2nd Lt. Ozzie Nelson, an ‘Army nurse attached to the 6th Field Hospital, sailed for Europe abroad the ocean liner SS Ile de France late in World War II. It was the experience of a lifetime.
The year before she had graduated from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Nelson was trained to be an operating room nurse.
The 20-year-old nurse went aboard the French ship at Boston. That in itself was an experience.
“When we got to the ramp to board the boat there was an enlisted man standing there and he handed me a lemon,” she said. “I said, ‘What’s this for?’ They gave it to you so you wouldn’t get seasick.”
Nelson chucked it over the side as she got aboard the ship. When she looked down at the water at dockside all she could see was an ocean of lemons tossed there by others who didn’t think much of the Army’s remedy for seasickness.
What she recalls about the trip over was having to get up in the middle of the night because the liner’s crew had picked up a German U-boat in the area.
“When the alarm went off we had to pile out of our bunks get our Army clothes on and then put on our life jackets,” Nelson said. “I had trouble getting the jacket on properly and got chewed out by a major because of it.”
The other thing she recalls about the trip over was that there were eight nurses sailing aboard the Ile de France with thousands of servicemen. Any time one of the nurses left their cabin they were accompanied by a personal guard who protected them from thousands of G.I.s aboard the liner.
Thy arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland and immediately left by train for England. Eventually Nelson was sent to Essex to set up an operating room for the 6th Field Hospital. It was from there she spent much of her time in the operating room working on 8th Air Force servicemen as an operating room nurse.
“The worst thing that happened to me is when you went to see how a patient who had been in the operating room earlier in the day was doing and he was dead,” she said.
At one point she volunteered to fly to France with a dozen or so other Army nurses to pick up seriously wounded servicemen and fly them back o England for improved medical care. They flew in B-24 bombers and took out four seriously injured patients in stretchers put in the bomb bay.
While serving in England the 82nd Airborne Division came to town. Her brother was a captain in the 82nd. She found out where he was and called his unit.
“‘This is Capt. Oswald,” the voice on the other end of the phone said. “’This is Lt. Oswald,’ I told my brother,” she said.
“‘My God, where are you?’ he said when he told me I realized we were across the street from each other.”
They got together for a few beers for the first time in three years. He had gone to war in 1942 and by then it was 1945. They had a great reunion.
Following V-E Day (Victory in Europe) Nelson sailed for home aboard a victory ship.
“What a ride that was. The ship would go up and down,” she said. “When I got back to Fort Dix, N.J. and getting discharged they offered to make me a major if I would stay in the service. I decided to decline their offer.”
Later she went to work as a nurse for the Veterans Administration.
“I ended up working for a huge VA hospital in Providence, R.I. I retired as a nursing supervisor in 1983 when I was 62,” she said.
“They were bringing computers into the hospital and I wasn’t interested in computers, so I retired,” Nelson recalled. “Funny thing, my son and daughter-in-law are both IBM executives. They think I should learn to use a computer, but I told them, ‘No thank you.’”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, June 21, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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