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Monday, September 1, 2014

Flight Nurses of World War II

Before World War II, women’s positions in the military were limited. With the changing times of World War II, modern warfare called for a more active and present role for women in the Armed Forces. Not only were droves of women volunteering for nursing, but also their skills were needed across the board! From office, clerical jobs to truck drivers, airplane mechanics and laboratory technicians, radio operators, test pilots, to the new occupation of flight nursing, women’s roles in the military were vital to victory.

Flight Nurses in Guam, WWII
Flight nurses were introduced into the US Army Air Force in 1942. The new program, the School of Air Evacuation, began in the fall of 1942 at Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky and ran for six to nine weeks, eventually moving to Randolph Field, Texas in October 1944. Training was disorganized at best, a few squadrons even deployed overseas before training was officially over for them. The first group of flight nurses to complete the full coarse graduated in February 1943. Training consisted of aero-medical physiology, field survival, map reading, crash procedures, and physical conditioning.

A flight surgeon and chief nurse were assigned to each Medical Air Evacuation Squadron.  Each squad was then divided into four flights consisting of six teams of flight nurses and surgical technicians. Cooks, clerks, and drivers were situated at headquarters section.

Typical Uniform:
- White dress or skirted suit, not user friendly
- Eventually adopted a waist-length gray-blue jacket and matching trousers/skirt, with a white or light blue blouse
- In 1944, colors changed to olive drab
- The insignia was a pair of golden wings with a maroon N in the middle. Later changed to silver.

Duties of a Flight Nurse:

Evacuation Flight, WWII
Flight nurses were truly unique for their time. Not only did they operate under their own authority, they outranked the male surgical technician that accompanied them. Believe it or not, in the 1940s, only trained physicians could start IV’s and oxygen on a patient, but the flight nurses were doing it on their own and in hostile and dangerous environments. They also had to deal with extreme medical emergencies, including shock, hemorrhage, and sedation.

As with any military profession at the time, flight nursing did not come without its risks and dangers. Those brave women had to keep the fighting men alive while combating the dangers in the air over the European and Pacific theaters. Many women were taken as POWs after crash landing behind enemy lines. In all, sixteen flight nurses were killed during the war. “Through professionalism and courage, the women who served as flight nurses in World War II saved many hundreds of lives and comforted over a million sick and wounded servicemen.” – Sarah Sundin

Our Very Own Angel of the Airfields: Evelyn Kowalchuk

Like many women, Evelyn felt compelled to serve her country during the war, by taking care of the men who volunteered to fight for their democracy and freedom. When she volunteered, nobody could answer her question of what flight nursing was, but she viewed it as an adventure and began training in Kentucky on C-46 and C-47 cargo planes transformed into ‘flying ambulances’. She used to joke about how many times their uniforms changed throughout the war and how disorganized it was for them. During training, she and the twenty-four other girls living in one quonset hut with only one bathroom, with one toilet and one sink! She has said before that it was a team effort; everyone helped each other because they were all partaking in something unheard of in modern warfare.

Evelyn Kowalchuk in uniform.
When training was over, the women were sent to England. From there they were sent on various missions to retrieve badly wounded soldiers. Evelyn landed on Omaha Beach on D plus 3. She recalled that many of the nurses had never seen such horrific wounds before in their lives. Many men had to be treated immediately, so they could not be properly cleaned off or even remove clothing before their limb was amputated. Each time they went back to England, the flight nurses were to get on another fully stocked plane and travel back to retrieve more men. Jeeps and ambulances had to be ready for their return to take the wounded to the hospital as soon as possible. Fighter pilots were the only ones able to fly them back and forth; however, if it was too late, the nurses had to sleep on the beaches in the plane. Evelyn even spent a night in a foxhole on Omaha Beach. She remembers hearing the bombs and guns in the distance. It was hard for her and the other nurses to reconcile with the fact that so many young men would live the rest of their lives without their limbs.

After the day was done, it was rare when the women would talk about the events and scenes of the day; they carried on and pushed forward. “We were patriotic”, said Evelyn. Whenever she and her ‘sisters’ would get together throughout the years for various events, they never really discussed the extraordinary and horrific events they all went through, they wanted to look forward and continue living their lives, proud of their past.

