Barbara Duffy served as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. She had hardly ever ventured more than 50 miles from her home in Beverly, Mass., but in 1943, she shipped around the world to the Pacific to tend to the wounded . . . both Americans and Japanese. One searing memory is holding the hand of a badly wounded POW as doctors prepared to amputate his leg. The POW returned the kindness later when Barbara was recovering from a life-threatening fever. He approached her, held her hand, and gave her a rare treat, better than gold: a bowl of ice cream.
We met Barbara Duffy for the first time when she visited us in the Gettysburg Room at Soldiers & Sailors Hall & Museum. We were set up for our first recording session of September, and it was a bright, crisp day with only a hint of fall in the air–the kind of day that puts an extra pep in one’s step. Perhaps that’s why we were so excited to interview our first WW II Army nurse. What also made the day special were the period uniforms that Mike Kraus loaned us for our interview session. Mike is the curator at Soldiers & Sailors, and perhaps no one knows more about the thousands of artifacts on hand at the museum. It’s always very special to watch our veterans’ eyes light up when they see a piece of military uniform or gear for the first time in many decades. That’s what happened when Barbara laid eyes on the nurses uniforms pictured below.
“Treat Them Well”
Barbara Duffy always wanted to be a nurse and to take care of sick people. In fact, she turned down a scholarship from Harvard University so that she could attend nursing school. During WW II, Lt. Duffy served as an Army field nurse in the South Pacific. In this audio story, Barbara, who is 91 years old, emotionally talks about the care she once gave to a scared young soldier–holding his hand and promising not to leave his side while doctors removed his bullet-torn leg; it was uncommon compassion granted to a Japanese POW. Barbara Duffy survived the war. She lives in McCandless Township. This story was recorded September 1, 2012 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.