Transcript of Juanita H. Webster Interview
MilColl OH 914
August 25, 2001
Interviewer: W. Lee Johnson Jr.
Interview Location: Juanita Webster’s home
Interview Runtime: 00:44:39
Transcribed By: Stephanie Virsu, February 2019; Matthew M. Peek, January 2020
Collection: Military Veterans Oral History Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina
Juanita Hartense Hamilton was born on November 21, 1918, in Henderson County, North Carolina, to Neal William and Loveda Estelle McCrary Hamilton. Juanita’s father, a World War I veteran, was a farmer in Henderson County.
She graduated from high school in 1934 and worked briefly in a hosiery mill in Hendersonville before deciding to study nursing. She saved up money from working and moved to Washington, D.C. to live with an aunt while she attended nursing school. She trained at Gallinger Municipal Hospital in a program that lasted three years. After graduating, she worked briefly as a private duty nurse.
Juanita Hamilton was keen to join the Army, with the climate of increasing tension and pressure on the U.S. to support the war. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, she knew that she had to join up. Shortly after, she enlisted in the Army and entered the Army Nurse Corps. She was assigned to the 153rd Army Station Hospital and sent to Brisbane, Australia in 1942 as part of the first group of nurses to be stationed in the south Pacific to treat war casualties. From there she was stationed for a time in New Guinea. In her unit there she met her future husband, Douglas James Webster, an Air Force Staff Sergeant.
After Hamilton returned to the U.S., the Army sent her to nurse anesthetist school. She eventually reached the rank of First Lieutenant. After she was discharged in 1945, she had a long and varied career in nursing that included contributions to nursing education, public health, and hospital administration. She worked as a nurse anesthetist and instructor in nursing programs, became Director of the Department of Anesthesia at Baylor University in Houston, Texas, and worked as a consultant for the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Hospitals.
Her husband passed away in 1981. Juanita H. Webster died on June 2, 2002. At the time of her death she was living in Penrose, North Carolina, near Brevard in Transylvania County. She was buried in the Blue Ridge Gardens of Memory Cemetery in the Pisgah Forest.
Transcriptions reflect the original oral history recording. Due to human and machine fallibility transcripts often contain small errors. Transcripts may not have been transcribed from the original recording medium. It is strongly suggested that researchers engage with the oral history recording as well as the transcript. This transcription was created as part of a public crowdsourced transcription project “North Carolina Veterans Oral History Transcription Project,” by the State Archives and State Library of North Carolina. The project was supported through grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the federal Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
[Interviewer Name Abbreviation: LJ]
[Interviewee Name Abbreviation: JW]
Start of Interview
LJ: This is Lee Johnson, It’s Saturday August 25th, 2001. I’m at the house of Juanita Webster. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today. Let me get started with the first question. Please state your full name, the date, and place of birth, and where you were born and raised.
JW: Juanita Hamilton Webster is my full name. I lived in Henderson County, which is the next county over. What else do you need?
LJ: Date of birth, and I won’t do the math.
JW: Well I’m 82 years old.
LJ: Most gentlemen don’t ask a lady their age.
JW: I know but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m 82 years old and will be 83 this November. I was born 21st of November 1918.
LJ: And you were raised in Henderson County as well?
JW: Yes, and then I went in nursing training.
LJ: When did you enter into active service then? After, when did you start nursing training?
JW: Well when I got out of nursing training.
LJ: Which was?
JW: When I went in training in [was] 1938, I got out in 1941. Just when the war was declared. So, it was perfect right ending the service from Washington D.C. They sent me down to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was my first post. I stayed there about three or four weeks, and then they sent a bunch of us to New York. We got to New York and, at first, we were so busy running back and forth over to Brooklyn to get our socks and everything else we had to get. I had a real sore arm, I remember that. Then we were supposed to go overseas right then. Well the ship that we were supposed to go on was sabotaged. It was blown up in the harbor.
LJ: In New York?
JW: In New York. Yes. I left here when I was 18, and went to Washington D.C. Then I went to New York. And when the ship blew up, they sent us back to Fort Dix and put us back to work. So that was the end of our little hay day for a while. But anyway, eventually we were told to get ready to go again, and we went right down to the … what would you call it to get on the ship, commissary or no.
LJ: On the pier, or on the port of embarkation?
