The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades [4/18/1994]

Jane Purtle:

I'm in Tyler with Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades who's going to talk with me about her experiences in the Navy. Dorothy, how is the weather today?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Marvelous. It's pretty. I love it.

Jane Purtle:

It's a wonderful day for this interview.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. I did some yard work this morning, so it's beautiful.

Jane Purtle:

As I said, we're taping this interview April the 18th, 1994, in Tyler, Texas. I'm Jane Purtle. I'm with the Cherokee County Historical Commission. We're wanting to get some information from Dorothy about her memories, her service in World War II, and then her service in Korea. She had a long career in the Navy. We're going to start, though, with just a little bit of background about your growing up days and your experiences in Cherokee County. So tell us when and where you were born.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I was born February 27th, 1921, north of Alco in the Central High Community.

Jane Purtle:

You were telling me about your early days there and how the community was so close, and then how you started school there, but eventually moved to Rusk?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

Where is that?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Center High Community was a -- it was -- most of it was -- consisted of descendants of the original settlers in that area. My ancestors had come from Georgia in 1852 to four and settled down there. So that was where we remained. My dad's family remained. I'm talking about my dad's family essentially. And my mother's family had been there, but they didn't live in the Central High Community. Anyway, it was -- and, of course, this was -- I'm particularly talking about during the Depression years. I was -- at the beginning of the Depression, I was, let's see, about nine years old. But I had started to school at Central High when I was six. Well, actually, now, this is something. Actually, I started when I was five, but my mother told me that I came home from school at the end of the year and I hadn't been promoted. So she asked me why, and I said, "Well, I don't know. They just told me that I wouldn't be promoted." Well, as it turned out, it seemed -- and I had made real good grades. The only thing I didn't do well in was in the courtyard because I liked to talk all the time. But anyway, that's where I started school. And it was a very active community. Of course, it was farm -- you know, everyone down there was farmers. And we did have one neighbor that dealt in cattle. And -- but it was a farming community. And everything -- all social life and everything centered around the church and the schools, and they would have box suppers and all kinds of entertainment like that, and all day singing and dinner on the ground. Like I said, it all centered around the school. Then as we grew up, when it came time for me to go to high school, that year -- two years -- one year before -- I guess about 1934, they consolidated the schools and discontinued the high school. So I had to commute with one of my cousins up to Rusk High School for two years, and then mom and dad moved up to Rusk. So I graduated from Rusk High School in 1936.

Jane Purtle:

And you decided to go into nursing?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, yes. That's another interesting story, but I won't get on with it.

Jane Purtle:

But you did go on to become a nurse.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes.

Jane Purtle:

Tell me about that.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I entered in -- oh, it was March of 1939 -- no. Yeah. March of 1939. I went to Scott and White Hospital. I had went through their three-year program out there, diploma program. And I was there until -- oh, incidentally, the director of school of nursing was from Rusk originally. It was Anne Laura Cove. And so she was instrumental in, you know, getting me accepted because, after all, she was the director of the school. But anyway, I enjoyed the -- that experience. And I was -- I was within one year -- I mean, I was within four months of graduating when World War II came on, but I was a senior student nurse and still had to go through the other four months to get my diploma.

Jane Purtle:

You were telling me how you felt when the war did start and how much you wanted to get into service.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

Go ahead and tell me about that.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, of course, immediately they began mass mobilization of troops and armaments and everything, and naturally they needed registered nurses to take care of all these people. And the Red Cross left some brochures, I guess they were doing their recruiting at that time. I never talked to anyone in the Red Cross, but they did leave the brochures around in the nurses' lounge. And almost immediately half of the class of 26 nurses who had graduated just the previous September joined immediately. They went into the Army. And I was very anxious to join myself, but I had to wait until I met the qualifications. And I was very restless until I could do that.

Jane Purtle:

The qualifications were?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

The basic qualifications was you had to be 21 years of age, a graduate nurse, and a registered nurse registered with the state of Texas. I had to take state boards in June. It was June before I got to do that. And meet the physical qualifications.

