Becoming an Army Nurse

Going Overseas

The Wards

Two Particular Patients

Military Food

Recollections

Prayer and POWs

Medication

The World Today

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Josephine Reeves was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April 1919. Growing up, Reeves attended the West Catholic Girls High school. In 1937 she attended the Philadelphia General Hospital for nurse training and graduated from the program in 1940. During the Great Depression her father was allowed to keep his job working for the City of Philadelphia, which limited family hardship compared to other families that she knew. The community she was raised in was tight knit and everybody tried to look out for one another. Her interest in nursing was sparked by a social club that she was in which required her to wheel patients from their wards to whatever church they were a part of. Two months after Pearl Harbor she began to feel more patriotic and joined the service. She could not meet Navy physical standards for nursing because she was too short and too skinny, so she decided to join the Army Nurse Corps. She was originally stationed at Fort George Meade. Six months in, her friend Melissa married a lieutenant, which forced Melissa to leave the Nurse Corps because you could not be married or have children as a nurse. She was then transferred to the 298th General Hospital in Bristol, England. The 1st Army was also in Bristol at the time. She was then assigned to move from the general hospital to an evacuation hospital on the frontline. Since she was young at the time, she was to trade places with an older nurse at the evacuation hospital, which was an order by an officer. After two weeks passed, she thought the officer was kidding but as soon as she said it, she was assigned to the evacuation hospital. Upon arrival, she encountered someone she knew from Fort Meade who turned out to be the chief nurse.

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Josephine Pescatore got to the evacuation hospital with nothing but a small handbag. She had no supplies like a mess kit or gas mask. The majority of things were provided for her during her time at the general hospital. Five days before D Day people frantically looked for a sleeping bag, canteen, and gas mask for her. Five days later she goes aboard a ship with 39 other nurses heading for Normandy. The ship captain did not like the fact that women would be on his ship. She was on a large Liberty ship which was meant to carry troops, tanks, and machinery. Tarps were set up to keep the nurses separated from the soldiers. The girls instantly commandeered the captain’s small bathroom. The sink was so small that it was tough for her to fit her hands in at the same time. She was assigned to quarters in the hull of the ship with nothing but a tarp separating her from 1000 G.I.’s to prevent fraternizing. Her bed was close to pipes which made her uncomfortable. She found entertainment talking to soldiers on passing ships. She could not get off the boat because they were taking important machinery to the soldiers on the battlefield. When it came time to leave the ship, she was worried about using the rope ladder because she had not been trained on how to go about properly descending. She had to get off because the ship was headed for England to get more troops. Reluctantly, she got on a Higgins boat. She realized that if she were to fall she would be crushed between the Liberty ship and the Higgins boat but she found comfort in knowing if she was able to survive descending the rope ladder that she could survive anything. She got in the boat and headed to the beach. On the beach, they were told to stay put because the area had not been cleared of mines. Once the mines were cleared she began helping set up a hospital.

