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Interview with Catherine E. Neville

Helen Roach:

Faye. tell us how you happened to join the service, and what you did in your early years in W WII.

Catherine E. Neville:

Well I joined with the other nurses who were my classmates from Mt. Auburn Hospital. I joined the Red Cross to serve for a year, looking after the draftees. But then I had a permanent position at Emerson Hospital, and they didn't want to let me go when the others were all going, otherwise I would have gone to Africa or the Pacific, because they all went, and I worked until 1943, and then voluntarily left to go to the Army. And I took my oath of office right downtown here at Mr. Voight's soda fountain in the old Richardson's drug store, and then I went over to Boston and went on the bus down to Camp Edwards.

We went to England in 1943, in December, landed on the 17th, but on that first night out there in Boston Harbor or beyond, we heard all these depth charges and it was pretty scary, and all around us people were saying the rosary and praying, and it was our first night away from land, so it was kind of scary. But if you did get outside, you could look at all the - a convoy all around us and all you saw were other ships, and I know that on the outside were destroyers to protect us That was the only time we had any action until we landed in Scotland. I was on the George W. Goethels, and it was just a transport We landed in Scotland in the middle of the night, and something like the Red Cross, I think it was like the Salvation Army, they called it St. John of God, gave us pork pies, nothing to drink, but we had these little tart things and they were pork pies. Then we got back on a train and came down to Nocton, outside of Lincoln in England. It was cold, and we had to wear all of our equipment and carry it off the ship and train, and we walked for about a mile and a half to get to our quarters a manor house that had been built in 1680, it was very cold. Very cold!

We didn't get any patients from the war yet, but we set up the hospital until middle of January, and then it was mostly Air Force patients that had been injured, shot up in fights and battles and accidents and broken legs and things from jumping out of their trucks, until D-Day. I remember D-Day when we saw the planes coming back - we were in the midlands of England, and we saw the planes coming back, and they were all sort of beat up and you could tell that they had received shrapnel and stuff. We didn't know anything had happened except that was our first clue. And, then we began to get patients, and we got them usually within three days of their injuries, we were a general hospital. And, I loved doing dressings, we worked very hard, and fast.

Well, after D-Day we'd have like twenty - we'd get - they were from all of our Air Force patients evacuated one way or another so that we didn't have them at that holdover. Then we had infantry people. And the ground troops. And as I say, they'd come in on the trains in about three days after their injuries and they had been to aid stations and field hospitals before they got to us. And actually, one of the doctors that I had a letter or two from, was Dr. Dahill that had worked here at Emerson Hospital, and I knew him. He was an anesthetist, I used to work in the operating room up here, so he was in one of those stations, those field hospitals that leap forward when their lines move forward.

So a wounded man was brought by a stretcher back to the field hospital, and then - That was over on the continent, yes. And then they took him by truck or something to the sea -

Well, eventually they'd get them to the ocean so that they came - it wouldn't be - very many flight things yet, and as I say, we'd see them in three days and so they would have to get the casts off to get down to the dressings, and we did lots of dressings on most everybody, I loved doing the dressings. I think we had like thirty patients', or thirty-two on each ward, and then we had tents behind them with another thirty, and our hospital was set up in such a way as to be two - one end of it was really - you could have the whole hospital function there in case the other half were bombed. But we were separated a little bit We used to go over there, we'd pass our second hospital, to go to the mess hall to eat our meals.[Medical patients, mostly ambulatory, were there.] And the manor house that we lived in was right nearby.

Helen Roach:

Was there bombing around you at that point?

Catherine E. Neville:

No, we were in the midst of about eight airfields, but we were in the middle, so it wasn't a place where there would be bombing, really. If they did, that's when we saw the dog fights at night, but we didn't hear the guns, so they were a good distance away from us. But when we rode our bicycles, (we all got bicycles right away), we'd ride our bikes all around and we'd roam by one airfield after another and we were a good distance from the train. I think it was three or four miles we rode our bicycles to the train so that we could we rode our bicycles but we didn't have any transportation to get to anyplace to see anything really.

Helen Roach:

Did you see a lot of planes that had been crashed?

Catherine E. Neville:

Only when we'd be out on our bikes or when we were on a truck getting a ride in the countryside, they were being brought back to their bases. I remember seeing a - we used to know all the planes, what they'd look like -I remember one of them, (the British planes were ail black because they fought at night,)and so I remember this one was a Sterling that we went by. It was on a big flatbed truck going back to the base to be repaired. Of course the wings were gone, but half of it was there, and it had been shot up.

