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Chapter 2. Military Nursing 1948-1954.


Dr. Charlotte Rappsilber offers the second installment in the memoirs of her nursing career. The first, A Nurses' Story was published in The Oklahoma Nurse, 2007 (52)1, pp 7-9. The first part described her days as a student and new graduate at the University of Oklahoma, School of Nursing and covered the years between 1944 and 1947. In the second of the series she describes her experiences as an Army Nurse then Flight Nurse with the newly created Air Force before, during and after the Korean War.

Chapter 2 Military Nursing 1948-54

The third of November, 1948 I finally received orders to report to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio to attend the Medical Department Female Officers Basic Course. It was Election Day in the United States. It was also the first time I was old enough to vote. I voted in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, my home town, and mother drove me to the airport in Ponca City to board a Braniff flight to San Antonio. In those days, Braniff flew to many small towns in the US and also to Mexico. Upon arrival in San Antonio, I reported to the executive office of the Medical Field Service School. Since it was around 8PM by the time I arrived, the officer of the day and two others were listening to the radio news to hear the election returns. I was surprised to learn that Harry Truman was running ahead of Thomas Dewey, who was predicted to win by a landslide. We did not find out until the next morning that, indeed, Truman would be our new President.

The basic training course lasted 6 weeks until December 17. We spent the first few days getting settled in our housing facility, meeting our fellow officers, obtaining our uniforms, having a physical and psychiatric examination and other military matters related to army protocol. I recall the psychiatric examination especially because it consisted of only one questions: was my sexual preference for men or women? I guess any answer was correct because I passed the exam. However, there were nurses of both persuasions in the course and all through the military so I guess any answer was a pass.

There were about one hundred of us from all over the country, with ages ranging from 21 to 35 years. We began to socialize rapidly with those in our dormitory. Classes started about a week later. Classes included military law and regulations, military rank nomenclature, map reading and military protocol. As soon as we began wearing uniforms, we had plenty of practice saluting and responding to a salute. A few lectures and classes were medically oriented, but to relevant illnesses and what to do in case of war emergencies. I particularly recall a film titled: "She may look like your Sister but still have VD." The films were all WW II vintage, as were our uniforms.

As officers, we had to buy our own uniforms and were required to wear them to classes and to the biweekly drills: marching in formation, how to come to attention, about-face maneuvers, parade rest and at-ease posture. I complained bitterly about the short length of our uniform skirts because the year before, fashions changed to mid-calf skirts and our civilian clothing reflected this new trend. Wearing a tie was troubling for some, but I had played in band all through high school and knew how to manage ties as well as the marching protocols. Often, we had an audience of GI's watching us march--and often heard derisive laughter about our performance.

Our meals were in a nearby officer's mess hall where there was an adjacent small officer's club for medical basic trainees, faculty and officers assigned to the Medical Field Service School. After classes, we could wear our civilian clothes. The evenings were usually spent in the officers club getting acquainted with one another, playing cards, and listening to the juke box. Two of my favorite songs on the juke box were Nat King Cole's "Slow Boat to China" and Hank William's "Lovesick Blues." Whenever I hear those tunes I have memories of basic training. Young men officers from Ft Sam and nearby Army Air Fields frequently came to the club to look over the new "girls" and make date connections with those of us willing. It was possible to have a date every night if one wished though we soon discovered many were married much to our surprise that such behavior occurred.


Toward the middle of the basic training, we were able to choose our next assignment among the large General Army Hospitals: Brooke General at Fort Sam, Letterman in Denver, Walter Reed and the Presidio in California. I was disappointed to find that flight school was not available for nurses with less than five years of hospital nursing experience (not the only falsehood from the lips of my recruiter--it was several years before I could even buy an automobile, much less a Buick convertible like the nurse-recruiter drove).

