By Colleen Cotter
In appreciation of our veteran’s we wanted to share one of our residents’ WWII experiences. Berdine Stime Nelson has been with us for 3 years and is 95 years old. She was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps in New Guinea. We have an edited letter that was first published in her local paper back home in Brookings, South Dakota during the war. It was published again last November in the San Pedro Today magazine. We have edited this letter due to our limited space.
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 PJ’s through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations 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 cooler or laundry services, a little less mud and heat or a few hundred other things?
What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated and the other 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 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). 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 of how often I fret and gripe—what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and “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 WWII; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile.
Berdine met Vernon Nelson in New Guinea. They both grew up in the same small South Dakota town, however they did not meet until they were half way around the world. They married and lived in Orange County. Vernon died at the age of 47, leaving Berdine with six children.
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