Take care,

P.S- Are you are interested in learning more about Evelyn? If so, go to the February 2013 post entitled, "Voices by Land, Air, and Sea: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Were There", where you can watch a video interview with Evelyn!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School!

Good afternoon everyone,

First, I want to send a giant THANK YOU out to everyone who has made this one of the best summers at the Memorial.  From the 70th Anniversary Ceremony to Day Camp to everyday visitation, we have been very busy on-site.  Hundreds of people have been on tours learning more about D-Day, the Bedford Boys, and the symbolism in the design of the Memorial.  I would also like to say THANK YOU to all our wonderful, dedicated volunteers who make all that we do possible.  They are the ones out there everyday leading tours, working in the gift store, and assisting in all the programming we do throughout the summer. 

Now that we are starting the new school year, the site is about to start filling up with students.  We offer special SOL-based programming for classrooms 3rd grade and up.  If you are close enough to plan a field trip to the Memorial, students will step back in time as they learn about D-Day and WWII in an authentic GPL military tent.  Starting with a broad overview of the history of WWII and what D-Day means in the larger context of the war, students will handle artifacts that connect them to the history they read and learn about in their classrooms.  Visits to the Memorial conclude with a tour of the Memorial by one of our highly trained tour guides. 

If you are too far for a field trip (or if field trips have been cut from your budget), we have a solution for you!  We now offer two options for distance learning.  The first is a traveling trunk.  We will send you a modified footlocker full of artifacts that relate to the homefront and the front lines, as well as several SOL-based lesson plans ready for use in your classroom.  The second option is a live, virtual programming.  Set up in a studio, the virtual programming is a way our education staff and volunteers can come to you.  Students will be able to interact in real time as they learn about WWII and D-Day. 

Students learning about life in WWII from WWII Veteran
We look forward to seeing all the students up here on-site to carry on the legacy of the largest amphibious invasion to history!  If you would like more information or to book an educational programming, please contact our education department at 540-587-3617 or via e-mail at 

Until next time,

Monday, August 4, 2014

Vote for Ssgt. John Schenk's Bible!

Hello everyone, 

I apologize for the lack of radio traffic over the last few weeks.  However, I have something really exciting to announce to you.  Beginning on Monday, August 4th you can vote for Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifact--where you may notice a familiar story: John Schenk and his Bible.  Click here to vote!!

Read more about the John's Bible and the importance of conservation below! 
Bible Belonging to Bedford Boy Nominated as Top 10 Endangered Artifact

Front interior of Bible
The National D-Day Memorial has nominated the Bible belonging to Bedford Boy John Schenk to the Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifact competition.  This Bible was gifted to John by his step-mother, Rose Lewis Schenk, prior to the D-Day invasion. Assigned to the 29th Division, 116th Regiment, Company A, Ssgt. John Schenk landed in the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach at 0630 with 34 young soldiers from Bedford, Virginia.  In his pocket, he carried this Bible—a physical connection to his family an ocean away—when he became part of the largest amphibious invasion in history along the Normandy coastline on June 6, 1944.

Tin cover on Bible
It is imperative to conserve artifacts such as Schenk’s Bible, according to Felicia Lowrance, Education Coordinator for the National D-Day Memorial.  “Historical pieces such as this create tangible connections to our shared past.  This Bible represents millions of family members and friends who would inevitably cheer the news of the successful invasion or grieve at the loss of loved one.”

Ivylyn Schenk had no idea her husband, John, lay buried on the beaches of Normandy when she composed her daily letter on June 25, 1944. She wrote “John, my darling. Well, it has been twenty-two months since we were married. It has seemed very long, and yet, unbelievably short in duration… the only constant thing about it is that I continue to love and appreciate you more and more each day.” At the time of this writing, her beloved husband was one of more than 4,000 Allied soldiers who had sacrificed their lives on D-Day to secure freedom for generations beyond their own.
Back of Bible

The Foundation is delighted to be selected for this preservation initiative conducted by the Virginia Association of Museums. Schenk’s Bible is currently housed in a climate-controlled environment to help protect from further deterioration.  “We are concerned with the conservation of this piece and ensuring that it is preserved to tell the story of the Bedford Boys and D-Day for future generations,” Lowrance said.
The Virginia Top 10 Endangered Artifact competition highlights unique artifacts throughout Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area.  Voting for artifacts will begin on August 4.  