My first assignment was to the Officer's Surgical Ward at Brooke Army Hospital in the main brick building one still sees when Brooke is on television nowadays. We new nurse officers lived in a barracks where we had individual rooms, shared communal bathrooms and one phone on each of the two floors. Nothing was air conditioned in those days. I often wonder how we managed to survive the Texas summers. There was large brick female Officers Quarters nearby for those of higher rank. We jokingly called that "menopause manor" and our barracks, "frustration flats" (sometimes called "splinter village"). Both were within walking distance to the main hospital where we had our meals. TMany additional wooden two story hospital annexes were built during WW II with specialized units such as, Pediatrics, EENT, Orthopedics, Psychiatric, Neurology, Dependent's units among others. There was an army bus circling the base every 30 minutes we used when assigned to one of the annexes.

My honeymoon did not last long on the Officer's surgical floor and I was soon transferred to one of the annexes where I had floating status and spent time on the psych unit, orthopedics, women dependent's unit, and a longer time on the neurology unit. It had a small section walled off from the main unit for ICU category patients (although there was no ICU as such in those days). It was also used as a surgical recovery area. As nurses, we spent the most time in that particular unit because the most critical patients were there. It did have air conditioning in one small section for patients with head injuries or new spinal injuries.

Nursing did not seem much different than I had experienced before except we had many more patients: usually between 50 and 75 and authority and responsibility for the supervision of the army medical corpsmen. Nurses gave all medications and general supervision of patient care, although medical corpsmen provided all the physical care. The new and more seriously ill patients were situated in beds closer to the nurse's station where we could observe them more closely. The one new experience for me was the use of the Stryker frame for paraplegic and quadriplegic patients. We had many of those on the neurology ward and a nurse was required to participate when it was time to turn the frames.

Nurses and hospital corpsman worked 6 days a week and the night duty shift was 12 hours. When I look back I am surprised at none of us complaining about it, even though the rest of Army base personnel only worked five days a week.

Soon the Army Air Force separated from the Army and became the US Air Force. We were given the choice of which service we preferred. Because I still had dreams of flight school, I chose the Air Force. One of my friends and I immediately applied for flight school. Her father was a retired army colonel well acquainted with all the top-level Army brass and he intervened for us to have preferential treatment. We soon applied and were accepted in the US Air Force Nurse Flight School at nearby Randolph Air Force Base. I was anxious for new adventures. Approximately 40 nurses were in the Flight Nursing class. We lived in barracks, are in a nearby officer's mess with a small Flight Nurses Officer's Club annex close to the barracks and very popular with the young pilots in the pilot training program at Randolph AFB.

Five of the nurses in our class were in their 30's and 40's and had been prisoners of war in the Philippines during WWII. They were captains and majors and were being trained for advancement in the AF Nurse Corps. They shared many of their experiences as prisoners with us. Recently, I read a book written by a nurse research historian called Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman, about the experiences of nurses who were prisoners of war at Corrigedor, Bataan, and Manila. All of these nurses in our flight class were included in this book, how they survived the experience, their life after the war and effects of POW camp on their health. All of these exceptional women became high ranking leaders Air Force nursing. I read the book with tears in my eyes, pride in my heart and appreciation of my good fortune to have known these brave nurses.

In Flight School we attended classes on performing advanced emergency procedures such as tracheotomies and throracotomies, protocols for the distribution of patients on the various types of airplanes used for medical evacuation, care of patients while in the air and how to screen for the selection of patients to be evacuated. For example: limiting the number of psychiatric patients and those with tuberculosis for the different type of aircraft. TB patients were limited to the front of the airplane for separation from the other patients. Psychiatric patients were categorized as I, II and III. The Third levels were ambulatory, First levels were expected to remain in arm and leg leather restraints throughout the flight, and Second Levels were at the option of the charge nurse on the particular flight. No more than five psychiatric patients were permitted on the smaller aircraft. We had classes on the effects of altitude on various medical condition, when to administer oxygen and how to operate the oxygen equipment, and the protocols for sedating patients, especially the violent psychiatric patients who were always heavily sedated before loaded on the plane, and dosages appropriate for emergency use if we had to sedate them further. Remember, this was before tranquilizers were developed. We used barbiturates and paraldehyde for the particularly uncooperative. Other topics of our classes included: effects of altitude on patients with chest and head injuries; as well as how altitude affected normal physiology, medicines included in our flight medical chest, how and when to administer medicines not prescribed on the flight card accompanying each patient, emergency procedures, and the usual protocols routine for nurses while in flight. Planes were not pressurized to negate effects of high altitude at that time.

