Serving in the Army Nurse Corps

By: 
Avery Alishouse

Avery Alishouse

Student of Mrs. Troftgruben

 

 

S

ome dreams will permanently reside in the fictional realm, others turn into facts, and from facts to history. For Carol, the latter occurred. She was born the second child, with two brothers, one older and one younger. She and her younger brother passed for twins up until she was in seventh grade. She spent her entire childhood in Idaho Falls, graduating from the local high school. 

After graduation, Carol was offered two different scholarships; one for dance, the other for nursing. Carol chose to pursue the nursing degree as it was more practical, and the scholarship was bigger. Carol attended the University of Northern Colorado to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. At the end of her second year she ran low on funds to pay for her degree, so, still intent on pursuing her dreams, Carol joined the fledgling Army Student Nurse Program. This program paid for a student’s college education on a 1:2 ratio. If the military paid for one year the student was required to serve for two. Female students would enlist into the Women’s Army Corps. Carol’s father was drafted during World War II and had served as a guard aboard naval vessels. One of his main jobs was keeping the men in the men’s quarters and the women in the women’s. Her father respected the nurses because they treated people with respect, whilst also maintaining dignity and modesty. From his experiences he heavily supported Carol’s decision to join the Army Nurse Corps. 

After she graduated college, Carol attended basic training near Brook Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Her adjustment to military life was easy — many of the needed traits had been instilled in her during her childhood. Her days at basic consisted of hours of classroom work, learning the military language, and how to be military. Since Carol spent long hours sitting in the classroom, one of her favorite things to do was to march, as it got her moving. In basic they told them, “nurses do not get sick.” Carol thought they were exaggerating but, she learned that nurses were never sent home and could not call in sick. They would drug them up and send them back to work, as nurses were essential to keeping the hospital running. 

Carol had become engaged to her then-boyfriend during her senior year of college. She graduated in the spring of 1971. They married the day after she graduated. So, she went from 2nd Lt. Eddy to 1st Lt. Potter. Her first station was at Ft. Ord in Monterey, Calif. Word of her marriage never quite made it to the head nurse who was expecting two different people. She got Carol instead. From then on, the head nurse would always cite her for dirty shoelaces, so she became very good at putting on clean shoelaces whenever the head nurse was going to be around, she said. Even then, Carol would get cited anyway. While in Ft. Ord, she was stationed on the long-term care unit. Her experiences working with the patients led to strong friendships, as most of the men were being put back together after suffering injuries overseas. Many were on their third, fourth, and even 10th surgeries, just trying to get their bodies working again. 

One of Carol’s treasured memories comes from the time she spent working in the long-term care unit. 

“In the new hospital, the end unit faced the sunset, over the ocean, and all the guys and I would go out and sit on the beds and watch the sunset. And it was fun. It was special because it gave us camaraderie, it gave us people
that cared about each other,” she said.

The first part of Carol’s time in Ft. Ord was spent working in the old hospital. They were no longer fixing anything, instead focusing their energy on building a new hospital. The old hospital was located in a massive building; she had to walk 20 minutes to get to the dining hall on the opposite side of the building. Carol remembers the dangerous halls, where there weren’t enough guards to patrol them all. People walking alone were at risk of being beaten and robbed. Carol would ask patients to walk with her if she had to take another patient somewhere else. Many of the guys willingly obliged, and she stayed safe. 

Carol was serving in a time where California was not partial to the war. All military personnel were forbidden to go out in public in uniform. They had to go straight home and change into “civies,” non-military clothing or civilian clothing, before they went out. When Carol left for her station, she took her husband with her and they lived in an apartment off base. The only people who knew she was military were the people in her apartment complex. Carol was able to sit by the pool and not have a single other person acknowledge her existence. She believes she was saved a lot of abuse by adhering to the rule. Her time in Ft. Ord shaped her later life, she said. She worked with the heroin addicts shipped back from Vietnam. This was her first experience with drug addicts, but it encouraged her to get certified in drug abuse counseling.  

Carol was then transferred to Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. She worked on both men’s and women’s surgical units and an obstetrics unit where she ended up delivering a few babies when there was no one else present to do it. 

Ft. Wainwright participated in Operation Jack Frost. The entire base would go out on military maneuvers for four days in winter, providing training in a sub-arctic environment. Nine months later, she said, there would be a bunch of babies born. The base only had two delivery rooms and one time there were three pregnant women in labor at the same time. 

In Fairbanks in the winter, the temperatures would drop well into the negatives and stay there. There was no such thing as not getting to work. The military had technology that let the trucks start, but that didn’t mean the wheels would turn. Carol wasn’t heavy enough to put enough weight onto the wheels to make them turn, so she had to walk in -40 degree weather. The military gave her the appropriate clothing to stay warm while walking. One night she got home from work and found she had been locked out of
her house. It was nighttime during winter, so she ended up staying in the dog house with her dog, Dusty, until her husband got home. 

Carol stayed with the military for a year more than her required time, and at the end of the Vietnam War she was a captain on the majors list, but she knew it could be 20 years before she got another rank. The final straw was the changing values of military members, she said. They no longer fit into her values. 

After she left the military, Carol stayed in Fairbanks for several years. She got a job selling furniture. At the time, she made more from sales commission than she would have as a civilian nurse. When they left Alaska, they traveled around the United States for a bit before settling down in Idaho Springs in 1978. There she had two daughters. When the mine in Colorado closed they moved to Gillette, Wyo., where Carol found work on a chemical dependency unit. The unit has since shut down, but Carol remains a nurse working with in-patient
psychiatrics, working part-time, as it is something she is passionate about. 

Carol’s experiences working in California and Alaska meant when she left the military she was an experienced nurse. She was capable for caring for a wide range of ailments. When Carol came back, sometimes she would get a comment of “that’s because you were military.” Usually this came about in the sense that she did her job as she was told, but, she said, was raised that way. 

While Carol was in the military, she would sometimes encounter problems, as Carol treated people like people regardless of their rank. That differed from other military beliefs where rank is everything, a private does not need to be given respect. One of the things that makes war so heinous, is the injuries soldiers received. They would have to deal with them for the rest of their lives, whether it’s a shoulder that doesn’t work right or they lost a leg. A unique ailment many veterans who deployed to Vietnam are still facing are the effects of agent orange, a tactical herbicide. It was used in Vietnam to kill vegetation, because the Vietnamese were incredibly good at guerilla warfare. 

Carol was never deployed overseas. At the time they were not sending married women outside the United States. Her time was spent serving within the U.S., and it taught her an important lesson. She learned that it was okay if you are not the big wheel. It is okay to be one of the cogs. Everyone does not get to be a big wheel, but by being a cog and showing up and doing your job to the best of your ability, you become somebody. Everyone who has served gave up years of their life to serve their country — they are all heroes.

 

(Work Cited: “Fort Wainwright, 172nd Infantry Brigade Installation Utilization.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com, Jack Frost Ft. Wainwright. Jeffrey Hawks Education Director of Army Heritage Center Foundation. “Voices of Service: Vietnam War Nurse Describes Life in the Medical Ward.” The Sentinel, 22 Jan. 2016, cumberlink. Thurman, Carol. Personal interview. 29 October, 2019. US Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Health Administration. “VA.gov: Veterans Affairs.” Protect Your Health, 4 Dec. 2013, publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/.)

 

Story written for Reading, 2A Class, Nov. 21, 2019.

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