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Interview with Frances Liberty [Undated]

Jake Landry:

...at Shaker High School, and we're going to be talking with Frances Liberty, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. And Lib, we're very glad to have you today. My name is Jake Landry, by the way, if...

Frances Liberty:

How do you do.

Jake Landry:

[laughs] You know that already. And we're gonna ask you some questions about your experience with the military and how it affected your life. But first of all, tell us about how you got into the army. What caused you to get into the army, and did you have any problems doing that?

Frances Liberty:

World War II.

Jake Landry:

Okay.

Frances Liberty:

They didn't have enough nurses. I graduated from nursing school from Champlain Valley in Plattsburgh [New York], which no longer exists. I took my state boards, passed them, and they allowed us to take state boards early in those years because they were desperate for nurses in the military, or anyplace.

Jake Landry:

Okay. Do you remember the year that you graduated?

Frances Liberty:

'41.

Jake Landry:

'41. And this is before the war had started.

Frances Liberty:

No, I graduated after the war had started.

Jake Landry:

Oh, you graduated after the war...

Frances Liberty:

Uh-huh. So they let us take state boards early; I took state boards when I was only twenty. I came home after finishing my time at nursing school, and I said to my father, "I'm going to join the Army." And he said, "No you're not." And I went down and joined. And I went back and told him, and he said to me, "You've made your bed; you're going to have to lie in it now." Which is, you know... So, [I] went to Fort Dix [New Jersey], and they gave us basic training. They weren't really prepared to handle women. So we had basic training! We pitched tents, we hiked, we climbed walls, we crawled around in mud; we had people shooting at us, you know, under the barbed wire and all that stuff--that's when I learned to keep my fanny down. [Landry laughs] And a sergeant finally gave me a bag of rocks to carry 'round in my left hand so I'd know enough to step out on my left. I got him later. And it was very invigorating, very rewarding. It was also very exciting for me. Remember, I came from [a] Catholic hospital and Catholic schools. So this was a big world to me, taking a shower with everybody else, you know, and all that stuff. That was different! But then I went to--we worked on the wards at Fort Dix for a while to get the basics of what military nurses did. And then we went--I went to Cape Patrick Henry in--Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia. And from there we went aboard ship.

Jake Landry:

Now what rank...?

Frances Liberty:

Second lieutenant.

Jake Landry:

Oh, you were second lieutenant right off the bat.

Frances Liberty:

Right off the bat, uh-huh.

Jake Landry:

Interesting.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. And then we went--that was only complimentary rank. They didn't make us official officers, I think, until '51 or '57. '57, I think. We were paid.

Jake Landry:

You were paid as...

Frances Liberty:

It was complimentary. We weren't officers.

Jake Landry:

You wore the rank?

Frances Liberty:

We wore the rank. But they made it official, in '57.

Jake Landry:

Interesting. Something I read about, the wom--that there was--there were, like, very ugly rumors about women going into the Army, or into the nurse corps, at the beginning of World War I [interviewer may have meant to reference World War II]. Is that true?

Frances Liberty:

Yes.

Jake Landry:

What, what, what--who was, who would be saying things like this? And why? Any idea? Do you remember?

Frances Liberty:

What do you mean ugly things?

Jake Landry:

No, they--it was--it just didn't seem to be right for women to be going into the...

Frances Liberty:

Oh it wasn't! Nurses were classified as lower than low, in those days, right along with the evening ladies.

Jake Landry:

But then what happened after...?

Frances Liberty:

They began to appreciate them and realized that they were educated women, able to do certain tasks and do them well. And they were--we were treated with all the respect in the world. Very--I mean, everybody was very respectful of us.

Jake Landry:

A parallel, I don't know if you would be familiar with this, that initially, in training, medics were low-life, that--these guys don't wanna have rifles and... But when they--the units got into combat, things changed--

Frances Liberty:

Oh yes they did.

Jake Landry:

Is there a parallel there between nurses, how nurses were treated in the beginning and...?

Frances Liberty:

Oh yes. Then they--you started to appreciate them. A lot of conscientious objectors became ambulance drivers and medics. And they proved to be much braver than the guy that was caring the rifle, you know. They were going right in there and doing basic first aid to get them out and loading them into ambulance, or, later on, into choppers. And they were all educated men. Some of them were psychologists and psychiatrists and all that stuff. They were conscientious objectors.

Jake Landry:

Did you work with them a lot in--

Frances Liberty:

Yes.

Jake Landry:

...in World War II especially?

Frances Liberty:

Yes, yes. They were good. And once you taught them something to do, they never forgot it. You know, you didn't have to go back and tell them again.

Jake Landry:

So you had basic training at--

Frances Liberty:

Fort Dix.

Jake Landry:

Fort Dix. Then down to Virginia.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah.

Jake Landry:

What--and after Virginia?

Frances Liberty:

We went aboard ships.

Jake Landry:

Okay.

Frances Liberty:

And, you know, you walk up the gangplank, and you have a duffel bag in your left hand, you have a helmet on, which is God's worst invention [Landry laughs], and you have sixty pounds of medical supplies on your back. Now I was a young, slim kid in those days, but... You got up to the head of the gangplank, and you gave your last name, your first name, your middle initial, and your serial number. So I walked up there, and I said, "Liberty, Frances M., N799517." The guy looked at me and said, "Oh my god, you're a woman." [Landry laughs] I said, "Last time I checked..." He said, "I've got you billeted with the men." They had spelled my first name wrong. Spelled it with an 'i.' So he said to me, "Stand over there." Now our chief nurse was a very tall, stately woman. I think at one time she was a director of nurses someplace. She said to me, "And don't move!" Where was I gonna go? So pretty soon along come[s] another nurse, and her name was Marion [unsure of exact spelling]. They had her billeted with the men too; Marion is a male name in the South. So, they slung hammocks between--they had four bunks in each room, and they slung a hammock between the bunks in two staterooms. Four of those people in that stateroom were seasick, and I wasn't one of them. [Landry laughs] So I went out on the first night and sat in the hall, you know. And the second night I thought--I saw people going up and down these stairs, you know, and I thought, "Hmm, I wonder if it's nicer out there." So I went up there and I--this girl who was down the hall from me followed me. And we crawled in behind a gun emplacement and curled all up together, cold; it was in October on the Atlantic. Two seamen came along, and they said, "You can stay here, but you can't make a sound. And for God's sakes, don't light a match."

Jake Landry:

Now this was a Navy ship? Or this was a cargo boat.

Frances Liberty:

No, this was a--what do they call them?

Jake Landry:

Freighter?

Frances Liberty:

Liberty ships.

Jake Landry:

Liberty ships. Named after you.

Frances Liberty:

So the next night when we went up there, there were two pillows and blankets. [Landry laughs] So, we--that was the best way to spend--I couldn't--if I had stayed down there with those others, I was gonna be sick. But I was never sick, and neither was she.

Jake Landry:

Interesting. So you went from--was that New York?

Frances Liberty:

Virginia.

Jake Landry:

Virginia. To...England?

Frances Liberty:

We went to England. And there I was taken out of the group, because I had a war experience, and sent to this other group that was going over; it was a Texas group. And that's where I learned that damn Yankee was all one word, 'cause I was the only Yank in the crowd. And we went to Africa. And we were in Africa about, maybe, a month. And then one night they got us all up and put us on these little boats, the LSTs, and we went over to Anzio [Italy, site of an Allied amphibious landing].

Jake Landry:

So you were--what phase of the Anzio landing were you?

Frances Liberty:

We were supposed to be the third. We were the first.

Jake Landry:

Third wave, and you were the first wave.