All of our training flights at school were on C-47 (DC 3) types of aircraft, holding about 25 patients on litters with a few ambulatory patients. This small plane carried one nurse and two corpsmen; however, in flight school a supervising nurse made the flight with us as part of our practicum. We flew to other bases in the US with patients who needed to be transferred to Brook Army. Later, after flight school we carried patients on other type of aircraft carrying from 45 to 95 litter patients. They were the DC4 (C-54 to us) and the C-97 (the Stratotfreighter--a pressurized aircraft). However, within the US and Newfoundland, the C-47 was most commonly used. Two or three nurses were required on the larger planes. Patients with chest and head injuries were always assigned to the pressurized aircraft which at that time was only the Stratofreighter (C-97).

I recall that at Randolph AFB, there was a small department in another building called "Space Medicine." I became acquainted with some of the personnel there who were doing research on the effects of weightlessness on subjects who were tested by swinging in swings for hours at a time and spending time in hyperbaric chambers. There were several physiology scientists conducting the research there in anticipation of the time when astronauts would be flying to the moon and on. We found this amusing at the time, albeit interesting. Several of us in our group were invited to participate in the hyperbaric experience; but not the swinging tests.

One of the especially memorable experiences during flight school was flying on the "burp" ride in a C-47 (DC3) with the pilot simulating the worst possible turbulence and requiring us to peer out the open door to point out the Randolph AFB swimming pool. I did not vomit, but felt extremely nauseated. Never since have I experienced air sickness; however, when flying with patients, the pilots took great pains to avoid turbulence by changing altitude or altering the route when possible.

Upon graduation, we had earned the flight nurse wings--a caduceus with the capital letter N superimposed and were given our first assignments. I was assigned to Westover Air Base in Springfield, Massachusetts. Flights within the states were almost always in the C-47 with several destinations on each flight to evacuate soldiers from the various air bases having health conditions requiring treatment at one of the Army Hospitals. There were also weekly flights to Air Bases to Germany, but I was not assigned to any of these; usually the older and more experienced nurses were assigned. I recall flights to air bases in St. Louis, Glendale Naval Air Station, Kellogg, Michigan and Newfoundland during my short stay at Westover. On a flight over Lake Michigan in June, 1950, after we had evacuated a GI from Bemidji, Michigan where he had been on home leave when he got sick, the pilots reported to us they heard on their radio that President Truman had declared a military "police action" in Korea to prevent a Communist takeover of the country. "Police Action" was a euphemism for what later became the Korean War. At that point, we did not anticipate how that would affect our military careers.


Later in the summer, many of us received orders for Hickam AFB in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii; and five nurses with experience during WWII received orders for Japan where they would fly to the two airbases in Korea to evacuate emergencies to Haneda Air Base in Japan for treatment or stabilization at Tokyo Army Hospital before facing the long trip to the US. However, we often flew to one of the two air bases in Korea when the "police action" was not going well and there more wounded than the Tokyo crews could handle.

One of the Japan based nurses from Oklahoma, Juanita Bonham, was a dead head passenger on a plane to Korea (dead head signified flying without wounded en route to pick up patients) when it crashed on take-off into the Sea of Japan. The story we were told about that flight was that one nurse was killed and even though Juanita reportedly could not swim, she managed to inflate a life raft and save many of the passenger and crew from the aircraft. I was not fortunate enough to ever meet her, but one of my friends was the nurse on the plane that evacuated Juanita from Tripler Hospital in Honolulu to the US. Juanita subsequently received a medal for her heroism. According to my friend, Juanita did not recall anything about the event, but reports from others earned her an Air Force medal. I always wondered what happened to her and where she went. Perhaps some nurse who read this article will have information about her. She graduated from nursing school in Oklahoma early enough to have served in WWII.