JW: Port of embarkation. That’s what I was trying to think of. Well we went on down and found a ship, and it was a big ladder going up I thought and lugged my barracks bag up there and asked where the nurses go, and they said right here. Two sailors stand there laughing at me, they was. So anyway, got on board the ship and I was just fine until we started moving out into the water; and I got sick, sick, seasick in New York. And I stayed sick all the way to Florida I could not stand being that low to the boat. We had no Dramamine or anything else to take.
LJ: Oh no.
JW: There was not a thing to take for sea sickness. So anyway, I finally got over it when I got to Panama. There were three [unintelligible speech] ships and a bunch of other ships around us. Of course, we had the [unintelligible speech] going down the Atlantic. As soon as I got in and got still I was alright.
LJ: So, when did you get into Panama? Do you remember?
JW: About 5 or 6 days later.
LJ: And this would have been?
JW: It was 1942.
LJ: So, first part, middle part, do you remember the month?
JW: Probably about February.
JW: In the middle of February 1942.
LJ: So, you were under a high U-boat all the way down the coast?
JW: Yes. Yes, we were. And even across the Atlantic they claim. But anyway, I never saw anything. I never saw anything in the Atlantic either, but I was sick, you know.
LJ: You got into Panama.
JW: Panama, I threw up that night. And uh, vomited my head off. And I was fine the next day. But I got out and saw the Panama Canal and thought, “Oh Lord, I hope we don’t ever let the Chinese get ahold of this.” And do you know that those rascals, they control of each end of it now. You knew that didn’t you.
LJ: Um hum.
JW: They control each end of the Panama Canal. And that makes me furious to think about that. See we gave it up. You remember President Carter, I believe was the one that said to give it up.
LJ: Turn it all over. In fact, they just did finished turning it over this last year to the Panamanians.
JW: Yeah. Yeah. And then they let the Chinese come in and take control of each end of it.
LJ: Well, we’ve got a clause, that is if militarily we do need it, we can go back in and take it. That clause is there.
JW: Well that is good. ‘Cause I know we have ships still going through there.
LJ: Um hmm, all the time.
JW: I know we do.
LJ: All the time.
JW: So anyway, after we had took two days I believe to go through the canal, for all of us to go through. Got to the other side and there was the big ‘ole Pacific Ocean out there, and it looked wide as it could be. I did fine and all the way across until the last night on board ship, and then I got sick again. It was another storm. So, I was sick again. That was in the Tasman Sea. But I wanted to tell you about Bora Bora. When we got to Bora Bora—which is over halfway across— and the ship pulled into port, and of course the Navy was controlling that base there. We had a bunch of men come on board ship and eat supper with us that night. And that was the night that I talked one of them into taking me over to the island. And so he did. We went down the ladder and I went over and got on the island, and I planted my feet firmly in the soil. And he came back and sat down and he said, “You’re gonna get us both court-marshalled, you’re gonna have us both court-marshalled, and I said no.” So any way ….
LJ: You just wanted to feel dry land, that’s what it was.
JW: Well, no, I just wanted to say I’d put my feet in the sand in Bora Bora. That’s what it was. So anyway, that was the only exciting thing I can remember on the trip. We finally, after about thirty-seven days, we were told that we can see land. And by then, we knew we were gone into Brisbane, and one of the ships that was with us went to—I can’t even think, what’s the name of the island? It’s a little bit left of Australia.
LJ: New Zealand.
JW: New Zealand. Yeah. And my girlfriend went there. And, of course, we wrote for a while, but I never saw her again. I don’t know where the other ship went. I never found out. So, we got to Australia, we landed, and took a big bus—I guess is what it was. To take about sixty miles inland. And that was my husband driving that truck.
LJ: Oh, ok.
JW: Later to be my husband. But he said that when he saw me, well of course that was after we left the post. That I was sitting there at the table with a drink in each hand. I used to drink whisky and chase it with water. And he said I’m gonna marry that girl. And I guess that, he told it all his life, so I maybe he said that. But, anyways.
LJ: So, this would have put you in April of ‘42. And they assigned you to the hospital there?
