History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

JoAnn Person committed herself to Army Nurse Corps

The scope of violence and tragedy in World War II defies description. Not until "Saving Private Ryan" did Hollywood really put aside inhibitions about showing all that. The honesty, ironically, may have helped kill off the WWII combat movie. When I was a kid, I think it was just understood how gruesome much of the conflict was.
Latheria "JoAnn" Person flew over Nagasaki soon after the infamous atomic bomb was dropped there. The Hiroshima bomb was more famous. Hiroshima was the first and it taught us that we'd better restrain our human impulse of conflict, lest civilization be wiped out. We learned to a degree. But I grew up with Viet Nam as a most unfortunate conflict engulfing humanity.
JoAnn Person departed from this life on December 3, 2013. She became part of that immense wave of Greatest Generation members exiting into the next life. The name "Latheria" was from her ancestors. Everyone called her "JoAnn." She spent the last five years of her life at West Wind Village.

Lives about to be transformed
The Greatest Generation saw headlines after Pearl Harbor that indicated to them their lives would change. JoAnn recalled a report in the New York Times about Congress' impending legislation to draft Registered Nurses. JoAnn wasn't going to wait. She enlisted. She was a 1943 graduate of Mercy College of Nursing in San Diego CA. She was working at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City when she saw that news report.
She was inducted at Camp Carson CA and underwent three weeks of basic training. She then received five days leave. She learned she was going to be sent overseas. 
JoAnn was among several hundred nurses on a hospital ship that pulled out of Long Beach CA en route to Hawaii. In Hawaii they were separated into groups. Some were to stay in Hawaii while others went to various South Pacific hospitals. JoAnn underwent three weeks of "jungle training," learning to attend to the various types of wounds and tropical diseases. She was put on "alert," not knowing where her service would take her.
Finally word came: JoAnn was deployed to the 227th Station Hospital in Guam and Okinawa.
JoAnn recalled the heat and humidity as overbearing.
"We perspired constantly," she recalled in the book of war recollections put out by our Historical Society, "and soon noticed the mold on most things."
JoAnn was taken to the 68th Field Hospital. She explained that such a hospital was "completely portable." She described her nurses' quarters as one 14-foot tent with a dirt floor, a folding army cot, a blanket and a mosquito net for the cot. "Thick mud" was part of the environment. She was assigned to a surgical ward which was a double-pitched tent with 40 army cots. It was a triage center.
"The care was good but somewhat crude," JoAnn recalled in the Historical Society book, called "The '40s, a time for war and a time for peace."
Nurses were called on to "invent and improvise" at times. Obviously she saw a lot that was depressing. She noted that some "emotional distance" was necessary - not easy. The doctors left much of the daily care to the discretion of nurses. JoAnn was struck by how the patients looked after each other. Everyone appreciated and was respectful toward the nurses.
All the grim aspects didn't stand in the way of occasional laughter and fun, JoAnn recalled. Nurses would gather the ingredients for fudge sometimes, and the soldiers loved it.
  
The Okinawa campaign: large in scope, brutal
Okinawa is a famous place associated with World War II, or shall we say infamous. The battle of Okinawa was code-named "Operation Iceberg." It was fought in the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa, and involved the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater. It spanned April until mid-June of 1945.
After a long campaign of island-hopping, the Allies were approaching Japan and planned to use Okinawa, located just 340 miles from the mainland, as a base for air operations with the anticipated invasion of the mainland. Four Army divisions and two Marine divisions fought on the island group.
The combat was hellish, making us wonder how humankind can descend to such a level. The battle of Okinawa came to be called "typhoon of steel." This reflected the sheer ferocity of fighting. The Japanese unleashed kamikaze fighters. The Allied efforts included naval and amphibious resources and tactical air forces. The casualty statistics were the most tragic of the Pacific Theater.

Dad hits the nail on the head
My late father Ralph E. Williams was in the Pacific Theater as gunnery commander and was fortunate enough to survive, like JoAnn. I remember when Dad and I were watching a WWII documentary on TV, and there was a scene with some Japanese leader making a formal speech leading up to the war. I remember because Dad uttered one word, in disgust: "politics." He left it at that. Here's the significance: My father wasn't indicting the Japanese people for all that happened, rather he saw the political apparatus as the culprit. People are people.
The Allies had 14,009 deaths at Okinawa - incredible. There were 65,000-plus Allied casualties of all kinds. How can one even get a grip on the enormity of this? The number of Japanese killed or committing suicide, along with the toll on the natives, were similarly jaw-dropping. I hate to even keep reciting the numbers.
No wonder the Greatest Generation spoiled their own children after the war. They were young in a time when the specter of war made the future completely uncertain. They already had dealt with the Great Depression. They readily had children after the war. Their "boomer" children grew up in prosperous times but there was conflict with Viet Nam an unnecessary distraction.
I think most boomers feel their parents could have done more to try to influence the the government to withdraw from Viet Nam. But those were Cold War times, times of paranoia and fear about things that largely turned out to be boogeymen. Communism imploded on its own.
We have to ask ourselves: Would the Axis powers have imploded on their own? I guess there was urgency about the possibility of the Nazis using the most developed weaponry. The Nazis did get into rocketry.
There was always doubt about whether the Japanese empire could get enough resources to continue their conquests. Wasn't the Pearl Harbor attack prompted by the feeling of being pinched with resources? Well, the Japanese certainly learned there'd be hell to pay. Indeed, "the sleeping giant" of the U.S. was awakened and "filled with a terrible resolve."
It was a blessed resolve of course. The tragedy was the price paid for good to triumph over empire-building. The Japanese paid that price dearly as the war arrived at its closing stages. The bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.
"The day the first atomic bomb was dropped was a day and night of great confusion," JoAnn recalled. "There were no communications, and nothing about a bomb. No one knew what was happening, and the rumor was the Japanese were trying to retake the island."
Nurses were escorted to a bomb shelter, actually an Okinawan tomb on the side of a hill.
Everyone went through an episode called "the false peace," JoAnn recalled. Then came Nagasaki, whereupon "the word finally came through: the war was over.
"Then there was a real crazy celebration."
  
