Press-Republican

November 11, 2013

WWII Nurse Corps veterans recall WWII experiences

CHRIS FASOLINO
Press-Republican

MORRISONVILLE — As a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II, Dorothy LeClair didn’t find the discipline too rigorous.

“I got three whole days to come home and get married!” she said with a wry smile.  

A Lake Placid native, LeClair graduated from Mercy Hospital in Watertown in 1943 then began her nursing career in maternity. 

She enlisted on April 1, 1945.  

BIVOUACS

Since the war ended later that year, LeClair’s military experience was brief, but it was a momentous time in her life.

It began with 30 days of training. 

“We had to do all the physical things, we went on bivouacs — and we also had to work in the hospital.” 

When her training was completed, LeClair was assigned to a military hospital on Long Island, where wounded soldiers returning from the European Theater were cared for.

SHORT HONEYMOON

It was during her time there that she approached the chief nurse and asked for leave to get married.  

“She said, ‘Are you marrying a serviceperson, and where is he stationed?’”

LeClair, 92, explained that her future husband was an Army corporal stationed in California, but added, “I knew him long before I went in the service.”

She was given the short leave and returned to the North Country to marry Carl LeClair. 

The wedding was in Ellenburg Depot. Days later, she and her new husband were each back on duty, far away from each other.

Although the honeymoon was short, the marriage was long, lasting until her husband’s death a few years ago. 

“We were married 65 1/2 years.”

SCARS OF WAR

LeClair has never forgotten her experiences at the military hospital where she worked in the service.

“I was assigned to psychiatry. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but you had to go where you were assigned.”

Working with soldiers who were emotionally and psychologically scarred by the war was very difficult, LeClair recalled.

“It was sad; we got back all these 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds.” 

The young men were suffering from what is today known as post traumatic stress disorder. 

“But there was nothing to combat it at the time. All we did was, they were in locked wards, and someone had to escort them if they had to go anywhere.” 

Some of the patients would seem to be doing well and then experience disturbing episodes.

“It was very sad.”

‘NO ONE COMPLAINED’

Eileen Stott-Parker of Tupper Lake also served her country as a nurse during World War II. 

She worked at military hospitals where convalescent soldiers were being treated for tropical diseases and for tuberculosis. 

“A lot of these boys broke out in TB because of the living conditions, not getting enough sleep, rest or food,” she said.

“As convalescents, they would do light duty; for example, Navy men might polish brass for the captain’s inspection. 

“They never complained about anything,” said Stott-Parker, who’s 90. 

In fact, she added, no one seemed to complain in those days, even though the basic necessities of life were being rationed.

PEACEFUL LIFE

When World War II ended, LeClair said, “(Carl) put in for his discharge, and I put in for mine. 

“He got out of the service, and I got out two weeks later.” 

The couple returned to the North Country and settled down to a peaceful life.

In sharp contrast to LeClair’s wartime nursing experiences, she returned to welcoming new babies into the world.

“I loved maternity,” she said. “Maternity’s usually such a happy place.”

Both LeClair and Stott-Parker revisited their wartime memories recently when they traveled with North Country Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II Memorial that honors their service and that of the wounded military men returning from battle.