JW: Oh yes. That was what we, the bus was ready to take us to the hospital which was about sixty miles inland. I don’t know why the Australians never had girls’ schools. I never saw a girls’ school. Everything was a boys’ school. They must not have given the girls anything. But it had been a boys’ school, and made over for us. We stayed there several months, I don’t remember how long. But anyway, the next thing was to take us to New Guinea. And our men were sent on into Brisbane. And they were put on a plane and then they got on a boat and they went to New Guinea. And they went and we had to stay behind, for them to go set up the hospital. And they did. In the meantime, I had pneumonia. It was in the fall. And, of course, as you know, the seasons were entirely different. It was cold as could be, and I was freezing to death. And one night I went on duty and this girl said let me feel of you. You’re warm, you got to be warm. And my temperature was 103 [degrees Fahrenheit] or something like that. So anyway, I was put to bed, for a while. And I finally came over there, and was sent to Brisbane again and put on a hospital ship—an Australian hospital ship. And [was] sent to New Guinea. That was a fun trip. It was about five days I believe, from Brisbane. And we got to New Guinea and there was a ship sunk right out there in the harbor. They had been fighting in New Guinea. The Japs had been fighting they wanted to take over. We didn’t let them. But anyway, when we got to New Guinea we got off the ship. And I had a bottle of whiskey in each … this is going on record, though isn’t it? I don’t need to say this.
LJ: Just be yourself, don’t worry about it, just be yourself.
JW: I don’t need to tell all of this stuff about drinking … I don’t drink that much anymore. I took a little nurse. How are we doing over there?
LJ: Oh, we’re doing fine, we’re doing fine. We have about 45 minutes assigned [unintelligible speech].
LJ: So, this would have been the later part of 1942 then.
JW: Yes …
LJ: Towards October, November.
JW: In the fall, something like that, of 42.
LJ: Just beginning his island campaign.
JW: MacArthur was still in the Philippines when we got to New Guinea. He hadn’t left the Philippines then, or maybe we were still down in Australia. But anyway, he left after we got there, he went around us, and he went down and settled in wherever he settled in. And then later on he had a house built, or put a house, in the port of New Guinea. And I saw that, but that was.
LJ: Port Moresby, I guess it was?
JW: Port Moresby, yes. So anyway, I got to see that and, got to see lots of things and I wouldn’t have known otherwise, you know, but I’m interested to see.
LJ: So once you were arrived there you were assigned to the hospital?
LJ: And you were beginning to work with the wounded that turned up and were getting surgery?
JW: Oh, yes. We already had some patients. The men had been there about two months, I believe; and they had the hospital set up and the operating room going and everything under control. So, when we came we just walked in and started working. And it was a pitiful little tent. I don’t know if I have a good picture for you or not. I think I …
LJ: Well, you were showing me one earlier of your victory buddy.
JW: Yea, well that’s good enough cause I can’t live without it. But it was kind of a pitiful thing.But it was fine for us, you know I was raised over here in Henderson County you know, never had a light or water or anything else in the house.
LJ: So, for a backwoods girl it wasn’t that big of a change then?
JW: No, it wasn’t.
LJ: Did you have problems with indigenous animals, with snakes, with anything along those lines?
JW: No, I don’t remember seeing a snake at all. We had a horse come through the camp one time. I don’t know where it came from, but Doug rode it down beside my trailer, my tent—I could see him riding it. But no, we had no problems with animals, at all.
LJ: How long did you stay in New Guinea?
JW: A little over six months. About eight months I guess. They sent [unintelligible speech] and me back to New Guinea for a leave; and while we were then there, they decided to send the rest of the outfit back. Because they were, I guess they were kind of getting down to the bottom. They done all they needed to do with us up there. [Pause in recording]
LJ: So, you were in New Guinea for about six months and sent back to Brisbane for a while. Where did you go from New Guinea then?
JW: Back to Brisbane and from Brisbane then they sent us down to Southport, which is about sixty miles below Brisbane—right on the coast. It was a beautiful spot. It was a summer home province. Winter, I guess it would have been winter over there. It was right on the gulf coast. Lot of houses there that people who lived in Brisbane, but they had them down there. So that’s where we were stationed. And it turned out to be a real good place to be in and another boys school. We took over the boys’ school.
LJ: So that would put you in the middle of 1943 then?
JW: Probably so.
LJ: How long were you down there in Southport?
JW: The rest of the time and I don’t remember how long that was. But it was a year probably. [Pause in recording]
LJ: So, you would have been in Southport, says here from 15th of September 44, and came back to the United States. Where did you disembark in the United States when you came back from that trip?
JW: On the West Coast. We had to come across on a train. And we had to get off and run up and down, see the train had to pull over here on this side and let the trains go west, ‘cause they were still taking people overseas. And so, we would pull off, then we would get out and we would run up and down the tracks. I was almost run off and left one time, trying to get something … I don’t know what it was. But anyway, we finally got back to I think to some place in Arkansas. What was it? Hot Springs?