Jane Purtle:

And you chose the Navy. Would you say why you went into the Navy as against the Army?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, yes. I remember looking at both those brochures. And, of course, I had already heard the girls who had come back, you know, they would come back from basic training over in Camp Hope, Louisiana, way out in the woods, you know. And they would tell about taking a bath in a helmet and sleeping in a tent and all the bugs around and everything and wearing combat boots. So after I picked up this Navy brochure, Navy Nurse Corps brochure, and it had -- the first thing I saw was a beautiful white hospital shoe. So I started thinking, I thought, well, I think it would be interesting to do something different. And I liked the look of that pretty white hospital shoe. So that's why I chose it. That alone. I didn't know anyone that had ever been in the Navy Nurse Corps or anything. I knew nothing about the Navy.

Jane Purtle:

So you joined and left Temple. And where did you go to be trained, basic training?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I went to the Navy Hospital in San Diego, California.

Jane Purtle:

And your basic train -- tell about your basic training.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, my basic training was -- first of all, I would like to tell you my first impression of San Diego. I -- of course, everybody traveled by train in those days which is something I would like to comment on later. But we came in the South Santa Fe Station and there was someone from the hospital down there to meet the others. I didn't know the others, but we all gathered when they -- when we arrived, and took us up the hill to the hospital. And -- but as we went through town, I was just absolutely amazed at all of the people, all the -- the harbor was just full of ships. And all of these people just like ants, you know, and most of them were in uniform, mostly Navy and Marine Corps, and there were some Army stationed there, but this was mostly Navy and Marine Corps. And all of these people up and down the streets and everywhere. And then when we got up to the Naval Hospital, which was an old hospital that had been built in 1922, which at that time it really wasn't all that old, but it was a lovely hospital. It was in the Balboa Park area. And they took us up to the chief of nursing service, the officer of the chief of nursing service, and I think that -- of course, all these regular Navy people had been in charge of everything for so long, you know, and they knew just how to run everything. And then they get a bunch of fresh nurses and, you know, we were young and foolish and silly and all. And I think it was a great shock to these very dignified staid people.

Jane Purtle:

Were they mostly women?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, yeah. Oh, they didn't have male nurses in the Navy until about 19 -- oh, it was into the Korean War -- after the Korean War as a matter of fact. But my husband, who had been in the Army, said -- he felt the same way about the regular -- you know, the career Army people. They never recovered from the shock of getting all these renegades, you know.

Jane Purtle:

(Inaudible). How did you feel when you got off the train?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Excited, very excited. Of course, there was some insecurities, some feeling of insecurity, but you soon learned that there were so many other people, you know, you had a lot of soulmates that felt the same way. And I must tell you while I'm thinking about it, about -- after the chief nurse -- after they processed our papers and everything, then they said, well, we'll take you to your quarters. So we went downstairs and got in this station wagon, and then we went around the corner -- streaked around the corner and turned into this lovely esplanade, which I was to learn later that there was the El Prado area of the Balboa Park, that beautiful, beautiful park, if you've ever been there. But anyway, we drove down. I thought, my, I wonder where we're going here? So we pulled up to the side of a -- pulled up to the curb in front of this old Spanish colonial architectural type building with bougainvillea all over the side and top of it. And we were walking through these huge, huge doors and then into a patio. And then we turned and went into this huge room, cavernous room, and I looked around and here was a -- I thought, well, why is she taking us through this storage room for all this furniture, you know? So we went in and wound around and wound around through there, and finally, we stopped at this area and she said, "Tidwell, this is yours." And what it was, they had taken pieces of furniture, a bed, a dress -- a single bed, a dresser, a -- kind of a wardrobe. What it was, it was a metal locker, you know, and bedside table and a lamp and a chair. And they had so arranged those in each area, you know, the dressers would be back to back and things like that where you just had a tiny area with a reasonable amount of privacy. And that was where there were a hundred nurses. I shared that with 99 other nurses.

Jane Purtle:

That was an improvement, though, over the (inaudible).

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. And so what they had done, this was a huge auditorium that had been previously used, of course, for, you know, other purposes. And the stage they had converted to showers and, you know, a bath -- bath facilities, commodes and everything. And that was where I was for -- I guess for about a year. And then they had taken -- what they had done, they had converted all of these buildings, they had emptied them out of things like in the Natural History Museum, like the stuffed birds and dinosaur -- and the dinosaur bones and all that, you know. And they had emptied those -- stored those for the duration and then made quarters out of them and patient facilities and all kinds of personnel quarters. And so I stayed in that for about, oh, I guess about six months. And then I got into a five-bed facility where I only had four roommates. And I finally got into a two-bedroom where I had only one. So that was where I lived when I was there.

