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Interview with Kathryn M. Taylor [5/31/2004]

Lauren Smith:

It is Friday -- or Sunday -- I am sorry. Monday, May 31st, 2004. It is Memorial Day. And we are in Ocala, Florida at the Veterans Memorial Park. This is Lauren Smith beginning an interview with Kathryn Taylor. And if she could start with her current address and date of birth and your branch of service and where you served, what you did, your rank.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

All right. Currently I am living at 2020 South East 173rd Avenue in Silver Springs, Florida. What else was there now? Where I enlisted?

Lauren Smith:

Yes. Your branch of service?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was a captain -- I got out of the service as a captain. I went in as a first lieutenant in the US Air Corp. And I was sent to Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama for basic training. And then from there my assignment was Chinook Air Force base up in Illinois.

Lauren Smith:

When did you begin?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

In October of 1952.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And I was there about six months. Very disappointed in it because I had left a very lucrative job in New York City where I had enlisted. And they put me on a maternity ward, and I never left maternity. And I came here to take care of the soldiers; no soldiers here. So --

Lauren Smith:

In Illinois, you mean?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

At -- not on maternity ward.

Lauren Smith:

Right, of course.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was in the mess hall one day about four months later and the chief nurse came in. And she said: Need six nurses to go to Korea. Up went my hand and I volunteered. And came home on leave. And then went to Camp Stoneman, California where I sat for weeks getting shots and all that. And we went -- we flew over -- there were a group of us from all over the country. We flew over and landed in Hickam Field, Hawaii and spent a few hours there. And then we flew on into Tokyo. And when we got there, the agitant told us that, well, some of the orders had changed, not everybody was going to be going over to Korean. I got a little upset because the war was on and said: Well, that is what I joined up for and I want to go to Korea. So he just looked at me like I was kind of crazy. And all the _ nurses stayed in Tokyo and I was the only one out of the group that went over, that was sent into Korea, where we landed in Pusan. We landed at Pusan and then flew up in K8, Kunsan, Korea where I was stationed.

Lauren Smith:

Was that --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

That was in April of 1952, right around the first of April. Got there in the middle of an air raid, and more or less scared than anything. Didn't do any damage, wasn't near the hospital. Then I got settled in and reported duty for work, my assignment was going to be.

Lauren Smith:

What exactly did you do?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, there I was --

Lauren Smith:

More babies?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

No. No. Let me see. I was in charge of the medical ward. And our hospital was made out of Kwansit huts. And it was sand bags over the top of them because that was an area that received typhoons, and so the sand bags were there to hopefully keep the metal roof on the building. But I was in charge of the medical ward the whole time I was there. We had a medical ward, a surgical ward and a crash ward.

Lauren Smith:

What are some examples of patients you treated?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, a lot -- there were snake bites, for one thing.

Lauren Smith:

Snake bites?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And we had -- we had crews that were injured on -- it was a B26, it was part of Fifth Air Force, the Third Bomb Line, and there were crews that were shot at when they went up on the bomb line and came back. But some of them were not badly injured. If they were when they came back to us, we air vac'd them over to Japan. Otherwise, we got them ready and sent back on the line again. But we did have a couple of incidents. I recall one time, off on the Yellow Sea, there was an Australian aircraft carrier. And the pilot landed, but when he did -- it is what they call tail hook -- it stopped the aircraft on the flight deck. And that wire broke and it caught one of the sailors right across the calves of his legs and they were just hanging by threads. So they air vac'd him into our hospital where he got temporary care until we could air vac him and stabilize him and air vac him back to Japan. But I remember we put out a call for blood transfusions because we didn't really have a blood bank, and we called out for blood transfusions. And within an hour there were probably 500 guys from all over the base that were lined up ready to give blood. I was quite impressed with that. Then we had some funny incidents. We had one or two corp men who went into the local town of Kunsan, and for some reason they were exposed to somebody who had the mumps. And when they came back we had about, oh, maybe twelve patients that had never had the mumps that we had to open up the crash ward and put them in, put them in there, because we had to isolate them. And it was difficult because the word got around that if you had the mumps you were going to be sterile. So none of my crew would go in and take care of them.

Lauren Smith:

What can we do medically for mumps these days?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Oh, today -- a lot of these were kids that were brought up in the early '30s and whatnot where they didn't get vaccinations probably in some places. But we just treated them with soaps and kept them quiet and whatnot until the swelling went down and went away. There was no antibiotic to do anything for them. Just make them -- comfort measures.

