Army nurse honored on veterans wall
The staff of Milaca Elim’s Country Meadows facility have created a Veterans’ Wall in honor of the many veterans who reside there.
The wall, which was unveiled last Tuesday, was the brainchild of Country Meadows director KathyAnn Langlie. She had put up a similar wall while working at another care facility.
The Veterans’ Wall features plaques with photos and stories about each of the resident veterans at Country Meadows. In its center there is also a folded and framed American flag.
Ruth Christianson, one of Country Meadows’ veteran residents, served as an army nurse during the last year of World War II. She was stationed at Fort Warren (now Francis E. Warren Air Force Base) in Wyoming for most of her time in the service.
Christianson volunteered for the service after rumors started to circulate that nurses were going to be subject to the draft, and she wanted to join of her own volition, rather than be ordered to do so.
Christianson met her eventual husband while in the service. She was an officer and he was an enlisted man, which made things complicated for them.
“It was forbidden for us to fraternize,” Christianson said. They would ride separate buses to other towns and enter theaters separately to see movies together.
They married after they were both discharged once the war ended.
At the hospital at Fort Warren, Christianson worked on a ward where she cared for injured or ill German prisoners of war who were brought over from a nearby camp. She recalls that some of the officers were elderly, diagnosed with cancer. They knew they were going to die.
Christianson says these officers did not fit American stereotypes of Germans at the time.
They said, “We don’t fight for Hitler, we fight for my country,” she said.
Another German prisoner she cared for during the war, one who served as something of a translator between the American nurse and her German patients, was closer to the popular perception of Germans as “the enemy.” He was a product of Hitler Youth indoctrination and Christianson says even once peace was declared he did not believe the U.S. and the Allies had won the war.
For the older officers, the war’s end was cause for celebration.
“The ones who had been ill were all just delighted that they might get to see home before they died,” Christianson said. “And that was my prayer, that they might find family when they got back.”
Christianson spent time stationed at Fort De Moines, Iowa, and Fort Sheridan, Illinois, between the war’s end and her discharge. She was in the service for about a year and a half.
“I was only in a year,” she said. “But it was an interesting year.”
After leaving the service, Christianson married and moved to Minnesota with her husband, where she says she worked in hospitals wherever he taught school.
She said she’s carried the lasting impact of her time in the military with her ever since. “It was sobering, caring for the wounded, and enlightening that I had contact with the Germans, the enemy, and discovered that they were very nice people,” Christianson said. “The impact of the service has been to continue on serving people any way I could, which has been my life.”
She never found out what happened to any of the German prisoners she cared for when they got back to Germany. “That’s always been a question in my mind,” she said.