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Tena Tarman - Army Nurse Corps Veteran

The following article was written by Sherry Lindeman as a tribute to her aunt Tena Tarman who celebrated her 100th birthday on December 9, 2006 at Synder Village in Metamora.
Tena Tarman was born December 9, 1906 on a farm south of Minonk, Illinois. She was named for her maternal grandmother, Trienje Luppen Gelster.

Tena’s mother, Fredericka Gelster Janssen Tarman came to the United States from Ostfriesland, Germany in 1892 at the age of eighteen. In June 1893 she married Paul Janssen and they lived on the Janssen farm south of Minonk. They were parents of John, Henry (Hank) and Anna Janssen. Paul Janssen died in 1898.

Tena’s mother married John Tarman who was the son of German emigrants in 1903 and they continued to live on the Janssen farm. They were the parents of Irene Tarman Goliwas Tena, and Charles (Bob)Tarman. Tena’s father died in 1910 and her mother was left to raise six children and run the farm.

Tena attended the Woodford School until her mother and the younger children moved to Minonk in 1918. She graduated from Minonk High School in 1925 and from Brokaw School of Nursing in Normal, Illinois in 1930.

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After graduating from Brokaw School of Nursing, Tena worked as an office nurse for Doctor Norman Elliot, a prominent doctor in Bloomington, Illinois.

When Tena was a student at the Brokaw, Maude Essig, the Superintendent of Nursing at Brokaw School of Nursing had been a Red Cross nurse during World War I; and she had encouraged her students to join the Red Cross. In 1940 the army and the Red Cross issued a call for nurses to join the Army Nurse Corps for one year of service. Tena registered for the Army Nurse Corps at the McLean County Court House in Bloomington, Illinois, and was sworn into the Army Nurse Corps on January 15, 1941; and reported for duty at Fort McClellan at Aniston, Alabama.

When war was declared in December 1941 all the nurses at Fort McClellan, which was a station hospital, decided to remain in the Army Nurse Corps; and were to serve for the duration of the war. All nurses entered the Army Nurse Corps as Second Lieutenants . Tena spent two years and three months at Fort McClellan and then was stationed at several other station hospitals in the U. S.

In 1943 Tena volunteered to go over seas and so she was sent to join the 97th Evacuation Hospital at the desert center in California for training. In early December 1943 she was on a troop train going across the country to the east coast. There were about 40 nurses in her unit; and the hospital personnel were always divided into two groups to travel. They arrived at Fort Dix, New Jersey on December 16, 1943.

On December 27, 1943 half of her hospital unit boarded a troop ship on Staten Island for the trip to England. The other half of the unit was on another ship. They had to wear their dress uniforms, a skirt, shirt, jacket and long over coat with a hood to board the ship, and always had to carry their canteen, first aid kit , gas mask. They were the first women aboard the ship since it was outfitted to carry troops. Tena said there were thirty-two nurses, two Red Cross workers, several doctors, and five thousand men on the ship. The medical corp men also traveled with the unit.

They sailed on December 28th in a convoy, zigzagging across the Atlantic. The ship was so crowded that they only had time to serve two meals a day, and there were not enough life boats for everyone. The nurses worked “sick bay” on the ship, and quite a few of the men had the measles, so they were busy.

They landed at Liver Pool, England, and took a train to Castle Carry in southern England where they were stationed until June 1944. From January 1944 until June much time was spent in training, and training the medical corps men who would be working with the nurses and the doctors in the field hospital.

The nurses had time off, so Tena was able to do a lot of traveling in England. The high light for her was a week’s leave, spent in London and northern England with her brother who was stationed in Ireland.

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Tena said that they knew D Day was coming, but did not know the date. She said that they were packed and ready to move about a week ahead of time. In packing they could each take their bed roll, which contained their sleeping bag and a small pillow. They each had a suitcase. They took five outfits of clothes (shirts and trousers), an extra pair of boots, a field jacket and their helmet. Their dress uniforms, overcoat and other belongings were left in a footlocker in England. They always had to have their helmets, gas masks, canteen, and first aid kit with them. The tents, cots, and bed rolls were transported for them.

Tena said that on the night of June 5th they heard planes taking off all night so they knew the invasion was beginning. They finished packing and on June 16 traveled to the English Channel by train. They spent the rest of the day loading LCI carriers to cross the Channel that night. The personnel of half the hospital were on each carrier. The LCI carrier could not go all the way in to shore; so they were met by a “duck vehicle”; and had to jump over the side of the LCI carrier to the “duck” below

The 97th hospital unit landed at Sugar Beach, which was between the Omaha and Utah beach heads near St Mary DeGleif, France. Upon landing they spent some nights in “fox holes “ on the beach and ate K rations. They backed the battle of Cherbourg, and were in the city a few days after it fell. Their hospital was attached to the First Army under General Omar Bradley and General Courtney Hodges.