Lauren Smith:

Does it make you sterile or was that a rouse or was that a myth?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I don't know if that was a myth or not. It was supposed to be that if a male had, had developed the mumps and then not been immunized that it could make them sterile. But I don't know whether there was any truth to that or not.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, snake bites?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes.

Lauren Smith:

What else -- injuries?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Those are basically the kind of injuries that we had. They didn't stay that long at our hospital. They were either treated on the line or they were, came in, were treated, they went back on the line or they went back to Japan.

Lauren Smith:

Did you ever treat civilian villagers or --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

No. Not on base we didn't. But we did have an established rapport with one of the local hospitals in Kunsan. And we saved all our old, discarded equipment and brought it into them because they had nothing. I do have some pictures with Korean kids there at the hospital.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, I would like to see.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

But the hospitals there were -- I mean, it was like going back two centuries. They didn't have any kitchen facilities, that kind of thing. The family would have to come in and stay with the patient, if they got as far as the hospital --

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

-- and cook their food for them and whatnot. I can't say they didn't get anything to eat, but we did save all our old, outdated supplies of dressings and IV tubing and that kind of stuff. And we donated it to the hospital, and we also would go down there and help out.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, that is nice. What did -- So you were an officer. Did you have responsibilities of overseeing other nurses?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I had responsibility for the ward that I was in charge of, yes, and the corp men on my ward.

Lauren Smith:

And the corp men.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

But other than that, there was a charge nurse on the surgical ward, and a charge nurse. And we were responsible to our chief nurse and the chief of the hospital.

Lauren Smith:

What was -- what did you feel and think during this time? What was --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was kind of --

Lauren Smith:

What was the mood?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was kind of excited about being over there. I wasn't unhappy, depressed or anything like that. I had an aunt that I was very, very fond of. We were very close. And when she was an Army nurse in World War II. And she went everywhere: North Africa, Sicily, Italy and _. And I followed her every step, you know. And she was with -- I have saved all her letters. I still have them somewhere that she wrote to me and whatnot. And I was really eager to get into the military. I couldn't wait to get through nurse's training. But then I decided to work for a year or two in New York city. And then when the Korean War broke out, I decided I am going to do something about it. And I went down to 93rd Street and I made a mistake of telling the military something that they didn't need to know -- that my father had been a TB patient at one time. But he was cured, you know, and whatnot. And so at the time I had just gotten over a real bout of bronchitis and stuff showed up on my chest x-rays, so they put me on hold for quite a while. And then finally I got upset, because I really wanted to go. And I wrote a letter to this Department of the Air Force and I said: If you don't take me now, forget it, I am not going. And it was about three weeks later I had a set of orders to report.

Lauren Smith:

Good for you. Lighting a fire under them. What was the mood of the men that -- your patients?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Most of them knew that they were there to do a job. I don't remember anybody like -- you saw a lot of line men, cochise and whatnot worked on the aircraft. We had -- we had a lot of fellas that went up in the bomb lane, in B26's, and they were called light night intruders because they used to chase railroads and stuff like that, railroad trains. And it was pretty dangerous for them. But for the most part we didn't have any major crash incidents at the base. We were lucky that way. Although we did lose a flight surgeon who had been -- was -- wanted to get his combat time in. And they were out on a mission one night that the plane didn't make it back, and he froze and didn't jump and the guys behind him couldn't get out. And so they lost half their crew. But that was the only medical personnel that were injured at the time that I was there.

Lauren Smith:

What was the social life, ambiance like when you were not working, when you had some leave or -- time to --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, when there are only like eight nurses and 3,000 people on the base, you had lots of opportunity. And believe me there were many of them there that said: Hey, we are over here, and we might not be here tomorrow. And so forth and so on. Made a lot of acquaintances. I met one man, thought I was in love with him. Found out later after he left that he was married.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And that kind of stuff. And it is a lesson everybody has to learn at least once around the block.

Lauren Smith:

That's right.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

But we used to go down to the club every night. There was bingo. They had bingo down there. And we were always partying.

Lauren Smith:

Did you travel to any other country?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

While I was in Korea? Yes. I went to Japan and I went to Hong Kong.

Lauren Smith:

What was that like?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

It was just like on R and R, went down to do shopping to see the sights and that kind of thing.

Lauren Smith:

What was -- what is your favorite experience of the whole, if you could pick one thing?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Of the Korean area you mean, the Korean area?

