Muscatine County, Iowa



Her story told by her longtime friend, Charlene Hixon, Iowa City, Iowa, August 3, 2011

First Lieutenant Doris Irene Meyers, the daughter of Gustav “Gus” Meyers and Anna Geirse Meyers, was born 18 November 1920 at home in Pike Township, about 4 miles northeast of Nichols in Muscatine county, Iowa.

Doris’ education began at the Adams school, a one room country school about 3 miles east of Nichols – grades 1 through 8. From there she went to Nichols High School, graduating with the Class of 1939. At that time there were no school buses to transport country girls and boys to town to school. So Doris’ father got a Model A Ford, and he allowed Doris to drive her brother and herself to town to high school. Of course Doris picked up all the kids in the neighborhood, too.

All she ever wanted to do after school was to be a nurse. She talked to Dr. V. O. Muench, family doctor, about the possibility. He encouraged Doris. Her mother thought all the shots she had to have were not necessary – so much so that she told Doris she would not pay for them. When Doris talked to Dr. Muench, he told her that he would give her the shots; Doris said, “What will Mom say?” And Dr. Muench said, “She doesn’t have to know.” He gave her the shots and did not charge her for them.

Doris began her nurse’s training at St Luke’s hospital in Davenport, starting in September 1939. She received her R. N. degree in September 1942. At the completion of her training, she was employed at St. Luke’s hospital in Davenport. She was assigned to do mostly medical work.

Three girls from St. Luke’s, including Doris, decided to become Army nurses. They went to Camp Grant, Illinois to sign up. They were sent back to Davenport until there were enough volunteers to form the 31st General Hospital unit. Her family approved her action.

She finally received orders to report to O’Reilly General Hospital at Springfield, Missouri on 17 February 1943. There she was sworn in and received her uniforms – dress blues and white uniforms to wear in the hospital while working. This was TDy – Temporary Duty – and she remained there until she received orders to proceed to 31st General Hospital at Camp Carson, Colorado, on 7 July 1943. This hospital was located at the Denver General Hospital. It was here the girls received their basic training – the same basic military training that the men received with the exception that they were not given guns. They learned to march in formation, the history of their service and much more. This was their preparation for serving overseas.

    “We were the first nurses ever to go through the infiltration course for real. A lot of GIs were on the course at the same time. We were on our stomachs under live machine gun fire and barbed wire. I was more worried about rattle snakes. None of us would admit to the men on the course that we were chicken and afraid, but I was afraid.”
On 12 October 1943 the group left Camp Carson by train on four Pullman cars. They took three days to reach Camp Stoneman in California. Stoneman was located at Pittsburg, California, about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. It was a major staging area in World War II. Here they had another physical and got shots needed for the south Pacific. They were issued olive drab uniforms. They packed their dress blues and hospital whites in boxes and those uniforms were sent home. They went through the gas chamber – to see that their gas masks didn’t leak. They were loaded into trucks called “six by six” meaning six women seated on each side of the truck facing each other, and went to the dock in San Francisco complete with police escort, front and rear, lights and sirens.
    “Wearing all our gear, when I got on the ship I thought ‘What did I get myself into?’ The ocean looked awfully big!”
Doris wasn’t a very good sailor – she was sea sick most of the time on their troop ship Klip Fontaine. This ship sailed with no convoy. It carried 110 women and 3,000 marines. They left San Francisco at 5:00 p.m. traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge on 16 October 1943 bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, in the south Pacific. With no escort, the ship followed a zig zag pattern across. The trip took 20 days.
    “We were changed from Polly Wogs to a Shellback as we crossed the equator. We had to go before King Neptune. We were sentenced to green and pink shampoo. We cut off a snip of hair and tossed it in a tank of water. Then we got a certificate. I went back to bed.”
They anchored at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 4 November 1943, a mile from shore. They went ashore the next day. When they docked, the men went ashore first, and finally the nurses were allowed to leave the ship. There were about 100 nurses that came ashore on a barge with a gang plank, wearing olive drab uniforms made of 100 % wool in the bright tropical sun shine near the equator. They were assigned five to a tent to live in while waiting for the nurses’ quarters to be completed at their new station. There was an 8-hole latrine at the edge of the complex. There were no women’s clothes for them to wear, so they were issued summer weight clothes for men – which didn’t fit very well. When they worked at the hospital, they were given brown and white striped seersucker wrap-around dresses to wear.

