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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kathryn Leverman, R.N. Part III: "And Now That Most of Us Are Home Again . . . There Will At Times Come a Wierd Feeling, Almost of Homesickness For That Life We Had Been Leading So Strenuously"

In the third section of her World War I Nursing Reminiscence "My Personal Experiences After Arriving Overseas" Kathryn Leverman recounted her experiences at the close of the conflict and with the American Occupation force in Germany in the war's aftermath.

As with others who shared their memories of wartime service, Leverman recalled church bells ringing and the shooting of guns and other weapons in celebration of the Armistice on November11, 1918. The immediate aftermath brought "delightfully bright sunny days" and some freedom to travel in the area. "We would start out on the road early in the morning and the first soldiers coming alon[g] that asked us to ride we accepted. 'Hopping trucks' seemed to be the favorite sport, and how eager the boys were to get to talk to us. Even the officers in their limousines seemed anxious to give us a life occasionally and we went everywhere." (5)

As she had in the first section of her memoir, Leverman reprinted a letter of commendation she and her colleagues with Evacuation Hospital #3. This letter from Major General C. P. Summerall praised the staff but also placed the nurses on a pedestal. "To the noble women nurses of this Hospital the Corps is especially indebted. They brought comfort and assistance to our wounded which none but women of such high attainment and ideals could administer. Their labors were an inspiration and they have written a new chapter in the annals of womanhood which in future will be cherished by our people." I would give a great deal to know Leverman's take on the letter but she offered no comment.

On December 2 Leverman and her colleagues left France and eventually came to Trier, Germany, with the American Army of Occupation. They worked at a German hospital that had been used to house and treat Allied prisoners of war. "A Protestant order of nuns were in charge," she wrote, "twenty of them to look after as many as five hundred wounded men at times. Depending on some of the less disabled ones to help them. There were quite a number of American soldiers there, some very sad cases, where the wounds were so extensive that there was hardly any flesh left on the bones." The conditions were horrible but the soldiers praised the nuns for "being very good to them." Leverman and her colleagues had to make do with what was there as their equipment had not caught up with them in Trier. "Picture the expression on the faces of these unfortunate heroes who did not even know that an Armistice had been signed, when they saw their own countrymen coming to take charge." (6)
That December American troops began the occupation of Germany and "our Hospital was literally swamped with influenza and pneumonia cases." It seemed that "these days almost rivaled the bloody ones during the big drives." (7)

Census records (1930, Walla Walla, Washington) indicate that both of Leverman's parents were born in Germany. She devoted a good portion of this section of her reminiscence to a description of her travels and sightseeing in Trier, then known as Treves, "the oldest town in Germany" with Roman sites such as the Porta Nigra gate and the Basilica. Christmas in Germany was "a real happy one for everybody at our camp" with "firs of all sizes, like we have in Oregon." (6-7)

The final section of "My Personal Experiences" frames Leverman's last days of in the context of bureaucratic headaches, trying to supply shifting populations of staff and patients, and the "rush" to apply to go home and the frustration of waiting to find one's name on the list on a bulletin board.

Leverman returned to Portland and worked at the Veteran's Hospital there until 1928, transferring from Veteran's Hospital #77, Marquam Hill Campus (today's VA alongside OHSU) to the Walla Walla, Washington VA Hospital. She married James Thompson there in 1933. Leverman was a member of the Women's Overseas Service League, a veteran organization for women. (Carry On, Volume 7 (1928), 21; Volume 12 (1933), 45.

Kathryn Leverman, R.N.
Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.

Leverman's identification with veterans and as a veteran comes through in her concluding section of "My Personal Experiences":

"Today after an entire year has passed, since we set foot on good old American soil once more, I feel that our work is not yet finished. There are still hundreds yes thousands of these brave men and women who are still paying the price. Had I not joined this vast army of soldiers, I would always be counting these years as wasted opportunities. It takes so little to bring sunshine and cheer, and yet millions of us go chasing our own little desires through life and never stop to think of the ones who are down.

"And now that most of us are home again, and the greetings and the hurrahs have begun to pall, there will at times come a wierd feeling, almost a homesickness for that life we had been leading so strenuously." (7-8)

Kathryn A. Leverman, R.N. Base Hospital 46, "My Personal Experiences After Arriving Overseas,"pp. 5-8, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

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