Lauren Smith:

Yes.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, it is kind of hard to say. It was --

Lauren Smith:

Or a couple of things if --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes, it was a good time, fun time for all. I know you had some responsibilities of when you cleared the base that everything was supposed to be there when you left that was there when you got there. And when we did an inventory, I remember I came up with 25 OD blankets short in my inventory itself. I went after my ward master to find out what we were going to do about it. And he and a couple of corp men went down in the barracks and they took blankets off the bed in the barracks and they folded them up, and we counted them up. And that accounted for my inventory.

Lauren Smith:

What does OD stand for?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Olive drabs.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, I never heard that in initials. It is --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And another thing we had, we did not -- when I first got over there in the medical ward, we did not have indoor toilets for patients. They had to go out in the outhouses out in the trench. Well, it was kind of difficult to move somebody out there, especially if you were having an air raid or something. And didn't always seem that there was aircraft up there, but they were in the vicinity. And so I begged and pleaded. And anybody and everybody that I knew, how could I get toilets in the medical ward. And it wasn't until after I left that I got a letter when I was back in the States, I got a letter and some pictures that my -- our chief hospital administrator, our chief ward surgeon and several of the corp men had managed to get the toilets in. They were on order and they were put in after I left. So I didn't get -- but I do have pictures that they sent me.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And I thought it was very amusing at the time. But I don't have -- but they named it after me. And somebody took pictures of it and sent it to me and named it after --

Lauren Smith:

The Kathryn Miller latrine. That is hilarious. And look at them all posing. That is great.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And these are some pictures. This is a trench that we were supposed to be in when we had an air raid outside where the nurses' quarters were. We lived in Kwansit huts that were built for the dependents after World War II, but the Korean War broke out before they moved over there. But they were unoccupied, so that is what they did for us.

Lauren Smith:

Is this sand or snow?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Sand.

Lauren Smith:

What are the different weather conditions you experienced?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

From blazing hot to freezing cold. And believe me, that was a very cold day that that picture was taken. We wore GI clothing over there, we did not wear white nurses uniforms.

Lauren Smith:

Freezing hot to freezing cold.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

The winters were brutal because it was kind of -- It was hilly, but there was no trees or anything like that to block the wind. And you could get pulled right off the island if you didn't anchor yourself down.

Lauren Smith:

Did you have any patients with a condition that has been brought on or weather-related conditions?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

No, not down where we were. But north of us, up in Seoul, and north of the bomb line there were a lot of patients that had frost bite and that stuff during the winter.

Lauren Smith:

But not where you were?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

No. And there is just another shot taken there. And I just had always wanted to fly. And so I got chummy with some of the guys in one particular squadron and they gave me a ride. And I got all bundled up one day.

Lauren Smith:

What was it like?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

It was wonderful. I rode in the glass nose of a B26 and we chased a railroad train all the way to Pusan over the tree tops.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, that is fun. What was the kind of morale program on the base?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

It was pretty good. It was pretty good. I didn't -- didn't run into anybody that was -- We had one surgeon that was really unhappy. He just, pardon the expression, bitched from the time he got off the plane until the time he was ready to go. But, other than that, most of the guys and the gals were there -- we were only there for a year. That was the tour of duty for the Air Force. The Army, I think, were there for 18 months. But we were only there for a year. And they just made the best of it, and we just had a good time. A lot of us have kept in touch. A couple pictures in front of that Korean hospital I was talking about.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, that is. So this child is an amputee, it looks like. What was he --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I never knew how that happened. I never knew how -- they always wanted their picture taken.

Lauren Smith:

The children look so beautiful to me, they look so exquisite.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

They were. They were nice.

Lauren Smith:

How did you communicate with --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Some of them -- Pigeon English, you know. We had a black nurse with us -- it was kind of funny. We went in town one day with a veterinarian who had to go in and inspect the meat at the port when it came in, so we went in town to do some sightseeing. So Gilly and I were walking along the street. Number one, they had never seen anybody with red hair -- which it was bright red then -- and they had never seen a black woman. Because next thing I know we had -- we got about 20 people following us down the street, and we didn't know whether we were going to be kidnapped or what.

Lauren Smith:

You were just a marvel to them.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes.

Lauren Smith:

That is interesting.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

This is just a shot of the base when it first opened.

Lauren Smith:

Excellent. That looks so barren.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, it was. You just made the best of it.

Lauren Smith:

How was the food?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

The food wasn't bad, all things considered. We had -- we ate in the hospital mess or down to the officers club. And the only thing they had down there was steaks. So it didn't make any difference whether it was Friday or Good Friday or whatever day it was, you ate steak because that is all they had. They used to go over to Japan and bring a load of steaks back and fill up the officers club. Oh, you could have sandwiches, you know, but there was no diversified menu.