Normally, the flights were long and tedious. When we dead headed from our base to Tokyo, or from the US, we only stopped for refueling then flew straight through to our destination. With propeller driven aircraft it was at least 12 hours--without any stops between Honolulu and the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California north of San Francisco. Between Hickham AFB in Honolulu flight time varied between 30 or 45 hours depending on the weather, the route taken over the Pacific, to which islands the aircraft had to deliver cargo and for refueling. The aircraft crew would stage at the various stops as we would do when returning with patients. That refers to handing over the flight to another crew and having the opportunity to rest or sleep before taking over for the next flight coming through the island. In the case of the patients, they would fly straight through to Hickam without stopping except when the plane refueled and a new crew took over. A nurse from our squadron was always on each of the islands for a rotating temporary duty assignment (TDY) to take over with non-ambulatory patients for feeding, changing dressings, giving back rubs, administering medicines and providing general comfort measures, while observing the patients for any complications and so on. Each island also had a small infirmary with about 20 or 30 beds if the plane could not continue for some reason (such as engine trouble) and needed to remain for a few hours or days for maintenance. Patients could be off-loaded to the infirmary if necessary.

The fall of 1950 was our busiest time ever; often flying continually with short--less than one day of rest in Tokyo (Haneda AFB), Honolulu (Hickam AFB) and Fairfield, California (Travis AFB) north of San Francisco. The conflict in Korea was going badly and our troops were driven to the southernmost area in Korea, the Pusan Peninsula. Appropriate clothing had not been provided to the troops and there were hundreds of patients evacuated due to frostbite, especially in the feet. There were not enough flight nurses and therefore enrollment in the US was increased with graduates then sent to Hickam AFB and Japan as soon as finishing their course.

My first flight over the Pacific Ocean was the most traumatic for me due to my inexperience and being the only nurse for fifty patients with only two corpsmen to assist me. The hours seemed endless, without an opportunity to nap even a bit; and the patients required continual observation, many medications and dressing changes and comfort measures. The litters were very hard, but the soldiers were usually so happy to be going home they seldom complained. To add to the tension of my first flight, at one point in the middle of the night between Tokyo and Midway Island, the four engines on our C-54 all stopped with a loud explosion and fire coming from the exhausts. We were all paralyzed with fright. After a few minutes, the engines restarted, but we were still worried about the engines. I sent one of the corpsman to the cockpit to see what had happened, while I reviewed the emergency procedures for ditching in the ocean and tried to reassure the patient's anxiety as much as possible while trying to control my own. The corpsman returned and said the co-pilot had accidentally hit the button that feathered (shut off) all four engines. This button had a ridge around it to prevent just such an event when pilots left a seat for whatever reason or to use the head (toilet). Fortunately, all was well and the flight continued uneventfully; but that particular co-pilot was forever called "pinhead Odem." I vowed never to fly with him again and was not sure I wanted to continue flying at all. I never saw him again and he was probably severely reprimanded for that 'accident'. We were very fortunate the engines remained functional after having been feathered while traveling at full speed.

After that event and the fear of ditching in the ocean, I gradually became more relaxed. But since the Korean War was a United Nations "police action," we often flew with planes and crews from other countries and with contract cargo carriers such as the Flying Tigers. The contract carrier's airplanes were not as well-maintained as those of the USAF and foreign crews had different military protocols. The Belgian contract carrier crews brought their girl friends along on their flight. I recall seeing the ocean through a hole in the floor of a C-54 Flying Tiger. Many of the pilots had been with the original Flying Tigers flying the "hump" in Asia before and during WWII. Mostly, they were colorful fellows, with a lot of flying experience and interesting stories.