Jane Purtle:

Now, you told me that your basic training was pretty short.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. And that consisted of one week of -- this was in the afternoons, too. One week of afternoons of someone trying to explain to us Navy rules and regulations and customs and the terminology that was used which was like a foreign language really. And so we had one week of that. And then we had two weeks of military drill. And we used to -- there was an area down in that park area where it was kind of -- well, they use it as a parade ground. And so that was where they got some Corps -- Marine sergeant to try to teach us our left foot from our right, and that was where we had our military drill for two weeks. And it was so funny, in addition to nurses living there, there were also a lot of sailors, you know, hospital personnel and hospital patients, too, who were ambulatory. And they would gather around, all around and watch this spectacle, you know.

Jane Purtle:

(Inaudible) of you trying to march?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

I wondered (inaudible) would be like (inaudible).

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

That's just part of me. You know, that's part of the military service. You learn it whether you -- we finally learned enough to get us to and from. The reason that was was to enable us to stand -- you know, get to and from and stand in formations, you know, for inspections and things like that.

Jane Purtle:

So you stayed, then, in San Diego for about a year --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

-- working in the hospital there?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

Do you want to say some more about that?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. You mean about working in the hospital?

Jane Purtle:

Uh-huh. There in San Diego.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, yes. The first place I -- they sent me to work was in psychiatry. And of all the things, that was the only area that I didn't have when I was in nurse's training.

Jane Purtle:

You didn't take it or --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I didn't take that. But I learned a lot, and it was interesting.

Jane Purtle:

You didn't stay in psychiatry too long, though?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. And then I was transferred to a medical ward. See, if I had had some previous experience, I would have probably been, you know, assigned to something that I would have liked better. But since I didn't, then they just used me as a fill-in. Not only me, but all the -- there were -- I had a lot of friends who were just like me. So they used us to fill in. And I was assigned to a medical ward, and then to a tuberculosis ward which was very interesting. Of course, at that time there was no cure, or only rest, you know, the only thing was diet and rest and that was it, and collapse the lungs. But that was the only treatment they had. And it was amazing. We had about two large wards of tubercular bed patients who were tubercular. And we had several deaths while I was there because they were too far gone. But, see, these were men who had -- the entrance physicals, they had missed this on their entrance physicals. And so anyway, I -- that was a very rewarding thing because those men needed a lot of care and attention and kindness. And so I -- I won't say I enjoyed it, but it made me feel good, you know, feeling that I was doing something. And then the last place that I went, one day the chief of nursing service, the assistant chief nurse called me and told me to -- I guess this is about 8:00 -- I mean about 1:00 in the afternoon, told me, she said, "Go off-duty and come back tomorrow night to building so-and-so in Balboa Park. You're going on night duty." So I did. And at 10:00 the next night, I went up to this huge building. It was where all the dinosaurs and everything had been stored, and they had moved double-decker bunks in there into all three floors. And so that was where I went on night duty. And I remember they had built -- they had built the nurses' station way up on a platform. We had to take little stair steps up to the -- you know, steps up to the platform. And it was around, you know, I guess about 20 feet across by 20. And I have never seen so much paperwork in my life as those nurses had around them. And I was to find out -- they told me, they said, "Well, as well as we can count, there are 1,010 patients in this building. That's what you're -- that's what you have." Well, a ship had come in, a hospital ship had brought these patients in, and they were from the South Pacific. The ones that were in there were mostly ambulatory patients. They were -- they had fungal diseases, you know, from the South Sea Islands and everything, all kinds of fungal diseases. But most of them were malaria, had malaria, and they were yellow from taking that Adabrine, you know, for -- to try to stave it off. And they would go through -- still go through the chill and fever cycle. And in the meantime, when they weren't in that cycle, they could be up and around, but they had to take to their beds when they were in that chill/fever cycle. So I stayed there, and at the end of I guess -- it was about -- well, it wasn't very long after I finished that night duty before I received orders to go to Honolulu.

Jane Purtle:

So you shipped out --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes.

Jane Purtle:

-- on the hospital ship?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. I didn't go on a hospital ship. The hospital ship came later in the Korean War that I was on.

