Home : Media : News : News Article View
NEWS | Dec. 5, 2016

The Pearl Harbor attack, as Remembered by the Nurses Who Were There

By xxxKatie Lange Defense Media Activity

HONOLULU -- Teresa Stauffer Foster was strolling through a garden near Hawaii's Tripler Hospital on a quiet Sunday morning when a low-flying plane approached. The pilot waved in her direction, so naturally, the Army nurse waved back.

A few minutes later, the attack on Pearl Harbor began. Foster didn't realize it at the time, but that plane was one of the many Japanese bombers that pulverized U.S. battleships and aircraft.

Foster's is just one of many stories of military nurses who survived the attacks on Dec. 7, 1941, although you probably haven't heard them.

"You hear stories about Pearl Harbor, and they're all about the men. You hear very few stories about the women," said Winnie Woll, Foster's daughter.

Woll, 73, is actually named for two of her mom's best friends from Pearl Harbor, who were also nurses. She now gives lectures to spread the stories of how they were pioneers of their time, having joined the services long before the Women's Army Corps and the Navy's Women's Reserve program (WAVES) were established in 1942.

RULES FOR MILITARY WOMEN

When Woll's mother joined, there were stringent rules for the women who wanted to enlist.

"The women had to be single. The minute they were married, they were out the door," Woll said, noting that the need for more nurses eventually led to a rule change. "In 1943, that was the first time you could marry and still legally be in the military -- until you had your first child. Then you're out again."

Foster was sent to Pearl Harbor six months before the attacks. On the morning of Dec. 7, she was walking with other nurses who had finished their shifts when that plane flew past.

"The man was waving at them. And you know what you do in a situation like that -- you wave back, because you don't really realize what's happening," Woll said. They realized soon after that, though, and were ordered back to their units.

Woll said the nurses got to work helping patients who were carted in, often marking their foreheads with lipstick to help with triage. "If it was somebody they couldn't save, they had to put them off to the side and go on and work with whoever they could," she remembered.

KEEPING THE PAST IN THE PAST

In today's era of connectivity, when people constantly post about their experiences on social media, it's hard to imagine a time when people were more reserved about their thoughts and feelings. But the World War II generation is well known for that kind of stoicism, with many of them never discussing what they went through.

"It traumatized them to the point where they didn't want to share what happened. They just wanted to forget it," Woll said.

She has made it her mission to give a voice to the stories of the Pearl Harbor nurses, one of which was uncovered only by accident.

AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY

Ann Danyo Willgrube joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1940. She was an operating room nurse on the newly commissioned hospital ship USS Solace when the war began.

But she never shared anything about her military life with her family. Her brother, Joe Danyo, who was 8 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, said he didn't even know she had been there until the late 1950s.

"She never talked about anything regarding her career," Danyo said. "She was a dynamo … but she just plain refused to talk about the past."

So needless to say, he never expected to find a letter detailing what had happened to her that day. But he did, as he was cleaning out her house in the mid-1980s.

"I was surprised to find that," Danyo said.

The letter was addressed to a high school student who was doing a report on Pearl Harbor and had discovered she was there during the attack. The teen wanted to hear her story, so it was then -- in 1981 -- that she finally decided to tell it.

SMOKE, EXPLOSIONS AND SHAKING SHIPS

In the letter, Willgrube talked about being "the envy of all the nurses" because she was assigned to the Solace -- a cushy assignment -- only 18 months after enlisting. The ship arrived in Pearl Harbor in late October 1941 and was docked at Ford Island near several of the battleships. All was going well until 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, when Willgrube was jarred awake by what she initially thought was a boiler explosion.

"The ship shook, and everyone ran out on deck to see what happened. I looked out the porthole in my room and saw smoke pouring out of the [USS] Arizona," Willgrube wrote. "The next minute, our chief nurse burst into the room and told me to dress quickly and report to the quarterdeck for duty because the Japs were bombing us."

