On every Memorial Day – to remember all who gave their lives in service to our country – and Veterans Day – to salute current and former military – we must never forget to tip our hat to nurses for holding their own front during every war.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant welcomes everyone across South Carolina to “Angels of the Battlefield: The Unsung Heroes,” a symposium on the USS Yorktown former Navy aircraft carrier, at 7 p.m. Thursday. The invitation for such former military nurses, and photos and video, went out in January, and this forum, for which admission and parking are free, will include a panel of veteran military nurses recounting their intervals from combat zones and hospital ships in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nurse memories move many hearts, from long before, and probably after, this symposium, even for those not attending. Frank Esposito, a retired Army colonel who lives near Myrtle Beach and flew and trained pilots in Huey helicopters and spent one year in Vietnam, appreciated learning about his mother-in-law’s dedication during World War II. He said Ed Sallie, father to his wife, Ellen Esposito, was an Army GI who served in north Africa; Sicily; Anzio, Italy; and “up the boot into Austria, and then into Germany.”
“What my wife and her siblings did not know until her death was that my mother-in-law, Eleanor Sallie, was a Navy nurse,” said Frank Esposito, also honored to have some sand his father-in-law saved from the Anzio Beach head.
Mrs. Sallie, who did not go overseas, was stationed at Naval hospital in the Kew Gardens, N.Y., Frank Esposito said.
“We only speculate,” he said, “that maybe she wanted to clear her memory of the horrific wounds she saw when treating the wounded.
“The kids had no idea that she served until a military bugle player showed up at her graveside burial. She and my father-in-law both have bronze veterans plaques, side by side, at their grave site, in the hamlet of Windham, in the Catskills.”
Mac Burdette, executive director at Patriots Point, outlined the preparation and outreach that has gone into the “Angels of the Battlefield” symposium, with help from Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, both in Charleston, as well as the American Red Cross and Navy Nurse Corps Association.
Question | How did this theme come together, in such a massive way to raise awareness of nurses’ roles as MVPs through the decades for our service personnel?
Answer | We do about six free symposiums a year, and we always try to pick a topic or issue or subject that we thing will have wide appeal. ... With so many military bases in South Carolina, and so many retired veterans living here, many of whom were injured, it seemed to make sense to us to try to honor the “Angels of the Battlefield.” Also, even though more were female, there were and are male nurses in the military. ...
Also, remember that medics and corpsmen ... are not nurses, but they play such an essential role of trying to stabilize injured troops in the battlefield so they can get back to the care or nurses and doctors. ... Even back in World War II, nurses had to go to college for a four-year degree. ...
One day, we might do a symposium to honor combat medics and corpsmen.
Q. | Have you heard of this kind of program specifically saluting wartime nurses?
A. | Certainly there are organizations throughout the United States that have various history programs and bring in authors and cover issues related to war. As a museum, though, I don’t know of another museum in the United States that does as many symposiums annually and makes them free to the public on such a wide slate. We’ll tackle any subject related to our military or any war. For the most part, we have concentrated on World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but I imagine we’ll be moving into areas about Afghanistan and Iraq.
Q. | How serendipitous was finding these special guests to speak?
A. | I give all the credit to our staff. ... When you’re talking about World War II, there are fewer and fewer veterans you can call upon to tell their stories, and there are very, very few nurses who served in those combat zones still alive. ... If you find 90-year-olds from that time, they would have been 19 years in 1944, and nurses would have been through college already, so they would have been 22, 23 or 24 years old. ...
Even Vietnam veterans are getting into their 70s, and we don’t have much time to talk with them to get their stories.
Q. | What drives this quest to connect with all veterans and survivors to make sure future generations do not forget about all they did?
A. | Only two words: education and honor. It’s simple and straightforward. We sent information on this symposium to military and veterans organizations throughout South Carolina. ...
We really try to disseminate this information as much as we can, and knowing that every person cannot come to Patriots Point, we live stream symposiums, including the nurses’ event March 31, on our website (patriotspoint.org), so anybody can click on that night and watch it from their living room. Technology is a wonderful thing.
Q. | In what other ways are military nurses embedded in people’s memories with everlasting gratitude?
A. | We often hear from veterans who have been wounded, and who spent time in a MASH unit or hospital before they were transported back to Japan, Germany and other places for care. All of them talk reverently about nurses; they hardly ever talk about the doctors.
To their credit, doctors are there to save their lives, and they stay busy and they’re off to see the next patient. Nurses are there by patients’ side from the time they enter the ward or operating room until they more somewhere else, so they form attachments with nurses. ...
There are so many really wonderful, heartwarming, and sad stories out there. ... Often times, it’s where they held the hand of that soldier as he slipped away. ... They always talk about how there were proud that maybe they brought some comfort that would have been something the solider’s mother, wife or girlfriend could not give at that moment. There are a lot of poignant tales that make this human in the most special way. ...
We want people to touch their emotions with these symposiums. You don’t learn as much if you don’t get emotionally involved. It’s not just a history lesson.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: “Angels of the Battlefield: The Unsung Heroes” symposium
WITH: First-hand accounts from former military nurses who cared for troops injured in lines of battle –
▪ Linda Caldwell of Aiken, an Army nurse in the late 1960s in Vietnam, who also was part of an episode of NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1990 about her reunion with a soldier who credits her for helping in his recovery from a leg amputation.
▪ Doris Pearce of Mount Pleasant, a retired Navy commander who spent 21 years in the Nurse Corps, also with time in the Vietnam War.
▪ Libby Steadman of Mount Pleasant, who retired as an Army colonel after more than 30 years as Nurse Corps reservist – including deployments in the Gulf War and in Afghanistan – and helped develop the helicopter transport system at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
▪ Cathy Drake, a nurse assigned to two Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units during the Korean War, known for helping inspire Richard Hooker’s book “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors,” later adapted into a hit movie and TV series. (Vision problems prevent her traveling for this forum, so her interview, taped at home in Evansville, Ind., will be shown.)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday (Doors open 6:30 p.m.)
WHERE: Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, 40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant, on USS Yorktown former aircraft carrier – From U.S. 17, take the Intertstate 526 spur east, then turn right (north) on S.C. 703, and left on Patriots Point Road, and find the complex on the right.
HOW MUCH: Free, including parking.
VISIT: Regular hours are 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily, for admission of $20 ages 12-61, $17 active duty military and ages 62 and older, $12 ages 6-11, and free for service personnel in uniform and ages 5 and younger. Parking $5.
INFORMATION: 843-884-2727 or patriotspoint.org
ALSO: For Vietnam Veterans Day, Tuesday –
▪ Commemorative wreath laying, by Daughters of the American Revolution Theodosia Burr Chapter (www.myrtlebeachdar.org), 11 a.m. in North Myrtle Beach Veterans Plaza, at at North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex, at S.C. 90 and Robert Edge Parkway.
▪ Remembrance ceremony, 1:30 p.m. inside Vietnam Experience Exhibit at Patriots Point, where Vietnam War veterans will be given an official Vietnam Veteran lapel pin, and with their immediate families, free admission to Patriots Point for the day.