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|Oral history interview with Rosemary Fuller McCullough by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. Mrs. McCullough discusses her experiences in the Army Nurse Corps.
Interviewee: Rosemary Fuller McCullough
Interviewer: Brad Larson
October 10, 2000
L: Let's talk a little about Pearl Harbor and December 7th. Could you give me any recollections?
M: O.K. I certainly can. That was shortly after I graduated from nurses training. I graduated in September I believe it was and I was on my first job at Winnebago State Hospital. And I remember it was a Sunday afternoon and I was drawing blood Like once a month you'd draw blood from these patients testing them for syphilis or whatever and I was drawing blood when the news came over the radio.
L: And what was your reaction?
M: Where's my brother. Because I had an older brother who was in the service and I thought he might possibly be at Pearl Harbor. However, he wasn't. The first thing I did was call my parents, you know, where's Brice, where's Brice?
L: Did you have any sense of disbelief, shock, anger. Do you recall?
M: No, it's here. We kinda knew it was coming. There was all kinds of stuff going on. We knew there was trouble. And we knew the war in Germany ¾ we really thought it would be with Germany rather than Japan.
L: So what about when Germany declared war on the United States a couple of days later.
M: It's all out, you know. We're moving all out. This is war. So the very next day I wrote and enlisted. I was anxious to go. I had wanted to go before that but my mother said no, that after I graduated from training I owed her at least a year to stick around Oshkosh, around the family.
L: So you went to school here?
L: So you enlisted the next day. And tell me where you enlisted.
M: I can't remember who I wrote to. I guess I just don't remember who I wrote to. I think it was the Army Nurses Corp. But I heard from them shortly after that because, I think within a week I had to have a preliminary physical. They said I'd get another physical after I got in service. But then I got my orders right away to. Sent a letter that said don't resign your present position. But be aware that orders will be following shortly. So it wasn't long after that that I got my orders to go down to Camp Grant. And that was the 2nd of February. So it was about 6 or 7 weeks before they took you right away because they wanted nurses. But they didn't have uniforms for us or anything. This wasn't expected.
L: So you just wore your civilian clothes or your nurse's uniform?
L: Well, what made you enlist? Is there anything in particular that
M: Well, I come from a very patriotic family. My dad served in World War I, he had an uncle who was killed in World War I, another uncle in World War I and they were always extremely patriotic. Belonged to all the veterans organizations and stuff like that and I just grew up in a patriotic family and that's the way I felt.
L: What was your father's name?
M: Earl Fuller
L: No, I didn't know him. I knew a Ray Fuller.
M: Oh, Ray was my uncle. Earl was County Treasurer here for twenty-seven years. A long time.
L: So once you got down there in Camp Grant, then what happened? Did they have some specific training for you?
M: No, they didn't. The first ones that went didn't ever have to take any basic training. They wanted us on the wards, they wanted us to man the hospital and stuff and I guess they didn't have time to train us. So I never had to go through the basic training, you know the exercises that a lot of the girls did after I went in. Because I was one of the first ones, which was all right with me. We got some later on, they put us through drills and marching.
L: So they assigned you pretty quickly then it sounds like.
M: Yes. That was just a temporary duty you didn't stay there very long. I think I there two or three months and they needed nurses down at Chennout Field [note: incorrect spelling] in Illinois. Because that was a big base and I went down there just doing regular ward duty. But every time they put up notices that people were needed for overseas and I wanted to go overseas, I really wanted to go overseas, so I signed every one that came up and then I can't remember how long I was at Camp Grant, just a few months. I signed up for overseas, and was sent to, believe this or not, Attorney General Hospital in Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs! And it was one of these big beautiful resorts, just marvelous. There they were taking care of soldiers and in the navy coming back from the South Pacific. A lot of malaria. And that sort of thing. But that's what that hospital was all about for the most part.
L: How long did you stay there?
Not too long, I still kept signing up for overseas. It wasn't really where I wanted to be. I guess I was there almost a year. It was my first Christmas away from home. No snow. I can still remember Bing Crosby we got to see him singing White Christmas. Gosh.
