graduated from St. Vincent's Hospital School
of Nursing in September of 1942 at the time
when World War II was going on fully. There
was a huge billboard, saying "We need
you!" with a nurse at one end and these
men from each part of the service at the
other end of the sign. So with about 8 credits
to go for my nursing degree, I left Columbia
University. It was almost crazy, what I did.
I felt the pull and the need to just serve.
I was very idealistic about it, that I would
go and serve my country and take care of
all these young men who were more or less
my age. So I enlisted.
In January of 1944, we
went by boat to Scotland and spent a couple
of nights in Glasgow. We then opened a
hospital in Cheltenham, in the Cotswold
Hills. They were looking for a volunteer
for psychiatric nurse. No one wanted to
do it. I did it and had a crash course.
I had a 100-bed psychiatric bed unit, I
was second-in-charge. At that point, we
were receiving patients from Italy, and
some from the Air Force. They were flown
out of Anzio and places like that. And
we also had British soldiers and people
with what we called combat exhaustion,
now it's called post-traumatic syndrome.
I remember my first trip
into London, I remember going to the area
around St. Paul's Cathedral. Although I
had been seeing wounded coming in, I hadn't
yet seen the devastation. So when I saw
it, I was truly sickened. It was just beyond
anything I could have imagined. Just total
devastation...horrible. And the people
of London were living in the subways. They
went to work in the daytime and went to
bed in the subways. Then the experience
of walking to the Cathedral. I didn't realize
it had been bombed. We walked in and there
was a big hole in the ceiling near the
altar. I remember I was crying. It was
just beyond what I could imagine. Yet for
some reason, I felt I had such a sense
of the presence of God, sitting in that
The night of D-Day came.
I remember that night, the fifth of June.
What I remember is we started hearing the
sound of airplanes. The first thing, as
I recall, was seeing planes pulling the
gliders. From darkness, the entire night
and half the next day, the sky was constantly
filled with planes for the invasion, constantly.
On June 7, I was sent somewhere in England
temporarily detached from my own outfit.
I had a 30-bed surgical ward, 27 of my
patients were critically ill, and these
were all men who had been carried back
from the invasion right away. In other
words, these were men who had been wounded
on June 6 and 7. And they were severely
wounded, fingers, arms blown off, I remember
a man whose buttocks were blown off...stomach
wounds, severe, severe wounds, 19 and 20
years old, younger than I. That stands
out to me as one almost constant nightmare.
Constantly fighting death...
I remember in particular
one young man, I thought I would remember
his name because I wrote to his parents
but I can't. He had been in a tank and
had been burned all over. All but his face
and the top of his head and the palms of
his hands were burned, the backs of his
hands were burned but not his fingers.
Not only was he burned, but he had lain
there before he was picked up so he was
covered with maggots. He would tell me, "I
feel I can stand the pain of the burns
but the crawling maggots are driving me
almost insane." We tried everything
surgically, the doctors and the sergeant
and myself, we immersed him in warm, sterile,
saline solution, to kill the maggots. We
never got them all. We got a lot of them
that time. The boy was from Texas and he
was 19 years old, I remember that. And
there was one tall young black man who
came and read from the Bible to him. They
would talk about God together, this white
Texan and the black Southern soldier. I
had the Miraculous Medal and I asked him
if I could put it on his finger. I so wanted
him to live. He whispered to me "Don't
worry, don't worry, I am ready to go. And
when I die, I want you to write to my parents
and tell them I was prepared and I knew
I would see God." So I did.
That's what I remember.
Working and sleeping. If I went to eat,
I ate in a hurry and rushed back. It was
an intense experience. And we were running
out of bandages. Years and years later,
I had nightmares about it. In 1955 in the
Mt. Kisco Cenacle, the sheets for the retreatants
were rented. The nightmare that I had was,
I had all these critically ill patients
again, one bandage, and they wouldn't let
me use those sheets because they were rented.
This is eleven years later, I had those
nightmares 2 or 3 nights in a row. It provoked
something in me that was still there. The
feeling "How are we going to do this?
How are we going to take care of all these
men? Where are we going to get the bandages?"
Then I got orders to
move and I packed up, kissed the sergeant
goodbye and that was it, back to my own
unit. We were now going to France! With
all the dedication of youth, you just felt
you were doing a great thing to go across
and be there. I felt that. We certainly
all felt like that. It was why we had come
and why we were doing it.
So then we landed. I
believe it was Utah Beach. And then we
moved to near Carentan. Our first few nights
were terrible. We had to dig some trenches
for latrines. We set up temporarily there.
But the circumstances were terrible. See,
that's what I remember. I remember, in
my hospital, we could not understand why
the Americans came back and leveled St.
Lo. We had not seen that many Germans.
It was beyond my comprehension and it made
me have a whole different feeling about
the war. I began to think, everybody is
crazy, the whole thing is crazy. So all
the sense of coming and doing something
noble was drained out of me. I knew that
caring for the sick was a good thing. But
as far as serving my country, I had the
feeling that every country was crazy. Crazy
to try to solve everything this way. And
yet, the worst horror was the realization
that the things Hitler had done were so
terrible and way back ought to have been
What I remember of that
hospital experience is the smell of death,
rotting dead bodies everywhere. At that
point, we received civilians. They had
no other place to go. That's where, in
the heat of the summer sun, I collapsed.