The Solace's nurses worked around the clock that day to care for more than 130 patients who were brought aboard, 70 percent of whom were burn victims. The nurses were too busy to worry about the roar of the guns, the shaking of the ship and the planes flying overhead.

The surprise attack destroyed the Arizona, the Oklahoma and the Utah, and damaged several other U.S. ships and aircraft. More than 2,400 people were killed, half of whom had been on the Arizona, which still sits at the bottom of Pearl Harbor to this day.

It was the worst attack America had ever seen, but Willgrube said it took days to realize how bad it actually was.

"We were so thankful that the Japanese did not realize how they crippled us, because they could have taken over the islands had they known the truth," Willgrube wrote.

PASSING THE MEMORIES ON

"We never had disaster drills, yet when we realized that we were actually at war, every person on board that ship seemed to know instinctively what to do," Willgrube said. "It simply proves how important discipline in the military is. It not only saves lives but wins wars, too."

Willgrube was one of the first women to become a Navy shellback, one of many firsts for her over the years.

"When I entered the Navy, nurses had no specific rank but enjoyed the privileges of officers. In 1942, we received relative rank, and in 1947, we were classified as Nurse Corps with the same rank and privileges as the other officers," Willgrube wrote.

After 27 years of service, she retired as a commander and married retired Medical Services Corps Cmdr. Wayne Willgrube, who was also aboard the Solace during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

Willgrube died in 1988 after a battle with Parkinson's disease.

MORE PEARL HARBOR STORIES

Willgrube had some other interesting stories to tell in her letter, including about rumors that ran rampant directly after the attacks. To read her entire letter, click "Pearl Harbor nurse pens letter describing experience" in the related links below.

Woll shared the details of a few other nurses' experiences, too, including a love story, a returned Purple Heart, and one story involving Gen. George Patton. You can check those out by clicking on "More tales of Pearl Harbor nurses" in the related links below.
CONNECT WITH USINDOPACOM
Facebook

Like Us
Twitter
324,740
Follow Us

ENGAGE & CONNECT MORE WITH PACOM

                                                 

IN THE USINDOPACOM NEWS
U.S. INDOPACOM announces establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill
220630-N-BD629-1009 CAMP H.M. Smith, Hawaii (June 30, 2022) Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. John C. Aquilino addresses members of the media during a press conference announcing the establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill. JTF Red Hill, in close coordination with the State of Hawaii, will oversee the safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, demonstrating DoD’s commitment to remove fuel as quickly as possible, in a safe and informed manner, and with full transparency to regulators, intergovernmental partners, and with the people of Hawaii. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon M. Smith/Released)
July 1, 2022 - CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii – Adm. John C. Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, announced the establishment of Joint Task Force Red Hill (JTF Red Hill) on June 30.The Secretary of Defense directed the standup of JTF...

Rim of the Pacific 2022 Officially Begins
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 participants network at the Southern California opening ceremony. Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
June 30, 2022 - U.S. Navy -- Twenty-six nations, 38 surface ships, four submarines, nine national land forces, more than 30 unmanned systems, approximately 170 aircraft and more than 25,000 personnel will train and operate in and around the...

Chief of Naval Operations, Japanese Chief of Staff Meet to Discuss Maritime Security
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday meets with Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Adm. Ryo Sakai during an office call at the Pentagon, June 28. The two leaders discussed maritime security and ongoing efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
June 30, 2022 - WASHINGTON -- Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday hosted the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Adm. Ryo Sakai in Washington, D.C., for an office visit, June 28.The two leaders discussed...

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas on Account of U.S. Independence Day 2022
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas on Account of U.S. Independence Day 2022.
June 30, 2022 - U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh -- Good afternoon, everyone! And thank you for joining us for this celebration of the 246th anniversary of U.S. independence. Independence Day in America is a day of red, white, and blue; a day of...

The U.S. Provides Immediate Assistance to Respond to Drought in Kiribati
US $500,000 in humanitarian assistance to respond to the drought across Kiribati
June 30, 2022 - SUVA, U.S. Embassy in Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu -- The U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is providing US$500,000 in humanitarian assistance to respond to the drought across...