Lauren Smith:

Were the cooks American service members?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes. Yes, they were American service people.

Lauren Smith:

Or local --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

The only civilian people over there were the women who did the volunteer services like the -- I don't remember what they called them now. They worked down in the Red Cross area.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, okay.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And they were in charge of -- it is the personal relations between the military and their family back home if there were problems, you know, that had to be attended to. Special service girls. They tried to put on entertainment and stuff like that that, but they were not professionals.

Lauren Smith:

Did you have any USOs?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

No, none at our place. I saw more people in Japan then when I was on a weekend pass for R and R.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, really. Like who?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Oh, saw Marilyn Monroe.

Lauren Smith:

Wow.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

We came into a restaurant one night and you could hear the forks drop all over the place. Everybody was just watching her walk from one end of the restaurant to the other. She was there on a tour of the troops.

Lauren Smith:

How did you -- now who was back in the United States that you were keeping in touch with?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, my family in Connecticut mostly.

Lauren Smith:

And how did you keep up?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Through letters. And when I was back in the states -- When I came back in from Korea, my intentions were to get out of the service, so I -- they normally send you to your port of -- where you joined up, because that is the closest to your home. They didn't have to pay the expenses of shipping you across country. Well, in route I changed my mind. And when I got to Mitchell Air Force base out on Long Island, I decided to go what they call "indefinite" category. And I went from -- I stayed there for about two years, and then an assignment opened up over in England. And I did want to go to Europe, so that is where I went. But I had quite a time with that, too, because when I finally got going they sent you out of Manhattan Beach and then over to McGuire Air Force base. And I sat at McGuire Air Force base for four days. And I kept telling the sergeant out there: People are coming and going, and I am still sitting here. Don't worry, lieutenant, we know exactly what we are doing. Well, I knew what my assignment was in Burdock which is about 90 miles from London. But when I got on the plane I found out that all the men, and all the only female on the plane, were all pilots going to Pittsburgh, Germany. So I wound up going to Germany for almost a week TDY. And they said: What are you doing here? And I says: Ask that sergeant from New Jersey. So, well: Come back tomorrow, lieutenant, and we will get it straightened out. I went back the next day. And they decided to have some fun with me, they told me that I was going to Saudi Arabia. And I said: You can't send me there, I only got winter clothes with me. And so they finally corrected. They said: No, but you can't get back to England until the courier leaves on the weekend. So four days TDY in Germany that I just went around to Heidelberg, went to Munich and things like that, and then took the courier flight back to England. I was there for two years.

Lauren Smith:

What did you do in England?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was in charge of an orthopedic ward most of the time I was there.

Lauren Smith:

So this was during the late --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

This was in '55.

Lauren Smith:

So --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

'55 I went to England.

Lauren Smith:

So were they -- you were taking care of American soldiers?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes.

Lauren Smith:

Were there any --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

There weren't any combat-related things going on.

Lauren Smith:

So what kind of -- broken bones things?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

A lot -- every other airman over there owned a motorcycle, and so every other bed was a motorcycle accident. And so on my ward I was busy because of that reason. But we had a lot of dependents in there as well.

Lauren Smith:

Okay. Well, how was -- what did you do when you left the Air Force? What was your --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

When I left the Air Force, I wasn't -- I wouldn't have left the Air Force except at the time I became engaged to the man that I am presently married to. At that time nurses were not allowed to be married and be in the service. And so I couldn't, couldn't stay in. So I figured maybe this is my last chance until I got out. And so I got out. And I worked. My husband was from Iowa, so he went to school at the University of Iowa and I worked in the VA Hospital there for quite a while until we moved back to Connecticut. And then I worked in the VA Hospital until my sons were born. I wanted to go part time, and they wouldn't take part-time people there at that time. So I transferred over to Hartford Hospital where I worked until I retired.

