Time To Salute A Different Kind Of Veteran

I usually try to use my November column to honor veterans, and this month is no exception. The only difference is that this column was written 70 years ago by one of those veterans that you don’t read much about – military nurses.

Berdine Stime was a lieutenant in the Army nurse corps when she wrote a letter that appeared in her local paper in Brookings, Minn. Stored away in an old trunk, it was just recently discovered.

It was while in New Guinea, in the rear of MacArthur’s advancing forces, that she ran into Vernon Nelson, an Army Air Corps mechanic. Vernon grew up in the same small Minnesota town as Stime and knew the family but had never met Berdine. They ended up getting married after the war and were living in Orange County when Vernon died at age 47, leaving Berdine with six children.

She came to San Pedro in the early `70s when her oldest son, Luthor, now well known for his dove release business, was hired as youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. Berdine moved back to Minnesota in the `90s, then returned a few years ago and is living at Little Sisters of the Poor. Now 94, she has 19 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, with three more on the way.

The following letter was edited only for brevity:

So far no hot running water, no iceboxes, no screens, so bugs and flies are numerous. No bathrobes, so when it rains the patients have to walk to the mess hall in their pajamas, through mud six inches deep! We use flashlights for throat examinations, etc., and a thousand and one inconveniences. But at least we have cement floors, a tin roof over our head, and enough equipment for essentials, with promise of better things to come. If it wasn’t for the heat, we really would have nothing to complain about, except the food, which isn’t too tasty but of good caloric value, and if we’re hungry enough, we eat it.

When the evenings cool off, as well as they do, together with a beautiful moon coming up, the sound of waves against the beach in our backyard, and Dianna Durbin singing, “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” what more can you ask for, except an ice cold Coke or laundry services, a little less mud and heat, or a few hundred other things? I don’t know myself whether I’m griping about this hole or praising the beautiful country. What’s your guess?

Incidentally, in case of any doubt in your mind because of preceding rambling, I still love nursing, New Guinea or not, and even though my glamour days of nursing are over, and I’m… perspiring very freely while giving baths, or just standing still (and in pants), I’m still thankful that I’ve been permitted to be of some service, and do not want to be any other place.

Last night we went on a five-mile jeep ride, but because of the general bumps and ruts and holes, it’s actually about 10 miles. Then the ride up the “stairs;” they have regular steps for the jeep to go up, only the steps zigzag, if you get what I mean. You go up a ways, then turn and go up a little further. I don’t know how we did it, but all the time while up there, we were afraid it would rain, and they say when it rains, the jeep just slides down very “smoothly.” What a country! Never lacks of variety or gets monotonous. But these jeeps are real corkers! When the kids don’t like the looks of the road ahead, they just go around it, right through the woods, fields or rivers…. The only annoying “animals,” besides lizards, snakes and spiders, are the airplanes that delight in swooping so low they almost crack up.

What a humbling and heartbreaking experience I had today with two new patients, just young kids straight from the fighting line, one with both legs amputated, and the other, a most handsome and intelligent boy with a gangrenous leg to be amputated in the morning. Pitiful! I could hardly keep back the tears. But the hardest to take was the cheerful and brave way they took it in spite of the pain. They barely spoke, just smiled when we smiled (because of the lack of words to express ourselves). I spent three hours trying to clean them up (it will take several baths to get them really clean). They had been washed once on the boat in four days. But it all seemed so vain when I knew I couldn’t do the impossible, restore the lost limb. Then stop and multiply their suffering and handicap by hundreds and hundreds more. It’s enough to make one go crazy just thinking about it. And then to think of how often I fret and gripe – what a heel I’ve been. I marvel at God’s patience and love! “It passeth knowledge, that love of Thine!” Last night I cried myself to sleep thinking about it all, but I guess that doesn’t help, does it? Think I had better do something worthwhile for them from now on.