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Josephine Pescatore landed on Omaha Beach. Upon landing, she noticed all the dead bodies. Some of them were in body bags and others were not. The situation was mass confusion. Some boys were buried in the sand and when Grave Registration came by, they would be in charge of getting them back to England for proper burial. This was the situation for awhile. But, with the coming tides a small part of a body might be exposed and the exposed area might be bloody. It was not something the group of nurses was expecting to see. But, upon this sight they realized that this really was war. She notes that the first scene in Saving Private Ryan is the best way to get an idea of what happened. Pescatore says she did not hear one complaint and cites Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation. She agrees with Brokaw and states that America had the finest group of men, soldiers, doctors, and nurses. Everybody was extremely dedicated in helping take care of each other. Everyone there was really young, away from their homes and family and without modern communication devices. Families would go for weeks without hearing from their loved ones and then possibly a telegram would show up from the War Department saying their loved one is dead. Pescatore was part of the post op and seriously ill ward. She had double amputations and injuries of that nature. Prior to this, she was helping another nurse in the combat fatigue ward. She says that the boys really were not all there. The nurses bathed them, gave them IVs, and Sodium Amytal so the soldiers could sleep and relax. She recalls a story when it was nighttime and a large man was out of bed walking straight at her. She yelled at the man to get back in bed, but he continued forward and then he said he was going to kill her. She showed the man her rank as an Army nurse and demanded that he go back to bed. She was trying to be as authoritative with man as best she could but the man told her that he knew she was a French woman sniper who was killing our boys because the Americans were getting rid of their German boyfriends. The French girls were getting furs, liquor, and diamonds from these German soldiers. Trying to get out of this predicament, under her breath she signals a man named Leonard who was the ward master and he tackled the man. The man was given medication and put to sleep but she always wondered why he thought about that. She did not realize that these French women snipers existed, but she realizes it was part of life there. Eventually, she became in charge of the post op and seriously ill ward and things would happen that one would not want to happen. For example, after a heavy rain the canvass tent she was in had ripped and she did not want these boys with fresh surgery bandages to get soaked. She and Leonard remedied this by cutting up extra tarps to place over the men. Curious soldiers would ask why they were doing such things and she would respond by telling them it was to keep them warmer. She says you give them a lame excuse because everything she said the soldiers would believe as God almighty. The injured soldiers loved her, never harassed her or questioned her about pain. The soldiers would say when it's time can I have some medicine Lieutenant? And she would say yes. The nurses carried Demerol in their pockets as well as syringes, along with paper and that is how they kept track of who received medicine. They could not write or chart every time they gave soldiers medication because they were taking care of too many patients. Often she would tell soldiers that they were not due for medication until 15 minutes passed and she would make sure to be back in 15 minutes. She knew those men were hurting because they had come in from battle, they had surgery, and were trying to get back to the world but still there were no complaints. She had 40 patients, but only 15 or 20 male urinals. It was difficult to keep them intact. Grudgingly, the soldiers would give up their urinals but would always tell her that they wanted the urinal back. They would empty, clean, and sterilize the urinals and then the nurses would give them back. They had to convince them that they would keep their word on what they were going to do. The soldiers were depending on these nurses.

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Josephine Pescatore remembers pot belly stoves at the end of the tent which kept the whole tent warm. One evening a group of men came in with long tubes. She asked them what they were doing and they said they were bringing in oil, which they were going to switch to. The men took the coal out but left the stove. The oil stoves never worked. The colonel was a good man, who was very conscious of what was going on. He asked her if she liked the new oil stove. She said no and explained to him that she would rather have the coal stove back. The men returned and put the coal stove back in. It did get cold and she wanted to make the patients as comfortable as possible. She recalls a time in Nijmegen, Holland where the 82nd and 101st had jumped in. Some were hit and taken to the first aid tents which were put up before the nurses arrived. The Germans came over and strafed the first aid tent even though it had the red cross on it. Some boys were hit twice. She remembers two men, Nick Patino [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] and John Kablinski [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. Kablinski was Catholic and there was a nun who worked in the unit. The nun did not speak English and the boys did not speak Dutch so they used sign language. The nun took a liking to Kablinski. He was very sick. His chest was gone, his intestines were gone, he had an amputation and his arms were broken but he never complained. One night he asked Pescatore if she could get the priest but she was not allowed to because it was the fourth of July and the Germans were only 1500 yards away from the hospital. The side of the hospital was blown out one time. The Germans continued to lob bombs. She went to get the priest anyway. She went to the building were the nuns were and got the priest then went back to the ward. The priest was with Kablinski for a half hour. Then Kablinski passed away. Later, Emildeen wanted Pescatore to ride in the hearse with her to the cemetery. They went to the military cemetery in Nijmegen, Holland. It was one of the most beautiful she had ever seen. Emildeen showed Pescatore where Kablinski and Patino were buried side by side which was unusual. They put flowers on the graves and shed a few tears. Later, Pescatore wrote to Mrs. Kablinski but she did not have Patino's home address. She told her that many months had passed since her husband’s death and wanted her to know that she took care of him and was with him at the last moment. Everything was peaceful under the circumstance and all he kept talking about was her and their three sons. Pescatore hoped Mrs. Kablinski would keep the letter and show it to their sons when they were old enough to understand about their dad. He was one of the most remarkable men she ever met. They corresponded about every six months for two years. After two years Pescatore stopped writing. That was the end of that friendship.

