got
a call for twelve nurses to go to Makin Island, and we did not know where [it was].
It was an atoll in the central Pacific.
We just left our whole outfit; we left everybody we knew that we had come overseas
with. [They were] our doctors, our corps men, and everybody that we had trained
with. The chief nurse of the whole Pacific area made a big to-do about the fact that
we were the first nurses to be flown into an area that had been taken from the
Japanese. They wanted to be sure before they sent our women in anywhere that it
had been secured. So it was a while later before we went in at like D-44, to Makin.
It was in the Gilbert Islands. It was just a pin dot of a coral atoll. [For] the troops,
the commander, the doctors, and everyone, it was quite a day when the nurses
arrived. It had been a long time since these young men had seen white women--or
any women. We were pretty special, and they treated us that way. They really put
blankets around the outdoor showers. The Seabees built a place for us to live in in
just twenty-four hours. We lived right up on the beach; it was a really pretty place.
When the tide was out we could see the huge bomb craters and everything. The war
had progressed into the Pacific and the Marshall Islands. Ours became a base for
reconnaissance. They flew dawn and dusk patrols, observing enemy movements of
any kind. But we had to observe blackouts and things like that.
J What were your average working conditions like in the field hospitals?
A: The patients were on cots.
J: Where did your patients come from?
A: For all of us who had wanted to follow General Patton around Europe, we ended up
on an atoll in the central Pacific, taking care of dengue fever and dysentery.
Somebody had to do it, I guess. It was not the most glamorous duty that one could
have imagined for one's self after you had gotten letters from your friends [saying,]
"I am writing this by flashlight in a fox hole, as the eighty-eights are screaming
overhead," and we were there fighting mosquitoes. We really had no real casualties
there. We arrived in February, and in October we went back to Honolulu, and there
we had plenty of battle casualties to take care of. The island hopping had already
begun, and they were flying the wounded back to Oahu.
J: Was that 1944?
A: Yes, it was 1944 or 1945. I came home after V-J Day in 1945. So it was quite an
experience for a young woman.
J: When did you decide to make military nursing your career? If you came home [in]
the late fall of 1945, what avenues were open to you? I know many people actively
sought to get out. .
A: [They sought to get out] immediately, and some of my friends did. But I enjoyed the
military life that I had and the duties that I had had. There had been opportunities
as a young woman to be married and to get out. Not any of those came to fruition.
So since I was going to work somewhere, and I certainly preferred nursing in the
military because I had been in it longer than any other kind of nursing by this time.
I enjoyed it more than private duty or working in the civilian hospitals.
J: By that time, what was your rank?
A: We all got promoted to first lieutenant while we were overseas.
J: A question that often comes up particularly now is women's position in the military,
prejudice against women, and sexual harassment. Did that ever occur to you? Did
it ever cross your mind? Regardless of your rank, were you ever subject to it during
these first years?
A: We were unaware of any of that. If we were, we just shrugged our shoulders and
went on. I do not recall that we were ever singled out to be harassed. If someone
would make a suggestive remark, we always just shrugged it off and took it with a
grain of salt. I am sure that if someone really bothered us, we would have reported
it to the chief nurse or the commander. It just did not seem to be a problem.
J: Could you reasonably expect that disciplinary action would have been taken, at the
very least, a reprimand or a talking to?
A: I think so. We could always do what they call "prefer charges" against someone.
That would assure that some sort of disciplinary action of whatever sort at that time
[would be taken].
J: Your position was privileged, and it remained so?
A: To me it did.
J: So, at the end of World War II, you decided to remain in military service. That was
still the army, is that correct?
A: I was still in the army, yes.
J: [On] September 18, 1947, the air force was created from the army. You went with
the air force at that time?
A: No. The medical corps remained as army until 1949. We had been given an option.
I was stationed in the army of occupation in Japan. I had made regular army; I had
gone from Yokohama to Tokyo for my regular army.
J: Could we back up just a little, and go from V-J day to your experiences in
A: I had forty-five days of R & R in Miami. The next two hospitals I went to were
closing immediately after the war. One was Legarde General in New Orleans,
Louisiana. The other was in Alexandria, Louisiana, called Camp Claiborne. I went
from one to the other, and I finally got orders for William Beaumont, a big general
hospital in El Paso, Texas. I had been there for about a year when I got orders to
go to Japan and back to Camp Stoneman--for the third time--for post-graduate work.