      Tina Tarman in her Army Nurse Corp uniform

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The evacuation hospital was a semi-mobile unit made up .of khaki tents and were just a few miles from the battle front. They usually heard the gunfire.

The corpsmen unloaded the trucks and set up the tents and cots. The nurses made up the beds with sheets. They were under constant blackout, so the hospital tents had double walls and the wards were dimly lit. The ward tents usually had forty cots.

Tena said that many of the medications had to be mixed before they were used. Sulfa and penicillin were new drugs used during World War II, and had to be mixed just before they were used.

The administration tent usually had a large red cross on it; and there was usually a large red cross on the ground near the hospital for all planes to see. Transportation officers, the supply officer, the chief nurse and her assistant staffed the administration tent.

The admissions tent was staffed by a doctor and several nurses.

Tena said they had some very fine doctors including a very good neural surgeon. They only did the most urgent surgery in the evacuation hospitals Most patients needing surgery were sent back to a station hospital or a hospital in England. All patients were evacuated to another hospital as soon as they could travel.

All the nurses worked twelve hour shifts, and they usually changed shifts after each move. The hospital was usually set up near a stream of water that was used by the hospital. Chlorine was put in the water to purify it. Tena was usually in charge of the abdominal and chest ward; and her patients were usually on IV’S . She said sometimes the patient’s blood pressure had to be taken every 15 minutes. Her ward usually had about 40 patients with several other nurses and corpsmen.

The nurses lived in tents, five nurses to a tent . Their hospital was never hit by bombs or gunfire; but they heard German V bombs and German planes going over head as well as gun fire from the battle.

The hospital moved about every ten days, depending how the battle was going. They always moved at night under blackout conditions, riding in the back of open trucks with sixteen nurses to each truck. Tena said there was always a short prayer service each time they moved and again in their new location before they started taking patients. Tena said there was always a priest, protestant minister or rabbi with the hospital.

In the summer of 1944 Tena wrote of moving often and of the French civilians as they moved across France. Many of the towns had been heavily bombed and had much destruction. She said that they were very busy and they heard a lot of gunfire. At that time she was promoted to First Lieutenant.

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A few days after Paris was liberated Tena said that they traveled through the city by open truck, stopping to eat their K rations that night on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. She said as they drove through the city that night and many Parisians came out to watch them.

At this time when she wrote to us she said , “We have it so much better than the troops in the front lines.

On August 24, 1944, Tena’s younger brother, Bob, was killed in battle southeast of Paris. She heard the news in a letter from Velma Arnold, a nurse friend from Bloomington with a clipping from “ The Pantagraph.” This was a hard blow for her, but she said , “I just had to go on.” She was able to travel to her brother’s unit and visit the cemetery where he was buried several times. She also wrote , “I so wanted Bob to get through safely, and to get home again. I’m so glad that I saw him in London. He was happy, and looked so good. He was one of the best!”

By October her unit had moved into Belgium and were in buildings. She said, “I don’t like it as well for it means we can’t leave the building except with a escort or guard; and then only on special business. All doors are guarded at all times by Belgium guards. We have to be very careful from now on.”

The German army had retreated from France back to the German border and inhabited well built concrete pill boxes and other fortified positions; and were also launching a new V two bomb, which was causing much damage and fear in London.

Tena wrote that mail was very slow, saying that air mail arrived in two to three weeks, and mail with a three cent stamp took six to eight weeks to arrive Tena said that each nurse had three sets of “fatigues” which they wore for work; and they were washed with the hospital laundry. She said they would brush the wrinkles out of them, and then put them under their sleeping bag on their cots. She said the captain got coveralls for them to wear on moves that were like those the tank troops wore, to keep warm in winter.

As they moved into Germany and winter arrived they would set up the hospital and live in abandoned schools and buildings. It was very cold as the windows were usually broken; so they covered the windows with blankets, and they usually had small pot bellied stoves. She went on to say that it was still very cold, but so much better than the conditions of the boys in the fox holes.

The Battle of the Bulge started in December and caused a large retreat of American and allied troops from Germany back into Belgium, the Netherlands and France. There were many casualties.

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Aunt Tena wrote about Christmas Eve Day of 1944. The 97th was located near Achen, Germany, and they knew the army was retreating. The ambulances were having difficulty getting through to evacuate the patients. (The roads were a quagmire of mud caused by all the rain, sleet, and snow.) Each of the nurses volunteered to stay with the patients so the unit could retreat. However, the ambulances got through late in the afternoon, and the patients were moved.