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Josephine Pescatore’s unit would leap frog with 44th Evac Hospital. One group would work while the other rested. They got Christmas time off and all got ready for a Christmas party. They thought everything was going to be great because they did not have any patients to take care of. They were just going to party. The colonel came by and told everyone to get to their wards and get ready because they were going to be busy. Pescatore went back to her post op ward. The casualties kept coming in. They were young boys who had only left the States a few months before and were already headed back to the states injured. The colonel asked Pescatore if there was anything she needed. She did not but the boys needed cheering up. She suggested moving the Christmas tree in the officer’s mess to the ward for her patients. It took four men to move the tree. The boys loved it. Pescatore had the greatest group of patients. They were young patients, not seasoned army people. They were young men who had been swept up in this turmoil of the Battle of the Bulge. Pescatore had one ward called death valley where patients were comatose. She fed them and kept them fresh and clean as the best she could. It was good work but it was hard because she could not see any results. They were just laying there. Pescatore wondered if they knew someone was helping them. There were 12 to 15 patients in this one ward. Pescatore would go to each patient and feed them through an NG tube. This was a nasal tube. She felt bad about this because they were so young. The soldiers would often tell her to give other patients their medicine because they needed it more. She told them that she would be the judge of who needs what. She was the boss. The food was not very good. Pescatore would go into the mess hall in the morning but she could not eat the food there. She would have a cup of coffee and a cigarette. The oatmeal would be too congealed and the powdered eggs were just not right. They would take tin containers with hot water underneath them to keep the food hot. They would take the container from the mess hall to the tent and then would put it on the ground and notify the people inside that the food was ready. Pescatore had to try and sell to the fresh post ops the congealed oatmeal and powered eggs that she could not eat. She would try to get the boys to eat by making a game of it. She would ask them to take a teaspoon full and she would do the same. They would take a bite, then she would take hers and tell them that it was good. She did what she could. The food is much better nowadays in the military. They are giving these boys decent meals because an army travels on its stomach. They would get things from farmers or would go through towns to find things like tomatoes and eggs. Pescatore remembers her first slice of white bread. The four nurses decided to toast the bread on the pot belly stove. The stove was too hot and they burnt the toast. There were no seconds. They would talk to the mess officer about getting seconds but were never successful. This toast incident was one of those things that happened that was big at the time. Pescatore has never eaten a slice of toast where she does not see that slice of toast that is so burnt. She had nothing to scrape it with. She had a mess kit but she did not pull those things out. Life was not all peaches and cream.

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Josephine Pescatore would do it all again tomorrow if she had the same kind of troops, which she is sure they are. Soldiers now are more seasoned than when she was in the war. Her group of nurses did their time in the Battle of the Bulge and a few small skirmishes before the war with Germany was over and everybody came home. There was talk about them being sent to Japan but the war was winding down so they did not go. She got out and married her love and they were married for 60 years before he passed away. Pescatore is proud to have known the boys and proud of what the Army Nurse Corps did for her. She is also proud of the citation she was given. It is something she cherishes. When she looks at it she thinks of the patients. It always brings tears to her eyes because the country lost so many young men. They were good men, like they are today. Everyone was different. They were from all parts of the United States but they became one when the war was there. They did not care where they were from, they all worked together and that is an admirable thing to do. That is what they are doing today too. There are a lot of vets today who are doing a lot of smoking. Her generation did not know about lung cancer. They were fighting breast cancer during her nurse training and we are still fighting breast cancer today. No one ever told them to stop smoking because it would hurt you. They were ignorant of that fact. A lot of them sustained themselves on coffee and cigarettes when they could not get the food that they wanted. The quartermasters did the best job they could. Her group had ambulances that could go over dirt roads but there were no roads. They took the young boys with broken limbs in these army ambulances over mud and bumps. The drivers would try to avoid bumps but there was nothing they could do. Nowadays we use helicopters. That is progress. She is amazed and thinks to herself that there are so many boys that got left in Europe who would be amazed too if they could have seen what was going on. It has been a long time since World War 2 but she does not regret helping those boys and she would do it again tomorrow. Pescatore heard about Pearl Harbor in her Philadelphia home. She thinks she heard it on the news while living at home with her parents. She and her friend Melissa were young and ready to conquer the world. They had no training. When she went into the Army Nurse Corps she was given a relative rank which meant she could not wear the army nurse uniform. She had a cap that was designed by Florence Nightingale which was the cap of Philadelphia General. The building was built in the 1860's. The cap has double frill and is patented so no one can copy it. They can copy one frill but not two. Now they do not wear nurse’s caps so that takes care of that. They were proud of that cap. They were proud of the caps because they were recognized as Philadelphia nurses. At one time it was the third hospital in the United States and at one time the largest. Pescatore’s first casualty was the man who threatened to kill her for being a French women sniper. She has a hard time remembering the casualties because there were so many at one time. She does remember a soldier with bright red hair who was a ladies’ man. He would often ask her jokingly if she was married. Pescatore recalls being out in a field with patients at full capacity when an ambulance pulled up with a tank crew. The entire tank crew was dead. She remembers Franklin Roosevelt being President and writing to her aunt, who was a big democrat. Pescatore and her aunt were upset about President Roosevelt’s death. She told her aunt that there were plenty of boys who died. She hated putting the dead bodies on the grass. The nurses ended up putting the bodies on G.I. blankets and a white sheet over the top while they waited for grave registration. There were around 40 to 45 bodies. She would try and line them up because she was going body to body and did not want to desecrate them by stepping on a hand or foot. She came to a body that she will never forget. The man had the brightest red hair and she has not seen anything like it since. He was burned completely like the rest of the guys that got caught in the tank. Even with the hair dyes available today nothing had duplicated that red hair. She was not able to tell what origin they were. Whether they were black or white she could not tell because the bodies were so burned. She would always cover them up and say a prayer.