Air evac planes were usually cargo planes outfitted with wall fixtures to attach four tiers of litters on each side. The planes flew to Tokyo full of supplies, cargo, passengers and flight nurses dead headed on the planes as they headed toward their destination. Some other destinations included the our troops were driven to the southernmost area in various Pacific Islands and atolls where UN troops were stationed. I had trips to Okinawa and Manila where I encountered many friends from basic training and flight school and physicians who were medical students when I was in nursing school at the University of Oklahoma. On a trip to Manila, we were stranded for a week during a typhoon and had the opportunity to visit the famous resort area nearby, Baguio, and many Manila sites including the famous St. Thomas Hospital where the Band of Angels nurses were incarcerated during the last part of their POW time.

All the pilots in the various carriers including the US Air Force were very solicitous about patient welfare and frequently visited the cabin to inquire how things were going in the back. They always tried to fly no higher than 8000 ft while avoiding turbulence whenever possible because higher altitudes might affect the patients adversely and was always more tiring to the medical crew. The cockpit crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator, and flight engineer normally, but often others would accompany the crew (supervisor pilots, newly assigned engineers and navigators etc). At times, they had to increased the altitude to 10,000 ft, but they always notified the medical crew so we could take special precautions to patients with open wounds, head injures or respiratory problems.

After the December, 1950 crisis, when the US troops in Korea were cut off from the rest of the country resulting in an increase in the air evac flights, we began to get many new flight nurses from US Navy and Canadian. Flying became more routine work for us "oldies," even with the process of orienting the new nurses. What we see on TV of evacuation flights from Iraq with planes equipped like ICU units, we can see how far medical evacuation has advanced since the Korean conflict where we had very little in the way of equipment except for what we could carry in our nursing trunk. There was no oxygen available except for the pilots.

As far as I know, we never lost a patient on any of the flights, although we had many emergency situations. By 1951 we had a nurse stationed on temporary duty (TDY) at Tokyo Army Hospital to assess when the wounded were stabilized enough to fly and to assign them to appropriate aircraft. All broken limbs in traction had to be casted and the number of psychiatric patients had to be limited on each fight. Even then they frequently caused disturbances even though they were shackled hand and foot to the litter. The nurses had some leeway to remove the arm restraints on selected patients. I had one patient on a 12 hour flight from Hawaii to the US who had not been sufficiently sedated before the flight, but soon began to utter obscenities loudly for most of the flight, even after I gave him a paraldehyde injection (the protocol recommended for the most extreme situation). The flight crew was getting stressed out with that, as well as the other patients. I ultimately gave him another dose of paraldehyde far beyond the standard protocol. He was quiet the rest of the flight. I did check him frequently to insure he was breathing. When we landed at Travis AFB, he awakened and started his yelling again, but the ambulances from Presidio Army Hospital met our plane there and assumed responsibility for him.

Contrary to today's jets, the cargo planes were very noisy and there was a lot of vibration. With our trunk of medical supplies we were quite generous with Sodium Seconal at night and morphine during the day. Each patient boarded the plan with a card pinned to his clothing stating his diagnosis, and medicines to be administered during the flight. Penicillin was still given every 3 or 4 hours and one had to be pretty agile to give the injections to those in the upper litters. When able, we permitted patients who were able to walk to sit in the row of seats along the sides at the back of the plane where the nurse and corpsmen sat.

Following a few incidents or landing difficulties, fire trucks and ambulances were required to be present for all take-offs and landings of medivac flights. We found it was not possible to evacuate patients in spica casts through the emergency door when occasionally a plane had to land without landing gears or lost an engine on take-off. To my knowledge, there was never a fire during one of those incidents, but with so many airmen and women in our squadron, most communications were simply word of mouth or rumor; and if there were any statistics maintained on the squadron we were not privy to them.

