U.S. Army Nurse, World War II

Local Women Were Involved in Invasion

By Corie Marty
Wheeling News-Register and The Intelligencer - June 6, 1994

Submitted by Jack Kravanya

     "We were accustomed to wartime, but you never get used to it. You just adjust yourself to what's going on," said Wheeling resident Mildred Thomas, a former World War II nurse who was involved with the D-Day invasion at Normandy 50 years ago today.
     Thomas joined the U. S. Army's nurse corps in 1942, after this country entered the war. Assigned to the 92st Evacuation Hospital Unit of medical personnel, Thomas was first stationed in Africa. Then members of her unit were sent to Sicily, where they experienced the perils and pressures on the front.
     "When we left Sicily, we knew we were going to England," Thomas said. "The reason we were sent to England was to teach other hospital units to set up under fire, under those conditions. We were an experienced unit."
     The unit was sent to Bristol, England in November 1943 to set up hospital tents, according to Thomas. As June approached, Thomas' unit remained in Bristol.
     "We knew something was going to happen, because we all had a code number at that time," she said.
     Thomas explained that before the invasion, each army unit had a secret code number assigned for security reasons. When the numbers were called, each unit had to report to a designated area for further instructions.
     On the day that her unit's number came up, Thomas and several other nurses were watching a movie in a Bristol theater.
     "The day our unit was called, a lot of us were at a movie theater. Our number came up on the screen, so we had to report immediately to our areas," Thomas said. "We knew something was up."
     "We knew we were going to be involved in the invasion because we were sent to a staging area, and we weren't allowed to leave," she explained.
     At the time of the Allied invasion, Thomas' unit was being held aboard a Liberty ship in a staging area on the English Channel.
     The 91st Evacuation Hospital Unit landed at Utah beach, the westernmost D-Day invasion site, four days after more than Allied 150,000 troops stormed the French coast.
     "We didn't get in until D-4, because until then, we didn't have enough of the beach," Thomas said.
     Bellaire resident and former army nurse Violet Matoska was also a member of the unit. She remembered landing on Utah beach following the invasion.
     "I don't know how to describe it. You didn't know what was going on from one minute to the next," she said.
     It was chaos getting off the boats. You just did what your commanding officer told you to do," Matoska continued.
     Unit members did not know what they could find when they landed on the beach, according to Matoska.
     "It was a nightmare. You didn't know what was coming," she said.
     Thomas explained that the unit had to walk onto the beach to the area where they were to begin setting up hospital tents for wounded soldiers.
     Once on the beach, the medical personnel were greeted with some of the remains of the invasion a few days before.
     It wasn't very pleasant. Some of the dead paratroopers were still in the trees," she said.
     According to Matoska, most of the bodies of the fallen infantrymen were no longer on the beach by the time the hospital unit arrived.
     "I didn't see any dead soldiers. They were probably either drowned or moved," she said.
     Thomas explained that after landing at Utah beach, the unit moved inland to set up hospital tents.
     "We were there for a few days before we could move to another location. As soon as they secured more beach, we were able to move further inland," she said.
     "We were constantly moving," Thomas said.
     There were no casualties to the members of the 91st Evacuation Hospital Unit, according to Thomas. However, a piece of shrapnel flew through a tent that housed five nurses, and Matoska was hit.
     It only bruised her, but we put a patch over the tent and gave her a 'purple heart,'" Thomas said.
     Some of the members of the 91st Evacuation Hospital Unit are planning to go back to Normandy for an anniversary commemoration on June 6, according to Thomas. Neither Thomas nor Matoska said they plan to return to the site of the D-Day invasion.
     Thomas said that one of the unit's nurses from Indiana is planning to attend the remembrance ceremony.
     "But most of us are getting a little old to travel," she said, "A lot of us have died."

[There were 3 pictures with this article; one is presented here.]


Mrs. Thomas stands beside the grave of her brother, Charles E. Clutter,
not long after he was killed in combat near Andilly, France.