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Josephine Pescatore prayed when Cardinal Spellman gave a talk to a large group of troops before she went overseas. Hundreds of people attended. He told them that he was in charge of them and that when they went into battle they might get hurt real bad and need a priest or minister to talk to about repenting. He asked them what to do in that situation and no one knew the answer. He gave them all a prayer for Catholics, Non-Catholics, and Jewish. It did not matter to him what religion they were. He told them to keep the prayer in a pocket. He advised if things got tough and there was no one around like a priest or rabbi to hear you while you lay dying to say that particular prayer to get into heaven. That gave them a sense of confidence. Pescatore would recite it to the boys she thought would not make it. It was a prayer of confidence and she thinks when people are really sick that it is a nice feeling that someone up there likes you. It was a prayer the Catholics had but it incorporated everything. It incorporated what you had done when you were young and what you were sorry for when you were older. She always wondered who used that prayer other than her. She thought that it was a wonderful gift to give. In the ward she worked in she would be in a position to use the prayer. She would tell patients that their religion did not matter but she was going to say a prayer for them. She does not know if it helped or if they even heard. It was their backup because it was tough to get a priest or rabbi near the patients because they were that sick. The clergymen were more with the men on the front lines. She thinks that maybe the boys did see their ministers on the front when they sustained injuries. Praying was just a simple thing to do. When Pescatore was a new nurse at Fort George Meade a group of women walked by who were accompanied by other nurses. The nurses were babbling away and she cannot describe them because she was so taken back. She asked the nurse in charge what had happened and was told that the women had been captured by the Japanese. She was told that the women were taken up into the mountains, chained to trees and molested. After a short period of time it became too much and they lost their mental ability, which was a way to get out of what was happening to them. Eventually, they were rescued and brought home. She assumes the women were headed for mental hospitals because they looked so terrible. She is almost certain the women were captured on Corregidor. It was a sad situation seeing these girls. When she saw them they were just being transported and not being admitted into the hospital. Pescatore remembers the men from the front that came to her. The men were in good condition because they had come from the front lines and they had not missed too many meals. It all depended on where their unit was and how long they had been fighting. Some of the men were emaciated. She remembers setting up a hospital near a dirt road after which she and her fellow nurses went to check out the countryside. She saw a group of men coming down the road. The men were wearing no clothes. They had escaped from a prison camp. She got blankets for them and took them to the hospital. The doctors examined them and gave them immediate care. One man had black teeth because they had rotted in this mouth so bad. All those men had severe health problems. They were evacuated to a general hospital immediately because the evac hospital could only do so much. She thinks eventually they got home and got the treatment they needed from different general hospitals that had dentists, doctors, and dieticians. She had heard about men being undernourished but she never expected to see it. The men had to be convinced that the nurses were American. They just kept looking at the nurses wondering what was going to happen next. Nobody talked about it afterward. It was an atrocity. Most of the patients on D Day were all in good shape. They had been eating well. As time went by the health of the men went down because they were not getting the rations they should. All they had were k rations until a kitchen was set up. Then they would use the mess kit for hot food like beans or soup.

