Captain Viola McConnell and the Korean War

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces attacked South Korea in an attempt to reunify the country.

Korean War headlines

Though thousands of women served in the Army Nurse Corps at the time, over 2000 of them in the Pacific region, only one, Captain Viola McConnell happened to be in Korea on June 25. She had remained at Camp Sobinggo, near Seoul, working at its dispensary and advising the newly created Korean Army Nurse Corps.

Captain McConnell took responsibility for more than 600 evacuees , accompanying them from Seoul to Japan on board a Norwegian freighter.  She returned to Korea and worked with the 24th Infantry Division, caring for and helping evacuate its wounded soldiers. McConnell was later awarded the Bronze Star for these actions, including an Oak Leaf Cluster for her work with the American nationals she assisted on their way to Japan.

Fifty-seven nurses arrived in Pusan on July 5, and they established first aid stations and hospitals. Within days, some were assigned to MASH units, bringing them closer to combat areas. Before the end of that first summer of the war, over 100 army nurses were serving in Korea. They accompanied the troops that landed at Inchon in September, and they advanced and retreated from the Yalu. Below is Captain Sylvia Pavolvich with the 8209th MASH.

8209th MASH CPT Pavolvich

Air force and navy nurses also served in Korea. By the time the war ended with an armistice in 1953, sixteen nurses had lost their lives.




Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day

American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.

This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.

Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.

(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)

A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.

On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

[This post originally went up for Memorial Day 2016.]


Getting Ready for Memorial Day

From the blog’s archives from last year:

We’re on the downside of May. This is always my favorite, favorite time of year. It marks my wedding anniversary. It means the end of another academic year. It means warm weather and the promise of even warmer, sunnier days–so welcome after the long Wisconsin winter.

Memorial Day kicks off summer. It’s an odd marker. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to honor those who died during the Civil War, is about remembering members of the military who died in service to their country. It became a federal holiday in 1971, and its observance was moved to the last Monday of May.

The women I wrote about in Angels of the Underground were not in the military. They didn’t die during World War II; they didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice. Horrified by the number of Americans and Filipinos who died during the battles of Bataan and Corregidor, who perished along the Death March, and succumbed to diseases in POW camps, they did whatever they could to minimize additional loss of life.

On this Memorial Day, remember those men.

Mothering in Wartime

Motherhood brings a series of rewards and challenges. And that’s under normal circumstances.

Image result for painting of mother with children

There have been times when mothering has been made even more challenging because of uncontrollable external forces. In January 1942, weeks after the United States entered World War II, Japanese troops occupied Manila, the capital city of the Philippine Islands, an American colony.

Japanese head into Manila 1942

Within days, they rounded up and interned thousands of Americans living in and around Manila, including women and children. For the most part, the internees fended for themselves. This put an additional strain on the women who had children to mother: separated from their husbands, deprived of servants, forced into communal living arrangements, scrounging for food. Read more about their experiences here:

PIP cover

This Mother’s Day, Give the Gift of History

If you’ve always given flowers and candy on Mother’s Day, why not start a new tradition this year? Books. Specifically books about women in the past who’ve done spectacular things. There’s so much to choose from. A recent release that’s already been made into a Hollywood blockbuster:

Image result for hidden figures book

Or to go along with the queen-for-a-day theme often associated with Mother’s Day:

Image result for rival queens nancy goldstone

How about a nun’s story?

Image result for esther wheelwright

Or the story of the woman who founded the Girl Scouts?

Image result for juliette gordon low biography stacy cordery

Or an under-appreciated writer:

Image result for constance fenimore woolson biography

And of course, there’s always the unusual war stories:

Image result for angels of the underground

Happy Mother’s Day 2017.