Frances Liberty:

Still the first, because their information about resistance was wrong. And [laughs] it was a Texas division that we went under, the 86th. So we get there, and this big, big colonel, god, he looked like a giant, says to our chief nurse, "My god, you're women! You're not supposed to be here yet!" She said--she was all of five feet tall, and she had a long, red braid that she wore down her back. And she looked up at him, put her hands on her hips, and said to him, "We're here. Deal with it." [Landry laughs] So, we lived in foxholes. And that's when I learned why the Army told me to keep my butt down, 'cause we had to crawl to the other foxholes and drag the kids back, that were injured. And we had a--they made us a rather large foxhole, and that was the first aid station. And you know what? Nobody was afraid. We were too young! We were all young, you know, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. We were not afraid! We were stupid! But we lost seven nurses.

Jake Landry:

You did. That had to be tough.

Frances Liberty:

That was hard, when you had to drag them back.

Jake Landry:

Hmm. After Anzio?

Frances Liberty:

We went up to Rome. And along the way we stopped at certain camps and stuff and refilled our medical supplies. [laughs] Being women we always had to go to the bathroom, you know. So we got to one place, and all it was was a slit trench. Now we're in slacks. So we went out to the chief nurse, and we said, "We can't use that, it's a slit trench!" So she walked up to this commanding officer, and she said, "The girls can't use that, it's a slit trench. Do you have any other thing?" He said, "Tell 'em to deal with it." I don't know if you want me to say this or not...

Jake Landry:

Go ahead.

Frances Liberty:

She says to him, "My ladies are setters, not pointers. Fix it!" [Landry laughs] She got it fixed! But she was like that. And then we were stationed in Rome, and we had one of Mussolini's [Benito Mussolini, former prime minister of Italy] summer palaces as a hospital.

Jake Landry:

That's where--it was a hospital.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. And we used one of his bathtubs as a Hubbard tank [a large tank in which a patient can easily be assisted in exercises while in the water], for the orthopedic injuries. The fellas would go in there and exercise their muscles and their legs and swim around and... It was a very nice hospital, you know; it was a very good duty. And we could walk to Mass every day at St. Peter's.

Jake Landry:

Really!

Frances Liberty:

And one of the most beautiful sights you'd ever wanna see in your life is those twelve pillars that represent the apostles, in the moonlight, with the fountain going. It's a beauti--and I was there when the Pope first came out.

Jake Landry:

You--You did see the Pope?

Frances Liberty:

Oh yeah. When he first came out, after the end of the war, he--we--everybody from the hospital that could get out, went, you know. Especially all--they let all the Catholics go. And this one dentist that I was friends with, he and I went together. And we're kneeling, in the mud. And crying. And the peop--the Italians are hollering, "Viva la Papa!" So this doctor looks at me, and he says, "I don't know why the hell I'm crying. I'm Jewish!" [laughter] But it was a magnificent sight.

Jake Landry:

Wow. That had to be a special experience for you.

Frances Liberty:

Yep. And then I came home.

Jake Landry:

This is at--after the end of the war?

Frances Liberty:

At the end of the war. And I got out of the Army.

Jake Landry:

You did?

Frances Liberty:

Yep.

Jake Landry:

This is '45?

Frances Liberty:

Yep. And I thought I was discharged. I wasn't.

Jake Landry:

You were released from activity duty?

Frances Liberty:

I was separated [means that a person is leaving active duty, but not necessarily leaving the service entirely and still must complete their military obligations].

Jake Landry:

Separated.

Frances Liberty:

If you got out on a Monday, a Wednesday, or Friday, you were separated. If you got out on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, you were discharged. Now you figure that one out. But the Army in its infinite wisdom... So, I came home, I started to go to St. Rose's [the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York] to school, and I was working. I didn't have a bit of trouble getting a job. Not a bit of a trouble. I was a night supervisor! I was younger than all the other people working for me!

Jake Landry:

And this is...?

Frances Liberty:

At the Leonard Hospital in Troy [New York]. So then Korea came along.

Jake Landry:

Fifty...

Frances Liberty:

One. '51, '52. I got called back in. I couldn't believe it! I said to my father, "I'm discharged." He said, "Apparently not."

Jake Landry:

They knew how to get to you.

Frances Liberty:

Yep. So I had to go to Governor's Island [New York; was a U.S. Army post until 1966] for a physical.

Jake Landry:

Now, Korea, what rank were you, when you...?

Frances Liberty:

Captain.

Jake Landry:

You were Captain!

Frances Liberty:

They promoted me to Captain.

Jake Landry:

Interesting. Okay. Wow.

Frances Liberty:

So--I was a first lieutenant before I got out. So, my father was in the hospital, with a very bad heart. So I tried to stay home, you know, but they wouldn't let me! They said he had other daughters in the area. So I said, "Alright." So I went in to see him, and I said to him, "Pop, I'm gonna have to go." He said, "My girl, you have a talent that your country needs right now. I'm very proud of you." And he was not a flag-waver.

Jake Landry:

That's very different from what you said earlier--he didn't want you to go in, in the beginning.

Frances Liberty:

Uh-huh. So I went in to--I was at Fort Dix for a couple of months. And I went down to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. [laughs to self] I was working on the orthopedic ward, and they were sending patients--flying patients in almost immediately after they'd been injured, from Korea. So the Colonel comes along this one day, and he says to me, "Lib, we're getting a whole bunch of amputees in. We gotta set up for them." I said to him, "We don't even have basins to soak stumps! What are we gonna do?" He said, "Well we gotta find those some place." So this sergeant was standing there, and I said, "Sarge, we need a bunch of basins to soak stumps." He said, "Oh, those are the high, round ones?" And I said, "Yes." He said, "[I'll] Take care of it. Don't worry about it." So the next day I come in, and there's this whole bunch of basins on the shelves, you know, in the supply room. I said to him, "How did you do that?" They were all sterilized. He said, "You don't wanna know." So I didn't think anything more about it. So a couple weeks later I'm down in the mess hall. And one of the nurses that worked ob-gyn came in, and she's sitting there, and she said, "You know, the strangest thing has happened." And I said, "What?" She said, "All of our placenta basins are gone." [Landry laughs] I said, "Really, that's terrible." So I went back up, and I said to him, "Now I know." He said, "You don't know what we went through getting"--See all of the material, or the equipment, you use in the Army has where it comes from, like the OR, and they had OB-GYN over all those basins. They had to take a dentist's drill to get it off. So they went down and stole one of those, brought it up, and they worked all night long. Somebody would take it off, and the other one would use emery on it, to soothe it out. There wasn't a mark. You couldn't tell!

Jake Landry:

It's interesting, isn't it. Do you have any other stories like that, where the creed of people--when something was needed...

Frances Liberty:

They always got it.

Jake Landry:

We call it field expedient. Do you use that term?

Frances Liberty:

They used to use 'unofficial acquirement.' So I thought, you know, it's up to him. So one of the doctors said to me, "Where did you get all the placenta bas--the--where'd you get all the stump basins?" I said, "I dunno, I told the sergeant." Like another time at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, that hospital was growing by leaps and bounds, and they couldn't keep up with things. I said to this one patient I had, "God, we need blankets, and I don't know where we're gonna get them." He said, "Okay." I didn't think anything more about it. He worked in quartermaster. The next night, we had forty blankets. So I went over to him, and he said, "Don't say a word." He got 'em from quartermaster. You know, they could--the fellas could do any--an American G.I. can do anything, if he wants to. And if you're smart enough to say please and thank you, you can get anything you want. And they'll do it.

Jake Landry:

After Fort Campbell, where did you...?

Frances Liberty:

I went to Korea.

Jake Landry:

Right to Korea?

Frances Liberty:

I went to Japan for a little while.

Jake Landry:

In a hospital?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. 279th in Osaka. I was there about three months, and then we went to Japan--I mean to Korea. And I got to ride the trains, the hospital trains. We'd pick 'em [the wounded soldiers] up at the MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] units and bring 'em down, sometimes to one of the Navy ships. And I loved those Navy ships, 'cause they had hot water and clean clothes.

Jake Landry:

Were they Navy hospital ships?

