Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Hobart, IN) In search of much needed nurses, the Nurses Cadet Corps came to St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago where Thelma Finney was a nurse. The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps—the nation's first integrated uniformed U.S. service corps—fulfilled an urgent need for nurses during World War II. Cadet Nurses were providing 80% of the nursing care in U.S. hospitals. Thelma was part of the Nurses Cadet Corp during her junior and senior years in college. The Corps promised many things but Thelma knew she was ready to enlist in the regular Army. Her father had served in WWI and she was eager to serve her country as well.
In March of 1945, Thelma began her service in the Army Nurse Corps by attending basic training at Ft McCoy in Wisconsin. After basic, she was assigned to her first hospital at Ft Sill Oklahoma. As a general duty nurse, she administered the new wonder drug penicillin to the men she cared for. At that time the public did not have access to penicillin, only military personnel did. She recalls having to give the men shots, as penicillin was not available orally at the time.
Another memory Thelma shared was how unbearably hot and dry it was in Lawton, OK where the base was. With no air conditioning available yet, the night shift was the only shift that had the advantage of night cooled air. To make matters worse every Friday afternoon all the doctors and nurses had to participate in a parade march. Thelma knew that although these things were annoying to the staff, it did not take away from them providing the best possible care to the servicemen.
Most of the men Thelma cared for had served in the Pacific campaign and had various illnesses and pains. The servicemen were sometimes given passes to go into town and the nurses always had a good laugh the next day when the local watering holes would return the crutches and wheelchairs that were left at their establishments. The nurses would do a wheelchair count, but the men always found a way to get back, even without their usually much needed equipment.
Thelma humbly says that the Corpsmen did the real work and that her fellow nurses assisted them by taking temperatures, blood pressures, and other duties of a general nurse. She recalls that sometimes she worked at the permanent station hospital and other times she was assigned to the various treatment buildings that surrounded the hospital. They were picked up by bus at their sleeping quarters and taken to their work areas or mess halls.
After about 6 months, Thelma was assigned to the Army and Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs Arkansas. Thelma has never re-visited Hot Springs, but she remembers it as a beautiful area and has fond memories of serving there. She recalls going to mass on Sundays in a large hall which accommodated the nurses and physicians based there.
During the 1940s, the hospital was designated the Army Arthritis Center for the entire Army and was the first medical center selected for the treatment of polio. The experience she gained here would have an impact on her life after the service.
Thelma was discharged in 1946 from Ft Sheridan in Chicago. She planned on staying in Chicago but was offered a position with the Red Cross in Colorado as a nurse assisting in the treatment of polio. Her mother was surprised that she was leaving again after just getting home from the service.
Thelma is glad she took the position because she met her husband Donald while working in Colorado. Donald had served almost 5 years in the Army. When jobs became hard to get in Colorado, they returned to the midwest where Donald took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Thelma took a nursing position in the labor and obstetrics department of the Sisters of St. Mary Mercy Hospital. During this time, Thelma and Donald raised their five children, a son and four girls. Later, Thelma worked at St Mary’s Hospital in Hobart in the intensive care unit until her retirement in November of 1988 at the age of 65.
Thelma will celebrate her 93rd birthday a few days after taking her well-deserved Honor Flight. Enjoy your special day and thank you Thelma for providing care to our servicemen and for your service as a nurse.