L: So you did have some leisure time then.
M: Oh, we had leisure time.
L: What did you do for leisure time? What were some of the things you would do? Could you leave the base?
M: Oh sure. We were free to do whatever we wanted to. Go down and play tennis. Go down to the swimming pools. Horseback riding. Climb the mountains.
L: You kept signing up, trying to get overseas.
M: And then I was at Attorney General for about a year I think. Then it was time - signed up again for overseas. Sent us down to New Orleans where we didn't do any work we were just there waiting for further orders, from New Orleans we went to Fort Bragg where we did get some training. Finally decided we needed some training. And then I was sent up to Camp Kilmer (sp?), New Jersey. Camp Kilmer was a shipping off spot so that's when I knew I was going overseas.
L: Would that have been in '44?
M: No that would have been in '43. In '43. So instead of getting over to Germany, where I wanted to go, we went down to Brazil. Which was another garden spot. We had our hospital right on the beach and it was absolutely gorgeous. Just gorgeous. But I was unhappy all the time I was there. This isn't what I joined the Army for; take care of the wounded soldiers.
L: What were you doing in Brazil?
M: Well in Brazil they had Station Hospitals. There was about four different posts I think but the Station Hospitals were to; the fellas coming back from North Africa and the invasion over there, they'd stop over in Brazil. So there were the Ascension Islands, or in Brazil, we'd give them blood you know, perk them up you know so they could make the rest of the trip back to the states back to the general hospitals. But that's what Brazil was all about. But as I say, it was fun, we just; south of the equator, it was warm.
L: But you still wanted to get overseas.
M: I wanted to be where the fighting was going on and take care of the wounded. So what happened while I was in Brazil, my older brother was killed, or he was lost at sea, That would have been the end of '43. [Earl Brice Fuller. According to his obituary, his plane was lost on December 27, 1943.]
L: He was a sailor?
M: He was an aviation radioman first class flying off of the aircraft carrier Belleau Wood. And what had happened they had been sent to, he and I think there were eleven enlisted men and six officers from his unit that had just had seven days in Sydney, Australia for rest and relation after flying many missions. It was a rest and recovery period for them but they were flying Army transport coming back from Sydney going back to their base, and the plane was just lost. So they were able to find some wreckage from the place, you know the logbook, so that they were able to identify it. But they were all lost. He was carried as Missing in Action for several weeks but then all attempts to find him were gone and so they ¾ my folks had memorial services for him here in Oshkosh and I was suppose to come. I was trying to get leave so that I could up for at least the memorial service, or to be near my parents you know because I knew how devastated they would be. [According to the obituary, the memorial service was held in mid-February, 1944.] I also had a younger brother [Douglas] at the time who was also in service and overseas. He was on a LST I guess, he was a Pharmacist Mate. Anyway I got back to Oshkosh on leave, it was after the memorial services, which you know wasn't too bad. I did have a month in Oshkosh. And then I went back to Brazil. All the time flying Army transport, the old bucket seat planes and everything. You'd go to a base and they'd take you when they could. Sometimes you'd sit there for a couple of days you know before you'd get a ride. Anyway, I got down to Miami and waiting for a plane to take me back to Brazil. And apparently orders had come for me [unable to make out, perhaps 'by phone'] that I was to reassigned to Gardener General Hospital in Chicago on a compassionate assignment so that I could be close to my parents because, you know, the family had their three kids in service. You know they wanted ¾ so I could be close to home, you know, which was really something, they thought of their personnel and everything. However, I didn't get the orders so I ended up back in Brazil, but then shortly after that I did go back and stayed Chicago where I was suppose to stay for the duration. In the meantime, telling my life story here [laugh].
L: That's good. I'm enjoying it immensely.
M: In the meantime, I had a lover down in Brazil. A Navy man. And when he found out that I was going to be in Chicago you know for the duration, he applied for some special navy training in Chicago, 87th and Anthony, I remember the address. And he got the assignment and he pulled into Chicago and saw him for the first night and then the next day he had to report to the base. And what they do when they come back from overseas, they put them in quarantine. So he was in quarantine for three weeks. So I couldn't see him in those three weeks. In the meantime he was having a ball, acting as a life guard in their pool and everything, you know just on the base. Nothing I could do about it. But then orders came again for me to ship out, which was surprising but by that time I was a first lieutenant and they needed somebody with you know a little more experience on these new units that they were forming, these new Evacuation Hospitals. To go over to France and Germany.