Frances Liberty:

Navy hospital ships. We'd pull in there, and I would offload my patients, with the nurses, and go and look at them, you know, and make sure they were comfortable and everything was safe. And then I'd go to a--then I'd take a hot shower. And they had grey coveralls the nurses wore. And I always got a pair of cov--a clean pair. And I would leave my clothing there, and they would take care of it. And then the next time I went down, I got my own clothing back, see.

Jake Landry:

Was this Army and Navy nurses, or was it--?

Frances Liberty:

It was Navy nurses on board.

Jake Landry:

And they wore the same coveralls?

Frances Liberty:

No. They wore coveralls. We didn't have coveralls. They had grey coveralls, and they were delightful. So that was an interesting job. They would load all the patients that they could possibly load onto the train, and some of them weren't in very good condition. Now I didn't like filling out those papers, when the patient died on me. That's a lotta work. So I went around--I had a Navy friend--not a Navy friend, a Marine pilot that was a friend of mine. And he gave me one of their flying jackets. Oh are they nice. They got fur around the collar and they're lined, and they got all these pockets inside. So I stole everything I could get my hands on. [Landry laughs] I stole blood. And then there's another--used to be a blood substitute, Inferon, cost a hundred dollars a cc, and they came in ten cc's bottles. Stole them too. I put everything in there I could, you know, in the pockets.

Jake Landry:

This is from the boat?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah, the only thing--No! From the units, the MASH units. I wouldn't steal from the Navy. So, this one nurse, oh after I'd been riding the trains about six months, she saw me get out, and she said--turned around and she said, "Lock up everything, she's here!" [laughter] But, you know, they would tell me where it was.

Jake Landry:

And you would use it on the trains?

Frances Liberty:

I would use it on the trains, on the fellas. Got a lot of young Marines in. They were babies. Seventeen, eighteen year old...break your heart... And then I was--one day we were coming down--I had a sergeant on that train that was absolutely talented, when he was sober. And all the other nurses kept saying to me, "Lib, you're never going to last with him, 'cause he gets on that train falling down drunk." So I took him aside one day, and I said to him, "I'll make a deal with you." He said, "What's that?" And I said, "I'll give you my liquor ration, if you--when you step on this train, you're sober. And when you step off, you're sober. What you do in between is none of my business, but when you put your foot on that train to come up, that is my business." Now I said, "You don't want to lose all that pretty stuff you've got on your shoulder there." He was a master sergeant. So he said, "Okay." He was never drunk again on the trains. I gave him my liquor ration. I didn't care; I could always get a drink in the officer's club, you know. So--But then one day we're coming down, and all of a sudden the train stops. So I thought, "Oh, well, there must be something on the track," which was a usual thing. And he's standing next to me, looking out the window, and all of a sudden he said, "There goes our fireman and the stoker." And on the hill in the distance... You know these pictures you see of the Chinese on those little ponies with the funny hats? There's a whole bunch of 'em up there. And I thought, "We're gonna die!" [laughs] So I looked at the sergeant, and I said to him, "Say your prayers lately?" For some reason or other I wasn't... So this little Corpsman comes up to me. He wasn't--if he was five feet tall, that's a lot. He said to me, "I can drive this train. I've been watching 'em." I said to him, "You can?" He said, "Yep." I said, "Go drive it!" So another kid went along with him to be a stoker. We got into Pusan [port city in South Korea]. When the train pulled in in Pusan, we pulled into the harbor, where they offloaded on ships. The kid knew how to start it, but he didn't know how to stop it. We almost went into the drink. But another guy, another American sergeant, ran alongside the train and jumped on and stopped it. Just, you know, our wheels were almost off the--that was interesting.

Jake Landry:

Any other experiences in Korea that you'd like to share with us.

Frances Liberty:

Only one. I worked for a while in a triage area that was just a little bit separated from the rest of the hospital. And they pulled out one night and left us there.

Jake Landry:

And they left you there, by yourselves?

Frances Liberty:

[nods] And this young patient says to me, "Don't worry, cap'n. I have a gun." I said, "Oh great, that's all I needed to know." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Is your aim good? 'Cause you gotta get me with the first one!" [Landry laughs] So all of a sudden there were trucks out in the yard, and it was Marines. They were moving, and they saw us there, and they came and got us.

Jake Landry:

The Marines did.

Frances Liberty:

Yes. But they loaded patients in--do you know what two-and-a-half is? A truck? [two-and-a-half ton cargo truck]

Jake Landry:

Deuce and a half? Two and a half? Yeah.

Frances Liberty:

They loaded the patients on there. Some of them were tiered, sort of. But that's the only way we could get out of there.

Jake Landry:

Then did you come back to the United States by boat? How did you get back to the U.S.? Or do you remember?

Frances Liberty:

I think I flew.

Jake Landry:

You flew. And then how much longer were you on active duty or did you stay on active duty, after Korea?

Frances Liberty:

Oh, I stayed on active duty that time. I went to--I didn't see--my father was dead. I loved my stepmother, but she didn't need me. So I stayed in. I went to Fort Sam [Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas] to school. I taught at Fort Sam for a while. I taught Corpsmen at Fort Sam. I went to Denver. I was stationed at the Presidio [in San Francisco, California] for a while.

Jake Landry:

How did you like that?

Frances Liberty:

I liked it very much.

Jake Landry:

That's a neat place.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah, it's a neat place. And then I went--I never figured out why--I was tactless as they come. I really am. I'm blunt, and I say... I always had a high security clearance, and I took care of people like John Foster Dulles [then-U.S. Secretary of State], and stuff like that. I never could figure out why they did that to me. 'Cause I, you know--some of the other nurses were polite. I wasn't! You know, this is it, this is what you have to do, and this is what we're gonna do.

Jake Landry:

You said it the way it was.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. So, we--John Foster Dulles liked to play cards.

Jake Landry:

He did?

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm. At night. And I was the night nurse. So he and I and a couple of his social secur--uh, social security... [smiles to herself at her mistake].

Jake Landry:

[laughs] Security?

Frances Liberty:

...Security agents would play pinochle at night.

Jake Landry:

And you were a pretty good pinochle player?

Frances Liberty:

We both were. [Landry laughs] See my father taught us to play cards when we were kids. So he said--one day I--one morning when I was going out, the head nurse on the ward--see we were--some of us were special, you know, we only took care of one patient. So I'm coming out there, and she said, "Major Liberty, I want to talk to you." I said, "Yes ma'am." She come[s] over, and she says to me, "He sleeps all day. I want him awake during the daytime. What goes on at night?" [Landry laughs] I said, "We play cards." "I want that stopped immediately!" I said, "I would suggest that you talk to him." So, he was the gentlest man in the world. And I went back on that night, and he's sitting up in bed, and he says to me, "They told me to sleep tonight." And I said, "What did you tell them?" He said, "I'm not telling you, you're a ____? but I'm--" Sound turns off. First tape ends. Second tape begins.

Frances Liberty:

[end of sentence from first tape is cut off] So I said--he said to me, "Unless they transfer you to days." I said, "I can't go to days, I go to school." He said, "Okay." So, he had a son, that was a convert to Catholicism. He also had a sister that was a Presbyterian minister. He didn't want--She didn't want the son to see his father. So he used to come at night. And he said to me, "Dad has a dog that's pining to--himself to death." He said, "I don't know what to do." And I said, "You wear an overcoat?" He said, "Sure." I said, "Bring the dog in." He said, "Well you can't bring a dog into the hospital." I said, "Do you think anybody is going to stop you with that collar on?" You know, his Roman collar. He said, "I never thought of that!" So he used to bring the dog in all the time.

Jake Landry:

What was John Foster Dulles at this point?

Frances Liberty:

Secretary of State.

Jake Landry:

He was Secretary of State. And he was at what, Walter Reed [Army Medical Center and General Hospital in Washington, D.C.]?

Frances Liberty:

Walter Reed.

Jake Landry:

Okay.

Frances Liberty:

So I thank God that I was off the night he died.

Jake Landry:

But you were treating him at that time?