War leaves us pondering questions
Had there been no atomic bomb, to what extent would there be an invasion of the Japanese mainland? There is tons of speculation about this. How much more tragedy and deaths could each side absorb? What on earth was Japan trying to accomplish? Or the Nazis? Did they really think the conflict would eventually just wind down and they could relish their empires? The Nazi leaders were going to be sought for prosecution. To the extent the Japanese abused or killed prisoners, their leaders too would have to be held accountable.
The Axis leaders were never going to live comfortably in a world restored to peace. Many of their leaders had to realize they were simply going to have to fight to the death.
Why? What was it that possessed mankind in the years leading up to World War II? What explains the behavior at the "rape of Nanking?" Why was human life so brittle?
JoAnn Person was committed to the profession of healing. She did all she could in her MASH unit. Her generation was taken from a placid pre-war routine into a conflagration defying description. Military service took men and women from small towns and large cities across America and transported them around the world. After the war, the veterans including those intrepid nurses took advantage of the increased education opportunities provided for them by the government.
Indeed, WWII changed American society irrevocably. It redefined the status and opportunities of the professional nurse.
The U.S. Army Nurse Corps listed fewer than 1,000 on its rolls at the time of Pearl Harbor. How quaint. It's sad of course that peace could not have prevailed. Sinister forces around the globe nixed that. The Japanese struck Pearl Harbor where 82 Army nurses were stationed around Hawaii, serving at three Army medical facilities. Six months after that attack, there were 12,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps ranks.
In all there were over 59,000 American nurses serving in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during the war.
Nurses in the war served closer to the front lines than ever before. They served under fire in field hospitals and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and ships, and as flight nurses on medical transport planes.
  
Nagasaki bomb more powerful than the first
Nagasaki was an exclamation point on WWII. That fateful day was August 9, 1945, and the time was 11:02 a.m. The original target was Kokura but this city was obscured by clouds! Amazing how fate operates. So, Nagasaki was chosen, an important port in the vicinity.
The bomb, called "Fat Man," was dropped, and the north part of the city was destroyed in less than a second. This was a plutonium bomb, a type having been detonated only once previously, as a test in central New Mexico.
"Fat Man" killed 73,884 and injured 74,909. It was actually somewhat more powerful than "Little Boy" which was dropped on Hiroshima. More powerful it was, but it actually did less damage than the Hiroshima bomb because of Nagasaki's more uneven terrain.
The pace of reconstruction in Nagasaki was slow. Today it's the capital and largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan.
"A few days after the war ended, we were told be be prepared for some very unusual patients coming to our hospital," JoAnn Person recalled. "They were liberated prisoners of war coming from Japan. We were to prepare ourselves emotionally for what we were about to see and for whom we were to care."
It was grim. The liberated prisoners were emaciated and suffered from diseases, mostly tuberculosis. The nurses cried and so did the generals, JoAnn reported.
  
Brainerd Guard unit bears brunt
The toll in war's aftermath included the National Guard unit of Brainerd MN, my mother Martha's hometown. The Brainerd unit entered war with fanfare from their hometown, amidst festivities including the high school band with Mom playing trumpet. The unit was in fact doomed to misery. It was sent to the Philippines. The Japanese (called "Japs" or "Nips" in denigration at the time) rolled over U.S. forces, leaving General MacArthur in the wake of this to make his pledge to "return." He did, but only after tremendous sadness and misery.
The prisoners freed by the Japanese at the end of WWII were "ravenously hungry," according to JoAnn. She and the other nurses were ready to go home, to be spelled by others. But there was no such news forthcoming. They were headed to Korea with the Army of Occupation.
"On our flight to Korea, our pilot circled over the remains of Nagasaki," JoAnn reported. "We were all thankful the war had ended without an invasion taking place. We were happy that many lives had been saved - possibly our own."
In Korea the nurses had to deal with smallpox. The longing to go home grew. JoAnn got injured on duty. In the book she doesn't specify her injury, but it was sufficient for her to be sent home as a patient. She sailed, part of a passenger load that included 3,000 soldiers and 16 nurses, on a ship from Korea to Seattle, a journey requiring 14 days which seemed really long.
JoAnn was hospitalized for four months in Tacoma WA.
She met Lyle Person at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. She got her degree in psychology in 1949. She and Lyle were married a year earlier. She worked for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune in health services for two years. Then she came to Morris to farm with Lyle, plus she worked for five years in the Morris Public Schools as school nurse, and for many years at Morris Medical Center, SCMC, West Wind Village and Hoffman Good Samaritan Center.
What a "Greatest Generation" life! She was an only child, like me.
I will never forget the service veterans with whom I interacted when I was with the Morris newspaper. They readily pop into my memory, people like Fritz Spohr, John Barber and Melvin Reynolds. The veterans organizations are a dynamic presence in Morris. That's what these people are all about: commitment and goodness. Let us never forget their gentle and reassuring presence.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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