[laughter] I arrived in Yokohama and had two wonderful years in the army hospital
there. It was fascinating duty.
It came up that we could join the regular army, and I put my application in and was
accepted. Towards the end of my tour of duty, which was two years in that particular
place, we were sent a questionnaire asking if we would like to remain in the army
or transfer to the newly-formed Air Force Medical Service. This was 1948. A friend
and I said, "We've been with the infantry for seven years; let us try the air force."
We were accepted and became a part of the 1,300 women who became the nucleus
of what is today's Air Force Nurse Corps.
J: People in the air force tend to be very proud of being special. At that time, did you
know that you would become a part of something very special?
A: We felt special to have been selected, and to think that we were in on the ground
floor of the Air Force Nurse Corps [is wonderful].
J: So even at its inception, people were aware that the air force would become the so-
called elite forces of the U.S. military.
A: We liked the blue uniform, the airplanes, and everything about it. It was glamorous,
even when it was called the U.S. Army Air Corps. [There was] a song [that went,]
"Nothing could stop the Army Air Corps," with their "go-to-hell," squashed down
pilot's caps and their bomber jackets. (I even had one.) A lot of movies were made
about it. We all felt that anything in the wild blue yonder was special.
J: Was there a substantial difference in assignments, living conditions, [or] supplies in
A: [They were] essentially the same. If you were on a base that had an active flight line,
you had different classifications of flight surgeons and flight technicians. If you were
involved in aeromedical evacuation, either as a holding hospital or a receiving
hospital, you had different types of people assigned. But if you were just a station
hospital, many times you could not have differentiated between army and air force.
J: So you left Yokohama, and you went into the air force. What was your first
A: [laughter] I am sorry that you asked that. [It was] Shepherd Air Force Base, Texas.
It was a base that had been closed with the end of the war. It was a contonement
type, and they were reopening it in 1949. It was all overgrown with weeds. Along
the corridors of the station hospital, the windows were broken out, and we kind of
had to rehabilitate the best that we could. Then, of course, in 1950 Korea came
along. It became an extension of the military training base at Lackland Air Force
Base, Texas. It expanded there.
J: And what were your duties there? Were you involved in teaching?
A: Not at this time, no. I was in regular ward duties. Then I had a short matrimonial
misadventure, and I resigned my commission. But I stayed in the reserves, and when
Korea came up, I opted to come back on active duty. I was sent from Shepherd Air
Force Base to Sampson Air Force Base in New York. It had been a navy boot camp
this time, but it too had been closed and had to be rehabilitated. It was a huge
military training base.
J: Where was it close to?
A: The Finger Lakes area, near Geneva, [in] New York.
J: It does not exist now.
A: I think there is a mental hospital there. Willard State Hospital was evacuated and
it became our station hospital at Sampson. I think they later made a university and
used some of the buildings for a school of some sort. It had no air strip, but later
on, I think they even made a civilian air strip.
There was not a lot for us to do, and I had the opportunity to take some extension
courses from Syracuse University and Cornell University. I took those, little-knowing
that they would help me later on. (Nobody made the information available to us that
civilian schooling was available to us while we were on active duty.) My chief nurse
was always alert to any opportunities like these. She said, "You seem to like to go
to school; why don't you apply for the program?" I did, and I was accepted at the
University of Pittsburgh. I got my degree in nursing education from the University
of Pittsburgh. Ours was the last class [to which] they gave a B.S. in nursing
education. After that, it was only at the master's level. But I was a good student,
and I did very well. Of course, I was older than some, and perhaps the experience
stood me in good stead for making good grades and applying myself.
Immediately after that, they had wanted to know how to use this newly-acquired
education that I had received. I thought, "I would like to begin the teaching part,
perhaps in flight nursing," since I was in the air force. They said: "Well, let's see
now. If you are going to teach flight nursing, you need to have at least flown."
While I was at Sampson, I did get to go to flight school. I had applied very early,
way back, while I was at Fort Benning. I would have been in the first class of nurses
that ever had gone to flight school, but my chief nurse did not approve of my
attempting to go because they thought I was too tall and too skinny. Later on, they
would find that [being tall] was an advantage when reaching to the upper tiers in
J: What type of airplane was it? Do you know what it would have been?