Berdine was one of 74,000 women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War II; 201 Army nurses died. What they did was more than worthwhile. spt

San Pedro Nursing Professor Leaves Her Mark on India

Vivian Churness’s love affair with India began more than a half-century ago. A young nurse recently graduated from Hope College in Michigan, she went to India in 1960 and served the next four years as a missionary nurse-tutor at the famous Scudder Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Ranipet.

She returned to the States, where she earned her master’s in psychology from Notre Dame, Ph.D. in nursing from Indiana University and a Family Nurse Practitioner certificate from USC, where she was a faculty member until retiring.

There is nothing “retiring” about Churness, however. She plays numerous instruments and still teaches music. Over the years, the longtime San Pedro resident has continued visiting India as a consultant in nursing education, and she has just overseen the publication of a nursing textbook that she co-authored with Leah Macaden, a native of India who also is a nursing professor.

“Another textbook doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it is to them,” Churness says of Indian nursing students. “There simply are no textbooks in India at a level of English that is easy to read and understand.”

Nursing Management Concepts and Skills (Including Ward Management) is in English for very good reasons. “To be registered as a professional nurse (R.N.),” Churness says, “they must know how to read and speak English. Doctors’ orders are written in English. All of their lectures are in English, as is their licensure exam. English is a second language for them. When they start the nursing program at age 17 or 18, the only English some of them know is what they learned in English classes in school. They can read it but have difficulty speaking, understanding and writing English.”

In a nation of rampant poverty, Churness also notes the book sells for only $6. “This was released as a national nurses convention in Delhi at the centenary celebration of the Christian Medical Association of India,” she says. “They were overjoyed to have the book. It was well received and will be used by Christians in mission hospitals and by non-Christians in private and government hospitals.”

According to Churness, the content is prescribed by the Indian Nursing Council in the syllabus for registered nurse education, and, “We were careful to cover all of the prescribed content so it can be used in any nursing program.”

In fact, orders for the book already have been received from three other countries, including the United States.

Churness announced the book’s publication at Trinity Lutheran Church of San Pedro, where she and her husband, David, are longtime members. She wanted to publicly thank the many church friends who had assisted her on the book over the previous 18 months. So it comes as no surprise to those who know Churness that the dedication page reads, “To God Alone Be the Glory.”

On the Gridiron

The high school football season is nearly over, but it’s not too late to remember Gene Vollnogle, the legendary coach who died at age 81 on the same day as San Pedro’s own famed sportsman, Van Barbieri.

Vollnogle was a familiar, dare I say “hated,” figure to several generations of San Pedro High coaches, athletes and fans. As first co-head coach at rival Banning (1957-62 with Paul Huebner) and then head coach at Carson (1963-90), Vollnogle compiled a 22-3-1 record against the Pirates. (He was “only” 4-2 against San Pedro while at Banning, and it was those two victorious Pirate teams, from 1961 and 1962, that were honored this year.)

When Vollnogle moved to the newly opened Carson campus in 1963, however, he began a domination of City football unequaled by anyone save his own former player, Chris Ferragamo of Banning.

Vollnogle in particular embarrassed San Pedro High year in and year out. It wasn’t just the 18-1-1 record he compiled against the Bucs, it was the way it was done: the average score was 39-7. In 15 of those 20 games, San Pedro scored one touchdown or less (seven shutouts). The competition became so lopsided, the outmanned Pirates dropped down a division in 1980, and the two teams didn’t meet for eight years. When play resumed in 1988, Carson continued to dominate. It took current coach Mike Walsh to restore order to the rivalry, but he started the year after Vollnogle retired. Walsh and Vollnogle did compete against each other once, however; the Colts defeated the Pirates, 47-0, in 1971, when Walsh was team co-captain.

The highlights for San Pedro against Carson were the one win, the famous Danny Bondon last-minute catch in my senior year (1968), and Mickey Teora’s 1973 team managing a 6-6 tie against the defending City champs.

Vollnogle was a true genius, and even though his teams left their cleat marks all over the Pirates, the San Pedro Sportswalk still saw fit to honor him with a plaque in 2012. spt