L: And what year, do you remember
M: That must have been golly, I have all those orders at home yet, but I think that was in - had to be in '44, probably about the spring of '44.
L: So probably somewhere around D-Day. Would you say before D-Day?
M: When was the Battle of the Bulge?
L: That was in December of '44
M: In December of '44. Well, we were there for that so it must be before that. It was shortly - I remember D-Day. I remember being in Chicago and listening to all that stuff on the radio.
L: What did you think of all that?
M: Oh, it was rough. You know
but, ya. I was - can't remember that month that
went over to France and Germany. Incidentally, that first trip down to, the first trip by boat going down to Brazil took us 33 days. Foot dragging [?] the whole course and everything.
L: Probably wondering if you were going to see a German submarine, too.
M: Absolutely, absolutely. Oh, ya, precautions were very strict.
L: So you finally got orders over to Europe, so you did go over there
M: Oh, yes, that's when we were with the Evacuation Hospital. Which in an Evacuation Hospital usually it's in tents sometimes you were able to get in buildings but you'd move the hospitals as the lines moved. You'd move with them,
L: Now I'm not familiar, Rosemary, with an evacuation hospital. What exactly ..
M: Well, an Evacuation Hospital is - your first hospital that the fellows went to were Field Hospitals usually, that were you know they're real close to the front lines. And then they'd be evacuated to an Evacuation Hospital where we could do a little more of the surgery and patching up and that sort of thing. And then after that they wouldn't stay there very long, you know we'd get them so they were stabilized and you know able to travel and then send them back to either station hospitals or general hospitals. They were going to be, you know, hospitalized for quite some time.
L: So your job ..
M: But an evacuation hospital is very similar to what they had on the MASH units. You remember
L: Sure. So you probably saw some awful banged up men. Just terrible.
M: Yes. Yes. Half their faces gone [Pause: at this point it was clear that memories were coming back to the interviewee]. But brave men and . . .[pause] That part of it was, you know, it was rough. We worked hard. When we worked, we really worked hard, but then there would be a lull in the fighting and we wouldn't have much of anything to do. We'd evacuate the hospital and you know there wouldn't be too much for a while 'til the next siege came and then incoming wounded.
L: So did you feel making an important contribution?
M: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Oh yes, That's why I went in service, to take care of the wounded.
L: And you stayed over there until the end of the war then?
M: I came back, I'd gotten ill and came back just before the war ended, or, let's see now, I was home for VJ Day, and boy isn't it awful how your memory leaves you. No, I was over there when the war in Germany ended. Because I remember that we had to have points, they evaluated everybody and if you had so many points you got to go back to the states. But if you didn't have enough points you were going to go down into the Pacific and help with the war down there because that was still going on. Well I had enough points, I can't remember what the number was, I remember that I had 71 points and I can't remember what the cut-off point was. But you were awarded points for every month in service, for battle stars and our unit had two battle stars, you know battles we were in like the Battle of the Bulge we were in. Our hospital got pushed back a couple of times.
L: That must have been a terrible few weeks, when that battle raged.
M: Oh, yes. You could hear it all the time you could ..
L: You were that close?
M: Oh, yes. Ya, you'd hear it. And I was stationed from, or transferred, from one hospital to another hospital. All evacuation hospitals - in I knew all the people. One New Year's Eve I had gone back to my old hospital to visit my old friends. I had a driver with a jeep and I remember the planes even coming and strafing you, you know, along the road and stuff, firing shells and all the flack. And there'd be barricades up in all these towns. But the French people, that's when we were still in France somewhere near Epinal (sp?) I believe, but then again I'm not sure, but they'd stop and invite us in you know and serve us hot wine and just ¾ we couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand us, but it was a New Year's Eve that I remember that I never will forget.