They stayed on this island for about six weeks, sailing to their new station at Esperitu Santo in the New Hebrides 16 December 1943, arriving there the next day, 17 December 1943. The ship they were on had been used to haul prisoners. The girls were put in the hold (at the bottom of the ship); bunks were stacked four high, and Doris was in the top bunk. She was sea sick again.

Esperitu Santo is the biggest island in the chain. They were assigned to the 31st General Hospital on that island. All services were stationed on the island. At the dock were the Navy, then the Army, then the Army Nurses and the Marines – all on the beach. They shared the theaters and other facilities. A tall fence surrounded the base. Behind them, on the rest of the island, were the barefoot island natives and some Japanese soldiers.

Some of the natives walked through the military base on their way to work on the coffee plantations. The natives were Melanesian and Tonkinese. They chewed beetle nuts, which made their teeth black. They put lime in their hair to kill lice, and the hair turned red. They worked on the coconut and coffee plantations.

    “Our hospital had 1,000 beds which were evacuation from Guadalcanal. We lived in wooden barracks, partitioned two each; part of the sides were wood and screen. We slept in a hospital bed. We used wooden boxes for a dressing table with things sent from home.

    “The base was made up of 65,000 military, mostly Americans and a few Australians. There were two navy and three army bases on the island. We were the largest. There were movies every night at one of the bases. We had USO shows. We saw Bob Hope, Jerry Colona, Frances Langford, Ray Milland, Randolph Scott, to name a few.”

When the nurses went out of their area, they were accompanied by armed guards. They never left the base alone.
    “The barracks were protected by high fence with barbed wire on top, electric light front and back. The entrance was guarded 24 hours. We worked typical hours: 7-1, 1-7; night duty 7-7, 14 nights. We had to sleep in daytime on those tours.” This, then, was their home for the next 16 months.
Army patients were first treated in hospitals like the MASH ones we saw on TV. As soon as possible, they were moved to Station hospitals. When possible, the injured men were sent back to their units; if the injuries were too severe, they were sent on to New Zealand, Australia or back to the States to continue their recovery.

Next place after Esperitu Santo was Guadalcanal. There was no radar at that time, and planes had to circle the landing areas until they could get permission to land. Fighter planes had the right of way, so the nurses were delayed. This was to be a refueling stop at Guadalcanal. Before they could move, they stayed there for a week with no change of clothes. While they were waiting, they ate in the mess hall – in uniform. Then back to the barracks to wait, and they changed to their pajamas until time for another meal. There was no way to do laundry; they didn’t know how long they were going to be there; they didn’t want to get their uniforms dirty, so they kept changing.

6 April 1945 – 360th Station Hospital at Hollandia, New Guinea, another temporary duty. There was not good water to drink at this station. They were drinking water from “lister” bags. “Lister water” is purified by using pills, and it didn’t taste very good. So the nurses were issued beer – one case of beer per month. Doris didn’t drink beer in those days, so she shoved her case of beer under her cot, and when others needed an extra one, they helped themselves. Eventually the Chief Nurse discovered Doris wasn’t drinking her beer, so she ordered her to drink a little bit each day, until she got used to it. They needed the beer because the girls needed the extra food value that was not in the purified water. Beer contained some minerals and vitamins that kept them healthy.

As the war moved on, the station hospitals followed behind the Army. The war kept moving toward Japan, and the hospitals and medical people followed. The nurse’s duties continued as before. A station hospital is smaller than a general hospital. Again, this was temporary duty.

They flew out again to New Guinea. When they landed, they learned that President Franklin Roosevelt had died. The date was 12 April 1945.

On 19 August 1945, they were assigned temporary duty at the 35th General Hospital in the Philippines. This was a tent hospital built in a rice paddy – 8 or 9 tents, about 16 people to a tent. When it rained, water came up to the edge of the tent; they wore combat boots so their feet would stay dry. The nurses’ tents were on higher ground. Five women lived in each tent.

When the war ended, Doris was working in an orthopedic tent.

While waiting to return home, the nurses did some “sight seeing” – they were taken to the Wainwright tunnel, the last stronghold on Corregidor. The nurses were taken by bus to Luzon; then on 26 September 1945 at Luzon in the Philippines, they were released from duty. They were put on a big bus (like a city bus) to go to Manila. The roads were so narrow that when they met a truck, they had to drive with the two inside wheels on the road. The truck was a big one carrying soldiers. There was so little shoulder that the nurses’ bus slowly tipped over. No major injuries – just some bumps and bruises.