Back interior of Bible

Until next time

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Curating D-Day: Day Camp 2014

Good morning to all you wonderful readers!

I want to apologize for the absence, but you see recently had 21 young, bright campers take over the site for a few days as they went through an intense camp where they learned all about D-Day.  Let me tell you 21 campers, 18 of whom were boys, makes for a busy, tiring, and ultimately rewarding three day period.

The first day was lesson heavy as we discussed the planning for the invasion and what would be necessary for the troops and for those on the homefront to do to ensure success.  I also taught students how to properly handle historical artifacts, as they would be designing "exhibits" for the open house on the last day.  Day one of camp was the first of several perfect opportunities for us to test a few of the new STEM programs that we are developing.  For those of  you who may not be familiar with the acronym, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and has become a huge push within our education system over the past years.  Day one was all about planning, so naturally we discussed the effects weather and tide had on the invasion.  By the end of the day, campers were learning how to march and studying the training soldiers, sailors, and airmen were doing to prepare for the big day.

Solving the riddles
Day two equaled D-Day.  Campers began by one of our (and coincidentally their) favorite parts of camp - the annual scavenger hunt!  This year teams had two different options for their hunt; they were either spies for the Allies or the Axis gathering puzzle pieces that created both the actual map for the invasion or the deceptive plan for Calais.  We had them going all over the site deciphering clues and they were only stumped when having to find the bust of Churchill.

Trying to hit the targets

After this we broke into our STEM rotations: gardening, gliders, tanks, and Higgins boats.  Each of these rotations had some lesson that related the historical topic back to the ideas of STEM.  At the tank section, campers had to use water cannons to hit targets placed at random intervals on the ground.  There were protractors available so campers could figure out the angles they had to use in order to hit their targets.

Waiting to see how the boat holds up
Campers moved to trying to fly gliders thinking about things such as wind as they tried to make their glider go the greatest distance.  Next came construction time where students had to use the provided materials to design their own Higgins boats.  Their boats had to withstand so much weight without sinking.  Finally, we step back from the frontlines and go to the homefront where over 2 million victory gardens were grown during the war.  During this section we discussed the process of photosynthesis and what all plants need to grow (before going in to do a little weeding in the garden).
Learning about gardening

On the final day, campers created exhibits with artifacts and the posters to show off everything they had learned over the past few days.  They were also "recruited" into the Navy and were able to look at some artifacts that had been brought by Jim Callear, a wonderful friend to the Memorial.

Overall, camp was a wonderful experience where campers were able to take on a hands-on, interactive approach to learning.  They were genuinely excited about learning and it was very rewarding to get to listen to the campers during the open house as they told parents, volunteers, and staff members all about what they had learned over the course of such a short period of time.
Getting ready for our "exhibit" opening

Until next time,


Sunday, June 22, 2014

"On This Day"- June 22, 1944

Propaganda poster for the new G.I. Bill
Hello All!

Today’s topic is a World War II themed ‘on this day in history’ for June 22.

On June 22, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the G.I. Bill; a legislative act intended to compensate returning members of the armed forces. The G.I. Bill, known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was one of the last New Deal reforms. The idea was to help all the displaced men and women returning from war to avoid a relapse into another depression. FDR remembered the Bonus March of 1932, where 20,000 unemployed veterans marched on Washington, and wanted to avoid a repeat of that event. The American Legion was able to gain many provisions for the bill that are now included, such as, giving returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, education funding, and low-interest rates on home and business loans.

Soldier reading the G.I. Bill of Rights
By giving our Veterans an advantage, and incentive, to further their higher education, the Bill inadvertently altered higher education in America. Suddenly, college degrees that were only available to 10 to 15 percent of the privileged classes were now accessible to our Veterans. By 1947, World War II vets made up half of the country’s college enrollment. With such a drastic influx of people, colleges and universities were forced to adapt and compensate to the growing demand for higher education. Not only were facilities and staff improved, but also vocational studies were developed and flourished, like education, agriculture, commerce, and mining skills. Not only that, but thousands of veterans were now able to move from their urban homes to new, sprawled out, suburban communities!
Advertisements promoting loan coverage under the G.I. Bill.