Frances Liberty:

Yes. We had three nurses, three special nurses. That's all we did, was stay with him. And then another time I was working on open-heart recovery up at Walter Reed, and they called me to go down to that Eight--Ward Eight, 'cause I still had my clearance, you know, you put your hand on the elevator [gestures], to start an IV on George Marshall. General Marshall [former General of the U.S. Army]. General Marshall was a woman hater.

Jake Landry:

I didn't know that.

Frances Liberty:

[nods] He was married and everything. So they couldn't--they didn't know what to do. So I said--he was blind, also, at the time.

Jake Landry:

About how old was he?

Frances Liberty:

Oh, he was old.

Jake Landry:

In his eighties?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. So they said--I said, "Nobody talk to me, while I'm in the room." So I went, started the IV, taped it down, initialed it and left. 'Bout a week later they called me again, and they said, "You're never gonna believe this." I said, "Why?" They said--his IV came out, and they were gonna call one of the doctors. And they said--they told him, you know, they were gonna call somebody, and he said, "Don't call them. Call the lady that wears the Taboo cologne." [Landry laughs] So I went down, I started it, and he said to me, "You're pretty good at that." I said, "I have had a lot of experience." I said, "It requires experience." Most of the doctors don't have that, you know. He said, "Well, what's your name." So I told him my name. And he said, "I'll remember that, to call you when I need you."

Jake Landry:

That's something. General Marshall.

Frances Liberty:

He was a tough cookie.

Jake Landry:

I bet. Do you have any other, in that time period in the States, any other people or experiences...?

Frances Liberty:

I've had a few, but I can't tell you.

Jake Landry:

Okay. That's alright. Now this is--

Frances Liberty:

'Cause I took care of a lot of diversified patients, and you would be amazed at the type of people that are brought to the--Walter Reed, some of our medical centers. You would be amazed. I can tell you one.

Jake Landry:

Okay, good. Thank you.

Frances Liberty:

You know Prince Fahd [unsure of exact spelling]? He had polio as a kid.

Jake Landry:

Oh, I didn't know that.

Frances Liberty:

So they brought him over to Walter Reed to stretch his muscles and see what they could do for him. He was a very--turned out to be a very tall man. His guards--do you realize ____? polish the bottoms of their shoes?

Jake Landry:

No.

Frances Liberty:

And the room they were keeping him in was called the Pink Room. They had pink rugs on the floor, pink brocade on the walls. They'd sit on the couch and where their heads rested on the wallpaper, you had a big, black spot like that [indicates size with hands]. They were a mess. But I--when they found out that there was gonna be three women taking care of him, they almost--That was a no-no. You can't touch their head. So--and he was only a kid; he was maybe twelve, thirteen years old, spoke beautiful English, and he was very, very smart, you know what I mean? He was intelligent. So, I went in one day to do something for him, and that guard grabbed my arm, and I said, "You want to lose that?" [Landry laughs] And he looked at me, and the kid spoke to him in Arabic, and he let me go. And he said to me, "Our custom's that women don't touch men's heads." I said, "How do you get pregnant then?" You know? I said, "This is weird! You people have harems." He think--they think we're decadent. But he was a--he was a nice patient. When--I was very proud when he walked out of there, and he walked straight.

Jake Landry:

So then you were still on activity duty and then--

Frances Liberty:

Then I went to... Oh, I went to Hawaii.

Jake Landry:

Hawaii.

Frances Liberty:

I was stationed there for two years.

Jake Landry:

Fort...?

Frances Liberty:

Fort...No, Tripler [Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu].

Jake Landry:

Tripler.

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm. On Oahu.

Jake Landry:

Oh, okay.

Frances Liberty:

It's--they call it the--it's pink sandstone. And when you fly over it, when you're coming in, the pilot'll say, "Look at the pink palace." It's up on a little hill. And that's where--I saw volcanoes. I had a friend in the Navy, and whenever one was getting ready to erupt or was erupting, and I wasn't on duty, he'd pick me up and we'd--he had a little plane, and we'd fly over it. You can't believe the beauty and the colors. There's colors that you don't see, that we never see, like heliotrope and all that, in that fire and in the sky. It's beautiful. I know it's a destructive thing, but it's so beautiful.

Jake Landry:

So you were at--is it Tripler Army Hospital?

Frances Liberty:

Uh-huh, yeah.

Jake Landry:

For...?

Frances Liberty:

Fourteen mon--twenty, twenty-four months.

Jake Landry:

Twenty-four months.

Frances Liberty:

I had a little house in Pearl City [Honolulu, Oahu]. And I had a banana tree, a papaya grove, and coffee. And the gentleman in back of me who was a Japanese man--and oh, orchids growing up the fence. And orchids--poinsettias. Poinsettias are not little plants; they'll grow to the top of the roof. So he took care of all that stuff for me. He would hang the bananas in the washroom. Oh! And I had an outside tub. I had a tub inside, but an outside tub too. And a washer and a dryer outside. And it was the nicest thing to be able to hang up your clothes, on the line. But, you had to be very careful. You had to know when Dole was going to burn the pineapple fields.

Jake Landry:

Oh yes. Now this is about, maybe about the time...Where were you during the Cuban missile crisis, do you remember?

Frances Liberty:

Yes, I was in Florida.

Jake Landry:

On active duty?

Frances Liberty:

Yep.

Jake Landry:

In Florida! Can you remember something about that?

Frances Liberty:

We lived in a motel. They took over a whole motel for the hospital. We didn't go; we were ready. And they had the girls living on the top floor and the men living on the second floor [laughs], which was a weird... And we were there about three weeks before they sent us back to our active--to our stations.

Jake Landry:

But it was, it was a tense...?

Frances Liberty:

We were ready to go. Yeah. We were ready. We couldn't leave the area at all. We couldn't go out to eat or anything; we had to stay right there. And we had to be dressed at all times.

Jake Landry:

And where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?

Frances Liberty:

Germany.

Jake Landry:

You were in Germany.

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm.

Jake Landry:

And what was the reaction there?

Frances Liberty:

Horror. Horror. Another thing funny. I was stationed in Heidelberg [Germany], and I used to walk to work from where we lived, because it wasn't very far, and it was a nice walk. So I got onto the base this one day, one morning, and I looked up, and the flag was upside down. And I thought, "I wonder what that's all about. There's gotta be a reason." So I went into work, and I worked on recovery and accident ward. So our commanding officer was Colonel St. John. He comes in. He said to me, "Lib, do you have an idea who surrendered my fort?" I said, "Sir, what do you mean?" He said, "When the flag's upside down you're surrendering." I said, "Why would you ask me? I didn't do it!" He said, "Somebody did it." The sergeant of the guard who put the flag up was drunk. So another sergeant was out there getting it down, you know, and the old man went out again, you know. And he said to me, "Didn't you notice it when you came in?" I said, "Yes, well do you want me to do?" And I didn't know what it was...

Jake Landry:

That's interesting. After Germany, where did you go?

Frances Liberty:

Oh, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

Jake Landry:

Fort Monmouth, okay.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah, and I was chief nurse there. And then I went to Vietnam.

Jake Landry:

Okay. What was your--when were you in Vietnam, do you remember the year? Or you were there a couple times, right?

Frances Liberty:

I was there three times.

Jake Landry:

Three times. And how 'bout some of your--

Frances Liberty:

First time I went there, we--I was one of the people that had--was instrumental in starting the MASH units, you know, the special equipment. That is a unit that's supposed to fit entirely on a plane, on a--

Jake Landry:

Pallet?

Frances Liberty:

Pallet. And it comes up all by itself. It even has the oxygen in the walls. It's a beautiful thing. And the beds fit into the walls... It's not what you see on television; that's not a MASH unit. But they weren't using them right, and they weren't operating correctly. They were having trouble with the OR and all that stuff. So some of us went over--would go over. There'd be a doctor, who was usually a colonel, and then there would be four or five nurses and about five Corpsmen. And we'd go over and we'd maybe be there about a month. And we'd get it all straightened out, and we'd go back. And the second time I went over... I was a kind of a disciplinarian. And they were having trouble with a couple of the nur--head nurses or chief nurses in some of the MASH units.