We visited London, and I think it was February of'44. I remember it was bitter cold and we weren't warm in that manor house and we had pot belly stoves on the wards anyway, so we used to be cold. Five of us went down, and when we went to the theater one evening, came out of the theater and we were on our way to the tubes. Two young men asked the two of us if we'd go to the Savoy and have dinner and dance, and so we went. (The other three had gone to a different theater I suppose.)But, we had a nice evening, and danced. I had my first martini, and had a nice time. On our way back to the Red Cross where we were staying, there was an air raid going on, and it was just like a movie with all the lights and the racket and bombs. Well at least it sounded like bombs to us, but we made it back all right to our Red Cross building and the men had to go on to another building somewhere. I was on the third floor brushing my teeth, but our room was on the first floor and it felt as though the side wall, right next to me, went down, so I came down fast to the first floor to be with my Boston friends; in case we were going to go, I wanted to be with the Boston crowd. But we'd go to the theater in London. That was our only chance for any entertainment, really, up in England - up in London. In Lincoln there wasnt anything, we were just in a little village. A rural village.

We stayed in the Midlands until September '44, and then we went down to move outside of London. We were 45 minutes from London. And that's where we had buzz bombs and rockets come over. And buzz bombs you could see them coming, you'd hear the air raids, and you were supposed to get under cover, but it always felt safer to go out and see if it was going by. They were low, and they were like little motor boats with a putt-putt on the back with a light on it. And when that light went out, they were on their way down. But my brother-in-law had seen one go across their air field and they said that it went on eight more miles before it hit anything, so I always was planning on that eight miles. But the percussion would - when they'd blow up somewhere, and the rockets especially, the windows in the hut would bang in and out, and we were usually saying our prayers. We moved down there on the 17th of September. I remember that date because that was the day that the Air Borne dropped into Holland. When we got down to our station outside of London, the planes were coming back, pulling two gliders -they had carried the troops to jump. We didn't know what had happened until three days later when we got the news from the Stars amp; Stripes Newspaper.

Helen Roach:

What did they do with the gliders on the way back, can you land them?

Catherine E. Neville:

Well yes, they would have come back to the airfield that they had taken off from and then send them down, I think. Or maybe they disconnected them so that they could glide down, I don't know.

Helen Roach:

And were you getting people from Germany, from the Battle of the Bulge and places like that?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh yes, yes, we did. We had patients right away. I remember that as a bad time in St. Lo and our planes bombed some of our troops, fired on them, and I had a lot of patients from St. Lo, and we think we got them on the trains, because we weren't flying patients back to the States, there weren't that many flights available for them, and it wouldn't be safe. We used to send, when we did evacuate the Air Force patients, they were sent up to Scotland and they flew out of Scotland, but they had to go by train to Scotland to go out of...

People who weren't well enough to go back into the front lines, would eventually be -

Transferred to another place, they'd go back to duty. They didn't have any clothes once they came to us, and they couldn't get any clothes until they were going to be transferred, and then they'd go back to some units and be replacements for other units. But when they were sent to a general hospital, it meant that they were going to have at least three months of recuperation before they'd be back to duty or sent home.

We were the Boston City Hospital Unit

Helen Roach:

Oh, did many city hospitals send people?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh yes, like Bellevue, we replaced Bellevue, and Mass General. We replaced Bellevue outside of London, they went to France, but we had to stay in England. Lots of patients had to come back to the States, if they had a fractured hip like that, severe injuries, amputees, those had to go back to the States But it would take awhile, they had to recuperate over there for awhile until they got transportation, and it would be safe to go.

Helen Roach:

Were there still submarines operating in the Atlantic as late as 1944, '45?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh I think so, yes, in '44. I came back August 17th, 1945, two days after the war was over. We had trained to go to the Pacific down in the southern part of England, and not as a unit anymore. I had gone with about ten other nurses, and we had learned about tropical diseases. All of our materiel was on the ship to come home. It was the Queen Mary, the 30th Division, (there were 15,000 troops in a division), and so there were 15,000 troops with about 100 of us nurses, and you know, scads of people.

Helen Roach:

You must have been very popular!

