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In Honor of Veterans

Woman shares experiences of World War II
by: Contributed photo Martha McGuire

Martha McGuire worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

'We didn't have time to feel,' McGuire says of the 45 months she spent as an Army nurse during World War II.

At 93, McGuire jokes she's the 'oldest RN working in the universe,' still caring for seniors at O'Hara's Manor in Gresham and assisting a Sandy man with his day-to-day care.

'Keep busy,' she tells young people. 'And think good thoughts.'

McGuire was 23 years old and had just finished nursing training when she took a train from Spokane, Wash., to San Francisco's Letterman General Hospital, officially entering the Army on Feb. 3, 1942.

She would become one of the first nurses to test penicillin on World War II patients, and was so busy she didn't have time to miss her parents and three siblings back home in Washington state.

'People ask if we learned to shoot a gun,' McGuire says. 'We were there to take care of those who were shot.'

Little things brought joy during those war years: dancing on the rare days off and buying an apple soda a week for 10 cents with the change McGuire's father sent every month.

Following orders was challenging for McGuire. More trying moments came when she lost patients and read men the 'Dear John letters' their wives sent. 'We had to tell the fellas their wives had left them,' McGuire says.

Her sleeping quarters consisted of a room lined in cots that was shared among the female nurses, and she showered once a week, stepping into a tarp enclosure where an attendant dumped a bucket of water over her head.

Specific moments stand out: shaking Eleanor Roosevelt's hand, which McGuire says was 'a thrill,' and listening to Winston Churchill speak on the radio.

From San Francisco, her company moved to Atlantic City, N.J., and ultimately England, where they prepared to receive battle casualities.

McGuire stayed in England with her company for several months, caring for Holocaust survivors. 'It was horrible,' she says. 'I try not to ever think about it.'

When McGuire arrived in Kansas City in late summer of 1945, the men picked up the women nurses, put them on their shoulders and paraded through the streets of Kansas City. News had just spread that Japan surrendered to the Allies.

Back in the Northwest, McGuire quickly returned to work, accepting a position with Providence Medical Center before starting her own nursing home business in Orient. She also married upon her arrival in Oregon.

McGuire has lived in the Sandy area for 69 years, raising three children, watching 14 grandchildren grow up and remaining in the nursing home business through 1982.

'I'm always busy doing things,' McGuire says, referring to her work and community involvement. Through the years, she's been honored as Sandy Mountain Festival Queen and Princess of Clackamas County.

'I'm proud I'm a U.S. citizen,' McGuire says, reflecting on Veterans Day. 'And I'm proud of what the U.S. does for everybody.'