Jane Purtle:

All right.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I went on a ship, and -- but you know what it was? It was the Matson Line. It was a Matson Liner. Matson was a very famous -- they had the luxury liners to and from Honolulu especially. And they had taken these two -- one was the Lureline and the other was the Matsonia, and -- USS Matsonia, the USS Lureline. And they had converted them to troop transports. And they still had -- I remember the lounge was still very nicely decorated and everything, but that was what we went over on. And we embarked on that on --

Jane Purtle:

The name of the ship again was?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Matsonia, M-A-T-S-O-N-I-A. The USS Matsonia. And we embarked on December 11th, 1943, and debarked on December 17th, 1943, in Honolulu. But that year that I spent there, I just loved that San Diego area, all the beaches, and we had the greatest time. We would go horseback riding. We would go to spend a lot of time on the beaches. And the transportation, of course, gasoline was so rationed and nobody had cars, but they had marvelous public transportation. And we rode the trolley and the buses and everything, and we didn't have any trouble getting around. Their off-duty time was absolutely marvelous. And we used to go dancing. The big bands started coming to one of the big nightclubs there. And then we would go up to Los Angeles. I remember going up to the Coconut Grove. We went up to the Ambassador Hotel and spent the weekend up there, and we --

Jane Purtle:

Did you take a leave to Los Angeles?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. Uh-huh. Took the train up there again. And danced to Freddy Martin and the orchestra. It was really interesting. In 1970, my husband and I were guests of Freddy Martin's 70th birthday.

Jane Purtle:

So you were (inaudible)?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah. So I was telling him about it when it was his -- his wife invited us, and so I was telling him about coming up there, you know, during that time.

Jane Purtle:

So you stayed in Honolulu for --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Two years. Almost exactly two years.

Jane Purtle:

Again, in a hospital receiving people or causalities from --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, yes.

Jane Purtle:

-- Japanese (inaudible)?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. It was a -- I'll never forget when we got off the ship and we were manning buses and taken up the -- above Pearl Harbor. You know, it's a few miles from Honolulu out to Pearl Harbor. And the hospital was overlooking Pearl Harbor. And I'll never forget how overcome I was by the absolute beauty of that -- of my surroundings; the beautiful flowers and the palm trees and that beautiful blue ocean. It was just -- I was absolutely overcome by this. I thought I had loved San Diego, but Honolulu was just, you know, spectacular. And as we -- so when we got to Pearl Harbor, then we turned and started up this winding road to the hospital. And that was in the days -- still in the days of the sugarcane. And there was sugarcane all along this road clear up to and above the -- and around the hospital. And so it was a huge hospital and totally self-sufficient. It had its own water system, had its own power plant, and everything that was needed for patients. As a matter of fact, we grew a lot of our own vegetables and fruits. They had -- the Navy, of course, they had informed the -- they sent all the -- the civilians who didn't -- who weren't -- who didn't get defense jobs, but especially the women and children were all sent back because there was still -- you know, that was still very early in the war. And it was just a beautiful, marvelous, wonderful hospital. It had started out with a building with -- a permanent type building with four wings, an administration building in the center and then four wings. But that -- they ran out of space very quickly with that, and they built temporary wooden buildings all the way up the hill. Eventually we had around -- between seven and 8,000 patients. And we -- our patients were mostly, mostly the greater percentage of them were Marine Corps from all over -- bloody island battles, you know. And, of course, we had a lot of Navy, too. But --

Jane Purtle:

You all didn't get the Army, did you?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

There was an Army hospital across the way from us, Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks were two huge Army installations there. No, we didn't get the Army. They took care of their own. But we took care --

Jane Purtle:

What was the name of your hospital?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

US Naval Hospital, Aiea Heights. That was the little town. A-I-E-A. Honolulu. That was just --

Jane Purtle:

That's Naval?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh. They numbered the Naval hospitals then. I can't remember. I think this was 12 or something like that. I can't remember what the number was. And it was just a wonderful hospital with every kind of facility. We even had our own baseball team. I remember when we heard that we were going to have our own baseball team, and they said, oh, Joe DiMaggio -- I mean, Pee Wee Reese and named off -- George Dickey and a whole bunch of those big leaguers, you know, are going to be on our hospital baseball team. And I thought they were going to be hospital corpsmen and just play baseball. So we got excited. We thought we would have these --

Jane Purtle:

(Inaudible).