Jake Landry:

Now are you still a major at this time or are you...?

Frances Liberty:

No, I was a Colonel.

Jake Landry:

Lieutenant Colonel, okay.

Frances Liberty:

So I had to go find out what it was--they were getting letters--the chief nurse was getting letters from these younger nurses, complaining. And then there was one colonel, in charge of the hospital, one hospital, that was complaining. So I went over, you know--and that was my least favorite job.

Jake Landry:

Of everything you did in the Army, that was--

Frances Liberty:

That was the least. So I went in, and I reported in to her--in to the commanding officer. They assigned me a tent, a bunk. And I cleaned up a little bit, and I went over to the office to see her [the chief nurse]. She was an old friend, we'd been friends for years, and this was about maybe eleven o'clock in the morning. So I started talking to her and asking her what was wrong and all this stuff. And I knew she didn't act right, you know? So I thought, "I wonder if she's had a stroke, you know? A cerebral accident or something." She didn't act right. So she said to me, "Sit down Lib, take a load off, and we'll have a drink." [Landry laughs] She pulled out her bottom desk drawer, pulled out a jug and two glasses. I said to her, "It's not even noon yet." "It doesn't make any difference." I said, "Put that thing back. And go pack." "What do you mean?" I said, "You're no longer here. Who's your assistant?" So she, you know, got indignant. She didn't have a stroke. She was drunk! In the morning! So I said to her, "You know how I feel about this, you of all people." 'Cause I wouldn't even allow a nurse to work in the OR who smelled of it from the night before. That's gotta be the worst thing in the world, to wake up to have somebody breathing on you. So she said--and don't get me wrong, I drank. So she said, "You can't do this to me." And I said, "[laughs] Oh, yes I can." I said, "I got your orders right here; all I gotta do is sign 'em." So--

Jake Landry:

That had to be an unpleasant...

Frances Liberty:

Very unpleasant, very unpleasant. And that's a--you know, when you think back on it, that's a lot of power to give to a woman. A lot of power. You could wreck somebody. But you know, I asked them why, and they said to me, "Because you're straight arrow."

Jake Landry:

That was a phrase the Vietnamese used, a straight arrow; it meant you were honest. And that's the first time I had heard it. Did you ever hear this in Vietnam, "Number one G.I."?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah.

Jake Landry:

And number ten. Can you tell us what that meant?

Frances Liberty:

Number one G.I. was the big boss, and number ten was no good. [laughter]

Jake Landry:

I haven't heard that since I was there.

Frances Liberty:

So then the next time I went over, I was stationed in Saigon for a while. And then they sent me to Cam Ranh Bay. And that was a large hospital, and patients were all recovering from injuries, you know. And it also had the main blood bank of all of Vietnam. It was a concrete, brick building, which you don't see over there. But everything was underground. And the guy that was in charge of that used to serve tea every once in awhile. A drop of tea, and a little hooch, in a china cup. [Landry laughs] This was Southern hospitality. So then we went to--I was stationed there, and then they hit us, you know, from the--sappers [Vietnamese raider-ranger unit armed with explosive charges that initiated an assault on a position, readying the way for the main force] hit us from the water. They burnt--they knew what they were after, exactly what they were after. The top NCO billets. Now you know when you lose your--it's like a snake. When you lose your top NCOs, that's like cutting off the head of the snake. The male nurses P.O.Q. [possibly Pissed Off Quick, i.e., left], and the doctors. The commanding officer, and me. I woke up with the back end of my--you know in trailers, you know how they have those big windows in the back? Well I woke up and it was light [gestures to show how the light hit her face]. And you wore most of your clothes, 'cause you used to have to--they, you know, send stuff over every once in awhile. So you had to get out, and I had to get out all those young kids and make sure they were in a bunker, and you know...hot, hysterical, and all that jazz. So, I thought, "Oh my god, I overslept." Because I thought it was the sun. So you slept with most of your clothes on, you kept your boots upside down, so you wouldn't have bugs crawling in there, you know, lizards and stuff. So I put my boots on, stepped out. Stepped over a little box in the hallway by the back door, which I never used. And the guard, sentry hollered, "Colonel, get down." And I said to him, "What's going on?" He said, "Colonel, get down!" And I didn't move fast enough, and he tackled me, and I went down, in the sand, my face in the sand. And I said to him, "You better have a damn good reason for this." He said, "We're under attack." He said, "That bright light you're seeing is the barracks going up."

Jake Landry:

Oh no. Was this Tet?

Frances Liberty:

No. So he said--it was right after Johnson [then-President Lyndon Johnson] made the speech that Cam Ranh Bay was the safest place in the world. We didn't have any arms! Nothing! We didn't even have sentries out. Except the nurse's quarters, the nurse's area. So I said to him, "Well, I better get down to the emergency room." I crawled in a ditch with every kind of--I hate bugs; cockroaches that are this big [indicates size with hands, shudders]--down to the emergency room. And this kid covered me with his body. And we're crawling along, and he said, "Oh, Colonel, if anything happens to you, they're gonna kill me." I said to him, "If anything happens to me, you're gonna be dead!" [laughter] But the Air Force, that was over on main station in Cam Ranh Bay, they rescued us. Navy ships were coming in from their night patrols, and they offloaded their--instead of offloading their ammunition in the water, they offloaded it over to us when they saw the fires. They called in to ask if they could help, and you know what they were told? They had to get permission from the village chief. So they offloaded anyway, you know. They didn't hear that. But the Navy--I mean the Army and the Nav--the Air Force and the Navy came over and rescued us. They had Air Force nurses that came over and helped us, and some of the doctors. And eight--they killed--this is what--this made me so mad. They killed eighty-five men that were already wounded.

Jake Landry:

That were hospitalized.

Frances Liberty:

[nods] But, you know, this is something funny about Vietnam. [laughs]

Jake Landry:

Good.

Frances Liberty:

We had a couple of Corpsmen who were of--from the Okefenokee swamps [a wetland straddling the Georgia-Florida border]. They were snake catchers; that's how they made their living in civilian life. There was a lot of snakes in Vietnam, and they used to catch the snakes for the vet. But once in awhile they'd catch them and have some fun. They took two snakes and they laid 'em over where the Colonel, the commanding officer, walked up the path to get into his office. They had two snakes laid across there. This was a--the Colonel was a little man, little short guy. You never saw anything so funny in your life, as him dancing up and down and screaming [laughs]. So, I caught the two of them, they were on duty, and I said, "You go over there and remove those snakes." They said, "Do we gotta?" I said, "Yes." And they said, "We were only having fun." I said, "That's not funny." Those snakes were as long as this room! So they picked them up, put 'em in their sacks, and took 'em over to the vet. And then one night we heard all this commotion, and there was a water tank, oh, maybe fifty yards from where the nurse's billets were. And there was always a sentry--after we got attacked, there was always a sentry up there. He was hollering for help; there was a snake crawling up the side of the thing. And honest to God, its head was this big [indicates size with hands].

Jake Landry:

It was thirsty?

Frances Liberty:

And the sergeant--the colonel--the sergeant, the night sergeant was standing down at the bottom of the tower saying to the kid, "Shoot it! Shoot it!" [laughter] And the kid's saying, "I ain't getting that close." So they had to call these kids [the Corpsmen who were snake catchers] out to get it; they had to crawl up the side of the water tower. They said, "Ooh, that was a good one."

Jake Landry:

Question. You experienced treating soldiers in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. What were some of the significant changes in the way-- a combination of techniques and technology, between World War II and...

Frances Liberty:

Vietnam was more advanced.

Jake Landry:

Much more advanced?