Lauren Smith:

Well, do you keep up with your -- are you in a VSO now?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I was very active up in Connecticut in the VFW. I was a senior vice-commander there for three years. Haven't done much down here. I belong, but I don't get to go to the meetings like I used to go to, because I was very involved up in Connecticut. But this backed off a little bit down here. But the guys were really nice in this group. We went to parades and conventions and -- One thing I do remember though that I didn't tell you. When I was at Mitchell Air Force base, before I went to England, we were -- it was a good incident. We were asked to parade in New York City on Armed Forces Day. And that -- and the time when everybody went to a parade, there would be a half a million people on Fifth Avenue. And there were five nurses from St. Albyn's Hospital, navy nurses, and about twenty from over at Fort Dix, and there were five from Mitchell Air Force base. And we paraded down Fifth Avenue in front of the Fighting 69th Regimental Band. And, let me tell you, we got a hand. And we stayed in town. I was the only one from the New York area, so I knew my way around a little bit because I had worked there for a little bit before I went in the service. And every restaurant we went into we didn't spend a nickel. They bought our drinks, they bought our dinners, everything, just all day long. We just partied until about 4:00 in the morning.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, how nice. You deserved it. I am interested to know, how did your experience in the military affect your perspectives in subsequent wars that America has been involved in, that you were back in America during the Vietnam War?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes, I was.

Lauren Smith:

And as far as the Vietnam War is concerned in the '90s?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I think that was kind of a military fiasco. I had two or three good friends -- in fact our best man was killed in Vietnam. He was only over there six weeks and he was fired upon in his jet, and he ejected and his chute didn't open. And that is how he died. And it was just -- but I think the way the vets were treated when they came back was disgraceful. Now, when I came back, nobody paid any attention to me whatsoever. I got off the boat, I got a taxi, I went to the airport, I flew home, and that was about the end of it. But the Vietnam people really, I think, got a raw deal. But I don't -- I don't approve of these guys that took off to Canada. And as far as this war goes, I am 100-percent behind our troops, but I think the whole thing is a fiasco. And I think the quicker we pull out of there the better off we are going to be.

Lauren Smith:

Interesting. Yes. Well, is there anything else you would like to add or --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well --

Lauren Smith:

Impart upon --

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Nothing except that I would have liked to have remained in the military. If I hadn't chose to get married, I would have stayed in and whatnot, because I was -- intended to make a career of it. And there are times when I think to myself: That was a bad day, I wish I had stayed in.

Lauren Smith:

Oh. When were nurses allowed to marry?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

It wasn't until about two years after, after I did get out of the service that -- I stayed in the active reserves; and I was living in Iowa where my husband went back to school after we got married -- and I had to go for a two-weeks' active duty. And I was down in -- name escapes me at the moment -- in Missouri, near St. Louis, to do my two weeks of active duty down there. And I ran into two or three of the gals that were doing flight nursing that I had known in various other parts of the country. And I kind of think: Gee, I wish I had been able to stay in. Because at that time they were retaining nurses --

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

-- and letting them get married. Before that, the object was: You got married, so you are out.

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

And they saw they were losing so many nurses that they had to do something to correct it. And I think it was Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine who pushed the bill through allowing -- Another thing was that we lived in the barracks the same as the GIs do, we did not have any privacy at all. I mean, if you had a date, he came to the front door or you met him over at the club. You couldn't invite anybody in. And she got the military to allow little, like little apartments made out of the barracks where you had your bedroom area, but you had a little sitting, cooking area in there, like a small efficiency type of apartment type of thing. And that is what the nurses are getting into. So if they had a date and they wanted to bring them in, it was permissible. But they were not doing that when I was still in. It might have made a difference on my -- because the benefits outweigh, you know, getting out. And I have a niece who just got out, just retired four or five years ago. And she went in when she was 17 and she's got her whole life ahead of her yet. She has another career coming up.

Lauren Smith:

Right. Well, you have been fascinating.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, thank you. Oh, I know I haven't seen much in the line of any major activity like probably the gals from Vietnam did.

Lauren Smith:

What is that?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

That was presented to me here last year at the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

Lauren Smith:

Students and Citizens for the Korean War Certificate of Freedom.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

They had a --

Lauren Smith:

They did.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Yes -- a big ceremony here at the park. And all the Korean War veterans in the area were given this medal. And I have a certificate and combat ribbon from the Republic of Korea that I had served there during the war time.

Lauren Smith:

Would you ever like to go back as a tourist?

Kathryn M. Taylor:

I thought I would have had the chance last year, but by the time I found out I would have had the chance it was too late to make the arrangements, but -- because they sent a lot of veterans over last year. And I was kind of surprised -- disappointed I hadn't known about it until the last minute, because I would have gone.

Lauren Smith:

Well, thank you very much for contributing to the Veterans History Project.

Kathryn M. Taylor:

Well, thank you for asking me.

Lauren Smith:

And thank you for your service to our country and the world. (End of CD.)

 
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