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

But that is all they did. Joe DiMaggio played for the Seventh Air Force over on one of the other islands. I don't remember what it was. And all those big leaguers, that's where they put them so they could serve their --

Jane Purtle:

Time?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

-- time, you know. And they were in what's called Special Services, and that's all they did. They played exhibition games for, you know, the troops and everything. So we went to several of those ball games. (Whereupon, the first part of the tape was completed.) BY MS. PURTLE:

Jane Purtle:

And, Dorothy, I'll ask you to tell something about your work in -- with the patients of the men you were working with. Why don't you say something about that.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Okay. All righty. There again, I was first assigned to psychiatry. And this time it was to the very -- you know, the most severely ill. And at that time, the only thing they could do for patients that was -- was hot packs and, you know, things to calm them down. We didn't have tranquilizers or anything like that then. And so I stayed on that ward for about six months I guess it was.

Jane Purtle:

Did you have a lot of people --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes.

Jane Purtle:

-- that were shellshocked?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

That's right. That's what I was going to say. They called it combat fatigue. But we had some that were more -- that were severe, schizophrenia and manic depressives, you know, just like any other mentally ill person. And I remember one time one of our patients, they had taken him down to x-ray or somewhere like that and he bolted from them and got away and ran down into the cane field which was surrounded. The hospital was completely surrounded by those big -- by those cane fields. And, of course, they made it -- they sent the Marine guards after him, and they finally found him, and they said, "He sure was glad to see us." We were then told that a lot of times the men -- some of the men in the brig, you know, which is the jail, military jail, would get away and get down in the cane fields. They thought they could make a break for it, you know, but they would get down there and they would -- they'd get down, you know, way into the cane fields and they couldn't see anything but the sky and the top of those cane stocks and they would get panicked. And they were usually very glad to see their captor.

Jane Purtle:

Yeah. You can get disoriented if you ran around (inaudible).

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

So you --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

But --

Jane Purtle:

Go ahead.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, I was going to say --

Jane Purtle:

After psychiatry.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah. Then I worked on another medical ward for a couple of months. Then the rest of the time I was assigned to an orthopedic ward. And, of course, we had a lot of casualties, you know, orthopedic patients most of them were. That -- in my entire Navy career that was the most rewarding time for me insofar as patients were concerned, patient care and nursing was concerned because, as I said, these men, very soon after they captured Guadalcanal and the Coral Sea, then Admiral Nimitz started the Marine Hedge -- you know, hopping from island to island taking them -- taking them from the Japanese, and those were very, very bloody battles and a lot of casualties on both sides. So as each island was taken, we would get a big push of patients. Most of the time we would still have patients left over from the last one, you know. And I was on -- first I was on -- well, I was on two different ones. But the one that I stayed the longest on was the -- we had them all in the -- this again was before penicillin. As a matter of fact, the only antibiotics they had -- until we got it in 1945, the only antibiotics they had were the sulfa drugs. Anyway, they would be brought to the hospital from hospital ships that worked out -- you know, out in the Pacific area. And they would have been initially cleaned up and casted and everything on the hospital ships. But when we got them, they would always have to have those casts removed and then the -- taken to surgery, and, you know, all that. Their treatment actually began there. And so they were strung up on an array of slings and ropes and pulleys and weights and whatever, you know, we used at that time to straighten the bones and get them -- position them. And so there was a head nurse, the nurse in charge. And then there were three of us most of the time. Sometimes there were only two nurses. But we had our dear little hospital corpsmen, our medics, you know. And we -- each one of us would take two or three of them and give -- work around all that, you know, to give them baths and treatments and change dressings and things like that. And it was just a very satisfying experience. The -- I still have some pictures that I took of some of those patients, and I look at them and often wonder, you know, whatever happened to them. They were very, very supportive of each other and joked and kidded a lot and made macabre type jokes, you know, about their wounds and what happened to them and everything. But they -- nor would they tolerate any self-pity or anything. They would give -- you know, as I said, they were supportive of each other, but they wouldn't tolerate a lot of self-pity which some of them tried to engage in naturally. And I'll never forget this one little patient who was the first person -- first patient that I ever saw receive penicillin. And this was in 1945. This was when it was really -- I think that he was -- had come from Okinawa. And he had a left arm amputated and a right leg amputated. And he was supposed to have been 18, but so help me, if you could see his picture, which I have, but I want it back. He didn't even look 18. And he was absolutely frightened to death. And, of course, he was in a lot of pain and all this trauma with his amputations and everything. And so the rest of the patients, you know, they would go along with him and they would try to bolster his spirits and everything. But once in a while they would, you know, kind of, you know, get real stern with him. As I said, they didn't tolerate self-pity after a certain point. And that was another thing. Of course, a lot of those -- a lot of patients had survived former engagements, you know, going into those battles, and they had counted themselves very fortunate to have survived that to have been sent in again. And so I'll tell you, I -- today, I still have a very deep compassion and profound admiration for a combat serviceman because, you know, I don't think I could withstand that, you know. When they would hit those beaches with the -- nothing but a rifle in their hand and --