LJ: Hot Springs, Arkansas? That would be a common visiting center.
JW: I was sent there. I came home first. I came back to Fort Dix, New Jersey, all the way across the United States. Fort Dix, New Jersey. I came back home, then I went back on the train to Texas.
LJ: Says here Harmon General Hospital [in] Longview, Texas?
LJ: That was when you stayed in Texas for a while until the end of the war or so?
JW: Yes, I did, and that was where I took a course in anesthesia too; one course, a six month course in anesthesia was taken there. And then, of course, when I got out of the service I decided to go on to Charity, New Orleans, and take the year course—so I could give anesthesia all the time.
LJ: Now were you using your G.I. Bill at that time to go ahead and do your training in New Orleans?
JW: No, we didn’t have a G.I. Bill then. It hadn’t even started, and I was still in the service. I was trying to find a key ring I had here.
LJ: Says here date of actual relief was 26th of December 1945. So, they had you at two or three different hospitals [during this time]?
JW: In Texas, right. I was in two different hospitals. The first one they sent me to was in a town of [unintelligible speech] Dallas, I can’t even remember the name of it—the town. I despise that place. It was by the country and you have to take a car to go in, and nobody had a car to go into Dallas to buy or anything else. So, I asked to be transferred—this is when I decided to take first course in anesthesia. I got that, and when I got out and went on to take anesthesia like I said in New Orleans.
LJ: You were there almost year in New Orleans?
JW: A year, a whole year.
LJ: You graduated, what? That was probably sometime in 1946?
JW: About that.
LJ: Okay. And where did you go from there?
JW: I’m trying to think, we lived in Lafayette … Lafayette, Louisiana. And that was also where our first son was born. We had two homes. I wanted to tell you a little bit about Australia but anyway too late I guess.
LJ: We can go back. But I also want to go ahead, you said you met your husband overseas—in fact you said he was driving the bus?
JW: To take us to the nurses’ home.
LJ: How long did you date before you finally decided to get married?
JW: Well, I guess we dated a year or more. And then he finally talked me into marrying him. I kept saying no I can’t marry you because it’s against the rules and regulations. And he said no it’s not—course it was. But anyway, we finally found a pastor or minister in Brisbane who said yes, he’d be glad to marry us. And that’s where I had one of the nurses who had been in my outfit—she wasn’t anymore. And Douglas and I got married and he signed as a witness and the preacher. That’s all we had … an Australian wedding. But it was good and a real nice thing. That’s what I had, an Australian ….
LJ: Of course, they recognize that in the states when you came here?
JW: Oh yeah, well, I didn’t have to show it to anybody. I was going to tell you a little bit about … Could I back up to the trip?
LJ: Sure, go right ahead, go right ahead.
JW: On May 6th, I want to read this.
LJ: Go right ahead, that’s fine.
JW: [Reading from newspaper article interviewee wrote] On May 6th, 1942, Corregidor fell to the Japanese. And we knew we would soon be more than a Hospital fifty miles from Brisbane having tea at 10, 2 and 6. Our outfit soon moved near Brisbane and assisted another hospital unit. By this time the Australian winter, which is June, July, and August, had set in. It was very cold and we had no heat whatsoever in our living areas. We would sleep in a little two by four building. Not nearly as big as this porch. It was very cold and no heat whatsoever in our living areas, I got pneumonia from sleeping in the drafty place which we were assigned. I was transferred to a general hospital in Brisbane. Knowing the men in our outfit were about to leave for New Guinea, this was before they went up there. I was also very serious about the man from Oklahoma, which is the man I married. The officers and enlisted men did leave; but the nurses stayed in Australia, so I was separated from him again. The nurses were assigned to a hospital just outside Brisbane during this time; it had also been a school, and was not very big. Just after getting back from the pneumonia I got phlebitis in the right leg, and back in the hospital again. That sick was more fun because our nurses were there, and several interesting fellow patients in the hospital ward. When the order came through, we were finally going to be with [the] outfit and take care of real war causalities. And we were off to Fort Moresby, New Guinea, on an Australian hospital ship. That was some experience, the Australians had had food for board for several years. This particular group of doctors and nurses had been depleted, and several other support to take care of their armies in the field. They did not let the world bother them one bit. We came on board about mid-morning, and in the [unintelligible speech] of the deck was a beautiful table set for morning tea. Could you imagine seeing this during the middle of war. It had a white linen tablecloth, real china and silver, lovely tea service, and loads of dainty sandwiches. At 4 pm we had tea again, and cocktails before dinner if we liked. What a way to fight a war. I truly admire the British spirit of the tradition of tea and dressing for dinner—even in New Guinea. Their discipline has been their strength. The Australian nurses are called sisters and wear uniforms much like some of our captains. Though they are not religious order. The lieutenants in their military are called “leftenant”; otherwise their ranks are much like ours. Though the nurses did not have military titles. We made friends fast as we usually did aboard ship. I even changed uniforms for one evening with one of them. What a shock to my friends when I came out wearing that. These people really know how to pass time and enjoy life: we put on plays and pantomime and sang songs on our trip across the sea Port Moresby. I learned many verses of waltzing there, and the beautiful Maoris’ farewells—they are natives of New Zealand.