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh no, you really had to stay in your own section on the ship, it was sectioned into Red, White, and Blue, and I was in White, and that meant I had to stay in the center of the ship; and the decks, the troops slept everywhere on the decks, there was no room for anybody moving around anywhere. There was a lounge, and some of the people played bridge there, but there were never enough chairs to sit down so you might as well stay right in your bunk. I was in a little bit of a clothes closet, I mean, it was a tiny closet on the way back, and nine of us. So I used to visit the people that were the middle of the alphabet- they were EFGH, my friend was Goodrich, I used to be in her place because they had a bigger room, and I'd stay there for most of the day.

As we came back, I said, "Well, I signed up for the war and six months, so I might..." Somebody was talking about going into public health service, or maybe you could stay in, and we didn't know if they'd keep us in. So we went on a leave afterwards, we'd come back in five days. It was just like a floating hotel, except that it was thronged with people, you couldn't move, and you couldn't get out and walk all the way around outside because it was full of troops out there too.

Well it wasn't fabulous, but anyway, then we came back and they gave us a leave and we went home. This other nurse and I decided we'd stay in, so we went back and signed up and went to Alabama where the WACS had been, and then we went to Chicago. I took care of lots of people then in Chicago that had been in Italy, and many of them were the 42nd regiment that was the Japanese regiment, Nisei, Japanese-American. When they could have a pass they had no place to go because their parents and their families were incarcerated in camps away from the West Coast. I came back in August 1945, this was in September and October, they had no place to go except to Chicago.

We were out near the Brookfield Zoo, and the Hines Memorial Hospital was a veterans hospital just over the fence from where we were stationed. We took care of lots of orthopedic people- still being taken care of by the Army until they would be well enough to be discharged, or go into Veterans Administration. We were at that hospital in April and May until the veterans took over the whole thing, and by that time we had been getting all the paraplegics and spinal cord injury patients. The people that were from the center of the country were all brought there from different parts of the country; there had -. been no special care at the Veterans' Hospitals for the paralyzed patients.

Then I came back to Boston [Murphy General Hospital in Waltham] until 1950. I had surgery on my bad back in 1946 then I went to San Francisco, just before the Korean War started, 1950, I got to work on the first of June and the war started June 25th. I had orders in July to go to Korea, but luckily my back had gone, so I didn't have to go. I would have gone to Korea, and my friend that went, I would have been with her, took care of North Korean prisoners during the whole war. She was on that island, Kojido I think they called it [off the southwest coast of Korea].

Helen Roach:

It must have been very weird, not able to communicate at all.

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, and they were very hateful and spiteful and mean. But of course we don't understand their culture either, you know, and they had no idea what would happen to them or how they'd be treated.

But I was in San Francisco for three years, and took care of patients that had come from the Korean War, eventually caring for head injuries, but I did orthopedics first. Because it was war, it was surgical rather than medical. Medical is the patients are all in good shape until they get injured, and so then they're active and noisy and having fun, and when they aren't being miserable with their injuries, they'd cajole each other into getting well.

Helen Roach:

In orthopedics you were working with people with broken legs?

Catherine E. Neville:

And hips and very heavy work.

Helen Roach:

Not good for your back?

Catherine E. Neville:

No. But I remember, it was in December of 1950 when I'd go up the ramp to go on duty or in the dining room, I'd pass up to twenty or twenty-five people in wheelchairs with both feet off, and that was from the North - from the cold - Korea is very cold, murderously cold, and frostbite. While I was there in November of 1950, my friend sent me a letter, would I get her boots, and she sent her size; but the other nurses drew around their feet so that I could get them boots because they were just in the GI boots. I was coming home on a leave in December, so I brought the letter with me, because I couldn't get them in San Francisco. I went to Filene's in Boston, and I said, "I have a letter from a girl in Korea that needs stadium boots, they're freezing, their feet are freezing", and he said, "Oh, we haven't even opened the warehouse, but you come back this afternoon, and we'll see what we can do." When I went back in the afternoon, they had eight pairs of stadium boots, all packaged for me to mail them - they would get out of there faster if I mailed it I guess they got them okay, I didn't hear from anybody, I signed her blank check to get them. But that was when - there was a lot of frostbite over there, they were beyond their supply lines really, and were freezing. They didn't have enough changes, no warm things. And actually I read that book about a study in unpreparedness and it was the fact that even the batteries in the trucks didn't work when they took them off the ships, because they had deteriorated in the dampness in Japan and Korea.

It was really bad. And then the Marines always bring out their dead with them, and so they held themselves up to come out, fighting in the rear all the time while they were retreating, but they were at the Chosen Reservoir.

Helen Roach:

Those people from the Chosen Reservoir, there were such casualties, right?