Jane Purtle:

With fire --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

-- fire coming up, and they couldn't turn back because they waded ashore, they couldn't run.

Jane Purtle:

Now, you continued in the service after the war?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No.

Jane Purtle:

No. You were discharged at that point?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. I was -- I was released -- see, I was in the Reserves. And so when the war was over -- as a matter of fact, we were -- we departed Honolulu on the 12th of August of 1945, and we were out in the middle of the ocean on D Day, August 14th. And we got back into San Francisco on the 17th. And -- get me back on track now. What were you asking?

Jane Purtle:

You were telling me how then you weren't actually discharged, you were in the Reserves.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

That's right. Yes. So I was -- I originally had transfer orders to New Orleans to be reassigned there. But while I was in San Francisco, they reassigned me to a Naval hospital in Pensacola. And when I got down there, I just spent a month there, and then I was released to inactive duty. I went into the inactive Reserves. And that was in -- let's see, inactive Reserves, that was --

Jane Purtle:

It must have been October of 1945 or something.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. It was -- the inactive Reserve, it was in March I think of -- I mean February of -- oh, October. Yeah. That's right. October to -- released to inactive duty.

Jane Purtle:

Yeah. Because if you left there in August and you went (inaudible) October of '45.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. That's right.

Jane Purtle:

So you stayed in inactive status for a while?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes.

Jane Purtle:

But then you had a second part of your career?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

So why don't you tell about that.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, I was in -- I was down at the University of Texas -- I didn't make a good adjustment because, you know, I came back to Jacksonville. By that time, my mom and dad had moved to up Jacksonville. I couldn't settle down. I felt very, very restless, and I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. And I finally ended up down at the University of Texas after I quit a couple of jobs, you know, and I just -- as I said, it wasn't a very good adjustment. And so finally I got my head together, as they say, and went down to the University of Texas and enrolled in their bachelor of art program for -- you know, get a degree in -- complete my degree for nursing. And that's where I was when the Korean War came along, and immediately I was recalled. And at that time I only needed two semesters, and I asked for deferment, and they wouldn't defer me but for one semester. So I went back in short of my degree.

Jane Purtle:

So that was 1950?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

'51.

Jane Purtle:

Okay. And you were assigned to --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Naval hospital in Corpus Christi, the air station there.

Jane Purtle:

And then you eventually went on a hospital ship?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, I was at Corpus Christi for a year, just about a year, and then I was assigned to the hospital ship. And it was late in the war. As a matter of fact, we just barely got in on it. But I went to -- we went to Long Beach, and that was where we left, Long Beach. My roommate -- she wasn't my roommate. She lived across the hall from me there in Corpus Christi. She and I went together. We both went to the hospital ship. And we were cellmates -- we were cabin mates on the ship.

Jane Purtle:

And it sailed out where?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

To Incheon Harbor. Of course we went by way of -- we stopped off at Honolulu overnight, and then we stopped in Yokosuka, Japan. Yokosuka was where the big Naval hospital was in that area. And so we stopped there I think -- these stops were usually made for the ship's convenience, you know, to pick up supplies or something like that. And, of course, when we were there, we would go ashore and enjoy wherever we were. Let's see.

Jane Purtle:

And you stayed on Incheon --

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Incheon Harbor.

Jane Purtle:

Right. I'm not sure how to spell Incheon.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

I-N-C-H-O-N.

Jane Purtle:

It's been a while since I've seen that.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

And you all were treating people coming out of Korea.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yeah.

Jane Purtle:

The men coming.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes.