When there was engine trouble during the long flights between Hickam and Tokyo, the pilots informed us we may have to land at one of the unoccupied islands with runways constructed during WWII, but not currently in use. On one of my flights we had to land at Iwo Jima. Although a few personnel were stationed there, there were no off loading facilities and no women were permitted on the island. Usually the flight engineer could repair the problem in a few hours.

Flight crews consisted of two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. Because this was before radar, the navigators were very important and used their navigation equipment and the stars to plot our course. Yet, as you can imagine, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when a tiny island like Midway and Wake came into view. The patients were almost always anxious throughout the flights; but they figured if we young nurses were brave enough to do it, they would try not to show their fear. Sometimes an air force fighter pilot patient would try to bring his parachute on board with him, arguing a lot when we took it away from him, and finally he refused to board the plane even when the flight captain intervened.

Every three months the flight nurses and medical corpsman had to undergo a ditching rehearsal in a swimming pool at Hickam. One time, the Honolulu newspaper sent a reporter to take photos of us--we had to tread water for 15 minutes, swim 5 laps and then inflate the life raft and climb into it. During this particular test, as soon as we got in the life raft, it sank from damages it had sustained and not our lack of competence. Of course, the article did not appear in the newspaper and the incident was kept pretty quiet. Our Chief Nurse could not even swim, but she was given a pass on the test. She flew only enough to qualify for her flight pay (I think it was 50 hours); but one trip would meet that requirement. The same was true with flight surgeons. During my three years of flying, only one flight surgeon was on board with us supposedly to bring a pregnant woman with complications from one of the islands to Tripler in Honolulu. In reality, he wanted to come to Honolulu to for the nightlife. But somehow they were always able to fly enough to qualify for their flight pay, without actually being involved in patient care.

We never had any refresher courses about new medications or procedures during my time as a flight nurse. At first we lived in a barracks and as new flight nurses came, we graduated to the bachelor officers' quarters (BOQ). They were very nice brick apartment buildings with two floors and two bedrooms--two nurses to a bedroom. My first four roommates were friends from flight school or flight nurses who came when I did from Westover AFB. One of the four had been in WWII and we always listened to her advice as she was highly respected, in addition to being very attractive. Over the first two years, her behavior began to change very gradually but none of us took particular note of it. First she quit drinking coffee, then quit drinking alcoholic beverages and then she became afraid to fly any more and was assigned to the health clinic at Hickam, although she continued to live with us.

One time after a one-month TDY at Midway Island, I returned to our apartment and noticed that her changes in behavior were very apparent, even delusional. We had not noticed the gradual change.

On my first evening from Midway we were alone in our apartment and she shared some of her delusional thoughts with me. My roommates and I decided to discuss her behavior with a flight surgeon we knew, but before we had the opportunity to do that, she went into a catatonic state at work, had to be hospitalized and ultimately air evaced to the US. She did not recover and we heard she was later discharged. Psychotropic drugs were about 10 years away and her prognosis was very grim at that time.

Pregnancy among nurses was probably the most prevalent medical occurrence. The Chief Nurse of the Pacific Theater of the Air Force visited each base every six months. Her parting statement was always "Remember girls, do not get pregnant." Contraceptive pills were not yet on the market and the war atmosphere contributed the feeling of urgency to establish short term relationships and the need to make connections with other persons. Nurses who became pregnant were either discharged quietly or married with no terrible scandals that I knew of.

I was assigned to Midway Island for a 30 day TDY in the summer of 1952. There were two navy nurses there, a physician and a dentist. Midway had been built as a major base after WWII with homes for dependents. Later after the war Midway Island had only a population of about 20 people servicing the cable station that had been there for many years. Then with the Korean action, the base was reopened and the family quarters

were again in use by Navy dependents. The BOQ (Bachelor's Office Quarter) was a permanent facility and provided separate floors for the male and female officers. The other nurses and I spent our spare time bird watching. We especially enjoyed watching the gooney birds--a Pacific albatross that came to Midway Island for nesting. They were all over the island and jeeps and other vehicles had to avoid them because they often nested in the middle of the roads. They were not allowed to nest on the runways--but they could present difficulties when the planes took off and landed. That summer we heard that the US was going to send fighter jets to Japan for use in the combat now that Russians MIGS were used by the Chinese who were now taking an active role in supporting North Korea for the advancement of Communism in Korea.