I was overnight at another hospital in
a ward where there were men, women and
children. I can still see those women with
the severe injuries of war and their families.
There was no place to go. I mean it was
such a jungle and they were taking care
of them all. That's how I recollect it.
What I also remember is children going
through our garbage, looking for food,
they were going through the garbage...
Four days before the
surrender of Paris, we were packed up,
put on a train and moved to Paris. I remember
being on that train, having nothing to
eat, being given potatoes and fruit. But
I also remember that they gave the soldiers
Calvados. So the next thing, you know,
in addition to being hungry, we had to
take care of horribly sick enlisted men,
vomiting blood from drinking so much Calvados.
So that was part of the trip to Paris.
And then, going into Paris, I have only
one picture of that. It is a picture of
a tank that I must have taken. The soldiers
are bending down in friendship to some
of the civilians. But my own remembrance
of it is having men, women and children
kissing me. I was kissed all day long!
Elizabeth and her cousin Roger, a paratrooper,
in a reunion near Paris.
Later I was again on
detached service up near Rheims and I again
had a psychiatric ward. What I remember
is the terrible, in many senses, the terrible "brew" of
patients. A visiting psychiatrist came
by and he was making the rounds of all
of our wards. On the second floor, I can
still see it now, he said "What's
the matter, what's making you so sad, what's
the dreary looks on you?!" I kept
to myself so well and I was so angry with
him. I thought, what a way to talk. And
a guy stood up and said, "Sir, isn't
it strange, doesn't it strike you as very
very strange, that if a person can get
used to seeing their friends get blown
to pieces they're normal. And if you can't
get used to it, you're not normal. Don't
you think that's strange?"
The colonel never answered that but I held
it in my mind. And of course, that was
the beginning of my real radical sense
that someone has to cry halt.
Towards the end of the
war, Americans who had been prisoners of
the Germans came into my ward. These were
men who were on the edge of starvation.
The first few days, they just had cream
of wheat with water, sugar and salt and
they were on intravenous. We put sugar
and salt in water to try to get them to
eat it but they hated it so then we did
the gruel. They could tolerate the gruel.
See, we needed to get the sugar and salt
into them. We couldn't keep them on this
forever so we fed them the cream of wheat.
And gradually, we would add a little powdered
milk at a time and a little margarine.
Then we restored them to health. They went
back to their outfits.
During the time between
the end of the European war and the end
of the whole war, I had a week's leave
and decided to go to England and make a
retreat. I had read about retreats in a
magazine which the chaplain had. I took
a boat across the English Channel, saw
the White Cliffs of Dover, and all around
there it was devastation. I took a train
to London and I asked a priest there if
he ever heard of retreats. He laughed!
He said "Go to the Cenacle." So
I found my way to Grayshott and made the
five-day retreat. I talked with nobody
and I wrote my mother 6-page letters.
I came back to the States
in December of 1945 and I came into Boston
Harbor. I remember coming home. I worked
my way home. There was a terrible storm
at sea and they asked me to work the sick
bay. If you worked for the Navy, you would
get three meals. So I volunteered instantly!
I came home thinking
I had a religious vocation. I was dating
a couple of guys and I worked at New Rochelle
Hospital. I was working a 40-hour week.
It seemed to me then that God said to me
--"Don't worry. I have something else
in mind for you. I really want you to be
a Sister." I did not know where I
wanted to enter. So my mother said to me
one day "I think you're just wasting
your time. Not that I want to get rid of
you but if you're going to do it, start
thinking about which Order! Do it or don't
do it! One way or the other. Why don't
you try the Cenacle?"
I said "Oh, yes, that's right." I
got on the train to New York City. So I
went to the Cenacle and Sr. Ignatius greeted
me and I said to her: "Who would I
talk to about entering the novititiate? So
I applied and entered...50 years ago this
After I came to this
decision that the U.S. wasn't all good
and they weren't all bad, that there was
evil on every side, I knew and felt that
my care of the sick was still an important
thing to do. These were young men who hardly
knew why they were there except to fight
for their country. They were idealists.
Some of them were drafted. And I had some
medics who were conscientious observers
who would not do anything except medical
work. Even after that, I knew, I felt,
I was doing something good. I felt that
the care of these young people was so meaningful,
very worth doing, and I felt very dedicated.
I certainly felt myself totally dedicated
the whole time I was there. And gradually,
a seed was planted in the back of my mind.
I often thought about
how important it is to resist the beginnings
of evil. And to recognize the beginnings
of injustice, and how important it is to
love your neighbor as yourself. How important
it is to care what's happening to the people
around you, all the time. And to name what's
unjust, name it, look at it and name it.
Call it what it is What I often thought
about is how important it is to resist
the beginnings of evil. And to recognize
the beginnings of injustice, and how important
it is to love your neighbor as yourself