Women veterans share many stories

Retiring Women's Health Coordinator Pat Kessler introducing women veterans left to right: Marjorie Zuck, Melinda Spoiski, Karen Allen and Daniell Hiltz.
Retiring Women’s Health Coordinator Pat Kessler introducing women veterans left to right: Marjorie Zuck, Melinda Spoiski, Karen Allen and Daniell Hiltz.

In a voice choking with sorrow, Danell Hiltz said, "We lost our company commander." Hiltz was referring to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks in Washington, D.C. where she was stationed as part of the 2290th Army Hospital Reserve Unit. Hiltz and three other women shared their military experiences at a brunch celebrating women veterans on August 24 at the V.A. Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinic (SORCC).
Besides telling about the 2001 attack at the Pentagon, Hiltz, an ccupational therapist at SORCC, also told about inoculating "hundreds and thousands"of civilian postal workers for anthrax, using an abandoned hospital in Washington, D.C. "You could see the fear in their eyes and their need for help," Hiltz said, reliving the past. "All those mock drills we had actually paid off."

On the lighter side, Hiltz told about cleaning a men’s bathroom floor
with a toothbrush. Hiltz has a twin brother named Daniel whose social
security number is only different by one digit. As a result, when Hiltz
joined the Army, she mistakenly was sent to an all-male boot camp. Not
knowing what to do with her, they gave her a toothbrush and told her to
scrub the floor of the "head" until she received a new set of orders.
She later became an officer.
Karen Allen, SORCC Chief Nurse,
garnered much laughter from the audience with her tale of boot camp.
Allen related that when she arrived in Texas on a hot day in July 1985,
the first thing she saw was a long row of toilets. She said she turned
right around and stated, "I’m not doing that."
And she did
not. A hole was dug for her in the ground but it was not much better.
She used it but said she was afraid to go to the bathroom the whole
time while there.
In a serious moment, Allen told about
working as an oncology nurse. It was difficult to work with sick and
dying people. She related an experience with a distraught female cancer
patient. She held the crying patient’s hand and let the woman pour her
fears out. And afterwards, she felt she had helped. "It was a good
day," Allen said solemnly, "but not all days were like that," referring
to patients that had died.
Melinda Spolski, SORCC
Nurse-Practitioner and the new Women’s Health Coordinator, recently
returned from "Operation Iraqi Freedom." She feels good about having
touched the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers. Spolski’s job was
to determine the condition of returning military personnel at
demobilization stations.
Spolski was emotional when speaking
of today’s military personnel. "Our soldiers over there are positive.
They’re doing what they need to do," she said as her voice broke. "We
all feel we are doing what we need to do. Our government called and we
are there," she said heroically.
She told about a woman in a
military transport company in Iraq. When the young soldier was
delivering supplies she stopped alongside a road and a small child
leaped into her arms and hugged her. "It made my day," she told Spolski.
a moment of humor, Spolski told about sharing a billet (housing) with
men in 1987. She learned to get dressed in full uniform in her sleeping
bag before the men got up.
Poking fun at herself, Spolski
said she thought the Army would be like MASH (the old TV show). She saw
herself as "Hot Lips", a character in the show, also a nurse.
cried the first time she put on camouflage clothing because, "I looked
like a guy," and she felt she had made a mistake in joining the Army.
"It must have gotten better," said Lieutenant Colonel Spolski, because
she is still in the Army as a reservist and it is now 20 years later.
June 1943, Marjorie Zuck joined the military. As a boot camp recruit in
World War 11, Zuck was put through infantry training including crawling
on her stomach under gunfire.
As a WAC (Women’s Army
Corps) Zuck was stationed in Algiers at allied headquarters as part of
the Signal Corps. The women in the corps were trained in communications
to release the men for fighting. Her commander was General Dwight
Eisenhower also known as "Ike."
On the way to Algiers, her
Battalion Unit "6715" traveled on a ship with the "First Special
Service Force" that was a predecessor to the "Green Berets." The men
and women were not allowed to fraternize, so each morning the women
went on deck and sang "Oh what a beautiful morning." And each morning,
all the men heartily joined in. But many of those men did not make it
back, said a somber Zuck.
But the funniest episode Zuck told
about was an inspection by Eisenhower. The WAC division in Algiers was
housed in a museum. Although the paintings were gone, the statues were
still there. As the women stood at attention by their bunks, Ike strode
through. But at the end, he could not help but turn around and burst
into laughter.
Down the middle of the aisle, the statues
stood at attention dressed in P.E. uniforms and fatigue hats. Ike put
the WACs "at ease" so they too could join in the laughter. It was a
rare, lighthearted moment in a turbulent period of history.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent


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