Catherine E. Neville:

Terrible, terrible. I can't imagine how they brought their dead out, but I know that the Marines - one side and the other side - really tried not to leave anybody, never left anybody wounded, tried not to leave any dead. There are two men in Concord who were in the Chosen, there may have been more, but there are two men that are a part of the group called the Chosen Few. One of them is Will Ayres, I think, and the other is Joe Peters. One was a Marine and one was in the Army - and there apparently is this organization of survivors, and those who are in it are very proud of it. From what you read about it, what seems so terrible is that there was no preparedness, they didn't have the right equipment, they were so cold, they didn't understand what was going on. Joe Peters was saying you couldn't identify South Koreans from the North Koreans, they all looked the same, and that must have been very scary.

Terrible, terrible. Yes, and then I was transferred to Japan. I went into Japan in February 1953 and was there for two years, I went to Osaka. We got patients until, well - even after the truce, (in July of 1953) because the army still went out to make sure the North Koreans weren't coming over to get back the land that they had given up the day before. So there was skirmishes every night, and we got patients really right up through the whole of'53, '54. In '54 I had gone up to Tokyo in July and that is when I was in orthopedics again. The IJN were there with us, and so we had people from Turkey and Africa, they wore the fezzes. One of my friends said she went in to this captain who was a Turk and she said, "Washy washy this morning?" and he said, "Yes I've taken my bath, thank you." He'd been an English teacher! But the Muslims, or the Moslems, they pray three times a day, so they'd shift their beds around so that they could be facing east to say their prayers.

So they would be saying their prayers and they would disrupt the whole ward, because the men, the sergeants, always wanted the beds nice and straight.

But I had 110 beds on my ward in Osaka and I think we had about 100 patients most every day. And we'd be evacuating as much as we could - we'd get 15 or 20 new patients like twice a week, or ten days. One time we got 23 and I was supervisor that night and I went to the nurse. I had been on during the day and I knew we had 23 new patients and so I went there at the last one to see before I had to go off for a few hours, and she said, "I've lost one of the patients, I know he's here but I don't know which one he is." But we found him. We'd have like ten operations in a day, and these were soft tissue wounds so we had lots of dressings, and we'd have dressings toe to groin and the entire arm, you know, wrist to head.

Helen Roach:

Is soft tissue when you've got -

Catherine E. Neville:

If's shrapnel, yes. But in San Francisco they were beginning to repair nerve damage from the shrapnel. And in the Korean War when we were over there in Japan, I used to get patients that would have a great big thing, it was almost like a hose on the foot of the bed, on the stretcher when they came, and that was because they had done a vein or an artery - arterial repairs, so in case it blew in transport from Korea to Japan, they would be able to get a tourniquet on it and they'd know something had to be done immediately. Well maybe Dot Roach (Dorothy Botvidson) would know about that because she was a flight nurse in those days.

Anyway, we worked like Trojans there in Osaka, and then I was up into Tokyo after the war was over -most of it was gone. But we'd have - I used to go around with IV packets in my pocket, in boxes, and I'd have the needles and tubes, I think, we didn't have disposable needles in those days. I had a central supply to sterilize them, and I made all the solutions for the wet dressings, so that each patient would have a bottle of saline beside his bed, salt and water, salted water, and a big 30cc syringe that they could keep the dressings wet during the day. But we changed it every morning, and we'd have these little Dakins tubes that could stick in, and they'd stick out through the Ace bandages that we'd bandage from foot, you know, wherever they -They were healing from the inside out, and later the Worcester disaster had taught us that you had to heal it from the inside out or you're going to have infections. So this would help - the tissue would grow in around the hole or the damaged tissue, and we never had any infections. I think it was before staph got strong; maybe they had them on the other floors or at some other place, but we had - we'd have 95 patients that we were doing dressings on every day [and we gave 75-80 shots of penicillin twice a day.]

Helen Roach:

Good thing you liked doing dressings! Did people who got as far as your hospital usually survive, or did you -

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, I think on our floor we only lost one man, and I remember the corpsmen felt as bad as if they were the parents because they were taking care of him so - we'd all taken care of him for a long while. And he had had abdominal wounds, and I think his liver or stomach was damaged, and so we had special arrangements for him to anyway, he's the only one that died during that time. Well, you see, they may have had in other wards where they would have had chest injuries and that kind of thing. This was deep abdominal stuff. We had some - we'd have twelve on the critical list at a time on my floor, and then they'd get taken off because they were critical, through the transport and see if they could make it, and make progress there. But we'd have IVs going all day long for like twelve patients and that's why - in those days you had to change the IV bottle every time it ran down to the bottom - and because we didn't - nowadays they can hook up another IV with a piggy-back and - but we had to be there to add the next bottle. 24 hours a day they were getting fluids until they could tolerate food. So we worked hard. We actually had a good time. On the wards the patients were always noisy and having a good time and playing cards and kidding each other. So it wasn't gruesome all the time.

