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The Sound of Wings

by Josephine Plummer Lopatto ©2013, Paperback, ISBN: , 176 pp
 

Josephine is a woman—one of those feisty and confident women of the 1930s and 1940s—who as a nurse courageously volunteered to go to war to help soldier and sailors to survive, to live to return to their families.

The memoir The Sound of Wings: A WWII Navy Nurse in the Pacific should be read to gain a better understanding of WWII and the nurses who served with such distinction. Josephine’s WWII story will illuminate and inspire readers, adults and students alike. She understates the dangers that she and the other nurses confronted on those hot and humid Pacific islands, but it is clear that they lived through some harrowing experiences with courage, humor, and faith.

Foreword i

Prologue iii

One December 7, 1941 1

two Reporting for Duty 4

Three Philadelphia Naval Hospital 6

Four Ward 3D 10

Five Closer to the Pacific 12

Six Balboa Park 14

Seven The Stomach Ward 16

Eight Recreation 18

Nine Anchors Aweigh 22

Ten White Christmas 26

Eleven Sailing the Pacific 29

Twelve Japanese Submarines 31

Thirteen Brisbane 35

Fourteen Seabees and The Pope 38

Fifteen Kay Converts 40

Sixteen Phil and Penicillin 42

Seventeen Taps 45

Eighteen “Baggy Pants” 54

Nineteen Hunger and Disease 58

Twenty Coping 60

twenty-one Atrocities of War 62

twenty-two Homeward Bound 66

twenty-three Arcadia 75

Contents

the sound of wings

twenty-four Naval Air Development 81

twenty-five Peace 84

twenty-six Love 85

Epilogue 88

Timeline 90

Works Cited 92

Endnotes 93

Maps 132

Photographs 135

About the Author 160

On Sunday, December 7, l941, the United States of America was the victim of a sneak attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The place—the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, in the Hawaiian Islands.2 The date—a date which will live in infamy!

Just before 8:00 on the morning of December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes struck the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack caused overwhelming damage and destruction: The Japanese destroyed nearly twenty American naval vessels, including five of eight battleships, and almost two hundred airplanes. More than 2,000 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines died in the attack, and another 1,000 were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan; Congress approved his declaration. Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States, and again Congress responded with a declaration of war against Germany and Italy.

The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor has been called one of the “great defining moments in history.” The United States Navy’s battleships were removed as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire’s southward expansion in the Pacific. America, unprepared and considerably weakened, was propelled into the World War II. However, the shock and outrage triggered by this unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor united a previously divided nation, resulting in a total commitment to victory in World War II.

The Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbor, is depicted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Americans, incensed at the attack, were indeed resolved to fight back. Hundreds of thousands volunteered to serve in the military.

Nurses also enlisted. According to Judith Bellafaire, Chief Historian of the Women in Military Service, six months after Pearl Harbor, over 12,000 nurses reported for duty in the Navy and Army Nurse Corps. In the Pacific, Navy nurses were the first American women to be sent to care for the wounded from the long Guadalcanal Campaign (Bellafaire).3 Other nurses were stationed in places such as New Caledonia, the Solomons, New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, Coral Sea, Guam, Saipan, Leyte, Samar, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa (Bellafaire).

Judith Bellafaire describes the nurses’ sacrifices for the war effort:

The nurse in the Pacific theater performed her tasks efficiently, compassionately, and courageously whether she was caring for casualties in the field or patients evacuated from the front lines. These nurses prevailed over dangers and difficulties not experienced by nurses in other theaters. They became ill with malaria and dengue fever; experienced the rigors of a tropical climate; tolerated water shortages; risked kamikaze attacks; adapted to curfews, fenced compounds, and armed escorts; and often dealt with medical corpsmen’s hostility.4Nurses in the Pacific demonstrated their ability to overcome adversity and had reached the front lines of a uniquely dangerous theater before the end of the war. . . . These veteran nurses brought home with them valuable skills and experiences, increasing their professional status and self-esteem. (28-31)

I met Josephine Plummer Lopatto, the author of this memoir, The Sound Of Wings, though her daughter Claire, an assistant dean at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey where we both work. We were chatting one day and Claire mentioned that her mother had gone to Chester High School in Pennsylvania.1 I was excited to hear this because I had grown up in Chester but had never met anyone else from Chester.

Chester, when Josephine and I were growing up, was a beautiful town with lovely homes, trees, museums, libraries, parks, and shops. Chester was a thriving town during WWII because of the shipyards on the waterfront in Chester. In fact, one of my aunts was a “Rosie the Riveter,” in the Chester Sun shipyard.

At some point in the sixties, the town began to decline. Residents fled to the suburbs as did businesses. The Chester shopping area was adversely affected by the new malls in the suburbs.

Chester came to have such a terrible reputation that when I was in my twenties when people asked me where I was from, I would tell them Delaware County. I was ashamed of Chester. Even today when Chester makes the news it is for crime—the most homicides or for the failure of its schools. Chester High School was recently taken over by the state. But this was not the case when Josephine Plummer and I were growing up.

As I matured, I came to embrace my hometown. Chester had been a lovely city, a city that had provided homes, peaceful neighborhoods, and jobs for up-and- coming immigrants and migrants.

I am honored and delighted to be involved in Josephine’s memoir project not only because she is a Chester “gal” but also because she was a nurse in the Pacific during WWII. I remember my Uncle Tony telling us stories about his experiences on a battleship in the Pacific. But he was a man and this was expected of him.

Josephine is a woman—one of those feisty and confident women of the 1930s and 1940s—who as a nurse courageously volunteered to go to war to help soldier and sailors like my uncle survive, to live to return to their families.

The memoir The Sound of Wings: A WWII Navy Nurse in the Pacific should be read to gain a better understanding of WWII and the nurses who served with such distinction. Josephine’s WWII story will illuminate and inspire readers, adults and students alike. She understates the dangers that she and the other nurses confronted on those hot and humid Pacific islands, but it is clear that they lived through some harrowing experiences with courage, humor, and faith.

Maryann McLoughlin

The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey - 2013

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