A: There were several: C54s, the C47s (the famous Gooney Birds), the C120s, and the
C124s. I did get a flying assignment, and I went to Tripoli, North Africa. But typical
of snafus, the aircraft, the technicians, the crews, [and] the pilots were all in Athens,
Greece [while] the headquarters were in Tripoli, North Africa. This was not too
satisfactory, and it took a while before I was ever with my organization.
But in the meantime I did have two different temporary duty assignments to Rhein-
Main in Germany. I flew with the organizations up there, and we flew in the Gooney
Birds to all of the bases in France, and around Germany, where our people were
stationed at NATO bases. Finally, all of us were together in Athens, Greece. We
serviced the eastern Mediterranean area, and we flew into Dhahran, Saudi Arabia,
because we had the NATO troops from Pakistan. Sometimes we had returning,
recovered patients that needed to be delivered there. And of course we had troops
that would perhaps need hospitalization up in Germany. If they could not be cared
for in that area they were flown further on to the continental United States,
depending on the severity of the illness or injury.
J: Could you briefly explain what--besides the mobility--made the flight nurse different
from [a regular nurse]?
A: The body responds to the altitude and the atmospheric pressures that one
encountered in flight in a pressurized aircraft differently than on the ground.
J: So you actually did your nursing in the transport plane itself?
A: That is right. Sometimes you had to be able to make nursing decisions that were
comparable to those doctors made. You had the entire responsibility for a patient
who went into a cardiac arrest or any emergency. You had to be able to make life-
I was once halfway between Athens and Tripoli, and the patient had a heart attack.
We had almost gone to the point of no return. (It was closer to continue on than it
was to go back.) We were flying in a non-pressurized aircraft in those days. The
pilot flew at as a low a level as he could and radioed [that there was an] emergency
on board, and when we got back to Tripoli the fire trucks, the ambulance, and
everything was there. We off-loaded that patient, and resumed our flight back to
Athens. But that was the nearest life-threatening thing I ever had happen to me in
But you had to be able to make that kind of a decision immediately. It is just a huge
responsibility. When you are flying casualties from the front line, you have to be
able to operate all of the life-saving equipment like the suction machines, the
respirators. At that time the air force was the only one who had the capability of
transporting patients in respirators. They even built an iron lung that would fit into
our aircraft. After I had finished this assignment and was assigned to the School of
Aerospace Medicine, one of the classes that I did teach was the SAM Lung. SAM
was for the School of Aerospace Medicine, where it was developed. But it actually
operated with a vacuum cleaner motor [using] this exchange of pressures.
J: Roughly what year was this?
A: That was from 1955 to 1956.
J: During the Suez crisis?
A: Yes, but we did not really transport any of those people.
J: After the medevac and the flight nursing, you went on to ..
A: Gunther Air Force Base in Alabama. As soon as I arrived there, I was selected
because I did not have my teaching assignment yet. I was available to go to the
School of Nuclear Nursing that was sponsored by the navy. It was a four-month
course. Another friend and I were the only two air force nurses selected to go to
J: Who was that friend?
A: Sally Neese. [We were] selected to spend four months with the navy. It was another
J: And from there?
A: I came back to Gunter and was involved in various teaching assignments. My
assignment was mostly [as] scheduling officer. We had these huge boards where we
had to keep the classes posted weeks and months ahead of time for the flight nurses
and for the medical technicians; we taught both classes.
J: How did you end up in the School of Aerospace Medicine, and where was it?
A: They decided that everything to do with flying would be moved back to Texas to the
Aerospace Medical Division. They became the School of Aerospace Medicine. We
were in the flight nursing business, and the medical technicians were flying. They
had the primary course in aerospace medicine for the doctors and an advanced
course. They had altitude physiologists training there. Again, I more or less became
the scheduling officer.
I had some teaching duties. One of the interesting ones was survival in the
swimming classes. It was not trying to make Esther Williams out of everyone, but
just teaching them survival techniques. First of all, she should be able to save herself
before she could help anyone else. She should [also] be able to instruct patients.