Then they packed to move; and by 8:00 PM were in open trucks in a convoy heading back to Belgium in total blackout. They arrived at a school building after midnight and unpacked. Christmas afternoon they were ordered to pack to move again.

On January 6, 1945 Tena received the Bronze Star medal at a ceremony in Belgium. In her letter she wrote, “ We stood in formation, the band played, our names were called, and we stepped forward. Then our C.O. read our citation and a general pinned the Bronze Star on us. We had our pictures taken while he was doing it. We had champagne afterwards in our colonel’s room, and then went to dinner where a table was reserved for us and we had steak.

A picture and caption of Tena receiving the Bronze Star appeared in “The Pantagraph”

Her citation read, “ First Lieutenant Tena Tarman, Army Nurse Corps, United Stated Army. For meritorious service in connection with military operations against the enemy as Charge Nurse, Abdominal and Chest Ward, 97th Evacuation Hospital, Semi-mobile, from 17 June 1944 to 31 October 1944, in France and Belgium. When her ward was filled to capacity with seriously ill patients, First Lieutenant Tarman, with a minimum of nursing personnel, so directed and supervised their activities that patients received superior nursing care. Her personal interest and knowledge of the condition of each patient in her ward resulted in securing the best possible nursing care and nursing service. The marked ability and professional skill displayed by First Lieutenant Tarman reflected credit upon herself and the military service.

Entered the military service from Illinois.
Courtney Hodges
Lieutenant General, U. S. Army, Commanding

The 97th unit did not get back into Germany until late March.

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On April 7th she wrote that she had been across the Rhine River several times. In another letter, she wrote that they moved to Ahrweiler, Germany on March 16 which was six miles from the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River. The bridge collapsed on March 17. The hospital was set up in a Catholic Convent; and the nurses lived in the nun’s quarters. After the bridge collapsed the army quickly built a pontoon bridge. Tena said that she walked across the pontoon bridge and also took a boat ride on the Rhine.

When they moved from west of the Rhine in late April they moved in large transport planes to Kassel, Germany From there they traveled by open truck to their new location. They were living in tents again.

When the war ended in Europe on May 7, 1945 the 97th evacuation hospital was at Weimer, Germany. Tena wrote on May 19, “V E Day finally got here, but there wasn’t much celebrating over here for until it’s over in the Pacific there isn’t any use to celebrate; besides there are too many memories here to take it lightly.” She also said that they went through Buchenwald, one of the German Concentration camps and expressed the horror they had seen..

On July 3 Tena wrote that twenty-two nurses, some doctors and enlisted men were leaving the 97th evacuation unit to join the 91st evacuation hospital unit which was going to the Pacific. Soon they learned that they were going to tbe Pacific by way of the states. In August the war ended in the Pacific, so they were coming home.

In early September Tena flew to Marseille, France to a staging area to wait to sail for home. They finally sailed for home in late September and arrived at New Port News, Virginia. The day after arriving sixteen nurses took a train to Chicago.

Tena was discharged October 3, 1945 at Fort Sheridan, which was near Rockford, Illinois.

She then took the Santa Fe from Chicago to Streator ; and there was joined by her niece Phyllis Goliwas for the last leg of her long trip home to Minonk on the “Doodle Bug”. She said that it was great to be home and to see everyone.

During the time that she was in Europe Tena said that she was in five campaigns, which were Normandy, Northern France, the Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe. She had received several ribbons and the Bronze Star.

Following her discharge from the Army Nurse Corps Tena worked for a year as a public health nurse in Peoria, Illinois. Then she attended George Peabody Teacher’s College in Nashville, Tennessee where she received certification for public health nursing in 1948.

In the summer of 1948 she moved to Decatur, Illinois and began a career as a school nurse in the Decatur Public Schools. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree from Milliken University in August 1951, and her Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Illinois in August 1965.

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Tena retired in 1972 after spending twenty-four years with the Decatur Public Schools. At the time of her retirement she was given a life membership in the Parent-Teacher’s Association for meritorious and dedicated service for the promotion of the welfare of children and youth.

She continued to live in Decatur until moving to Snyder Village in Metamora several years ago.

A note from the author:

Much of the information about Tena was taken from letters that she wrote to our family during her time in the Army Nurse Corp. My mother saved her letters and I still have them. In preparing this article in 1999,I talked with aunt Tena several times about her experiences. I also read a book, “Citizen Soldiers” by Stephen Ambrose which gave much background information about the war in Europe and contained an entire chapter about the medics.

Sherry Lindeman
10841 S W 90th Court
Ocala, Florida 34481