JW: Maoris is the native tribe of New Zealand. They have more of a Polynesian-look than they have aborigines of Australia. Their aborigines were kind of ugly. You know they are black and they have funny features. But these people were pretty good looking. Maori’s farewell was a song the women sing to send men off to war. It was brought back to the states by a popular American singer, and now is called “Now Is The Hour” [this is historically inaccurate. After World War II, Americans commonly ascribed this titled song as having Maori origins. It did not]. It’s a haunting tune and sad words. Even now when I hear it I can see the Maori boy, so brown with the blue, blue water of the sea behind him, and the turned up brim of the Australian Army hats. You remember they had their hats turned up like that. I can almost taste the good hot tea and thin sandwiches served onboard on ship. It was a memorable trip. I just wanted to read that.
LJ: Go ahead, read more, that’s fine.
JW: So we arrived at the harbor at Port Moresby, New Guinea. This was called the [unintelligible speech] paupuan campaign, since this was a Paupuan territory that was administered by the Australians. The haul of a sunken ship was highly visible to remind us this was not a South Sea cruise. For our outfit was there, my sweetheart was there, and not a Jap in the world could stop me. To celebrate I poured my canteen full of cool Champaign, and had a bottle of scotch in each sleeve of my jacket as I stepped off the gang plank. [Banter between interviewer and interviewee].
JW: But anyway, that’s … that’s enough to read from that. And it was funny what the people would send mama. There must have been something about mailing paper [unintelligible speech] in this end of the country, because mama had rules for clippings sent to her. She was still here. In an article by the Associated Press and Times-Picayune—now this is a paper from New Orleans you know—described our situation very well. American nurses at Guinea bases have this [unintelligible speech], somewhere in New Guinea, November 23rd, 1942 [from a newspaper clipping].
LJ: These were different newspaper articles that you got in here?
LJ: That’s fantastic. If you ever—I will save this for Mr. Harrington—get a chance to run copies of those I will give you a name and address, I will reimburse you for the cost of the copies. And you can send those to me, and I will go ahead and make sure he gets those on record. Because I’ll be able to pull some information from those as well.
JW: Yes, you can. What the paper said, eighteen American young women who believe that of all the nurses in the United States Army they are the happiest. They live in tents under the blazing tropical sun. Sometimes they run through the trenches when the Jap bombers come over. Little in the way of recreation but they are happy. The eighteen are serving in one of the northernmost outposts of MacArthur’s command; this was a “no woman area” until their arrival. Men bathed in unscreened showers along the road, and we saw them bathing when we got there. The article goes on to describe the tents that we soon had individualized. Mine was called “coconut grove,” and I had palms planted, and a coconut and a bush for decoration. I also had my guitar for a tune now and then. We could swim in the river; but the mosquitos were very friendly. And of course we slept under mosquito nets, both in Australia and New Guinea, all the time. About the most unpleasant thing for me was having to take vitamin pills. And it made my stomach cramp and ears ring, so I quit taking anything thinking I would just as soon have malaria. But I was never sick a day in New Guinea for that.
LJ: That was good. How often did the Japanese attack?
JW: Oh, every night. See there were three airbases besides, how can I describe it. When we landed we got off the ship and went that way. And there were three airbases between us and the shore. So every night they come over and bomb the bases. And then of course we had an attack go up and one fall down. That was about the worse thing. Every night we had split trenches and we were scared to get in them because of snakes. You asked me about snakes, we did have some snakes out there, I’d forgot about that. We were scared to get in there. It was something.
LJ: That went on for about six months then? Until they finally moved the Japanese out of the base there?
LJ: So you had the wounded who were coming into New Guinea, the extensive wounded there … the malaria?
JW: And jungle rot.