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Josephine Pescatore remembers amputations and limbs that may require amputation. For medicine they used spiritus frumenti which was just whiskey. The medicine would be received from the pharmacy. When they were deciding whether to amputate or not they would give the patient spiritus frumenti. She would go over to the pharmacy officer and get a bottle and the doctor would order a shot or half a shot, two or three times a day. This was to get blood to circulate in the area of possible amputation. If the wound responded well to the medicine it meant the limb could be saved. The men only got this medication for a few days and if it did not work they may have to have surgery. Officers got liquor rations but the G.I's did not. The G.I's got there liquor from the countryside and towns. When a bottle was nearly empty they would divide it up so each soldier could get a sip. There was not much left because she was using it on the patients. She gave it to them because the hospital always had to move quickly. They had to take down the tents, mattresses, pillows, blankets, sheets, and medication chest. Her unit had to set up 20 different times. She would tell the pharmacy officer that she wanted a bottle of spiritus frumenti. The officer would complain because he just gave her a bottle two or three weeks before. He would ask her what she did with the bottle and she would tell him that she was giving it to the patients. She would ask if he wanted the patient’s name, address, and phone number in a sarcastic manner. She would threaten to talk to the ward officer and the pharmacy officer backed down. Pescatore kept Demerol in her front pocket with syringes and needles which would be illegal today. She also kept paper to keep track of the times people got shots. This was so she could tell soldiers when they could get their medicines again. That is how they did things. The patients did not need the pain medications as much as expected for someone fresh out of surgery. The boys were tough. That is not the way it is done now. Nobody ever thought of using the drugs. There were no drug problems in her unit that she knows of. It was a long time before they started to count Valium in the States. They used to hand Valium out like Aspirin in those days. Then they realized how potent it was which made them take count. She enjoys an occasional glass of wine. She drinks a glass of red wine before her dinner because she likes it and is something she has done for her entire life. After the war, she would drink wine with her husband. She would sit down at about four o'clock and have her glass of wine and they would talk about what had happened or what their plans were. At five o'clock she would get dinner while he watched the news. That was her life. It was quite, simple, wonderful life. That is why the couple lasted sixty years because they got along so well.

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Josephine Pescatore believes that it is important for future generations to know about World War 2. A lot of people do not know what happened to their fathers. Those fathers deserve recognition that they did not get. The boys on the beach alone died in the thousands. Those were all men who had families and children. It is a good idea to have museums. They are number one on her list. The only way people will know what happened is by going to the museums and seeing the different stories. The Army Nurse Corps did not get enough credit in her opinion. The Army Nurse Corps camped with the boys and did everything they had to. They ate out of mess kit, had duffle bags, used latrines, and had to use their helmets for everything. Things at a general hospital are a bit different but they still saw the aftermath of what happened prior to the arrival of the patients. She thinks that the soldiers did not get the credit they were due. The boys would have been in a better situation after World War 2 if they had what the boys today have which is a college education and money to buy a house. She cannot understand why these boys are unsatisfied or the number of suicides. The government is going to spend 50 million dollars to find out what is causing all these problems. She thinks you got to get doctors and put the uniform on them and put them down there with the boys to observe them. It would give the doctors some insight. It does not have to be a doctor. Anyone with knowledge of mental conditions could help the soldiers. They are going to spend this kind of money but they are spending it in the wrong place. They should spend it where it starts. These boys do not go in wanting to kill themselves. Pescatore thinks all these problems belong in the front lines where all this is happening. There are commanding officers that can pick the boys who need help. They know the boys have changed a lot mentally. It goes back and forth for six months and then they get to go see their family. There are women who cry because they have not seen their new baby or the baby is two months old and they have not yet seen the father. They did not do that in World War 2. They had no time to come back and forth to see their families. They did not know how long the war was going to take and they had no idea when they would get back or if they would get back. They expect more than what they should today in that respect. She suggests that kids go to school and get the best education. It does not have to be college. Get a profession. This idea of getting married at 16 is no good. It is too young. Pescatore talked to her friend Mar who married a guy six months after she met him. She had a bad marriage. Everything was downhill. You can go ahead and get married. You do not necessarily need to work but with the way the world is now. She thinks the mother should stay more at home and raise the children. There would be a better handle on the children. She does not think the mothers are doing what they should. Let the children grow up and behave themselves. She had a good family life. Her mother was home. She saw the children come home from school. They went out after school which was alright because they know where they are going. Now these mothers are working and do not know what their children are doing. They are missing the home life. They do not have a home life and that is very important for a family. In order to have a family you have to have a home life. You have to have a start and when you are 16 or 17, you have no idea. You think sex is the only thing in life. Sex is a part of it but it is not the only thing. It is about sitting down with people. People have different opinions. Pescatore was married for 60 years. She and her husband had different opinions. When you do not have an opinion you keep quiet. That is her opinion.
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