Millions of veterans, and their families, were able to have a comfortable life and further their education, which in-tern drove a thirty-year economic expansion in America. Since the signing of the bill, the impact has changed education, quality of life, and even the landscape of America! Some famous Americans to benefit from the G.I. Bill were former President Gerald Ford, Johnny Cash, Paul Newman, and Clint Eastwood.

Take care,

Friday, June 20, 2014

D-Day Through the Decades: 2014 Commemoration

Hello everyone,

As I sit here at our bi-annual Teacher Institute listening to two D-Day veterans, I am reminded of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day just a few short weeks ago.  It is hard to believe that it has been almost two weeks since the commemoration.  It was a beautiful ceremony with thousands of people in attendance - and most importantly, hundreds of our guests of honor - D-Day veterans.

Living Historian Encampment
After months and months of preparations, it was time to see all the planning come to action.  The first buses of people arrived on-site around 7:45AM and we were ready!  The living historians were set up on the East Lawn, Hospitality Tent and refreshments on the West Lawn, and volunteers everywhere to make sure the public had all the information they needed.

The ceremony began at 11AM with the Golden Knights jumping into action.  There were seven members of the Golden Knights team who jumped that morning beginning our 70th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony.  Throughout the course of the next hour and a half, speakers read excerpts from D-Day veterans - using the words of the men who were there to honor the memory of the actions taken 70 years ago.  It was haunting and beautiful as each speaker stepped up to the platform to relive a particular memory.

Golden Knights
During the ceremony, there were flyovers from a C-47, P-51, and 4 T-6s in a missing man formation.  The official ceremony concluded with the dedication of Homage.  Our newest tribute to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the servicemen reflects the story of the Bedford Boys of the sacrifices made by Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.

Gathered around Homage
The reminder of the day was spent listening to the 29th Division Band and James Anthony, a.k.a. Frank Sinatra, on the USO stage.  Patrons and veterans were able to rest in some shade in the hospitality tent and in the education tent, which had been set up with exhibits designed by our dedicated interns.  That evening, we gathered again on-site to watch Casablanca on a large inflatable screen.  

Overall it was a wonderful day and weekend spent commemorating the accomplishments of the service members who fought on the longest day, getting us back into France and ending the war in Europe by May 1945. 

Before signing off, I would like to extend my sincerest THANK YOU to all the staff, volunteers, medical personnel, officers, and sponsors who made everything we were able to do that weekend possible! 
Invasion Plaza



Internships at the Memorial

Hello everyone, 

Now that we are able to get back to a bit of a normal routine (at least before camp starts next week), we are going to take a minute to introduce you to one of our wonderful interns who has been working with us over the past month.  I can tell you, they have all been working hard: researching, helping with students, moving tables and chairs, learning the tour, creating exhibits, and once again moving tables and chairs.  I, along with the rest of the staff at the Memorial, are so appreciative of their hard work and dedication.  Without our wonderful interns helping out this summer, I do not know how I would have gotten all the work completed.  Starting just a few weeks before D-Day, they jumped in, completed whatever task was asked of them, and I cannot thank them enough for their dedication to the Memorial.  Connor's last day was today, but it is better late than never....right?


Greetings to all!

My name is Connor Mullin. I am a student at Hillsdale College majoring in history. This past spring, while searching for possible internships related to my field, I came across the National D-Day Memorial.  I had visited the memorial the previous summer and was struck by its simplicity and beauty.  On May 19th, I arrived on site and began work almost immediately, assisting with the education program, and, of course, preparing for the big day: the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  For most veterans of that fateful day, this would be the last time for such a significant gathering, as the world continues to lose many World War II veterans each day.  Based on the testimonies of my coworkers and the veterans I talked to, the ceremony was a success.  As a matter of fact, June 6th, 2014, exceeded all of my expectations.  

Upon entering the long, winding drive up to the memorial on that warm, sunny Friday, I could tell the day was going to be special, but also rather hectic.  At 7:30 am, I found myself assisting in the moving of chairs and the adding of any final necessary touches to all of our