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Nurses were in the front line, specifically American nurses. They followed the army after their landing on D-Day, and slept outside in wind, rain, and artillery shells. I read a story in my research of one particular nurse while bathing who had used her helmet to scoop water onto herself. Shelling began, and she immediately sat naked in the tub with the helmet firmly planted on her head. Nurses were on the front lines, scooping up intestines and putting them back in place. American nurses during the winter of 1944 were following troops to the dragon's teeth, the area where the Battle of Hurtgen Forest took place.
The Navy recruited women, left and right but the US army never officially did. While researching there were some harrowing first person accounts.
Some had their nose blown off; some had no jaw; some were sans chin, nose and jaw; and a few had only a forehead left. I went through this ward and stood in amazement and perfect wonder how these valiant nurses dealt with the problem of feeding these cases. Most of them were tube fed, and hours were spent getting nourishment into them. Some were so horribly disfigured they were in a private area from the others. I gnashed my teeth at war. These are the living dead, who will spend the rest of their lives in a closed section of some Stateside hospital. The fatal bullet was more merciful.
Despite the hardships of war many women were drawn to the pay and the experience. After school several signed contracts stating that they would become nurses where needed in the local areas. The government needed this, one because there was an alarming shortage of medical personnel in the USA during the war, and two because they wanted to be assured that those who were working as nurses in the war would use that training apart from the US Army.
Nurses used Sulfanilamide, a sulfa drug that is credited with saving countless lives. Soldiers were taught to sprinkle it on every open wound. Penicillin was also used to save lives. Plasma was also a technique to replace blood loss in the body, and morphine was available to inject on the pain site.
"Dear God, please bring those boys back to us alive and well. But if they are hurt, give us strength, courage, and wisdom to be ready to help them." And when the men did arrive needing help, she said, "it made me feel mighty proud to do my little bit in helping to take care of them."
More nursing history can be found at the Museum of Nursing History in Pennsylvania.
See a replica of Florence Nightingale’s dress in the Atrium of St. Benilde Tower and an enlarged framed letter from Miss Nightingale to Alice Fisher, Foundress of the Philadelphia General Hospital School of Nursing, “Old Blockley,” (Christmas 1877). Read student ledgers from the turn of the century, a World War I Diary, or find your nursing school’s yearbook.
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