OUR WWII STORY: Nurse shares cold memories of treating the wounded in tents

To honor the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, American Legion Media & Communications Deputy Director Henry Howard interviewed surviving veterans, including Katherine Nolan of Worcester, Mass. Nolan was one of more than 60,000 members of the Army Nurse Corps who served during World War II. She came ashore at Utah Beach in July 1944 and treated soldiers, as well as concentration camp survivors, in the Allied march across Europe in the war’s final chapter. She passed away in 2019. Following is an excerpt from Howard’s 2014 article.

Katherine Nolan served as a nurse with the 53rd Field Hospital, which was attached to various infantry and armored units throughout the war. The field hospital team often had only four hours to find a new location, prepare medical tents and be ready to receive severely wounded patients. “Sometimes the incoming wounded arrived before we were ready, so you learned how to set up the hospital in the order they needed it. You improvised a lot,” she recalls.

The nurses’ primary mission was to keep the patients alive and warm. Two potbelly stoves generated minimal heat in the makeshift hospital. Nurses often swaddled patients like babies in whatever blankets they could find. It was hard work, especially given the severe winter. “I’ve been cold since the Bulge,” says Nolan (93 at the time of the interview).

Once a patient was stabilized, he would be evacuated to a full military hospital. “We never heard back about how they made out after they left us,” Nolan recalls. “We often wondered if they made it all the way home.”

Nearly 70 years later, she still wondered what happened to one patient in particular: Hamilton Greene, war correspondent for The American Legion Magazine. Nolan was mentioned in a story about Greene in the February 1945 issue. “There’s a nice girl nurse, Lt. Katherine Flynn of Worcester (Mass.), in charge of his ward,” the article says, referring to Nolan by her maiden name.

Nolan says Greene was a model patient. “He was in a lot of pain, but you wouldn’t know it. He always had a smile on his face. He was always very upbeat and, as it mentions in the article, he really helped me with the other patients because he had such a great sense of humor. You would never believe anything was wrong with him. But his wounds were worse than some of the others.”

Unbeknownst to Nolan, after Greene left her field hospital, he recovered fully. He picked up his correspondent duties, and was aboard USS Missouri when Japan formally surrendered. Later, Greene returned home to his wife and two young children and continued to work as a freelance illustrator.

Upon learning, after all these years, that he had survived, Nolan smiled and beamed. “That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”

To read “Our Man Ham Greene” in the February 1945 American Legion Magazine, visit legion.org/library/digitalarchive, click on the The American Legion Magazine link and search for February 1945. Greene, who had been writing and illustrating about the war for The American Legion Magazine, was wounded in the lungs and stomach during a sniper attack on Nov. 19, 1944. He met Katherine Flynn (Nolan) at a field hospital during his recovery.


The American Legion provides media tools; a chronology of the organization’s role before, during and after World War II; video links; graphic elements and more to help local posts honor the 75th anniversary of war’s end. Click here to download the media kit.

Participating Legion posts are also welcome to submit their stories in the “My WWII Story” section of legion.org/legiontown. They are also encouraged to add to their post histories on the national Legacy & Vision website at legion.org/centennial. Both platforms offer easy sharing for social media. Selected submissions will be edited for publication in the September 2020 American Legion Magazine.