LJ: And jungle rot of course. One hand?
LJ: So, you had massive medical cases that you were dealing with all the time, almost like you were on the very front lines because you were getting bombed almost daily?
JW: Yes, mm hmm.
LJ: So, you were right in the thick of it for a good six months there. And then they sent you back to Australia. Did you think that you were going to actually be sent back up forward when Macarthur started the island campaign?
JW: We thought that we might, but we were kind of afraid. See we had already been there, our length of time that we were supposed to stay. So, when they sent us back, I figured, “Well, that’s all.” And so, when MacArthur really broke loose and started, I was praying for the Lord to send me. I wanted to go back and go in with him. I thought that would have been the greatest thing in the world.
LJ: So, they only rotated hospitals about six months in the war zone, and then pulled them back?
LJ: Was there a reason for that? Is it that you were probably facing too much in the way of trauma all the time?
JW: I image it’s the trauma. I can’t think of any other reason, because we certainly did our work. We always did our work.
LJ: I have no doubt, it sounds like it. What do you remember most as both happy and sad during the six months while you were in combat?
JW: The saddest thing I can think of happened when we first got there, in New Guinea. Of course, when we arrived in New Guinea, our first sergeant was ill when we got there. He was sick when we got there, he had something wrong with his stomach. And we didn’t have any penicillin then, remember that. And that boy died, right there in New Guinea. And I went to his funeral. Planes came over and somebody played Taps. But that was the saddest thing I remember.
LJ: You had just got into the war zone?
LJ: Was it appendicitis?
JW: Yes. that’s what they said it was.
LJ: What else intrigued you about your time in the combat zone. What were some of your impressions?
JW: I can’t even think of any right now. I guess it’s because I’ve written all this stuff and I don’t know what to do with it now.
LJ: Well, you can certainly run copies that will help.
JW: Well, I surely will.
LJ: Well for instance what was your daily routine? You’d get up in the morning and have “Reveille,” or just [unintelligible speech]?
JW: Oh yeah. We had a regular Army base. There were 21 nurses and I guess about 120 men. It was a small outfit. But I do remember the 21 nurses, and then we had some attached to us I can remember them. Of course, I can remember the food. And we ate canned meat that had been canned in 1918.
LJ: Oh, man.
JW: We did. We didn’t have any eggs to eat. When I went to General Macarthur’s office headquarters, I took home this many eggs, all I could carry. And we ate eggs the next day, I can tell you that.
LJ: So, you were on K rations and C rations almost the whole time?
JW: Oh, yeah.
LJ: Did you get any fresh food at all? You couldn’t trust anything from the jungle around you?
JW: No, I can’t remember anything from the jungle. I just remember blah old food and that’s about all I can remember about it. The boys would have to scrape it together, and cook up whatever they could. Boys in the kitchen tried real hard to please us. It was in Army, I didn’t have to like it, they didn’t ask me to like it. You know.
LJ: So, you get up in morning, you have your breakfast?
JW: Get dressed and go to work and we usually work 12 hours a day, and two hours off in between. That was the nurses’ routine, even when I was in nurses training we did that. We’d have an afternoon off every now and then. Sometimes on a Sunday. We could swim, we could go down to the river and swim. And one time I almost got washed away because, I don’t swim well anyway, the river had come up and it was so swift and I got out in the middle, and, boy, I was gone, just like that. One of the boys saw me, and I was yelling and screaming and he had to swim a mile down the river to catch me. And we had to walk back up the river shivering and shaking. I can remember that.
LJ: So, you’d work twelve hour shifts, what did you have on your afternoons off to go swimming, what else did you have available to you? Did they ever get any forward USO show tours to you in that area? Did you get into any in Australia? Did you have any USO tours?
JW: No, they didn’t have any USO tours. I can remember when they got back down to Southport. We’d go to the movies. And then they’d have two or three pictures at a time. That’s all we had. You talking about people coming in?
LJ: USO Troops or USO sponsored dancers? Anything along those lines. [unintelligible speech]. Once you had finished your shift. Did you get a chance to leave, you mentioned you had a guitar. Did you get a chance to play guitar?
JW: Yeah, I could play guitar a little bit, and I’d get some girls out in front of my tent and we’d sing. Sometimes at night we’d get together and sing something, and that was about all we did. Oh, and I use to take the gun and go across the hill and shoot. I learned to shoot. And I love guns, do you like guns?
LJ: Well I’ve been around them quite a bit. I don’t have any around the house with the kids right now.