Helen Roach:

You said at one point you moved to head wounds?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh, that was in San Francisco, I took care of head wounds. That was hard because that's the paralyzing head injuries, yeah, that was tough. But I learned a lot of neurosurgical nursing in those days, you know, that you'd never had before. I don't think I'd ever taken care of any serious head injury, maybe a fractured skull or something, before I was in the service. But I came back to Emerson and a doctor that had been in Vietnam gave an intravenous above an elbow, almost up in his bicep area - and I was shocked But then I thought, well that's because nobody has to worry about keeping his arm out straight or tying it down in any direction, he needs to be taken care of and he can move his arm around, and that came out of Vietnam I'm sure.

Helen Roach:

So when you finished with the Korean era, then what did you do?

Catherine E. Neville:

I came back to the States, and I was going to go to Virginia. I had roomed with this other nurse that was a regular Army nurse; because I had the back surgery I was still on reserve, and I thought, gee, I didn't have - President Eisenhower was in charge, and they were 'riffing' as they call it, reduction in force people. I thought gee, these regular Army people, they'll send to this school, down in Texas for administration, and we'd kid my roommate that she'd be going there, and she'd say, "No, I'm going to go home and go fishing. I'm 45 years old and I'll retire and I'm going to go fishing." So, I was going to be 47 when I retired, but I was like 38 or 9, and I said, "Gee, I hope they wouldn't drop me." So I volunteered to go to that school. Now you know better than to volunteer for anything, but I volunteered and then I prayed that I wouldn't have to go in case it was too hard. But I went, and so I worked in Virginia for a year and a half and then I went to school. And I said, "I want to go Germany, everyone's been to Germany but me", so I happened to know the nurse that was in personnel and she came to visit, and she said, "You haven't got orders yet?" and I said, "No, and if you don't send me to Germany, I'll never go because I'll be too old." So I got orders for Germany, and had two years in Germany, in Bavaria.

Well, it was peace time Army and I was in a dispensary then that was supporting the 8th Army. Three days after I took over there, they had the - the 8th Army got a lot of flu, it was a real flu epidemic and we had patients in the gym. I went there in charge on Wednesday and on Friday I had 85 patients in the gym! It was a twelve bed dispensary, and if they were really sick we had to send them down the road to Augsburg to a station hospital. So then I had a station hospital after the dispensary. During the dispensary days Lebanon got hot and there was a big turmoil there, it was in August, and my year in the dispensary was up. So then I went to Augsburg, and there were paratroopers at Augsburg, I mean they were stationed nearby. So everybody [else] went off to Lebanon, and some of the nurses that hadn't kept up on their shots just put their arms out and got six in each arm!

Helen Roach:

And you went to Lebanon? You stayed behind?

Catherine E. Neville:

No, no. No, because of my bad back I was always protected, I always stayed in a place where I was. We had units that had alerts. Every month we'd have an alert and you had to get into your uniform, whatever time of the night it was, and get into your field uniform real fast and get over there to the hospital. I was the one that was going to have to go with the dependents and the patients in buses to . evacuate, and the other people were going to go into field hospitals and move into surgical units.

Helen Roach:

Now this would be an alert in case a hot war started again?

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, and actually you see, while I was there we had turmoil and I remember John Foster Dulles and them all having conferences and everything, so that these people would go on maneuvers - the troops would go on maneuvers to get nearer to the line in case they thought they'd be invaded. It's how they do it today, when there's - we send war ships over to Taiwan when the Chinese are getting nervous, so we protect something that's apt to be an invasion or a skirmish. So these other nurses would go out with the field for a couple of weeks, and I'd be there with the dependents and go on buses. In making out my time slips and stuff, I had to know every morning, if we had admitted any new patients how many children they had. I couldn't understand why it was necessary for me to understand this, having it in my records, and it was because the families were going to have to go together. They would not be separated, they'd go on the bus, but their kids would go with them, their children would go with them if they had to go anywhere, if we had to evacuate.

