Early Life

Becoming an Army Nurse

Wartime Nursing Experiences


Antoinette Rinaldi [Annotator’s Note: maiden name] Underwood was born into a large Italian, Catholic family in 1920 in Millbrook, New York. She grew up in that area. Her parents were born in Italy. They came to the United States for a better way of life. She was the youngest of the eight children. Though the Depression affected many families, her father had a green thumb and grew sufficient vegetables for his family. He worked in other gardens for more food for the family. There was not a lot of money, but there was plenty of food. She graduated from high school and immediately entered nursing school in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was affiliated with Catholic University which had a great program. The program and subjects were difficult for Underwood since she was not scientifically oriented. She preferred courses in English and languages. She passed her nursing course work and then went to Albany to pass state examinations. It took about three days for the practical and written exams. She received her diploma as a registered nurse. She went into a hospital as a supervisor of a pediatric ward. A senior nun provided her with the news when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Underwood was startled by the information. Her brother had been inducted into a year’s service starting in the previous January. He was supposed to leave the service after a year, but, with the attack, he was further trained then sent to Africa. He was in the war from the very beginning. He fought through Africa, Italy and then France. Underwood registered for the Army immediately after Pearl Harbor.


Antoinette Underwood signed up for the Army a day or two after Pearl Harbor. She had to go to West Point for an interview. Like all nurses, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army. She was based at Fort Jay, New York. She had to take care of ordinary illnesses the soldiers contracted or injuries they sustained. She applied for overseas duty but was sent to California instead. She was on the ward when a charge nurse asked her if she was from Fort Jay. She said that she was. The supervisor said she would not send Underwood to the South Pacific. Instead, she was going to Corvallis, Oregon where a hospital was being established. At the time, Underwood did not know how significant that assignment was. It was only later that she realized the benefit of being assigned to Oregon instead of the Pacific. The malaria and tropical medications for the South Pacific would have made that situation very difficult. After a time at Corvallis, she requested overseas duty again. She traveled to Europe by ship. The voyage was fine even though there was an awareness of German U-boats [Annotator’s Note: submarines] looking for American shipping. Underwood’s ship arrived in Ireland then the nurses were sent to Wales. They were billeted with English families. Those families were wonderful. The nurses were then sent to the Liverpool area where they opened two hospitals. The facilities had previously been outfitted but needed to be brought to a functioning stage. The nurses were housed in a barracks with limited heat. England was cold and damp in the morning. The women alternated getting up first to get wood from outside and then light the heater. She hated being the first up. The nurses had some opportunity for liberty in town. The local folks were very welcoming and friendly. The buzz bombs [Annotator’s Note: German V1 rocket bombs] were a concern. The women learned to live with the danger. When Underwood and a nursing friend were on leave, they found a nice hotel with a comfortable room and bed. When the manager told them to evacuate to the basement to avoid an incoming bomb attack, they refused. They decided to stay just where they were in that comfortable bed and room. It all worked out because they survived the bombing.


Antoinette Underwood and the hospital staff [Annotator's Note: of the 129th General Hospital] knew an invasion was imminent [Annotator’s Note: the Normandy D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944]. The staff did not know when the invasion would occur. When Underwood received a call from her brother, who was also in England, she knew the invasion was to occur soon. They were slated to get together for lunch but her brother called the night before and said he could not join her. He was restricted to his camp. That gave her the hint that the invasion was to start soon. Her brother had been in England for quite a while. He became close to an English girl. Underwood received a letter from the girl. She regrets today that she never kept the girl’s return address. Her brother died in the Battle of the Bulge. Underwood wishes that she could have communicated more with the English girl and even welcome her into the family for the relationship she shared with her deceased brother. Underwood’s husband was also overseas during the war. While she was in France, someone tapped her shoulder. It was her husband. They had only a few hours before having to return to their respective units. They just had time to share a dinner together, but it was a positive experience to run into him during the war. The hospital in Liverpool where Underwood performed her nursing duties had been alerted that the wounded from the invasion would be sent to them for treatment. They were prepared for it, but the action was very hectic when the wounded started arriving. Nevertheless, the injured men were well taken care of despite the staff having to work long hours. The corpsmen that assisted them were invaluable. Some men would come in with a P on the forehead if they had been given penicillin previously. If morphine had been administered, they had an M on their forehead. They were either treated at the hospital or sent on for further assistance. They might have to be sent home. Underwood worked in a general hospital. After Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, it was apparent that the tide was changing. With Patton [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton] making progress, it was obvious the Germans could not succeed in the Battle of the Bulge. Underwood resented the Germans for launching that battle because of the hopelessness of their cause and the fact that her brother was lost in the combat. Underwood also had a brother in the South Pacific. Besides her husband, there were three siblings from the Rinaldi family [Annotator’s Note: Underwood's maiden name is Rinaldi] in the military during the war. Underwood had mixed feelings with the end of the war in Europe. She was glad the fighting was over but sad because her brother had been lost in combat so near to the end of the war. Even though Underwood had sufficient points to return to the United States, she knew she was going to the South Pacific because that conflict was still persisting. By the time Underwood returned to the United States to prepare for transfer to the Pacific, the war ended and she did not have to go. She was happy the had war ended. She was discharged and returned home to New York. She attended Catholic University on the GI Bill. Her husband came home shortly afterward and went to Berkley. She joined her husband there where he completed his course work and received his Masters degree. He also used the GI Bill to complete his education. Her memory of the Normandy invasion focuses on the skies being filled with aircraft and the seas being full of ships. Both were carrying troops toward France. She also remembers returning to her unit when her aircraft had problems. They landed in a Canadian airfield. The men gave up their barracks so that she could have it for a nap and shower. She was there for a week. The Canadians were wonderful. Underwood finally caught a plane back to her unit. That is something that would not be done now but was the case at that time. Underwood has visited The National WWII Museum. It provides a good view of the big picture of the war. Personnel like her were only a very small part. People today do not understand what the war was about. Some young people have never even studied the war. That surprised Underwood when she encounter that.

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