JW: Well you can have them. Wouldn’t hurt anything.
LJ: I understand, my wife has her version too.
JW: I know, a lot of people do. We’d take some guns and go out across the hill and put some targets up around and go shoot at them. And that would be part of our day, too.
LJ: Did you ever treat any Japanese prisoners? Did they run them through you before they took them down to Australia or any place?
JW: Didn’t have to. There was an Australian hospital right over the hill from us. They had some Chinese and Japanese.
LJ: Koreans probably.
JW: No, no Korean. Chinese and Japanese. And one of the boys [was] about ten years old. He had been captured with one of the groups that they were brought in.
LJ: [Unintelligible speech]. So, they treated him at your hospital, they took care of them, and sent them out to the field?
JW: I don’t know what they did with them I never did find out. But I know they had some.
LJ: How was discipline overall in your unit? Did you have any problems on people not focusing on doing their jobs?
JW: Not the nurses.
LJ: You were up in the jungles, so there wasn’t a heck of a lot of places to go?
JW: No. No, where you could go, was there. No, we didn’t have any problems. I remember one man, one fellow, who liked to gamble, and he was taking all the money from the boys. They had to do something to him. But I don’t remember anything else.
LJ: Was there any kind of discrimination present? You didn’t have any black nurses at that time?
JW: No, we didn’t.
LJ: But you may have, was there any regional discrimination? You were from the South—you may have been working with other people from New England or the West?
JW: Well, I was raised in Washington D.C. So that had gotten me away from the South. I never thought much about it. None of my people back then, they weren’t prejudice towards other people, they weren’t. Being in Washington D.C. and nurses training, I had everybody to take care of, so it didn’t bother me.
LJ: Was there much frivolity, you know you’re a country girl that’s why you’re doing so well over here? You know verses a city girl. You know there wasn’t any joking back and forth?
JW: No, none of that.
LJ: Being a medical unit I would imagine you were all healthy there. You didn’t have any longterm health problems. Or anything along those lines, you know malaria that some people probably contracted and any that you may have contracted from them?
JW: Well, the malaria was the worst thing we had, because everybody that came into our hospital had malaria. Every patient had it. Like I said, my husband had it so many times there’s no way he could’ve had children, unless we adopt out. But I don’t remember anything bad about it.
LJ: Did you receive any additional training after arriving overseas, on particular diseases that you could find, or particular types of dysentery that are inherent into that region?
JW: I didn’t have any training after for it, but I remember some cases coming through of all kinds of things. And again, we had no medicine for it. Before penicillin—before everything came out. In fact, I can remember when I was in medical training that I put a patient to sleep in an iron lung. Now that’s how much we still had foreign in the Unites States. And we had every disease in the world come into our isolation unit. I can’t even remember what came in because we don’t have it anymore, but I do remember the iron lung—that patient had polio of course. I had to get right up to him and I’d have to wash his face and give him sips of water and … oh, pitiful patient.
LJ: Did you see cases of Dengue fever?
JW: Yeah, Dengue fever.
LJ: And they had a form of sleeping sickness I guess over there, came from files—or is it Dengue fever came from flies?
JW: Probably the Dengue fever. I don’t remember the Dengue particularly, but I do remember some of the boys that would have the chills and fevers for so long. And they have go into the chills and they’d shiver and shake; and then they’d get over that and they’d be warm and you have to change their clothes all over the place. We did that all the time, all the time, especially back in Australia.
LJ: I think Dengue fever showed up in the first time in, what was it, Guadalcanal, wasn’t it, and they had no idea what it was?
JW: It may have been.
LJ: You were stationed up close to the front lines, and we know you were working with the Japanese. Other than the chow and the snakes in the trenches, what hardships did you have to overcome? Did it take you quite a bit to overcome in your mind or body?
JW: I don’t remember any hardships.
LJ: Was it that much an adventure for you then?
JW: It was.
LJ: Of course, living here and at that time in the country as you were up in the mountains— didn’t probably have to adapt?
JW: No. And, of course, I trained in Washington D.C. and that was a big school to train in. And then we went on to New York and I don’t remember anything going wrong or being bad, nothing wrong at all happened.
LJ: And the morale in your unit overall?
JW: It was good.
LJ: Good. As indicated in the newspaper report there they thought you was in the best place in the world. Did you have any people transferring out to a smaller group like that, you probably would have known everybody intimately, you know, on a first name basis? Who their parents were, their sisters, their brothers? Did it really hurt when somebody transferred out? That kind of a loss?