We had actual training flights; I did participate in those. We would have mock-ups,
where some role-played as patients, some would be medical technicians, and some
would be nurses, and we would go fly around the flagpole for a couple of hours. We
would have an outbound flight, and we would have an inbound flight. We would
switch patients and crews and this sort of thing. There was a lot to do; [for instance,
we had] to learn the records. If you were assigned [to be] a patient, you were to act
out your symptoms legitimately and without exaggeration. Of course, people were
assigned a psychotic diagnosis and immediately went crazy. If you were a pregnant
woman and were going to deliver, you could be sure that you would have the baby.
All of this just added to the excitement of our make-believe flights, but we learned
J: Where was this in Texas?
A: The School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio.
J: At Brooks?
A: Brooks Air Force Base.
J: What was the year?
J: Were you training [to be] more than just aerospace nurses?
A: That was our mission, yes. We were training worldwide. We had some foreign
nurses--we had some Turkish nurses, and some Chinese nurses who came from
Taiwan and the Philippines. We had navy nurses and army nurses.
J: Did you have anything to do with the space program itself?
A: No, but we did have a residency in aerospace nursing that was set up. Those girls
were finally down at Cape Canaveral. There was a Colonel Pearl Tucker who was
put in charge of the aerospace residency nursing corps. What they did actually was
man the stations downrange from the missile shoot and at the Cape itself. I was able
to tour that facility and report back. I got to see a missile launch. Unfortunately,
the one that I saw had to be aborted. We did not even get to care for the astronauts
because our duties were separate from what these girls were doing. But it was all
an eye to the future.
Finally, we do have women going on our missile launches. I can remember when we
were talking about it when I gave a speech to the Red Cross back in Chicago. It was
just a myth. We do talk about space stations, and we said that, "Where one man has
gone, eventually others follow. Where man goes, they find a place for women."
On a space station, you could see that there would be space families. If you had
space families, you would need space doctors and space nurses because you are going
to have space babies. Who knows? I do not know if they would let this [married]
couple [on the space shuttle now] have any time together. Eventually, they will want
to know if conception is possible in space, I am sure.
J: Even back in this time, did they not quarantine the capsules when you were first in
the aerospace medicine? Did they quarantine even Alan Shepherd's capsule?
A: Yes. The school is where they did a lot of the pre-flight testing of the astronauts.
They had the chambers [in which] they would keep them thirty days at a time, even
before the first launch. A lot of the pre-flight medical examinations were done. We
were right on the edge of space, but what we were doing was not the same. It was
all very glamorous. We just could not get launched out there with Walter Cronkite,
I guess. [I say that] because he was always so excited with what was going on in
J: How long did you stay in the Air Force? You stayed at Brooks, [is that] correct?
A: No, I did not stay at Brooks. After the school was set up there I was the assistant
to the chief nurse. I did a lot of teaching of the different classes, along with the
other administrative duties. And then I had the opportunity to go to the University
of California in San Francisco to get my master's degree. After that, I was the chief
nurse at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. for a couple of years. And
then I was called back to be the chief of the flight school back at Brooks.
J: What year was that?
A: [That was] 1965. The last major event was that I was able to go on the field
evaluation trip of the flight nurse course. [It was] a three-week trip to Vietnam to
[witness] the actual air evacuation to station hospitals where these people were being
picked up from the battlefield and flown in. They were [eventually] flown home by
way of Alaska. We stopped at Elmendorf, and then flew into Andrews Air Force
Base. We were dropping off patients. If the patients' homes were on the west coast,
they were delivered to Travis Air Force Base in California. But if they lived on the
east coast, they came to Washington D.C. We always tried to place the injured at
the hospitals closest to their homes.
That was really the last duty of note that I had. Then I retired voluntarily in 1968.
I took early retirement after twenty-seven years.
J: And since then you have been active in Brooks in San Antonio--in the community
J: And you are the past president of the Flight Nurses Association?
A: [I was president] of the Flight Nurse Section of the Aerospace Medical Association.
I was also a member of the executive board of the Aerospace Medical Association
and one of the vice presidents.
J: I thank you very much for taking the time out of your vacation here to talk with me.
A: I feel very honored that you would ask me. I know that time has marched on when
I have been requested to give an oral history. If this has contributed in any way to
whatever research project that you are undertaking, I will be pleased.
J: We will give this to the University of Florida, and hopefully, someone will be able
to use it in the future. Thank you very much.
A: You are welcome.