WWII nurse remembers the horror
When asked about her experiences during World War II, 88-year-old Agnes Gray immediately replied, "It was awful... but we got through it." She said she continues to tell about her time in the war because she wants people to know what the women did and the hardships they suffered. She said there is plenty told about the harshness the fighting men endured but little about the women.
Gray spent three and one half years as an army nurse in England, France, and Germany, in the 1940s. She and her fellow nurses lived in huts about the size of a bedroom, eight young ladies to a hut. The latrine was located quite a ways from their huts, a long walk in the dark of night in the cold with bombers flying overhead. They heated their quarters with a pot- belly stove taking turns building the fire each morning. Gray said that many of the girls had never built a fire, and on many freezing mornings it was difficult to get it going. She remembers vividly the winter… the long, terrible, cold winter.
‘I thought it was my duty’ to serve
Anna Bell “Wendy” Wendelburg Zeigler began work at 6:30 that December morning in 1944, in a sprawling Gothic hospital in Paris, to pandemonium, blood and screams.
Ambulances crowded the large, snow-covered plaza of Hospital Lariboisiere on Rue Ambriose Pare. Stretchers with bloody men jammed the corridors. Every bed was filled with wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge.
“There were so many litters, you could barely walk down the hall,” says Zeigler of Northeast Richland, now 87. “We probably worked until midnight. I really can’t remember. There were lots of days like that.”
The young nurse, part of the buildup of U.S. forces in England in spring of 1944, landed among the wreckage on Utah Beach that August, two months after the D-Day invasion. She spent “forever” in a pup tent in an apple orchard near St. Lo before arriving in liberated Paris.
Paris was a long way from her home in Stafford, Kan. Friends and co-workers never called her by her first name of Anna Bell. They called her “Wendy,” for her maiden name Wendelburg.
No one in Paris knew her new last name was Zeigler. They didn’t know she had been secretly married.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” she said. “The only person who knew was my husband.”
‘I see those dead people . . . every day’
Fifty-two bodies — German or American, Fritz Gray couldn’t tell — lay frozen in a minefield.
They were there for five weeks in the winter of 1944 as Gray shivered in a foxhole in the shattered Hertgen Forest, on the German-Belgian border, during the Battle of the Bulge.
The sight has haunted Gray for 64 years.
“I see those dead people in front of my gun every day,” said Gray, 83. “They were lined up like football players in the snow.”
Pvt. Gray, a teenage draftee from Gadsden, was ill-prepared for the sight and has undergone therapy ever since. Even now, he attends monthly meetings for World War II veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gray never has spoken publicly about his experiences.
‘Everything was a secret back then’
Henry Austin Browder of West Columbia began World War II on horseback.
Browder — a mechanic in a mechanized war — had never ridden a horse.
Still, he was shipped to Fort Riley, Kan., and trained in the cavalry — boots, spurs and all.
“I didn’t even know there was a cavalry anymore,” he said. “But I got out there and there were thousands of them.”
But rather than being a knight in an antiquated branch of the service, Browder would end up slogging through the miserable jungles of Burma, trailed by pack mules.
“None of it made much sense,” he said.
Browder, 86, is one of 91 veterans who will be on the inaugural Honor Flight to the nation’s capital Nov. 15 to visit the National World War II Memorial.
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