Raritan Nurses in World War II
It has been said “it is one thing to send your son off to war, it is quite another to send your daughter”.

A recently compiled database of the men and women from Raritan who served in World War II shows that three women from Raritan served overseas as nurses during this epic conflict.

The Raritan Nurses, who all held the rank of 1st Lieutenant, are:
Charlotte Glaser of 95 Thompson Street, graduated from Somerville High School in 1937 and after that graduated from the Nursing School of St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick.

She would serve with the Army Nurse Corps in La Ciotat, France. Four of her brothers, including her twin brother Paul, also served overseas.
Charlotte Glaser
Virginia Spinelli of 23 First Avenue, also graduated from Somerville High School and after that graduated from the Nursing School of St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick. Virginia served in a hospital in Karachi, India.

She also at one time served on a hospital train that transported wounded soldiers.
Virginia Spinelli
click for additional photos
Genevieve Young of 95 W. Somerset Street, graduated from Somerville High School in 1938 and later graduated from the Somerset Hospital Training School for Nurses where she was a member of the staff before joining the military.

She served at an army hospital in France.
Genevieve Young
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The local newspapers during World War II only gave quick mention about the nurses in short articles that were found on the back pages. Thus, the details of their individual experiences have been lost to history. But we pay tribute to them here as best we can by telling the story of the “nurses in general” during World War II.

During World War II over 50,000 American women served in the military as nurses.

All were volunteers.

A good portion of them would serve overseas close to the front lines of battle.

(Men were prohibited from being nurses in the U. S. military until the mid-1950s.)
To care for those wounded on the battlefield the army established a hospital chain. Closest to the fighting were the “field hospitals” located inside tents which were positioned close to the fighting. The injured, who were initially attended to on the battlefield by the corpsmen (specially trained men in the army), were brought here immediately for life saving treatment and to be stabilized so that they could be moved back to a safer hospital site.

The “evacuation hospitals” were a few miles from the battlefront, but were still in tents. Operations and care could be performed here in a safer setting.

Still further back were the “station or general” hospitals which were usually housed in a building although that may have been a semipermanent location such as an abandoned school or factory or a partially bombed out building. Nurses not only worked in all these hospital setups, but quite often they constructed the setup themselves as the tent hospitals often were moved to where they were most needed.
The tasks done by nurses were, as always, extensive. Apply and remove bandages, administer medication, monitor vital signs, keep the wounded and their wounds clean, assist with surgery, and help with the dirty job of biological functions for those bedridden.

Keeping up the morale of the wounded patients was as vital as any other task.

Transportation of the wounded was done by train, ship, and by air. Nurses served on all these. Often this required specialized training especially for the flight nurses.
The hardships of life during wartime for the nurses were many. Extremes of cold and heat were the norm. Mud seemed everywhere. The food was often poor. There was a lack of bathing facilities. Sleep was often hard to get for multiple reasons.

But the nurses seemed to never complain even during the long days when the battle brought in an overwhelming number of casualties. The nurses were happiest when they were helping the injured men. The army brass had initially wondered if women would hold up to the rigors of life during wartime – they did. The nurses handled not just all kinds of physical injuries, but they dealt with patients who had developed mental issues from the stress of combat. In addition, they treated many types of diseases such as malaria.
The wounded soldiers really appreciated the patient care of the nurses. Just seeing and talking to an American woman was a big morale lift for these men who were so far from home.

The working conditions for the nurses varied tremendously depending on the location, supply line, and characteristics of the war at that time. Often there was a shortage of supplies, thus improvising was the rule of the day. At times the nurses did the tasks usually reserved for the doctors.
The nurses took care of the wounded from all the battles of World War II - right from the start.

For at Pearl Harbor 82 army nurses tended to the wounded that infamous morning. Some of these nurses had just attended a dance on the deck of the USS Arizona the night before - never imagining that the ship hours later would be sent permanently to the bottom of the harbor.
The USS Arizona was sunk on Dec 7th 1941
Even as non-combatants the danger of war was often present. Hospitals on land and on Hospital Ships, per the Geneva Convention, were supposed to be safe from attack. But occasionally bombs hit hospitals. Sometimes by accident, but other times it appeared to be intentional.

Dozens of nurses would die during the war. Many from bombs and others from disease. Becoming a prisoner of war was also a possibility as 67 nurses who were serving in the U.S. Army in Manila in 1942 would become prisoners of the Japanese for over three years.
These well marked hospital ships
were not suppossed to be bombed.
Nurses during the war were involved in the advancement of medicine in two ways.

First, was the introduction of Penicillin. This new miracle drug, rare when the war started, was increasingly produced as the war went on. It was given to fight post injury infections which up to that time were a major cause of death. The nurses learned how to best dispense Penicillin as the war went on.

Another advance in medicine was the use of whole blood as opposed to plasma. When the war started, plasma which could replace lost blood for an injured soldier was the standard remedy. The advantage was its availability and not needing to match blood types. But experience with injured soldiers showed that the recovery was often short term as plasma did not contain much needed red blood cells. Thus, toward the end of the war whole blood was collected and given to the wounded who needed it.
While there is no best-selling book about the nurses of World War II there are many good books. These books have dozens of individual stories that nurses shared years after the war. It seems that almost every nurse had that one story about a badly wounded soldier that they would never forget.

Recommended books by this author are:

“They Called Them Angels” by Kathi Jackson

“No Time For Fear” by Diane Burke Fessler

“And If I Perish” by Monahan and Greenlee.
The dedication and competence of nurses during World War II is believed to have been a major factor in the extremely low post injury death rate of American Soldiers.

As 96% of those who were evacuated from the battlefield would survive to return home to their family.