Historic Hempstead Plains - Nassau County, Long Island
New Cantonment Hospital at Mitchel Field (Santini Hospital)
Katherine Kennedy McIntyre
It was 1944, and I was a brand new hospital librarian for the Second Air Force at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. I had just made an oral requisition for six Wacs to work in the hospital libraries, I was so new in the Air Force that I still referred to Wafs as Wacs, as the female soldiers had been called at the Army base where I had served.
I was notified by Colonel Neece, Director of Hospitals, that my request had been granted. It happened so fast I could hardly believe it I had been told to come right over.
I looked around the Colonelís office and saw no one else.
"There they are," he said.
I stared, bewildered.
"Here, on my desk," he said. "Six cans of floor wax for your libraries."
There they were, no doubt about it. Six cans of wax neatly arranged on his desk. I had no intention of admitting my mistake.
"Thank you, Colonel. Thank you very much." I collected them and fled.
A few days later, he telephoned. "What would you do, if I decided to give you a thousand dollars for your libraries? What would you do with it?"
This time I was ready. "Build an outdoor reading area for our patients at Santini Hospital. Garden, comfortable outdoor furniture, bar, grill."
"Itís a gift from the New York Telephone Company, for our patients, to use any way we think best. The money is yours."
I was in charge of three hospital libraries. Santini was just getting built. In fact, it was so new that regular rules had not been established. We felt free to smoke occasionally, for instance.
One day when I took my book cart around, I lit a cigarette, while a patient examined the magazines, hard and paperback books and other items. I started to fleck an ash into a rose and pearl colored ashtray on a table.
"Lady!" called the patient. "Those are my uppers!" Just in time.
Other more serious things happened while the hospital was hurriedly being built. A very young bride came to her husbandís room without having had the usual careful preparation for a visit. He had lost both arms. She fainted. It was the worst thing that could have happened to the patient in his battle to adjust.
Santini Hospital received patients 24 hours after they left the front lines. I went to work there one month before the Normandy Invasion, D-Day. As you might imagine, the litter cases were devas tating. Men with no faces, only eyes looking up at you. Men without arms. A whole ward of men without any legs. I didnít know anyone could be as brave as those men. Looking back, I think of President John Kennedyís words, "Man must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind."
The first day I entered the ward of paraplegics, a patient yelled, "Look at that freak with two legs. And wow, what legs!"
This patient kept up everyone's spirits.
"What was his work in civilian life?" I asked the nurse.
"He was a dancer."
One amputee confided in me, "I've always planned to be a surgeon. Canít you see how this surgery will help me understand my patients?"
What a challenge---to have the funds to build an outdoor reading area for them with flowering shrubs, lounge chairs, and cook
out facilities, their very own place to entertain family, friends and sweethearts, outside, away from the hospital atmosphere.
Colonel Neece placed an article in the Mitchel Field bulletin, describing the project. To our surprise, we received a call from a volunteer, a landscape architect. Just what we needed.
His name was Bill McIntyre from Corning, New York. He had a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan, and he had done post graduate work in city planning. He had eloquent gray-blue eyes that inspired trust and sometimes lapped you up as if you were cream. Everyone agreed, he was exactly the right person for the job.
We worked hard, visiting nurseries to select plants and outdoor furniture stores to find the best, most comfortable furniture. We searched for and found competent workers to build a bar and grill. Sometimes, after hours, we relaxed and danced to the music of an old player piano we found in an abandoned part of one of the hospitals.
Mr. Vincent McCormick of the New York Telephone Company was very pleased with the results of the project and took us to a big company party to thank us. Our reward, of course, came in seeing the faces of those wonderful brave guys.
When we finished the outdoor reading area, Bill asked me to take a course in creative writing with him at Columbia University. We rode in on the Long Island Railroad every Tuesday evening to study under Dr. Angus Burrell, reading the New Yorker and Time turnabout all the way in and all the way out. After each class, we took in a concert, a ballet, an opera or a play.
Yes, World War II changed our lives. Last month, Bill and I celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary.
Reprinted with Katherine Kennedy McIntyre's permision.
|From : World War II: It Changed Us Forever, Edited by Margaret G. Bigger. © 1994 by A. Borough Books. Still available in print and definitely worth having..|
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