There were those times when Dad was sent overseas without us, usually to a war zone. My earliest memories of this happened when Dad was in Korea. Mother would send him a box from home. One time Dad wanted a pipe and some tobacco. Remember, this was around 1952, and nearly all adults smoked. Mother had a very strict weight limit for anything mailed to that distant part of the world. She took her kitchen scale, weighed the box with the pipe in it, and then wrapped some of the tobacco in tissue paper before stuffing it into the box to provide some padding for the pipe. Finally, the desired low weight was achieved, and the result mailed to Dad in his tent in Korea.
Towards the end of his time there, weight restrictions were eased a bit. Mother, with the ‘help’ of a three year old me, would bake cookies, put them in a coffee can with crumpled wax paper to cushion the precious cargo, and mail it to Dad. (This was in the era of metal coffee cans, and the lids did fit snugly onto the top of the can. All Mother had to do to it was to tape it down with electrical tape, wrap it in brown paper so she could write the address on it, and mail the result.) I asked Dad about those cookies, and he said they were the best crumbs he ever ate! (So much for the cushioning of the crumpled wax paper…)
I was a freshman in college when Dad was sent to Vietnam. Letter tapes were the in thing then, although there were some traditional paper in envelops letters as well. Still, those tapes were wonderful!! We could actually hear Dad’s voice, and he could hear ours. Which sounds really old-timey in this era of face to face conversations via iPhones or tablets and computers with Skype.
Mother and I would send him boxes of things- frequently edibles. Evidently we over did the sweets, as he complained he had enough to cause diabetes. Again, there were cookies baked. Dad loved oatmeal about the best, although he didn’t complain at all about the Christmas sugar cookies and ice box cookies we sent, along with crackers- in small packages so the humidity wouldn’t ruin them. Small cans of ready to eat ham. Maybe canned shrimp. Once, someone sent him a box of raisins. But, it was summer time, and mail sometimes had to wait a while before apace was found for it on a plane. The long and short if it is, the raisins were ‘inhabited’ by the time they arrived. Oops!!
There were things we couldn’t send him though. The local paper advertised a willingness to send daily papers to local guys in Vietnam. Sadly, when the paper listed the names of those being sent the paper, those frustrated with the war took it out on some of the listed families. When Dad came home, we met him at the gate! It was obvious that he was back from the war zone, and that we were his family greeting him. Some manner-less wonder glared at him, and flipped him the ‘bird’. Sadly, Dad remembered that rude gesture as much as he remembered his joy at being reunited with us.
Years later, he was invited to a “Thank You Korean Veterans” dinner by the local Korean American community. After a dinner, including kimchee and other Korean delicacies, he was given a crystal-looking commemoration. Never mind that it was the earlier conflict, receiving that thoughtful token meant a great deal to Dad, and it eased his annoyance with the airport incident when he returned that last time.
I learned an appreciation for even simple gestures. Even back in the world of the 1950s, sending a coffee can of delicious crumbs could reach a loved one across the world, and take that person back home, even if that connection lasted for only a few minutes. I remember Dad telling me just how much mail from home meant. Even if the post office had closed for the day, Dad could see if he had mail waiting for him. And if there was something in that little cubbyhole, he could savor the knowledge that there was something waiting for him to open in the morning. To men overseas, wealth wasn’t, and still isn’t, measured in money. The wealthiest soldier is the one whose mailbox, literal or e-mail, frequently has Facetime/ Skype and packages from home; the poorest person, even if he or she is high ranking, is the soldier who gets few or no messages or packages. Mother and I made sure Dad always felt a wealth of love from us.
In 1946, VA Voluntary Service was established as part of General Omar Bradley’s modernization of the Veterans Administration.Posted: June 7, 2017
In June 1945, less than two months after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency, he selected fellow Missourian General Omar Bradley to head the Veterans Administration. Bradley was confirmed and took his place at VA in August of that year. Bradley was charged with modernizing VA and he wasted no time in doing so. He established a national chaplain service in November and after getting congressional approval to create a professional Department of Medicine and Surgery in January 1946, set out establish other vital services to improve care for veterans. The Army had a long and successful record of working with volunteers and social organizations, and he knew that VA could benefit from coordinating volunteers at a national level, too.