When they finally got to Manila, there was no work, so they waited for three weeks for transportation home – a classic case of “hurry up and wait.”

Before they left the Philippines, the doctor who was checking them asked Doris if she had any problem with seasickness? Doris answered that she was sick all the way over and please, did he have anything to give her to go back? The doctor informed her that he had some new medicine that she could use if she wanted – and Doris eagerly accepted it. She floated about six inches off the floor all the way back to California – happy as could be. The new medicine is now known as Dramamine, and the experimental sample Doris received was composed of phenobarbital and belladonna. It worked!

They sailed from Manila on U. S. Army Hospital Ship Louis A. Milne – 28 days to Los Angeles, California. By the end of October, all the nurses had left for home. They got off the ship in Los Angeles and were taken immediately to Riverside, California, where they were fed. The next day they boarded a troop train headed east. They went from California to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Doris had her 25th birthday on that troop train – wearing her olive drab uniform.

At Fort Sheridan they were given another physical exam. She chose to stay in the Army Reserves; then she was discharged. She called home for her parents to meet her at the depot in West Liberty at 2 in the morning. Doris was separated 26 November 1945. Due to accumulated leave time, her actual date of discharge was in February 1946.

Doris stayed at home until February 1946 when she went back to Davenport to St. Luke’s hospital. She worked nights, from 3 until 11 p.m. or from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. as supervisor. At that time it was a 100-bed hospital, 75 beds and 25 bassinets.

Doris decided that she wanted to work at the Des Moines Veterans Administration hospital. She heard that the Domiciliary at Clinton was looking for nurses, so in January 1949, Doris went to Clinton. The Veterans Administration had taken over the Schick hospital, and it had become a domiciliary for veterans. Doris was assigned to the infirmary with a doctor and five nurses. They treated minor ailments for the men. When someone became sick, they were sent to Hines Hospital (Chicago) or to the Des Moines VA Hospital.

On 14 January 1951 she received a call from the Reserves to report to duty for 17 months. She reported to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, near Edinburgh, Indiana, about 31 miles south of Indianapolis. It was a training base for the Indiana National Guard. She worked on the medical floor at the hospital there.

About six months later she was transferred to Fort Benjamin Harrison, located at suburban Lawrence, Indiana, about 12 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Here she worked in the clinic which treated GIs and their families, gave shots to go overseas. Two nurses were in the clinic.

Doris treated a sick baby who had mumps; sure enough, Doris got a case of mumps and was sent back to Atterbury for two weeks to recover from her mumps. She was the only woman on the ward. Then she went back to her room in quarters at Benjamin Harrison; all women in that building.

Doris started to “process out” and was discharged on 13 June 1953. She went back to work at Schick Hospital, by then known as the VA Domiciliary at Clinton. When she was recalled, she was promised that she would get her job back or one of equal status at the time of her discharge.

Roy Thompson had been sent from the Des Moines Veterans Administration to Clinton, so they met there. While at the VA in Clinton, Doris worked in the infirmary. Doris and Roy Thompson were married 11 September 1953 at Rock Island, Illinois.

Next they closed the Clinton hospital. Roy transferred to the new VA hospital in Iowa City, so Doris applied and was hired to work there. She was assigned to 7 East with Ardys Cota as her head nurse; then she went to Central Service and finally to 8 West, where she worked as head nurse until she retired, in 1976. Roy retired from the VA three years earlier in 1973.

Roy died 29 January 1996; Doris is still fighting the war at the library of the State Historical Society of Iowa pasting clippings from WW II as a volunteer.

Muscatine (Iowa) Journal, 11 December 1950

Lt. Doris Meyers Gets Army Call

   First Lt. Doris I. Meyers of Nichols, Ia., of the army nurse corps, is listed with a group of 10 reserve officers being recalled for a tour of extended active duty with the army.
   Lt. Meyers, one of three in the army nurse corps, is to go to Camp McCoy, Wis., according to announcement by the Iowa military district.

* * * * *

Lone Tree (Iowa) Reporter, 14 December 1950

   First Lt. Doris I. Meyers of the army nurse corps is listed with a group of 10 reserve officers being recalled for a tour of extended active duty with the army.
   Lt. Meyers, one of three in the army nurse corps, is to go to Camp McCoy, Wis., according to announcement by the Iowa military district.
   She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Meyers.

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