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Oral history interview with Louise Birch

Oral History | RG Number: RG-50.344.0005

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.

Louise Birch, born June 21, 1921 in Cleveland, Ohio, describes becoming a nurse; getting secretly married to her boyfriend, who was part of the 82nd Airborne Division, and how he died during the war; going into the service in early 1944; going to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the 131st Evacuation Hospital was being started; the training she went through; being assigned to be an orthopedic surgical nurse; army regulations for bandaging and seeing how this broke down when casualties from the Battle of the Bulge came through when she was in England; boarding the RMS Queen Elizabeth; segregation by ranking on the ship and entertainment from the units; spending Christmas in England and buying gifts for the enlisted soldiers; how many of the enlisted men were from Oklahoma; her experiences in the operating room in England when they were seeing the wounded from the Battle of the Bulge; how they did a dry run setting up their tents in France and did not have any patients; going to Germany in April 1945, where they received patients; her experiences in the operating room in Germany; her feelings about the Germans at the time; her reaction to Roosevelt’s death; celebrating V-E Day; their relationship with the 34th Evacuation Hospital; how the men in their unit went on without them then came back later to get them; the journey to Linz, Austria and seeing a concentration camp for the first time; how the commanding officer, Colonel Dale Friend, said that her unit had not been sent to do this work so he would not force them and how all the nurses agreed to treat the concentration camp survivors; how they saw patients from camp Gusen and Mauthausen; how the patients were all deloused before the nurses arrived; how the wards were filled with 100 to 140 people; how they were not allowed to have physical contact with the patients and only gave them medication; not keeping records and not knowing the patients’ names; learning names after a while through interpreters; writing to relatives of the patients in the U.S.; being sprayed every day with DDT; the conditions of the patients; the quarry at Mauthausen; leaving Gusen in June 1945; the train journey to France; sailing to Boston; the dropping of the bomb in Japan; being discharged in December 1945; the Japanese dentist in her unit, who told her about the American internment camps for Japanese-Americans and how his family had been put in one; and the lessons she learned from her experiences during the war.

Interviewee
Ms. Louise Birch
Interviewer
Neenah Ellis
Date
1995 July 15  (interview)
Language
English
Extent
3 sound cassettes (90 min.).