I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.
Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.
It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.
She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.
The following letter was edited only for brevity:
So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.
When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?
Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.
Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.
What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.
Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile.