Nurses Association to honor wartime colleagues

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Nov. 7, 2012 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Nov. 8, 2012 at 5:08 a.m.

Pearl Gummelt will join other area military nurses on a special float for the Veterans Day Parade. Ninety-two-year-old Gummelt became a nurse in the Navy as World War II erupted.

Pearl Gummelt will join other area military nurses on a special float for the Veterans Day Parade. Ninety-two-year-old Gummelt became a nurse in the Navy as World War II erupted.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate


During war, no purpose is more pure than nurses.'

In addition to the medical care and attention they give, wartime nurses serve to soothe and comfort, going so far as to act as a confidant, and at times, as a mother.

The Lysol-clean scent of Naval Medical Center San Diego is still fresh in Pearl Gummelt's memory.

The 92-year-old Victoria woman worked in the hospital's spinal meningitis ward during World War II.

As a young Texan, she signed up for the military seeking adventure with her best friend; what she found was a healing touch and a passion to help others.

"I wanted to go overseas," Gummelt said. "I almost got shipped ... I'm glad I didn't because the island got bombed (by the Japanese)."

She made about $125 monthly working alongside several hundred other nurses from across the U.S.

"The only thing we didn't have in our hospital was maternity," she said.

Most of her patients were American boys returning from fighting in the South Pacific.

The ratio of women to men in that hospital was about 1 to 800, she said. She met her husband in that hospital.

"Coming back from overseas, the guys hadn't been around women," Gummelt said. "They looked forward to women taking care of them."

More than the welcomed-sight of a woman, the men looked forward to going home, she said. Some didn't.

"They didn't all get well in the spinal meningitis ward," Gummelt said. "I said a lot of prayers under my breath for these guys. There was a lot of sadness."

Most of her patients were about two years younger than her, something she considered a huge age-gap.

"My goal was to try to be a mother or grandmother to the ones who were homesick," Gummelt said. "Sometimes a hand on the forehead is better than a Demerol shot."

For about 10 years after the war, she kept up with a few patients from East Texas, exchanging Christmas cards.

Gummelt is one of eight wartime nurses being honored Saturday in the Veterans Day Parade in downtown Victoria.

"We want to show our support and honor our colleagues who volunteered their time and their skills to help the United States and serve in a time of war," said Debbie Pena, president of Texas Nurses Association District 20.

"We're excited to be a part of the parade and we want to honor those who served us," Pena said.

Blanche DeLeon, a nurse who organized the association's floats, said she felt a "professional obligation" to put the spotlight on military nurses.

"Some of the worst things happen in wars," but medically, some of the best come out of it, DeLeon said.

Gummelt's hospital worked in plastics, building new noses or chins for the injured. Doctors were learning the uses of penicillin and developing modern technology for blood transfusions.

"The job that nurses do in or out of the military is important, but it's not really talked about," DeLeon said.

Jere Hammer, who served as a nurse with the U.S. Air Force Reserve during Desert Storm, said she joined the effort to serve the country.

"Our mission was to prepare for war," Hammer said.

In anticipation of being deployed to the Middle East on the second lines, her unit trained by setting up tent hospitals and wearing chemical warfare gear.

However, their mission changed and they stayed state-side.

Now retired from the reserves, Hammer is a professor at University of Houston-Victoria and is the president of the nursing honor society.

"Nurses in the military are very respected ... Their broken bodies would be in our hands," Hammer said. "We're a little more relaxed than say the tactical squadron commander. We're trying to put things back together."

Hammer said she is glad veterans will be recognized Saturday.

"I would hope that people recognize the sacrifices men and women make in serving as nurses in the military," Hammer said. "I would hope they would be proud and even think that's something they could do - that they could serve their country that way."



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