In Her Words

Letter from Captain Alfhild M. Johnson, Winter 1944-45

More than 2,000 St. Louis women volunteered for military service during World War II; several hundred of those women joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) and Navy Nurse Corps (NNC). The 21st General Hospital, the 21st Station Hospital, and the 70th General Hospital were all largely comprised of St. Louis area physicians and nurses.

Alfhild Johnson received a bachelor’s of science degree in Nursing from the Washington University School of Medicine in 1932. Johnson served as a nursing supervisor at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis during the 1930s; she joined the faculty of her alma mater in 1939 as an instructor of Nursing. Johnson served with the 58th Evacuation Hospital during the Second World War.

The following excerpts of a letter written by Alfhild Johnson to Miss M. Moore were reprinted in “The Cherry Tree,” the Alumnae Bulletin of the Washington University School of Nursing, in February 1945.

Somewhere in the Philippines

We arrived here the 18th but are not with our own hospital. Our own hospital has been moved forward. We are on temporary duty with a station hospital. They have been having many, many patients and their nurses are not here as yet. Imagine my 38 nurses taking care of 900 patients in a hospital where no nurses have been since they set up three months ago. We were certainly very busy and have really been working. Everyone keeps going 10-14 hours a day and still does not feel that the work is finished. This is the first time this group has tried to set up a hospital in a forward area and they have really had a struggle. Here one has to care for roads, drainage, lights, laundry, and everything. It rains so often and so much that you really need boots to walk from ward to ward. We have 40 wards scattered over quite a large area. The tent wards have cots and will hold 20-40 patients. It is remarkable what nurses can do for the morale of patients, doctors and enlisted men. Our hospital has moved about and set up so often that they can function very nicely without pauses. Our hospital went in on D-Day in both the Admiralty and Leyte. You have to be able to function quickly then. This group has really needed and appreciates nurses. The work seems endless and sometimes hopeless but we keep going. Our nurses’ area is quite comfortable. We live 4 in a tent and have dirt floors. They have hauled in sand into the area so we do not have to walk in the mud. It rains a lot here and is very hot when the sun shines. When you see those descriptions and movies of the beautiful tropics, don’t be deceived. ‘It taint so.’ We arrived here before Xmas so in addition to caring for the patients, tried to do what we could for Xmas. The soldiers are so gloomy about Xmas away from home. In a hospital they are even separated from their own buddies. The girls got everyone interested and had a tree decorated for every ward. The Philippinos working in the area brought in trees and we had every kind imaginable – bamboo trees, lemon, lime trees and shrubs. The patients helped make decorations; a few of us has Xmas wrapping paper which we cut into rings and decorations. We used cotton dipped in colors, silver stars made of gum wrappers, painted and colored paper cut-outs, etc. I wish people in the States could have seen them. The patients really enjoyed it. The Red Cross gave each a package – Xmas eve we had a short pageant showing the birth of Christ, afterwards Xmas carols; then a party for all with sandwiches and fruit juice. Christmas day we had early Protestant services at six a.m. and the Catholics had midnight mass. Xmas day groups of carol singers went thru the hospital area all day long. At least being there helped make the day happier for our patients. The girls were all so tired Xmas day that everyone was in bed at 8 p.m. Happy New Year to all of you.

– Capt. Alfhild M. Johnson, N 775170, 58th Evacuation Hospital, APO 72