CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Mary Newman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December, 1912, but moved to Manasquan, at the New Jersey shore, with her family in 1917.
After graduating from high school, Newman enrolled at the Monmouth Memorial School of Nursing. It was there that she got her first hint of what life was like on a military post. Two of her classmates were children of career soldiers, and they described a military post as being a self contained little world, including everything needed in the way of shopping and entertainment. They said that what they liked the best and missed the most, however, was the sound of the bugler’s calls. The bugle was played for reveille, chow, retreat, and taps. Newman was impressed.
It wasn’t until 1944, when she believed the army was preparing to draft civilian nurses, that Newman decided to enlist into the Army Nurse Corps. Her first assignment was to attend basic training at Fort Meade, Maryland. She recalled that basic training for nurses was essentially “…to change you from the civilian way of doing things to the military way….”
At Fort Meade Newman learned military procedures and practices like how to tell military time by using the twenty four hours clock. She learned to march in formation, and exercise, and she learned about military rank and dress and barracks life for women. She also learned how to scramble down a cargo net from a ship into a landing craft and to swim dressed in fatigues. Nurses were taught to name the parts of an M1 rifle and instructed in how to fire it “because the Japanese did not honor the Red Cross on our tents.” Most important of all she learned that “… military discipline was necessary to maintain a proper response in certain situations….”
On completion of her basic training in early 1945, Newman was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia for assignment to the newly formed 307th General Hospital. She remembers traveling on a troop train to Georgia, and that the train was sidetracked to permit the passing of the funeral train bearing the body of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Washington, D. C. While Newman was at Fort Benning, the war in Europe ended, and one nurse fired a cannon without authorization during the celebration. Newman recalled that “she [the nurse] had a hard time explaining her way out of it,” but that “we thought it was fun. No damage was done.”
From Ft. Benning, Newman was sent to the Philippines, where she was grateful for her cargo net training, as she had to transfer from a troopship to an LST [Landing ship, Tank], descending on the netting, before entering Manila Harbor, which was full of blasted shipwrecks. Newman celebrated V-J day in Manila. Although the war was now over, nurses were still required to be accompanied by an armed guard whenever they went out of the hospital compound.
Following the end of the war, Newman remained in the army. In all of her succeeding nineteen years in service, she was never assigned to a MASH Unit where the wounded received primary care in a combat zone. Mary usually worked at a general hospital, and the wounded men she encountered were mostly in recovery or rehabilitation. She remembers how seriously wounded men, such as those afflicted with spinal cord injuries or loss of limbs, often maintained good spirits and “…seemed to accept it more, being with others in the same condition. But we often wondered how they would feel when they were on their own at home….”
During her time in the service Newman served overseas in the Philippines, Germany, South Korea, Panama and Puerto Rico. She recalls flying in a helicopter in Korea and of being in the control room of a lock on the Panama Canal while the operator passed the ships through the locks. Her stateside assignments were at Ft. Meade, Maryland, Ft Benning, Georgia, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and finally Ft. Dix, New Jersey, from where she retired in 1963.
After retiring, Newman worked as a substitute teacher in some schools and also in several manufacturing plants near her hometown in Manasquan New Jersey. When asked if she had done any traveling since her retirement she said, “No, I saw enough.”
Mary Newman told her interviewer that “…the Army had taught her that Americans are true to their ideals and principals and are willing to sacrifice for freedom.” She added that she would like to see more young Americans honor their forefathers for their sacrifices.