Serving My Country

By Burrell, Prudence Burns | Negro History Bulletin, December 1993 | Go to article overview

Serving My Country


Burrell, Prudence Burns, Negro History Bulletin


Upon returning from my 1942 summer classes at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, I was asked by the Kansas City, Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross to recruit black nurses for the Army Nurse Corps.

In 1941, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune and Mrs. Mable Staupers (president of the Negro Graduate Nurses Association) had urged the Army Surgeon General to recruit black nurses for the Army Nurse Corps. After the attack, the modest quota of only 48 was rescinded and recruitment began in earnest throughout the United States.

On October 20, 1942, I recruited myself. I was appointed 2nd Lieutenant, Army Nurse Corps and processed through Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then proceeded to Fort Huachuca, Arizona for my first assignment.

The two combat divisions comprised of black troops, the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions were trained and shipped from Fort Huachuca. Due to the existing segregation policies of that time, two hospitals were established on the post. Staton Hospital No. 1 serviced the black personnel and their dependents. Hospital No. 2 did likewise for other military and civilian personnel.

A pool of black medical professionals was also activated at Fort Huachuca, enabling the staffing of medical and dental support units. Nursing care was available to German and Italian POWs at various hospitals.

The 268th Station Hospital, the only all black hospital in the US Army, was activated at Fort Huachuca in July 1943. Fifteen nurses were selected for duty and given special field training to prepare them for service in the Southwest Pacific.

In early September 1943, our unit was sent to Camp Stoneman, California for pre-embarkation training. We sailed from San Francisco on the SS Monterey on October 15, 1943 without convoy. For two days we were escorted by a Navy blimp and destroyer. After zig-zagging across the Pacific, we arrived in Sidney, Australia 18 days later.

After orientations, the nurses were sent by train to a women's staging area (WACO) in Brisbane, while construction was underway on our hospital in Milne Bay, New Guinea.

The local Brisbane newspaper printed excerpts about each black nurse. One of the instructors at the university was Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian, who had developed a procedure used in the treatment of poliomyelitis. I had audited some of her classes while attending the university of Minnesota.

Some of her relatives and friends arranged trips, luncheons, and other activities for me and my coworkers. In this way we were able to explore the city for churches of our choice, restaurants, civic organizations, and recreational facilities-a new experience for many of us.

One Sunday after church services, I was invited by Mrs. Rose Hosier to her home for dinner. The famby letter and telephone several times each year.

As the result of our acquaintance with the Kenny and Hosier families, four nurses were able to meet with members of various civic organizations. We got an enlisted men's club moved from a very unsavory section of the city. …

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