JW: Well, it would bother me, especially if you liked them. I really don’t remember being mad or upset or anything while I was gone. I guess you might say a real treat for me. I enjoyed travel and I enjoyed going overseas. I enjoyed everything that we did.
LJ: Well, you came back September ‘44. Did some training in Texas. Went ahead and did some training in New Orleans. Ultimately, you were down in New Orleans. When did you hear about the cease-fire in Germany? Were you down in New Orleans in May of ‘45 then, when the war was happening in Europe?
JW: No, that was before. I remember the war in Germany being over first, and the war in Australia being over second.
LJ: Right it was May of ‘45 when the war stopped in Europe. What did you think about that when you heard that?
JW: Well, I was glad that it had stopped, but I knew we still had to go on and try to whoop the Japanese. And thank goodness we did.
LJ: Did you have any kind of celebration at all?
JW: Oh, yes. We celebrated all night long. We pulled that bottle out of our arm sleeve. We had a good time that night.
LJ: So, then you heard about the Japanese bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then almost immediately after surrendered to Japan. Then you celebrated again for that one. You were already home, so the point system didn’t come into play for you. But they kept you in until December ‘46.
JW: Um huh.
LJ: So, you were still working out your commission, or they just indicated that was as soon as they could get. 26 December 1945? Nice Christmas present for that year?
LJ: And did you just resign your commission at that time, or indicated that if you wanted to leave you could and be discharged?
JW: Well, we had a big thing up in New Jersey whenever I went. We could’ve stayed, they told us we could’ve stayed, and they’d be glad to keep us and that sort of thing. I guess we could’ve gone all day with the sergeant or somebody giving us this lecture. But I really had all I wanted, and I’d been and I ‘d done things. You know I wanted to come on home and I wanted to get out, get on with life. And I was the only nurse out in Crane, Texas, where we went; and I wanted to get back in the hospital and be with people. I wanted to be with nurses. This is what I missed: seven years being with nurses, and all of a sudden dumped out here in this little town in west Texas with no nurses at all. So that’s what I missed more than anything.
LJ: That worked out for you essentially and you got reassigned.
LJ: Do you think the Hollywood movies that you’ve seen on television portray wartime scenarios, war time movies—do they show you in your mind honestly what it was like?
JW: Probably not. I try to hope so because sometimes I hope that we can teach people something that we’ve done before. I imagine that it’s a little bit to put on, but we have to take it and that’s what we have and go by.
LJ: So, they make it more Hollywood than realistic?
LJ: Telling me about the new movie Pearl Harbor, is that the action scenes of course were fantastic but the love story, love triangle is just …
JW: I didn’t even go see that.
LJ: I haven’t either. Everybody’s telling me I needed to.
JW: Well somebody told me I needed to, and I said I saw enough of that when I was in the army. I don’t need to see anything like that.
LJ: Overall how would you characterize your time overseas in the war. It indicated here from what I overheard in the article that you guys were the happiest nurses around, certainly thought you were the busiest with everything that was going on?
JW: I was proud to be an Army nurse. I was tickled to death about that. And as it said in here, we were thought we were the best and most and everything else you know. And we were overseas and nobody else was there. And we were doing the job.
LJ: So, would you say you the first American nurses on New Guinea?
JW: Yes. Oh yeah.
JW: Did they send another unit in behind after they transferred you were out?
JW: Yes, but they sent them to another island. I don’t know which one it was, but they didn’t send anybody back to New Guinea.
JW: ‘Cause we were through, that’s when we went to Southport.
LJ: You had that distinction then … the first ones there on site. It was still considered very much a combat zone, with the bombings. You know, you still have Japanese on the ground around you?
JW: They were. When we first got to New Guinea they were across the mountain from us. Because we had an infantry division that were really trying to chase them back across the mountain. What was the name of that division. We were the 153rd. I can’t think of what it was. But anyways, the boys over here were trying to push them on off, and that’s when they get shot and they come in with jungle rot and all this other stuff they had when they came to our hospital. I don’t remember being mad or upset about anything.
LJ: Is there anything else I have a few minutes left on this side. Anything else you want to add?
JW: Can you turn it off just a minute and I will see if I can find something.
End of Interview
- Preferred Citation:
- "Juanita H. Webster Interview, 2001-08-25 [MilColl OH 914]". Military Veterans Oral History Collection. Military Collection. State Archives of North Carolina.
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