Jane Purtle:

Men, and I guess women, too.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. The only women patients we had were Korean natives, you know, South Korean natives. Occasionally we would get one of those, especially after the war was over. We -- let me tell you -- do you know anything about a hospital ship?

Jane Purtle:

No. Explain some of that to me.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

It is a totally -- what it is, it's a hospital, fully equipped hospital set down in the middle of a cargo ship. And there were four decks; A, B, C and D. The top deck -- let me back up a little bit and tell you about how we got our patients. By this time, they were using helicopters to evacuate the patients. And they would -- when the war first started, they brought the -- the helicopters would pick them up at the battalion aid stations or wherever, you know. Usually it was very shortly after they were hit. And bring them down to the beach. And then they would come by boat to the ship, and then be hoisted aboard on litters onto the ship. But very early in the war, a couple of doctors and some Navy people got together and decided, including the -- some helicopter people, pilots, too -- got together and decided that they could improve on that, and they had some pontoon -- you know, made some pontoons. A pontoon is a platform on barrels, you know, that will make it float. So they made some pontoons big enough to receive a helicopter, one helicopter at a time. And so they brought them -- they saved that much time, rather than the boat, they brought them and hoisted them aboard there. But then very soon after that, they -- as each hospital would come back to the states for re -- you know, for repairs and refitting and everything, they installed helicopter decks on the stern -- on the fantail of each hospital ship. So then they brought them directly to the ship. And they had teams of litter bearers and doctors out there to receive them, and they would bring them right on in into the triage -- we had a triage area just inside the -- from the -- inside from the outer deck right by the elevator. And the patients were all triaged there, and the nature of their wounds were determined and where they went and everything. So that was the way we received them. And anyway, the hospital was I think about a 300-bed hospital. And there were -- we had -- in addition to the patient units, we had everything from -- we had three operating rooms and physiotherapy and x-ray and whatever else, you know. We had a full pharmacy and everything that you would get in a, you know, 300-bed hospital in the States, sometimes more. And so they received excellent care. And then when they were able -- somehow -- some of them, of course, their wounds weren't bad enough for them to be evacuated back to the States. And when they healed and were rehabilitated, they went back to duty, bless their souls. But those who did have permanent injuries, I mean injuries that would need long-term care, they were sent back to Yokosuka first, to the Naval hospital there. And so there were three hospitals -- three Naval hospitals that worked the Incheon Harbor during that period; the USS Repose, which is the one I was on, the USS Haven, and the USS Constellation. And there was always two -- usually two in the -- in the war area, and one would be back at the States being outfitted. Of course, it took a long time to go back and forth across there. And they would sometimes pick up new personnel. They always picked up new nurses, you know, a whole new staff of -- I mean staff of nurses, and -- because it took a long time to do those repairs back in Long Beach. And then usually our -- the other two, whoever the two were that were left over there, would -- sometimes our time would overlap. But usually one would go back to Japan and take a load of patients, and whichever one went back accepted -- had took patients, all the patients that the other one had and put them with their others and took them back to Japan, you know. And so the rest of them, we kept -- they were people that would be returned to duty.

Jane Purtle:

How would you compare the war -- the Korean War and your experiences in it with World War II? How did it compare?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, they were -- they were two different -- well, of course, patient wise, an awful lot of our patients had been in World War II because, after all, that was only -- let's see, '50 from 1945, five or six years. So a lot of the career Marines and Navy were now fighting another war. So the patients were essentially the same. Of course, we still had young, green men, you know, that you always have. And --

Jane Purtle:

I guess your medical facilities were better and your technology was better.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, yes. That's true. Of course, by then, we had all the antibiotics, you know, penicillin, and even some newer antibiotics. I can't remember what they would have been. And equipment and drugs and everything.

Jane Purtle:

As far as the injuries and so forth, they were about the same?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, yes, because we had an advance to some of the -- some of those very brutal fighting, you know --

Jane Purtle:

Like the Vietnam War?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes. That's what I was going to say. That we saw during the Vietnam War. You know, the personnel bombs where they'd just shower them down with pieces of metal and stuff like that that they did in Vietnam. But essentially, the instruments of the war were about the same. They had -- it had changed. But the medical technology had advanced.