Frances Liberty:

Oh yes. And we got them [the wounded soldiers] right off the field. They still had their ammo on 'em when we got them, most of the times. Especially in Saigon. We got 'em off from the delta; they were covered with mud and slime. And we used to take a hose, a water hose, and wipe them off, you know, clean them off, because you couldn't get near them, there was so much mud on them. And one of the high-ranking officers from Washington was there one day, and she said, "Oh my, do you have to use a hose?" So--I was working in the triage center. I used to go--I couldn't stand that office; I used to go and work, you know. And I said to her, "Well what would you suggest, Colonel?" "Oh there must be something!" I said, "Well you go back to Washington and sit behind your nice little desk [Landry laughs] and you dream of something, and then notify us. And we'll do it." She said, "You're being sarcastic." I said, "Yes I am." I said, "Now don't get too close, 'cause you might get dirty."

Jake Landry:

So things were really much improved...

Frances Liberty:

Much improved, much improved. The hardest thing for the Americans to learn was triage. Not to learn it, to practice it. Now in our culture you take care of the worst first. [In triage] You don't do that. You take care of the walking wounded, the one that'll only require one doctor to take care of him in surgery. And that way they can get twenty or thirty done. And you leave the others beside, off, you know. And you bolster them with fluid and pain medication. And then when the doctors get finished, they take them. Because sometimes it will take two or three to operate on one doc--on one patient. And I had one kid--and I used to try to get the nurses--the boys that were that badly hurt, I would try to get the--I did something terrible. I used to get the kids [female nurses] that were pretty and made 'em use cologne and stuff, and go in there and sit with the... 'Cause I figured, at least let them--if they're gonna die, let them see an American woman that smells good, you know? So--And I used to go relieve them. So I went in one day, and this little nurse says to me, "Oh, I gotta go to the bathroom, Colonel. I gotta go terrible." I said, "Go to the bathroom. Sit down. Take your time. Have something to eat, and go walk around a little bit." And I said, "I'll be here," 'cause I had some paperwork to do. So I'm saying my rosary beads a lot; I used to carry 'em in my pocket. So I'm saying my rosary beads and sitting there, and this fella says to me, "What's that noise?" When you're dying, or when you're that close to death, your hearing is more acute. I said to him, "I'm saying my rosary beads." He said, "You don't read, do you?" I said, "Well, I read very well, thank you." He said, "I'm Jewish." I said, "Do you believe in God?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Same guy." So we sat there for a while and he was really abrupt, but he was dying, you know. So pretty soon the OR came in, and they said, "We're gonna take him, Lib." And I said, "Okay." So as I was getting up to leave he said to me, "Let me have those beads. They may be lucky." I said, "Oh, they're more than luck." So I gave him the beads. And I fig--chalked it up to another pair of rosary beads lost, 'cause I lost a lot of them that way. So, the next day I'm in the hall, and one of the nurses came over to me, and she said to me, "You know that last guy we took?" And I said, "Yes." She said, "He did better than the others; he's already gone to Japan." I said, "Isn't that marvelous." I went from Korea--I mean from Vietnam to Walter--to Fort Belvoir [Fairfax County, Virginia], which is a little Walter Reed. You got all the senator's wives and...

Jake Landry:

Oh, I didn't know that. Yeah. Politicians.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. And I knew Betty Ford was a drunk before anybody else did.

Jake Landry:

You did.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. I had her as a patient.

Jake Landry:

At Belvoir?

Frances Liberty:

Uh-huh. So...

Jake Landry:

So you're saying you went there after Vietnam.

Frances Liberty:

It's _____?. I was there about maybe a couple of months. And I got a package. Now I don't know how this guy found me, but it was a pair of rosary beads. And it said, "I'm keeping the others." So I'm home and retired now. This happened maybe ten years ago. I get a phone call. I don't know how this guy finds me! He's in New York; he's the vice-president of a bank. He said, "I just want you know that in this ash tray on my desk is your rosary beads." And he said, "Nobody can figure that out." And he said, "And another thing. I just had a granddaughter born in Israel." And he said, "She's Liberty Ann." [Landry laughs] I said, "How could you do that to a kid?" He said, "I always talked about you, and my son wanted her named that." Second tape ends Third tape begins

Frances Liberty:

I cried. [laughs]

Jake Landry:

Wow. Powerful, wonderful story. Wow.

Frances Liberty:

I had a good life. I had a good life, I had a good education, I had good experiences.

Jake Landry:

Did you--when you were in these combat zones, did you ever get any medals? If you want to sh--you don't have to tell us, but...

Frances Liberty:

Yes.

Jake Landry:

You did.

Frances Liberty:

I was also offered the Purple Heart.

Jake Landry:

You were?

Frances Liberty:

I refused it.

Jake Landry:

You were wounded once?

Frances Liberty:

Yes. [pulls hair back and indicates place on forehead] Shrapnel from Vietnam.

Jake Landry:

And you refused it.

Frances Liberty:

Yes. If I'd had kept my head down like the kid told me, I wouldn't have been hit. [Landry laughs] I had a nurse in--a male nurse in Saigon wanted the Purple Heart. He was up on top of the building during a firefight smoking a cigarette. He put in for it, and I tore it up. He didn't deserve it. Anybody that'd go up there... He was a target for God's sakes. And besides that, I firmly believed that the Purple Heart was meant for people in combat that were really wounded.

Jake Landry:

Okay, after Fort Belvoir, or any, how 'bout any stor--

Frances Liberty:

I retired at Fort Belvoir.

Jake Landry:

Okay. Any other stories about your experiences at Fort Belvoir?

Frances Liberty:

Can't tell those.

Jake Landry:

Whoops, alright. [laughter] And you retired at Fort Belvoir, and did you come back to New York State?

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm. I went around and tried to volunteer. And they wouldn't let me. They said I was too qualified. I went to all the hospitals, tried to volunteer. All I wanted to do was make beds, feed patients and give baths, and stuff like that. They wouldn't let me. And I wanted to do it for free! So then the nun at St. Peter's called me and asked me to come in. She said, "I think I have a solution to your problem." So I went in. She sits there at this desk and she looks at me--now she's-- Screen cuts to blue, no video or sound Camera back on, but at a different point in the interview

Frances Liberty:

...out of this.

Jake Landry:

Go ahead, yes, okay.

Frances Liberty:

I was in a chopper with six young nurses and the Chief Nurse of the Army, the General.

Jake Landry:

This is in Vietnam.

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm. And we got hit. Our rear gunner got hit and the co-pilot. But we didn't crash. We sat down.

Jake Landry:

Really. This is a Huey [type of Army helicopter]?

Frances Liberty:

In the jungle. Yeah. So I'm looking around, and I'm thinking, "Oh, God." And the kids were screaming and hollering and yelling. Well I finally got them under control. And I knew the General personally, you know, and I said to her, "Pat, are you alright?" And she said, "Yeah." And she said, "You're your usual self." [Landry laughs] So I said, "Well, you know we gotta get outta here." I said, "We're gonna have to walk out." "Now," I said, "the co-pilot has got a arm injury. I've already given him first aid." And I said, "It's in a sling." And I said, "But the other kid's gotta be carried out." We did have litters. So we got outside, we got the kid on the litter, and the six nurses are looking around and looking at me. I said, "You're gonna take turns carrying that." This one girl looks at me, and she said, "I didn't come in the Army to carry litters. I'm a nurse." I said, "You are either gonna carry that, or you're gonna share it with him." [Landry laughs] So they got on it. I happened to look over into the jungle, and there was a lizard. It looked as big as a dragon to me. And I said to the pilot, who's walking alongside of me, "Is that thing--does--" I said, "Look at that thing!" He said, "Lib, don't be afraid, they're herbivorous." I said, "Are you"--Does he know that? And the co-pilot [the pilot] was point. And we were coming up the back, and he says to me, the pilot says to me, "You want a gun, Lib?" And I said, "What would I do with it?" I said, "I'm afraid of them." So we walked along. We heard a noise, and we got into the ditch. And I thought, "Oh my God, I can't let these young nurses be taken prisoner." It was a Marine patrol that saw it go down, the chopper go down, and came looking for us. Would you believe that? I never was so glad to see--but they were delighted to see those young nurses.

