WW II relived by army nurse
ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Marian Jones told the Palmerton Area Historical Society about her time with the 34th Evacuation Hospital in World War II. On the right she waits for more questions while society members look at the materials she brought in.
Shirley Jones, a member of the Palmerton Area Historical Society, brought her cousin Marian Jones to the Nov. 12 meeting where she told of her time as a World War II nurse.
She followed General George Patton during the invasion of Europe. He would move forward and the nurses would pack up and move also.
Jones began by saying, "You are only as rich as your memories," and her memories of the time of World War II are rich and a permanent part of her.
She mentioned Irene Halmi of Lehighton, who was also a nurse and passed on in August.
"Little is said about the nurses. We were soldiers but not like the men," Jones said. "We dressed like soldiers. Soldiers were issued guns and were sent out to kill men. We had our own weapons, syringes to protect against disease and infection.
"One of the first things you learn is to give name, rank and serial number and no soldier will ever forget their serial number," she said.
She joined for the duration plus six months after Pearl Harbor and Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed for volunteers. You had to be 21 and a volunteer to join.
She was sent to Western Pennsylvania and then to join the 34th Division in Louisiana where they played war games. They were trained for combat. Some people complained but they were not in condition.
"I could toss my duffel bag in back of a 2-1/2 ton truck, no sweat. We headed out to Texas. The next stop was Camp Kilmer in New Jersey and we knew we were going to Europe," said Jones.
There was a horrible storm. They traveled on a medical ship. Everyone but Jones was seasick. When they landed in Liverpool everyone was happy to be on solid ground even though it was cold.
She and a friend were billeted with an English family. We learned about the straight-laced English.
They were sent to learn to identify airplanes and were given a French dictionary and French money.
On D-Day it was difficult to get to Utah Beach. The soldiers were yelling and wanted them to hurry. "Then they saw our lipstick." The first two nights on the beach they slept in foxholes. The unit was split in half. The 1st Army learned what combat was all about.
The nurses learned to give plasma transfusions, something previously reserved for doctors. Some nurses were working around the clock.
They got back to their own unit, the 34th Evacuation Hospital, where they lived and worked in tents.
"When the troops moved forward, so would we. We tore down the tent and packed up with only half a unit moving at a time. The second half would follow," Jones said. Nothing was sterile. There were cots on the ground.
They followed Patton and the 3rd Army. Patients did not stay long, just until they stabilized. The nurses washed the grime off.
They folded their uniforms and used them as part of the mattress on their cots. They did not have pillows or sheets, she said.
They did not take their clothes off. One time Jones had so many blankets she said she could not roll over.
They saw the total destruction of towns with so many wounded waiting in line for surgery. The nurses were not allowed out of the area because they were so close to the front. This came down as an order from headquarters.
There was the rumble of Sherman tanks and the stench of bodies, human and animal. The 155mm guns in the field were so loud it shook the ground.
French girls who had associated with the Germans had shaved heads. Rumor said they were so close to Paris they could have walked. Everyone had periods of homesickness.
"The arrogance of the SS men …. I was assigned to the POW wards because I knew Pennsylvania Dutch and could talk to the Germans," said Jones.
Other memories she told about as brief items: Jewish eating matzo with jelly, the first shower in France, flooding and mud at Verdun, sweeping up cockroaches with a broom, the whistle of fighter aircraft overhead, meeting Bing Crosby at her ward, trying to hide when Patton visited the hospital, his son in our hospital after being freed from a POW camp, new passwords after the Battle of the Bulge.
Slit trenches in the tent with a box with three holes, the deep welts from beatings, sleeping through bombings and wherever they went "Kilroy was there first."
Germans carried white make-shift signs but it did not mean they were giving up.
The stench at Dachau Concentration Camp made people sick. Males came back and vomited. For the wounded you do your best but it is not good enough, but you force yourself to smile. The most pitiful were those who could not cope with what they saw. We were prepared for a battlefield but not this.
The camp inmates were fed oatmeal. They would hide scraps of bread in their clothing.
May 9, 1945 - Victory in Europe Day - "I still feel the relief and joy at the end of the war. There was singing and dancing and prayers of thanks. We could let our minds think of home," said Jones.
She said the nurses did what they were assigned to do just like the soldiers.
Tears streamed when they saw the Statue of Liberty. A beautiful, calm boat-ride home caused Jones to be seasick which the wild ride over had not.
"How can you describe it. You cannot, you must live it. It was emotional when I saw my family. We could not imagine what it was like on the front lines. We saw the results of the battles. I will never forget that those brave souls gave up their lives for us."
She and her companions could not get their fill of hot fudge sundaes and bananas.
She was wearing a shirt that said, "I proudly served in World War II."
Shirley Jones said, "You can read it in a book but it's not the same as one who lived it." Marian Jones is 91 years old and is healthy following a bout with throat cancer 20 years ago. She was a 1939 graduate of Palmerton High School.
About Halmi who was also at Dachau, she said their paths must have crossed.
After the war Halmi worked in the leprosy colony in Louisiana and with the Navajo Indians on their reservation. Halmi donated her uniforms and equipment to the Holocaust Museum.
Karen "Halmi" Black, her niece, was in the audience.