Joan Schechner

'It was a wonderful adventure'


Pearl Harbor was bombed while Joan Schechner was still in nursing school at Roseland Hospital.

But she enlisted in the Army as a nurse for the war's duration, plus six months, as soon as her training ended.

She spent her time in the war - including her 25th birthday - in a field hospital on Okinawa.

"You're young and you're gung ho," said Schechner, 90. "It was a wonderful adventure."

To prepare for the jungle of the South Pacific, the nurses trained in Hawaii. Then they took a boat to Saipan, where they cared for casualties from the battle of Iwo Jima.

Okinawa, the island where 27,000 Americans were killed or maimed, was too small for its own hospital.

Once the Okinawa hospital was ready, she moved to quarters on Buckner Bay.

Schechner worked in the shot tent, the only place in the hospital where oxygen was available and patients could get blood transfusions.

She prepped patients for surgery. She dispensed shots of penicillin, too, as the medicine made its life-saving debut in the South Pacific.

"In the beginning, for about the first six or seven weeks of the fighting on Okinawa after we arrived, we had eight surgical tables, and these eight surgical tables were kept busy practically 24 hours a day. After that the fighting was further away, so you didn't have so many casualties."

The battle at Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific, lasted almost 90 days in 1945.

Among the action, the nurses also had to worry about keeping their seersucker uniforms clean. They were confined to their quarters, with a guard at their entrance to protect them from fighting on the island.

Then talk of invading Japan reached them. Debate raged whether to bomb or to invade. Officials estimated the death toll for each.

"They had figured about 1 million people killed if we were sent in there to fight, and the Japanese had prepared their civilians how to fight with bamboo spears. They had even trained their children how to run in front of our tank treads when we were coming into their country to try to stop them.

"It was horrible to hear those things, you know?"

President Harry S Truman decided to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, drawing a Japanese surrender in August 1945.

"I'm sure that's what saved our lives."