Flight nurse tells old stories of World War II service
Donning a 1944 Navy nurse cape and cap, Ridgefielder Evelyn Wisner joined the town’s Memorial Day parade for the first time this year.
Ms. Wisner was 22 years old when she signed up to become a Navy flight nurse in World War II.
At 89, she remembers treating patients while flying high over the South Pacific as clearly as ever.
“World War II is pretty much history — there aren’t many of us left,” Ms. Wisner said to fellow World War II veterans at a meeting of the Ridgefield VFW post recently.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars invited Ms. Wisner to speak at a recent meeting, arranged by Eloise Barron, coordinator of the Ridgefield VNA Quality Living at Home program, who knew the veteran nurse. Ms. Wisner, who has lived in town for 20 years, agreed to share her story with the “boys.”
In 1944, a registered nurse needed to know how to swim and be in top physical shape to be considered for a position as a Navy flight nurse. Ms. Wisner was the one RN chosen from a group of 200.
Evelyn Wisner speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars recently about her time as a Navy flight nurse. —Kate Czaplinski
Once Navy flight nurse training was complete, she made regular trips from Guam to combat zones in the Pacific, to collect patients. The C-47 planes she flew in weren’t much more than old cargo planes, she said, but were transformed into hospitals to treat the patients.
“We were on our own over all that water,” Ms. Wisner said. “Me, the pilots and a medical corpsman,” Ms. Wisner said.
They’d pick up 18 to 30 patients, mostly Marines from Iwo Jima, Japan, and treat them in the air before transporting them to hospitals in Guam, Hawaii or back in the States. They spent only enough time on the ground to screen the patients.
They would leave Guam at midnight and arrive in Iwo Jima around dawn, she said.
“Those young Marines were so glad to get on that plane, all they wanted was a drink of water...” Ms. Wisner said.
The flights also carried food and supplies to the combat zones.
“We had our hands full,” she said.
She still remembers the dining experience in the Navy quite clearly.
“Dehydrated scrambled eggs and coffee blacker than black...but they always had the best baked bread.”
During her service, close to the war’s end, she said that many of the soldiers looked so young she wanted to hold them on her lap like children.
“They were beat up kids — they were young,” she said.
Once, she was asked to take a soldier home on the plane even though he seemed uninjured.
“I looked at him and said ‘well, what’s wrong,’” Ms. Wisner said. “I was told, ‘Nothing, he’s 16, take him home.’
“A lot of young men lied then but it was rare for them to make it that far,” she said. “Usually they got caught in boot camp.”
Treating patients at 7,000 feet could be dangerous business.
“On my first trip a young man with a hole in his back started hemorrhaging at 7,000 feet,” Ms. Wisner said. “I had the pilot go to 3,000 — we gave him some sedative and he turned out all right.”
She recalled the plane her roommate was in that crash landed on a runway in Guam and miraculously, no one got a scratch.
She discussed the fear of Kamikaze pilots and one that hit a hospital ship her friend was serving on.
“The fact that they hit hospital ships — I couldn’t forgive them for that,” she said.
The war ended when she was still on the job.
“When the war ended, I didn’t know, I was up in the air,” she said.
She went back to the U.S. and continued treating soldiers including former prisoners of war.
She also met her future husband.
“I got married to a Navy dentist — I didn’t even marry a Marine — most of my patients were Marines,” she said laughing.
After her story, there was an exchange of war stories. Among those who participated were Wally Goodman of the VFW, a veteran of World War II who served in the Pacific Theater, and fellow VFW members, including three others who served in World War II. They asked Ms. Wisner to join them in this year’s parade and she has agreed. It was her first time in the town parade.
“We sometimes sit and trade stories a bit,” Mr. Goodman said. “She brought a whole new perspective.”
Ms. Wisner said that years ago when she would talk to school groups about her experiences, the most commonly asked question was her feelings on the U.S. dropping the Atomic Bomb.
“It was a tragedy and Pearl Harbor was a tragedy but the war had to end,” she said.
Ms. Wisner who grew up in North Dakota and Michigan, had three brothers who also served in World War II. Each of them came home safely after the war ended.
“No one goes through a war without feeling it somehow,” she said. “I tell my daughter that I wouldn’t look so old if I hadn’t been in a war.”
Ms. Wisner said that many people call World War II a “good war,” but to her, there is no such thing.
“Wars are pretty nasty stuff,” she said. “I always said if a woman ran the country there wouldn’t be as many wars because women have children and women have sons.”
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