Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Being a WWII Army nurse was tough, but critical

Hazel Murphy looks through old photos of her from World War II when she was a nurse stationed in the Pacific theater.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Hazel Murphy looks through old photos of her from World War II when she was a nurse stationed in the Pacific theater.

At night they watched the rats and crabs climb across the wires holding the mosquito netting above their cots. ¶ By day they worked in mud that oozed over the top of their boots while easing the suffering of thousands of American soldiers.

Being a member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II was as challenging as it was rewarding, said Hazel Murphy, former 1st Lt., USANC, now 88.

"I was so tired at night I would just crawl into my bunk and go to sleep," Murphy recalled.

Murphy's memories from her time in the war were captured in Answering The Call: Nurses of Post 122 authored by St. Petersburg resident Theodora Aggeles.

The title refers to American Legion Post 122 of Madeira Beach. Founded in 1939 by a WWI nurse, Post 122 was the only all-nurses post in Florida before disbanding several years ago. Aggeles attended the group's meetings and spent years gathering the nurses' stories.

Aggeles, Murphy and several other nurses chronicled in the book will be at Heritage Village's annual WWII & the Swinging Forties celebration Saturday to chat about the wartime nursing experience.

Murphy, a St. Petersburg resident whose maiden name was Stickney, always wanted to be a nurse but never intended to join the service. An exhausting night shift in a Boston hospital left the then 22-year-old vulnerable to the coaxing of friends.

"It was soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor," Murphy said. "My friends were asking me to join the Army with them. I made excuses, but when I got off duty in the morning they had my clothes laid out on the bed. By 9 a.m., I had joined the Army."

Murphy's unit was sent to the South Pacific. In Australia, they were transported in boxcars with no windows to set up a hospital in a former convent near Brisbane.

"We were set up for 1,000 patients," said Murphy. "After the Coral Sea battle we had close to 2,000 patients."

In spite of difficult, crowded conditions and long working hours, the nurses found their jobs satisfying.

"As nurses, we knew the reason we were there," Murphy said. "We didn't think about ourselves. We were there to help the soldiers."

After two years in Australia, the unit was sent to Milne Bay on the eastern tip of New Guinea.

The jungles of New Guinea were hot, humid, rainy and full of tropical diseases. As a former stronghold of the Japanese army, the threat of attack loomed.

"There were still Japanese in the caves on that island," Murphy said. "That's what we had to be concerned about at night."

Working at the hospital could be heartbreaking. Murphy saw many boys who lied about their ages to join the war. She recalled one 16-year-old she treated who was sent back to battle.

"He sent me a package with a grass skirt," she said. "I later heard he was killed. I can close my eyes and still see his face."

In the midst of turmoil, Murphy found love. Robert Murphy was the unit's quartermaster. She made him work for two years before agreeing to a date.

"He was well-liked by everyone but me. I couldn't stand him," laughed Murphy. "Everyone tried to help him get to me. He really was a terrific guy."

The couple was married for 41 years.

In 1945, Murphy contracted dengue fever and was sent home. Her time in the service was difficult, but she said she wouldn't trade her experience for anything.

"All those young men loved us," Murphy said. "It is important when you are appreciated and you are told you're appreciated."

>>If you go

World War II & the Swinging Forties

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Heritage Village, 11909 125th St. N

Admission is free but donations are welcome. Free parking and a shuttle to the event is available on 119th Street, between Ulmerton and Walsingham roads.

For more information, call (727) 582-2123.

Being a WWII Army nurse was tough, but critical 04/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 7:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  4. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse

    Politics

    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …

  5. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.