Helen Roach:

Would the patients be on stretchers or something,

Catherine E. Neville:

and the wife and two kids would be

Helen Roach:

How many kids would have to be -

Catherine E. Neville:

and they'd have to go on the buses too - the thing was, we had to leave our cars full of gas, I mean, we'd have to have at least a half a tank of gas...

Helen Roach:

You were expecting trouble, weren't you?

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, well with the - - it was hard. But we were peaceful where we were, and we usually, somebody would get the word - the operating room nurse would get the word that it was an alert. She'd put on the coffee -she'd holler, "Coffee's ready", and we'd get a cup of coffee as we were getting into our uniforms. But we got over there in like, ten minutes we were over there, dragging half of our stuff with us, but anyway we'd be over there. That's when I had to have my census with the children, so that I was going to be staying with those people, and we would be going, being evacuated over toward France. Someone, one of the officers said, "Well, what if my wife decided not to go and she and the children got into the car and drove themselves?" and the officers said, "Well, you'd really be foolish - you'd be a fool because no one's going to protect you, and if you got to the French border, they're not going to worry about you either, you better stick with the Army, with the Americans."

Then I came back and was going to be in New York, and I was going to retire from there at 47 years old. It was 1959 to '63. I was stationed at Fort Jay in New York, and they, the Army, they asked me if I would stay until I was 50 years old, so while they had my papers in hand, they sent me to Korea for a year. And that's when I was in Seoul, I was in Seoul in two different places. I was out in the village, and that's when I had a MASH, it was a surgical hospital, and it was really a convalescent hospital, and for awhile I'd have another nurse with me, and sometimes I was the only nurse there. And the only other female would be a USO girl.

Helen Roach:

Now this is for people from the DMZ?

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes There wasn't fighting in those days, so much at least where I was. The patients that I received would all be convalescent from hepatitis and, there was another strange blood disease that they got I think from lice, from mice or something, that they'd have a long convalescence, so that's where they were sent to me out there in that place. And then they closed that, and I went down to the headquarters in Seoul, and we had a big dispensary where there were two to four thousand Koreans, and eight to ten thousand American troops would receive their all their shots and all their - it was continuing coverage of all their health care. We didn't take care of injuries or anything like that, they had station hospitals and all. We had a cholera epidemic at that time, so we gave about 8,000 shots. And that's the first time I saw the gun that they used, it was 1963 or '64. There was no needle, it was the force of the air, they'd put down against your arm, and it would get in there. They just put it against your arm, and they pulled like a little trigger in it and they gave you your shot.

Helen Roach:

Did you see much of Seoul and Korea? What was the country like?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh, when I landed at Kimpo airport it was just very, well it was like a deserted country. Well it wasn't deserted, there were thousands of people, but it wasn't developed at all. Like we would go by, we went by places where they were spinning the lamb's wool. They really were in this little shack: in the opening of the shack there would be a spinning roll and they'd be pulling out the wool. Then one orphanage after another, and that's one of the many things about the orphanages. We'd give them a party every so often, and if you gave them food to feed the children, they were more apt to sell it, because they'd get the money to do something else. So we had this group of kids - I suppose there were some Koreans that came with them, but the men would have visited and arranged the whole thing, so we'd have a party. I don't know whether we had games for them or anything. But one little girl was on my lap, and the Koreans have very flat faces. One of our men understood Korean, he rode the buses all the time, the rest of us would ride a jeep or a truck, but he could understand that they were making fun of his big nose. So this little girl was on my lap and she kept turning around and looking right at me, and finally she twisted my nose, [laughs] I don't know whether I gave her ice cream after that or not, maybe she had had her ice cream, but anyway, that was one of the things I remember.

But the countryside was very rural, and I remember there was 50% unemployment, so there were loads of men hanging around without anything to do. And riding into the city, we went by a place that was a "mixed blood" school, so I suppose those were some of the mixed blood, American soldiers had fathered the children and they wouldn't go to school with the other kids. There was a certain area that they were in this mixed blood school, and then we had - we went by the old race track to go from the city of Seoul out to where I lived. When they did the Olympic games and Bryant Gumbel said, "We're out by the South Bend of the Han," I knew just where they were because that's where the race track was. But they weren't doing any racing when I was there. That was another funny thing about that. You used to go by this place, looked as though there were ashes out there all the time on this land, and after awhile, crops were growing out there and they were eggplant, I didn't -had never seen eggplant. But they grow like tropical plants, in that they were fast growing, in no time, in two months they'd have crops, practically. And we were near a big agricultural college. The ashes were from the charcoal that the people used to heat their houses. The houses are heated underneath the floor, because they lie on mats and it's warm down there. And - it's the charcoal and then they just put the ashes that would be gray, and then there'd be plants coming up out of it, and so it went back into the land. I don't know how good it was, but it worked.