The existing runways were not capable of accommodating several hundred jets. The Navy sent a battalion of Seabees (Navy engineers) to repave the runways. There were two unmarried young navy officers in the battalion and they added spice to the life of us single nurses. There were no other unmarried officers on the island. One of the officers and I developed a more serious relationship; but I was soon to terminate my TDY month on Midway Island. We continued our relationship by mail and ham radio and saw each other a couple of times when I had flights via the Midway route. As was common during a war, our romance was short and sweet; and resulted in marriage after only a short time together.

While on Midway Island, we were informed that a 30 foot tidal wave was due to hit Midway Island following an earthquake on the Kamatckha Peninsula off the coast of Russia. Because the highest point on Midway Island was 28 feet, we prepared for what seemed like the inevitable total destruction. All the airplanes left the island and the families were evacuated to the highest point which was where the flight tower was located. We three nurses were in charge of insuring the wives and numerous children were appropriately occupied to avoid hysteria. Actually, there was no mass hysteria although I remember the women playing bridge while we entertained their unruly children. When the tidal wave hit, it was only 20 feet high and swept over part of the island and through the BOQ and Officer's Club. The biggest loss in the opinion of many was the officer's liquor locker behind the officer's club. Life resumed normalcy and I left Midway to return to Hickam for the regular flight nursing activities.

During one of my flights through Midway, the navy officer with whom I was smitten and I made the decision to marry. He had not planned on making the Navy his career, having been recalled from the reserve as Seabee engineer for the current conflict. I agreed and I did not want to have a Navy marriage, although I had planned on making a career for myself in Air Force as a single nurse. He made the decision to resign from active duty, and I agreed to resign from the Air Force. He turned in his resignation and it was accepted. I did the same and mine was not accepted; thus, he returned to civilian life, living and working in San Francisco while we waited for my term of duty to expire. We married in Oahu, Territory of Hawaii and then I continued flying for another year. We were able to see each other occasionally when I flew the Hawaii to US route.

During that time, Cosmopolitan magazine wanted to do an article on flight nurses and they chose me to be the representative. A reporter/photographer came to Hawaii and accompanied me on a complete flight cycle: Hawaii to Tokyo, back to Honolulu then on to the US. She set up a photo op at Hickham Air Base, requiring the base information office to move a plane onto the runway for a shot she said would be on the cover that month. The article came out in March, 1953 and it was well-done; however, Marilyn Monroe was on the cover in a black negligee instead of my photo.

Finally my resignation came through in 1954 and I left Hawaii to separate from the Air Force and join my husband in the San Francisco area. We lived there for about 20 years where I was able to finally finish the BSN, and obtain the MSN at the University of California, San Francisco while giving birth and caring for five children. Fortunately, the GI-Bill was available, UCSF had a special part-time graduate program and over a period of 6 years I was able to complete the degrees. Since then, I obtained a PhD at the University of Oklahoma and worked as a Nurse Educator in Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Africa and until retiring three years ago teaching at several Universities in Mexico as a Visiting Professor. Indeed, my thirst for adventure has been pretty well satisfied.


Rappsilber, C. (2007). A Nurses' Story, Oklahoma Nurse (52) 1, pp 7-9.

US Army (1951). Life of the Soldier and the Airman, (33) 1, p. 9.

Pieloch, D. & Sagath, E. (1945). Spinal Cord injuries and the Stryker Frame, American Journal of Nursing, (5), pp 369-70.

Charlotte Rappsilber, RN, BSN, MSN, PhD
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Title Annotation:ONA News
Author:Rappsilber, Charlotte
Publication:Oklahoma Nurse
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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