The roots of large-scale volunteerism began during the Civil War. Men, women, and children in both the Confederate and Union territories who could not fight in the war, volunteered to do anything needed to help soldiers and the war effort. In June 1861 President Lincoln authorized the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an entirely volunteer group from New York, to help the Union Army medical department and legions of short-term “volunteer” soldiers that were enlisting to fight in the war. Local branches were established in many cities and “sanitary fairs” were held to raise money that bought ambulances, hospital ships, medical supplies, and personal items for wounded and convalescing soldiers. These volunteers documented burial locations for soldiers who died from their wounds, wrote letters to families, read to soldiers, and much more to comfort them or their families.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission was the largest national volunteer organization in American history at the time, igniting passions for those fighting the war and attracting thousands of volunteers like poet Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, and Frederick Law Olmsted to help them. Service with the U.S. Sanitary Commission inspired many of its volunteers to continue the work after the war, resulting in numerous new social and veterans fraternal organizations. The Grand Army of the Republic and American Red Cross are examples of Sanitary Commission spin-offs that were established after the war to provide services not only to veterans, but to their widows, families, and orphans, as well as immigrants and the poor. The U.S. Sanitary Commission played an essential role in proving the need for “soldiers homes” after the war that resulted in the establishment of the first federal institution in the world solely for disabled veterans of the “volunteer” forces in 1865. That institution, initially known as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, was the origins of what today is known as VA’s Veterans Health Administration.
The passion for disabled soldiers and veterans, which sprang to life on a massive and national scale during the Civil War, became a new part of the American ethos, after the war, and VA and its predecessors were beneficiaries of that good will. During World War I, the Treasury Department was tasked with providing medical care to World War I disabled veterans, through its Bureau of War Risk Insurance(BWRI) and Public Health Service (PHS). Surgeon General Rupert Blue asked the American Red Cross for help and their volunteers supplied a significant auxiliary workforce that ranged from filing clerks to nurses and social workers. The Red Cross provided the first organized coordination of volunteer services in federal veterans programs, but as the Veterans Bureau, and later the Veterans Administration, took over roles once done by the Red Cross, much of that was lost.
As the U.S. geared up to fight yet another war in 1941, volunteer organizations once again came to the aid of service men and women and VA. General Bradley knew very well the important role that volunteers played in maintaining morale and hope in his troops during the war and that they could do the same for them as veterans. Bradley established a Special Services Division in 1946, just like Army had, which included a chaplain service, voluntary service coordination (VAVS), recreation service, and canteen service. Establishing a national office with experienced staff to meet with leaders of volunteer and veterans organizations was a common-sense move that has seen VA’s volunteer program grow, professionally, over the past 70 years into one of the largest, most experienced, and respected corps of volunteers in the federal government.
While VAVS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, it continues the work with veterans that began 155 years ago, and has found its own place in American history. I dare say that the men and women of the U.S. Sanitary Commission would be most proud of their modern brothers and sisters caring for this generation of veterans.
Circe Olson Woessner
Recently on Facebook, a friend mentioned the difficulties of talking about her military childhood because people think she’s bragging when she speaks about having lived overseas. She admits, “I rarely bring it up any more.”
As the Director of the Museum of the American Military Family, I tell people that in order to understand history, one needs to see it from all perspectives. Military families have often been present during historic events, but much of the time, their experiences are not widely shared.
My husband was overseas conducting multinational exercises on September 11, 2001. I was driving to work listening to the radio when the news of the attacks came over the airways. I remember initially thinking it was a remake of that old radio show, “War of the Worlds.” As it sunk in that it was real, I realized I’d better pick up my kids from their off-base schools, as the base we lived on would go on lock-down. Our lives were about to change. Read the rest of this entry »
Ninety-three years ago today, on September 14, 1923, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (VHA’s origins) approved the first hospital spaces for women veterans.
Hospitalization and medical care for women who served as Army or Navy nurses during World War I were first authorized as part of Public Law 65-326 on March 3, 1919, just a few months after the Armistice. It was the third time in history that federal veterans benefits had been extended to women nurses who served with U.S. military forces as contractors or employees during wartime. The first federal benefit—pensions–was authorized in 1892 for women nurses who provided support to the U.S. military during the Civil War. In 1897 Congress approved the right to burial in national cemeteries for the same group. Although the 1919 law gave women nurses the right to medical care, no facilities were prepared to accept them.