Helen Roach:

Was it very muddy where you were?

Catherine E. Neville:

Soldiers talk about slogging through mud or else being freezing. Well, where I was, you see, they had macadam. They were digging a trench one day. I used to hear a funny noise outside the dispensary, out in the village, and I couldn't understand what was going on, and one man said, "Well, they're making little rocks out of big rocks," and I said, "You're kidding." "No," he said, "look out," and so here were these women squatting on their haunches, and they were hitting a big chunk of rock with a hammer, and they were making little rocks to be crushed stone, and that was going to be used somehow there. Another day they were digging a trench and there was an accident in the trench, the sand fell in on a couple of men. They brought one into the hospital, into the dispensary, but he didn't live. And then the Korean family, the family was probably all around working with him, two of them were there, and they came they wail, like you see at funerals, like there'd be professional people to keen and they did that in Japan too, the keeners. Or more so in Japan. I only saw that one, I mean I only saw this man that djed, then I suppose the family probably took him off in a pick-up, in a little wagon of some kind, yes.

That's where we saw the A-frames, where the man would wear this A-frame on his back, and he'd have all of his crops there, or have a big stack of hay, or a pig. One time we saw a - they used to take the pigs to market, and they used to get them drunk on mash - and then they could tie them up. I have a picture of it, I'm sorry I didn't bring it, a picture of this, it's either one or two pigs on a bicycle, the man was taking it to market, bringing it to the slaughter I suppose. Well it got them there anyway!

So that was '63-'64. Then I flew home from there, and I went to Fort Devens, retired from Devens in 1966. 1 ran the - I had the recovery ward and I really was tuned into surgical. Now at Devens we didn't get any Vietnam Veterans, but what was happening with Vietnam, we were having classes all the time to know how to do all these different kinds of things. We had very efficient corpsmen, but the best of them, even when I was at Fort Jay in New York.

Catherine E. Neville:

So these were the trained medics, and they would have been your sergeant on the ward, would have been in charge of the ward, and if he was a good surgical technician, he would be transferred to go to Vietnam, some of them went with the - this was in the early '60s so he'd go with Special Forces. In those days at first they had the Special Forces and they weren't supposed to carry guns or anything, they were just there to sort of take they couldn't even defend themselves.

Helen Roach:

Is that what really happened, do you think? Were they really unarmed?

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, at the beginning, you see, but we weren't fighting yet. They were there as advisors. And I remember the nice sergeant at Fort Jay, he was the one in charge of the ward, he had been there for a year or two, and I was there for a year or two, and then he went to Vietnam. And then we got a letter one time from one of the men that had gone, he was one of the privates, and he said, "I miss you all, and I can't say I wish you were here, but I wish I wasn't." He was a little different - but then I was at Devens. I was at the surgical ward and we weren't getting Vietnam injuries. We took care of dependents up there a lot too. And then just the soldiers that were stationed there, then we'd have those other ones around there, but it was winding down, for me, in the Army, and I retired in 1966.

I really couldn't recognize myself in the pictures of the parade because I was thin, I had come out of Korea weighing 127 and my uniforms - I had them slimmed down in Korea because they were so big before, and anyway, that's why they don't fit me anymore, they're all gone. Well, it was hot in Korea, it was scorching hot and then freezing cold in the winter. I remember where we put the boots on in like October and in April the chief nurse came to visit and she said, "Do you think you'll be getting into your uniform now?" and I said, "These floors are freezing, and my feet are freezing, and we only have that stove, so we have to keep on wearing the boots for awhile."

Helen Roach:

Fay, what was it like when you came out of the service? I know there were no parades because everybody came out of...

Catherine E. Neville:

No, no, there were no parades. Well you see, you came out as an individual, and I think that's what happened to the Korean Veterans as well as the Vietnam Veterans. They came home to nothing, but it was because they weren't a unit They were - they came as casuals - they were by themselves, or maybe a half a dozen, and they went through some separation center, and that's all, and they went back to their homes, so there was, it was like there was no end to it. Oh I'm sure it must have been (a letdown) for them, they were just glad to get out, but there was no recognition, which we didn't have.