Jake Landry:

I bet. [laughter] Do you remember what they called American women over there? We had a term for it, and I don't know if you ever...

Frances Liberty:

No, I never...

Jake Landry:

Round-eyes.

Frances Liberty:

Round-eyes, oh yeah.

Jake Landry:

Because... And it was a treat to see American nurses or American women over there, absolutely. How did you keep in touch with your family during all these wars?

Frances Liberty:

By letter. But, you know, in Vietnam, when Cam Ranh Bay got hit, my family knew where I was. And, ham operators.

Jake Landry:

Was it MARS [Marine Affiliate Radio System] radio, was that it?

Frances Liberty:

Yes. And they got me through to speak to my, one of my sisters. And she was screaming and hollering and crying and carrying on. And I said to her, "If you shut up for a minute, I'll tell you I'm alright." She said, "I've had the Red Cross and everybody else..." She ran to the church, I mean all over, you know. She said, "All we wanna know is how she is, if she's alright." But--I have a younger brother. Or had a younger brother. He was a master sergeant. He was Command Sergeant Major of Fort Sill Oklahoma when he died. And one of the times when I was in Saigon, going for the--about the MASH units, we were sitting on the balcony of an officer's hotel. And I happened to look down in the street, and I said, "Hey, look at that little short guy coming up. The bow-legged one. Looks like my brother." So this other nurse that knew him looked down, and she said, "Hey, it is, Lib." So we went down in the street to see him. And he gives me a kiss and a hug, you know. And his lieutenant says to him, "Hey, Sarge, take it easy." He said, "This is my sister." With that their commanding officer came along. They were going someplace to put in some gun emplacements. So the commanding officer says, "She'll have to leave. Can't have two of you in country." So my--the guy that's the head of our group is standing in back of me, and he said, "Oh no. He's gotta leave. She comes first." [Landry laughs] That little snot went to Bangkok [Thailand].

Jake Landry:

Your brother.

Frances Liberty:

And had a good time. And I don't know how he kept finding me, but every once in a while he'd find me, and he'd say, "How you doin', kid?" And I'd say, "They're shootin' at me, for God's sakes." And he'd say, "Lovely here." But I would've gone any--I wouldn't have let him stay for me.

Jake Landry:

Where--you mentioned--okay, did you ever send tapes back and forth, audiotapes?

Frances Liberty:

No.

Jake Landry:

No. Letters, and in Vietnam, MARS radio.

Frances Liberty:

Yes, yeah.

Jake Landry:

But letters in Korea and World War II?

Frances Liberty:

Korea and World War II, yeah.

Jake Landry:

Okay. Did you ever save any of those letters, or did any relatives save them...?

Frances Liberty:

I don't think so, no.

Jake Landry:

Now I don't know if you'd--you wouldn't do anything like this, Lib, but did you ever, or did you ever hear of, somebody that pulled a prank in--when they were in the Army? Anything having to do with fountains, or anything like that? [Liberty visibly reacts; she knows what he is talking about] No? You don't have to tell the story.

Frances Liberty:

I was stationed at Walter Reed. In the old building. And in the front of it was a big fountain. And we had had a particularly bad week at Walter Reed in the recovery room and all that stuff. So a bunch of us had been over at the officer's club, and we'd had a few, and we were on our way home. And we walked by the fountain, and somebody said, "I wonder how that would look with bubbles in it." So we went over to the nurse's quarters, and we got our bubble bath, and we came back, and we put it in the fountain. Now the moon was out--beautiful sight, all those bubbles all over. But then we realized what we had done, and we ran like hell. [laughter] So the next morning I'm in the recovery room, and in those days when you did open heart surgery, you gave them back exactly how much blood they lost, through the tubes. And you had to get--they didn't have--you know, this was new. You had to get down on the floor and put your head on the floor, to measure the drainage. So I was down there, measuring drainage, and there was a pair of shoes come along beside me, and it was General Heaton, Surgeon General of the Army [Leonard Dudley Heaton]. And he said, "Lib, something terrible's happened." And I thought, "Oh my god, what?" So I backed out, and I said to him, "What?" He said, "Somebody put soap in the fountain in front of the hospital and killed my goldfish." I said to him, "I think that's terrible. [Landry laughs] Who could do such a cruel thing like that?" He said, "That's what I thought." So a little while later one of the doctors comes over, and he said to me, "Thank God I had a mask on." I said, "Why?" He said, "'Cause he [General Heaton] says to me, 'Do you know somebody killed my goldfish?'" He said, "Lib, I almost laughed out loud." I said to him, "Well, we got away with that." But I was alw--one of the nurses on the ward said to me, "You did that, didn't you." I said, "No." She said, "That's something you would do." [shrugs] That was fun.

Jake Landry:

Yeah. Any stories about either the way the troops or your nurses entertained themselves, or the way they were entertained by USO shows or anything like that?

Frances Liberty:

You know what we used to do to the movies, especially in Korea? We'd turn the sound off and take the parts of the movie, we had it so many times. Or--either that or we'd run it backwards. That's very interesting. [laughs]

Jake Landry:

How about--now do you remember the day that you were discharged, that you left active duty?

Frances Liberty:

Yes.

Jake Landry:

Anything special you want to say about that day?

Frances Liberty:

Well I was the only female retiring that day, or getting out. And I was the only--I was the ranking officer, so I had to lead off the parade. And I thought, "Oh my God, what if I forget to step off right," you know? And medical people aren't good at salutin'. Mm-mm [shakes head]. My youngest brother--when I was ever on a base, like giving a lecture or anything like that, and he was there, he'd run out the front door and wait for me to come out to make me salute him, so he could laugh at me. [shakes head, laughs to self] Boy you're bringing back a lot of memories. But we weren't good at saluting, the medical people. We didn't know how! But anyway, when I was retiring I had to step up to the General, salute him, and he pinned a medal on me and all that stuff. And I led the line, see. And my sister--two of my sisters were there, and a very good friend. And I got up--apparently I did it all alright, 'cause nobody laughed. And after it was over with, this one sergeant walks over to me, and he said, "Colonel, you made me proud." [laughs]

Jake Landry:

Excellent. And then...?

Frances Liberty:

Then we had a party. And one of the generals was there, and he was talking to one of my sisters, and of course she didn't understand a word he was saying. So she says to him, "I think your wife is looking for you." And Annie Hoolihan [unsure of exact spelling], who was a major in the army at that time, says to me, "My God, Lib, Shirley dismissed the general!" [laughter]

Jake Landry:

That's funny, that's funny. Did you ever join any veterans' organizations after the Army? Any experiences with that?

Frances Liberty:

Yes, I joined the American Legion. Then--my brothers were both members of the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] in Watervliet [New York], and I wanted to join there. They told me to join the Auxiliary.

Jake Landry:

Which is the women's side of it?

Frances Liberty:

[nods] So I told them that I had more time overseas than most of them had the pay--than most of them had in the chow line. And you ate three times a day! And I walked outta there. I was so mad. And I woulda punched that guy, if I had dared. So I went home. And then--I gave an interview at one time or other, and I mentioned that to somebody. And the very next day I was offered to join just about every VFW post in the... And I said, "No, I don't wanna join. I only wanted to join the one in Watervliet, and I won't do it now!" But then a fellow that was--used to be a boyfriend of one of my younger--of my younger sister, and grew up around us, you know... And when he would come over to take Dot out we'd make him take the ashes out and dry the dishes and take the garbage out... He came over and he said, come [came] over to visit, and he said to me, "Please. Do it for me." So I joined the VFW at Watervliet. But can you imagine the nerve of them telling me to join the Auxiliary? I said a lot of swear words too. [laughs]

Jake Landry:

How 'bout TROA? Did you join...?