The Women’s Overseas Service League, founded in 1921, took up the cause to force changes so that women veterans could use the benefits they were entitled to. Only after the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers approved dedicated space for women veterans did the War Department take further action. The World War Veterans Act of 1924, as well as several smaller acts afterwards, ensured that accommodations were made to house and provide medical care to women veterans.
At the National Homes, a separate building at the Danville Branch (now VA Illiana HCS) in Danville, Illinois, was authorized for women veterans who required general medical treatment. A floor was reserved for them in the tuberculosis hospital at the Northwestern Branch (now Clement J. Zablocki VAMC) in Milwaukee. Catherine G. Witter, a 39 year old Army nurse who served at Camp Zachary Taylor during World War I, was one of the earliest women veterans admitted. She entered the Danville (IL) Branch on December 19, 1923 and died of stomach cancer on July 14, 1924. She is buried in the Home’s cemetery, now known as Danville National Cemetery.
By the time that the National Homes became part of the Veterans Administration in 1930, more hospitals had been constructed and opened, so women veterans weren’t limited to just one or two facilities.
Roughly 21,500 women served as nurses during World War I, with about 10,000 of them serving overseas.
Photo: American nurse in Paris, France, during World War I, Library of Congress
Links to learn more:
Women’s Overseas Service League: http://www.wosl.org/photo.htm
Story: VA Historian
Joseph Page, who has authored several books about military installations, is looking for good-quality photos about Kirtland Air Force Base and, especially photos of its families. If you’d like to submit your photos to add to the book–due out in late 2017–please email Joseph at email@example.com
Twenty-six years ago, on August 15, 1990, Congress enacted Public Law 101-366 to name the Saginaw, Michigan, VA Medical Center after World War II flight nurse, 1st Lt. Aleda E. Lutz. Saginaw was the second VA facility to be named after a woman. There are currently two VA medical centers named for women.
Aleda Lutz was born in Freeland, Michigan on November 9, 1915 to German immigrants, Fred and Margaret Lutz. She graduated from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School in 1933 and shortly afterwards entered the Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing. She graduated in 1937 and worked at the hospital as a registered nurse until February 10, 1942 when she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. She was initially assigned to Selfridge Air Field near Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
In December 1942 she was transferred to the 349th Air Evacuation Camp at Bowman Field near Louisville, Kentucky, where she was part of the first group of women to train as specialized flight nurses. The first class of Army flight nurses—then called “air evacuation unit nurses”–graduated on February 18, 1943. She was then assigned to the 802nd Medical Air Transport Squadron, the first of its kind activated in the Army Air Corps, and deployed to North Africa.
She served as a flight nurse through the Tunisian, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns and logged over 800 combat hours flown. She was killed while evacuating 15 wounded soldiers to Italy on November 1, 1944, eight days shy of her 29th birthday, when her transport plane crashed near Lyon in southern France. It was her 197th mission.
She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, the Oak Leaf Cluster, Red Cross Medal, and Purple Heart, posthumously. In addition to the VA Medical Center name designation, a U.S. Army Hospital Ship and C-47 airplane have been named in her honor.
Aleda Lutz is buried in the Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France, which is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Historian, Veterans Health Administration
Seventy-one years ago the world’s first atomic bombs used for military purposes were dropped by the U.S. on Japan to facilitate an end to World War II. The first bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” using the uraninum-235 isotope was dropped on August 6, 1945 on Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second bomb using plutonium and nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. Both bombs had been built under the special “Manhattan Project” which officially began in 1942 under the U.S. Army. Six days later, on August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered. A formal signing of the surrender took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. Each bomb leveled areas four miles wide, killed and injured tens of thousands of men, women, and children, and ushered in a new era of exciting scientific possibilities tempered by fear from the new reality that they could annihilate all of mankind.
After the war, atomic research flourished worldwide and followed two major paths: development for use in warfare and development for peaceful purposes. Barely one year after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the U.S. Congress enacted the Atomic Energy Act on August 1, 1946. The act established the Atomic Energy Commission, which became the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1974. An important component of the law authorized the use of atomic radioisotopes for biological and environmental research to benefit society. By the end of 1947, the Veterans Administration was among the first federal institutions to initiate an Atomic Medicine program. Read the rest of this entry »