Helen Roach:

Whereas WWII they went home in groups.

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, yes, we came as units. And I think in W Wll you signed on for the duration, so everybody stayed until the end and -Yes, yes, you had to. These great big parades, and lots of flags and glory.

I remember when my friend that I had sent the boots to over in Korea, when she came back I remember she came into San Francisco, or I visited her at whatever the camp was there. I said, "The saddest part of this for you is nobody knows you've been away or where you've been. You'll know that when you get home. Nobody will notice it." And it was true. She just went back to duty someplace. And they made her an anesthetist because that is what she'd been in the Army in Korea, but it was only because she used to give ether to the patients that were delivering babies at Murphy General in Waltham! So they made her an anesthetist and she said, "I put more people to sleep with Our Fathers and Hail Mary's and woke them up the same way, nobody will ever know." But one of the things that I remember that I don't understand was in Japan, with all those surgeries every day, we didn't have to stand close to that patient for them to come out of anesthesia. I guess they might have gone to a recovery ward, but they probably had a very light anesthesia. They weren't spinals, because there would have been too many of them for us to be looking after. As soon as they could be ambulatory, they were ambulatory, hard to keep them in bed.

But we'd have twelve, fourteen colostomies at a time, and they were new, you see, so that they - those were some of the sick ones.

Helen Roach:

These are young men?

Catherine E. Neville:

Oh how terrible Terrible, yeah.

Helen Roach:

And then they were really trapped, with a colostomy bag for the rest of their life.

Catherine E. Neville:

Well yes, they probably were, but in the '60's when I was at Fort Jay in New York, I took care of a colonel who had all the latest equipment for taking care of a colostomy, and I was fascinated because I had taken care of them, the new ones, and I was fascinated. He was so happy to be showing me all this new stuff, and he told me the different celebrities that had been working their whole lives with colostomies, and as I say, I was just fascinated with it. They have colostomy support groups and so they keep up with, if somebody can figure out something easier, they do it It's much easier now; of course a new one is tough, takes awhile.

But I certainly had a good life, and I traveled around, I enjoyed it all. I loved every bit of it, yes, I'd do it all over again in a minute. But it was because I was a nurse to start with, and I didn't get married, and so I worked - and I enjoyed the work, I enjoyed being a nurse. Yes, it was very different, it was a Very different kind of a life, and today, it's a riot. Somebody will come up and I'll say, "Gee, that reminds me of such and such," and it could be Augsburg, Germany, or Italy or someplace, because we were in and out of Italy and Switzerland all the time, down there at least three times I think.

Helen Roach:

Was it your experience that the nurses were generally pretty religious?

Catherine E. Neville:

Yes, well most people were going to church in those days. And even when I got out of the service and they'd have reunions, or they'd have a letter or a bulletin that would go from an area, (there was a nurse assigned to go get the news from each area), all the nurses were busy with their churches, or helping with - helping people. They were all still doing it And, even in Texas, or when we were at school, the kids would say, "When I get out of the Army I'm going to go help them out in the Indian Reservations.1∗ It was just because it was such a big picture now.

Helen Roach:

It takes a certain kind of person, a compassionate person, to be a nurse, and I guess you don't lose it once you...

Catherine E. Neville:

No, the girl I was with in Tokyo had stopped going to church, and I used to make sure that I said my prayers, and we had the room together. She was funny, she said, "You're praying for me?" and Fd say, "Sure." But when I got off at midnight some nights, you see, I'd still go down and say my prayers. She got so we used to listen to a mystery at 9:30 every night on the radio, and she'd say, "You can get your rosary in now, Cath", (she called me Cath),"before the band starts up." The band was next door at the club, and so then at 9:30 we'd hear that mystery. That was in July I moved in with her, she said she didn't really want a roommate, but as long as she had to have one, I'd been in Osaka with her, so she'd let me have a bed in her place. I said, "Well, the sink is on my half of the room, but I'll let you use it!" Anyway, we got along beautifully. And, after I left there and went to Germany, she wrote to me and said she had started to go to church then in December that year, and she never missed it. Then when I was in Germany she wrote me a letter and said she was really back into the church, she had been to confession. And she was very busy then with the church, she was always helping them with the Christmas baskets and the Thanksgiving baskets and everything for the church.

Helen Roach:

Well, thank you so much, this has been wonderful, and just a delight to hear about a little bit of your life in the service, and all the good things you have done.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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