Frances Liberty:

Yes, I belong to that, yeah, mmhmm. They're changing that name, didn't they?

Jake Landry:

Yeah. It must have passed. I haven't heard officially. To Military Officer's Association. [In response to someone in the background asking what TROA stands for] The Retired Officer's Association, and they're going to be changing it to the Military Officer's Association.

Frances Liberty:

I gave a talk one time there.

Jake Landry:

Yeah, that's where I met you. A couple years ago, at that meeting. Along those lines, tell--what have you done in terms of speaking? Who have you spoken to about your experiences since you retired?

Frances Liberty:

I spoke there. I've spoken a lot of places.

Jake Landry:

Schools?

Frances Liberty:

Schools, yeah. I don't know how I ever got started. Somebody got me. And I can't figure out--I can't remember who it was.

Jake Landry:

But you've spoken many, many times.

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm, yeah. And I gave the--when they made the Women's Memorial in Albany [New York]...

Jake Landry:

Oh, in Albany.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. I gave that--the dedication speech.

Jake Landry:

And also, tell us your involvement in the, it's relatively new, World War II memorial in Albany.

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. I was on--there was one, two three, three women, and a bunch of gentlemen, and the design was all ready. Just needed approval. And the gentleman that made that des--the architect that made that is very talented. Then we had something to do with the sayings that are on it. You know, like, [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower, [General George S.] Patton, and [General Douglas] MacArthur. Something that they said.

Jake Landry:

There are quotes from each of them?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Jake Landry:

Have you kept in touch with some of the people that you served with?

Frances Liberty:

Yes, mmhmm.

Jake Landry:

Any stories about that relationship?

Frances Liberty:

We're dying off.

Jake Landry:

They are.

Frances Liberty:

'Cause I'm seventy-nine. And I was one of the younger ones.

Jake Landry:

But you had a lot of people that you met in the military that you stayed in touch with for years and years?

Frances Liberty:

[nods] Yeah, oh yeah. Now when I got ready to retire, like most nurses that were footloose and fancy-free, I wanted to go to Florida. So I went down there, and a lot of them [the nurses] were living in this little cul-de-sac. And I stayed with one of them. And there was a house for sale, and it was cute, and I had looked at it. Then all of a sudden I realized I was the one that's doing all the toting. You know, "Lib pick this up, Lib pick that up, Lib put this in here, Lib do that." And I thought, "Hell, I'll be a busboy for these people. I went home. [laughs] And I'm not sad, I'm not. I'm very glad that I did. Because the first twenty years I traveled a great deal.

Jake Landry:

The first twenty years of retirement?

Frances Liberty:

Mmhmm. Then I had a heart attack.

Jake Landry:

Oh. In those twenty years, did you ever unexpectedly run across somebody that you had served with?

Frances Liberty:

Oh yes.

Jake Landry:

Tell us about one or two of those. Or a favorite story.

Frances Liberty:

I was at--in Wildwood, New Jersey. A friend of mine had a house there that she had owned for many years; she and her husband were living there. And I used to go and stay with them periodically. They had converted their barn, their garage, into a guesthouse. And she and I were--I was walking on the beach one day, and this man and woman went to pass me. And he stopped, and he looked, and he said, "Lib?" And I said, "George! How are you?" Well his wife grew nine feet tall. [Landry laughs] He put his arms around me, gave me a big kiss, you know, and all that stuff. And he says to her, "Honey, this is Frances Liberty, I've told you a lot about her." He said, "She's the one that picked out that brocade for you in Tokyo." He could've swallowed his tongue. And I said--she said to me, "Oh, you have good taste." I said, "Oh yes." [laughter] And then--

Jake Landry:

Was that Vietnam, or...?

Frances Liberty:

Korea.

Jake Landry:

Korea. That was Korea.

Frances Liberty:

[nods] And then... I met a sergeant's wife one time. I don't know where I was, but I can see her. And she heard somebody--it was in the PX [Post Exchange, a U.S. Army base retail store] someplace. And she heard somebody call me by name. So she came over, and she said to me, "Are you a lieutenant colonel?" And I said, "No. I was, but I'm not now." She said, "Did you know a sergeant by the name of Henessey [unsure of exact spelling]?" I said, "Oh, yeah." She said, "I wish he were here. 'Cause he loves you." I said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I rode him to death!" She said, "You made him go to school." She said, "You know that he's going to take his bar exams next month? He's a lawyer." I said, "Isn't that marvelous." She said, "He wouldn't have done it if you had droven him--driven him." I used to say to him, "You're too damn smart for this!" You know, that made me--in Vietnam--when I was in Italy, I was the godmother to one of the first American babies born over there, a boy. When I was in Vietnam, I come out of the office, and we were very busy, and this young pilot walked up to me. And he said to me, "I'm looking for the chief nurse." I said, "Why?" I was very wary. He said--looked down at my uniform, and he said, "I'm looking for you." I said, "You are?" He said, "Do you remember in Rome, Italy, being a godmother to a fella--a kid by the name of Robert Bees [unsure of exact spelling]?" I said, "You're--" His father was a[n] Air Force colonel. He said, "That's me." Now that's weird.

Jake Landry:

That is. What a story, wow. Did you ever go to any reunions?

Frances Liberty:

Yes. A lot of them.

Jake Landry:

Tell us a good story about a reunion.

Frances Liberty:

Well there really isn't any good stories about there. A lot of crying.

Jake Landry:

Yeah? Really?

Frances Liberty:

Yeah. Drinking too. But, you know, when you get to talking, you remember all sorts of things, and somebody's dead, and... I didn't go to the last one. I couldn't make it.

Jake Landry:

What was--looking back on your military--this can be one story, it can be two, what was the most joyful experience that you had, or the happiest, or the most satisfying? That can be all wrapped up into one, or two, but do you have something that when I say those things that you think about?

Frances Liberty:

At Fort Dix, New Jersey. Fort Dix, New Jersey is right next door to McGuire Air Base. It was a Sunday morning, and we had this young pilot crash, out in the field. He could've landed that plane, but it would've been in a housing area. And it was a Sunday morning, and he would've killed a lot of kids. So he chose to land--to crash, over in the field. The plane was on fire. He was burned, maybe sixty percent of his body. And right around his neck--you know when they wore the silk scarves? There was a band there [indicates spot on neck]. Burned. And he lost an ear. They said he didn't have a chance. They wouldn't even transfer him to Fort Sam, to the burn unit, 'cause he was too far gone. We took care of him. Nurses took their days off to special him, and their time off duty to special him. He did not die. We got him strong enough and well enough so he went to Fort Sam Houston and had all of his skin graft done and everything else. I went to Fort Sam Houston to take a class on something, oh, maybe five years later. And we went into the officer's club at Kelly Field; you know, that's an air base. And we were sitting there at the bar, having a drink, and this fella sat down next to me. And I happened to look over at his glass, and it's got an ear in it. I thought, "What's that?" So I looked at him and looked at him for a minute, and he said, "You don't remember, do you." I said, "Well you're much handsomer than you used to be." It was him! That is one of the most satisfying things I've ever known.

Jake Landry:

Wonderful. Wonderful. If you had something to share with the people that are gonna see--be looking at you years from now, about your experiences, your life in the military, nursing, in general, what would you--what would your words be?

Frances Liberty:

It's the most satisfying career you can have. It is the most promising career you can have. It offers you untold benefits that you won't realize until you actually try it. And I think every nurse should take a stab at it for three years. You will use the best equipment in the world, you will work with some of the smartest, dedicated, most--men in the world, along with the women. In Vietnam when we--when you had triage, you didn't have to ring the bell. They heard the choppers come in and they were there. The doctors. You meet the most fascinating people. The educational choices are unlimited. If you want to do it. But you have to want to do it. Just like in everything else. It's a very satisfying career. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Jake Landry:

Frances Liberty, Lieutenant-Colonel, U.S. Army, retired, thank you very much.

Frances Liberty:

You're welcome Jake. You're welcome Tom.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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