By Glen Miller
Mary Ellen Jones was among thousands of women who contributed by enlisting in the Army Nursing Corps to care for the thousands of World War II wounded men returning from Pacific and European battles.
Rather than choosing to work in a better paying civilian medical job, she and three classmates enlisted in the Nursing Corps in January 1945 after graduating from a Dayton nursing school and passing their state nursing tests.
“We never gave it a second thought. We thought it was our duty and we were prepared to go overseas if necessary,” said Jones, 91, of Bainbridge Township near Chagrin Falls.
Jones and her friends were told they would serve the duration of the war, plus six months. She had no idea the war against Germany would be over in five months and the Japanese would surrender in August.
After a quick six weeks of basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky., she was assigned to Crile General Hospital in Parma, a large military hospital that would eventually become a veterans’ hospital and the forerunner of the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in University Circle.
“It was very large, sprawling with barracks and took up several acres,” said Mary Ellen, who lived with fellow nurses on the hospital grounds.
Now Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus, the hospital had nearly 2,000 beds, seven corridors and a staff of 1,000.
Although Mary Ellen never treated them, the hospital also cared for 250 wounded German POWS, who were among the hospital’s first patients when it opened in December 1944.
“They were kept in a special section way, but I never thought they were a threat to anyone,” she said. “I would see some working in the yard when we went to and from our quarters, but nothing else.”
Mary Ellen worked in a rehabilitation unit, or what she said was then referred to as “reconstruction” unit where wounded soldiers received prosthetic legs or arms, and underwent skin grafts.
“I was just a general duty nurse – gave medications, took temperatures and the like – nothing surgical,” she said. “Our days were 12 hours on 12 off, although sometimes our working hours were split, with us working in the morning or day and then back again at night. We didn’t have much free time.
“Most of our patients were just happy to be alive and on the road to recovery,” she added.
When she wasn’t on duty, she chose to read, go to a hospital campus movie, the PX, or in the summer, to an occasional Cleveland Indians game – although being from Southwestern Ohio; she was a Cincinnati Reds fan.
It was during a Sunday evangelical outing that she met Charles Jones, a discharged Army Air Force veteran who would become her husband.
“We started by sharing a song book and things went from there, and we started seeing each other,” she said.
Mary Ellen continued to serve at Crile General Hospital following the surrender of Japan that August, but opted to be discharged in March 1946, five months before she married Jones in September.
She recalled her service as an Army nurse in “One Mission,” a documentary film interviewing veterans of many wars produced in 2010 by Chagrin Falls resident Todd Lyle.