Sunday, January 31, 2010


Mary McCluskey always knew she wanted to be a nurse, even if it meant she had to do things that girls shouldn't have to do. From those very first afternoons she spent volunteering at the East Tennessee Public Health Office, Mary knew she wanted to help people. In September of 1933, Mary began her nursing studies at Erlanger Hospital Nursing School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

She took great consolation in comforting patients with warm baths, extra blankets, fresh sheets, and hot water bottles. Surgery was a challenge - no room for error. The hospital was very poor in those days. Remember, it was in the middle of the Depression. Mary and the other student nurses spent their free time making bandages and folding gauze. The nurses even made their own cotton balls and saline solutions. Rubber gloves were patched and IV needles were sharpened. The most dreaded chore was the preparation of plaster of paris casts. Mary and the other nurses enjoyed the hospital nursery the most. The Emergency Room was the most exciting, especially on the weekends. The worst part of the hospital, other than the sickness, was the Operating Room Supervisor, who was extremely tough on the student nurses. In her first year of school, Mary was allowed eleven dollars a month to spend for non necessities. Every morning the nurses stood inspection, just like in the military.

Mary passed her Nurses Board examination. She was assigned as Supervisor of the Colored Wards at Erlanger Hospital. Her salary skyrocketed to sixty dollars a month. Mary joined the American Red Cross as a Red Cross Nurse. While with the Red Cross, she was assigned to Camp Forest to aid Mississippi flood victims. She earned eight dollars for a twelve hour day. Mary was looking for a "place to land." After working for a summer at the Philadelphia Graduate Hospital, she landed at Peerless Woolen Mills in Rossville, Georgia. It was in Rossville where she met her future husband, Roy McCluskey.

As the United States became more involved in World War II, Mary decided that she wanted to be an Army Nurse. She left home in September of 1942 for Stark, Florida. Roy joined the Navy. Mary spent 26 months at Camp Blanding in Florida. It was the 2nd largest infantry training camp in the United States. She volunteered for duty in a field hospital overseas, but never got the chance to go. Mary was assigned to surgery and then to the Chief Nurse's Office. As a day supervisor, Mary had charge of thirty-two hundred beds. The beds were arranged in two rows of sixteen hundred each. The rows were so long one could not see from one end to another.

When her boss, Col. Maley, was transferred to the China, Burma, India Theater of operations, Mary and a friend were invited to go along with her. Mary was sent to Brigham City, Utah, where she trained in the 172nd General Hospital. From Utah, Mary was flown to Bermuda. The conditions aboard the plane were very uncomfortable. Mary spent a few days in Casablanca, North Africa, before arriving in Karachi, India in December of 1944.

Mary's assigned hospital was in a desert. When anyone went outside, they had to wear sunglasses and head scarves. One night Mary was invited to go jackal hunting with two male officers. Mary's job was to shine the light. The trio didn't kill any jackals that night. They did kill a dog, a rabbit, and a vulture. The two men chased a poor pregnant cat, but Mary turned off the light, refusing to let the trigger happy officers shoot it.

While off duty, Mary and the nurses enjoyed shopping in the Indian shops. She met many officers of the famed "Merrill's Marauders," who were building "The Burma Road." The food wasn't that good - certainly not like her mamma's. In February of 1945, she was transferred to New Delhi. She never forgot the sight of the Taj Mahal in the Indian moonlight. In April of 1945, Mary and her fellow nurses participated in a memorial service for Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the end of the war drew nearer, the action became more intense. Twenty nurses were killed in a plane crash.

By April of 1945, the nurses were moving closer to China. After a stop in Calcutta, the nurses found that there was no hospital as they were told. To their disappointment, the nurses were put on detached service. It seemed that the commanding general had taken materials which had been intended to be used to construct a hospital. The general built a palatial home for himself, much to the dismay of the physicians and nurses.

With the aid of General Chenault's "Flying Tigers," the medical crews began building a hospital on their own. Chinese women and children made bricks out of clay and straw. Despite it being the rainy season, they worked all day to get the hospital built as soon as possible. Life in the hospital was getting better. One night, while dancing to music, Mary heard the announcement that the war with Japan was over. "Everyone stood still. We were unable to believe our ears. Then everyone started screaming and crying. We kissed like it was New Year's Eve," Mary wrote. The male officers ran to retrieve bottles of liquor, which had been secreted away in anticipation of the end of the war. After a short celebration, the medical crews were evacuated back to Shanghai.

Mary and the other nurses took advantage of their liberty and went into Shanghai to go shopping. Mary did a little Christmas shopping. She even bought her wedding dress. Mary left China in November of 1945. On December 6, 1945, nearly four years to the day after the beginning of the war, Mary saw the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. After a short stay in Des Moines, Iowa, Mary returned to Chattanooga, just in time for Christmas. She had been all the way around the world in the service of her country. Mary had a Merry Christmas that year, grateful for all her blessings. On January 3, 1946, Mary and Roy were married. Roy and Mary moved to Dublin when Roy came to work with J.P. Stephens and Company. Mary wrote of her experiences in a book that she called "We Have Come A Long Way." Her story, like that of every nurse, is a story of untiring and devoted service to their community and their country.