Jane Purtle:

What about for you, yourself, the stress of the job in both wars? Did you feel stressed and need breaks pretty much, or did you -- could you hold up to continue on through?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Well, I was fortunate in that -- now, the Army nurses -- the Navy -- up until the Vietnam War, the Navy did not send nurses into combat. The -- we taught the hospital foremen. That's what the doctors wanted when the Navy nurse corps was organized. They came to the -- I don't know who it was in Washington -- and said, "We would like for you to hire some nurses to teach the hospital corpsmen more about, you know, nursing measures that we can use on the ships." It didn't -- you know, that was what it was for originally. But the Army has -- I guess they have sent their nurses into combat situations. I had a very close friend that I was in school with down at the University of Texas who had been an operating room nurse and went in on the second -- on the Anzio Beach with the second wave. And she got a Bronze Star because that was a bad place to be. And -- but we -- to get back to your question, it was stressful, yes, but we had enough time in between. You know, when we would go off-duty, we could go ashore, you know, if we didn't have to have the watch or, you know. We could go down to Honolulu, and we did. As I said, we worked hard and we played hard. And we had enough of a break in between, you know, when you went off-duty in the afternoon and came back the next morning, you had some, you know --

Jane Purtle:

Recreation?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Right. Now, the hospital ship, that was a little bit different because when we had, you know, big battle was going on, then everybody worked practically until --

Jane Purtle:

Around the clock.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh. But --

Jane Purtle:

I was going to ask you before we run out of tape here, what do you feel about how the -- being in the service -- now, you became a career person.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

And so you -- I guess you then were getting some promotions.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

You were overseer in some of these situations.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

We didn't talk about that. But how do you feel this impacted your life, this experience of the duty -- the combat duty, which I would consider you're so being in a hospital ship at least, and also just the contact with the soldiers, how did that impact your life? How did it change you? That's a hard question to answer.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Yes, it is.

Jane Purtle:

I think it's an important one.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

It is. Well, as I said a while ago, it gave me a great understanding and -- a great understanding of -- certainly not the understanding that the men had, but it gave me a great understanding of the men who fought the wars. I think that was the main thing. And as I said, I had a profound -- I still have a profound admiration and compassion because I often wondered how they did it. And I -- I think that is the main way, you know, because, first of all, I have to come back to this old song that I know that people in this country are tired of, but I'll -- me and the rest of the people that were there, that police action in that Korean War was anything but a police action, you know.

Jane Purtle:

(Inaudible)?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Seoul itself was absolutely devastating, that city, because it changed hands back and forth between the communists and the United Nations forces eight times. You know, they'd take it, and then the other one would take it back. And that is an awful lot of fire power, you know. But to get back to your question, it -- I think that is how it changed me most is -- well, I'll just tell you. I am not a warmonger. That is what -- I mean, I feel very strongly about war, about us getting into war situations. No matter how harmless that might seem at first, that's the reason why I -- even today, I get kind of nervous about Bosnia and about us running over to Africa and running down to Haiti and running here and there. You can get bogged down so easily and so enmeshed that -- I don't mean to stand here preaching. I don't mean to do that. But that is the main --

Jane Purtle:

What do you think you learned from the experiences for yourself personally?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, good heaven. I was a little girl from Rusk, Texas, that had never been anywhere. I think I had been up to Dallas three or four times and down to Houston a few times. I learned about the world. I am -- I am so very, very, very fortunate to have had that experience.

Jane Purtle:

So you're really grateful.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, absolutely. Oh, I should say so. It just -- well, I can't imagine what it would be like to have not had a similar experience at least.

Jane Purtle:

The chance to travel and to (inaudible).

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Right. That is right. It has made me tolerant, very tolerant of all different types of people and races and religions. I consider myself tolerant, very tolerant. And that's one of the big things it did for me.

Jane Purtle:

Yes. I think people who stay in the southern part of the country often don't develop that tolerance.

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Uh-huh.

Jane Purtle:

Now, after the Korean War, were you then discharged?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

Oh, no. I --

Jane Purtle:

You stayed on -- you went back on inactive duty?

Dorothy Tidwell Rhoades:

No. I joined the regular Navy. I became a career person. I went back to Newport, Rhode Island, for my next duty station, and it was there that I decided -- well, look, girl. I wanted to go back and complete the requirements for my degree. And I asked them about it. They said: Well, you're in the Reserves. The Navy won't pay for it unless you're in the regular Navy." So I said, "Well, where do I sign up?"

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us