L: Well there must have been a lot of memorable experiences, things that stick out in your mind while you were over there or here. There must be those certain things that you particular .. is there any you want to relate, a particular story that can be . .
M: No there isn't.
L: Here's a question for you Rosemary. Do you have thoughts on women in service? Because prior to the Second World War there wasn't a lot of women in service. Do you have thoughts on women in service? Maybe how the public thought of the job you were doing, or the fact that women were in uniform. Do you have thoughts on that or observations?
M: My thought was that we were all very, very proud to be in service and you know serving our country and we were well thought of. I don't - oh, sometimes there would be all kinds of remarks about the WACs and stuff like that. They just went in service to get a man and you know that sort of thing.
L: Although I imagine the soldiers you took care of didn't think that.
M: Not at all. Not at all. No, we were treated well.
L: Well, if there was something that you would want the museum to put in this publication, something we should convey to students, what do you think would be one of the most important things we should try to convey to these kids today? What should we be trying to tell these kids?
M: You're making me think. You want me to teach them a lesson. I just
L: I just thought if you had something maybe, something you felt because you experienced
M: Well the thing that see now ¾ I don't see, I don't see the patriotism now that we experienced back in World War II and I think that anybody will tell you the same thing.
L: You mean from the people as a whole?
M: From the people as a whole. Yes. And from children, you know. Children were always extremely patriotic.
L: Do you have thoughts about the war itself and the sacrifices of all the Americans and Allies, that we should be trying to tell these kids about?
M: Oh, I'm not a politician and not a children's - I have no advice to them other - really.
L: Let me tell you a few things that I thought we would try to convey and then maybe you could give me your opinion. In the course of the war there were over 400,000 Americans that lost their lives, in the war.
M: Is that all?
L: 407,000 died. And hundreds of thousands, 600,000 or so, were wounded, and we want to convey the enormity of the cost of that, there were 160 Oshkosh men alone who lost their lives, including your brother. And that was something that we thought we should try to convey to these kids. Something that this war engulfed the whole world, it was a conflict like no other and it cost America a lot of its sons, brothers, and husbands.
M: Oh sure.
L: And you saw that first hand. And you probably know better than anybody else.
M: Yes, well I can remember that everybody has their stars in the windows of their homes, silver stars for those in service and a gold star if one had died in service. But you'd see those flags, they were a blue flag. I'm sure you must have some around. A lot of people would still have them. You know everybody had them in their windows, and almost every window, there were very few that didn't.
L: So that's one thing that we wanted to convey. The other thing that we wanted to convey, of course, is the contributions of people like yourself, ordinary people in all walks of life, kids, men, women, they all worked together. A sense of unity. A sense of patriotism.
M: Oh, yes. You didn't see a lot of quibbling fights, beaucracy, you just didn't. People just pitched in. The things I do remember was that the servicemen were never very happy with the people who stayed behind. I understand, they really had to, like working in the war factories. I remember meeting with my younger brother one time down at Louisville, Kentucky. Yes, I guess it was, while he was waiting for his ship to be built. And we'd go out to the bars and stuff like that and converse with other people and you'd find these workers that were making umpteen dollars an hour and you know making all kinds of money and bragging about it and chiding the enlisted men, you know, the personnel for being in service. You know, you poor goof you should have stayed behind and earning all this money and everything. And there was quite a lot of that. But by the same token, you had to have people making the bullets and building the ships and all the stuff they did. But I remember - usually you'd see some fights.
L: Well, that's pretty much all my questions that I have. Do you have anything else you'd like to add? Or anything else you'd like to get here on tape while we're talking.
M: I think that's just about it.
L: Well thanks a lot.
M: I also have other pictures of me in uniform, in Army uniform, rather than this one [a photo of her as a nurse]
L: Would you be willing to donate those to the museum?
M: I'd be glad to.
L: Would you? We'd love to have those. Those would be wonderful.
M: O.K. I don't have them with me but I'll give them to you. Can I mail them to you, Brad?
|Oral History Interview with Rosemary Fuller McCullough
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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|Rosemary Fuller McCulloch