WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — 101-years-old and still going strong. A woman whose career as an Army nurse sent her from Marquette, Kansas, all the way around the world.
In 1945, Mary K. Nolan decided to join the military as an Army nurse. She received orders to Fort Riley, where she met General “Ike” Eisenhower. Then to Fitzsimmons, the tubercular hospital for the entire military, tending to 200 patients each night.
“We covered three wards, one nurse, you did, you went from ward to ward with one corpsman on each ward, and then you ran outdoors to the other wards, rain, sleet, or snow,” said Nolan.
It wasn’t until Nolan received orders to Lowry Air Force Base that she had the assignment of a lifetime.
“I reported to the chief nurse, ‘Reporting, ma’am,’ and she said without getting up from her desk, said, ‘You’re outta uniform.’ Finally, she opened her desk drawer and threw out Captain’s bars. I’d been promoted,” said Nolan.
At Lowry, Nolan achieved her dream of working in the surgical wards. One of her wards is always on standby in the event of a plane crash.
“We had a crash with probably 10 victims, several broken backs,” said Nolan.
One tail gunner in the crash suffered severe burns. Nolan tended to him for four months before he was transferred to a burn center.
“They’d wanna do treatment on him, and he’d say ‘Not ’til the captain comes,” said Nolan. “I can almost see that little face today. I’ve often wondered what happened to him.”
Nolan would eventually take flight from the mountains of Colorado to the ice caps of Greenland.
“I saw a notice that said we are, the air force is accepting applications for flight nurse school, and I thought, ‘Ah-ha! I’ll apply!’ I don’t even know what flight nurse school is,” said Nolan.
From flying patients across the arctic to earning a lifetime commission in Germany, Nolan’s journey around the world would see her rise through the ranks. From an adviser to the Tennessee Air Guard to the chief nurse at the Toul-Rosieres Air Base in France.
“I was lucky. I had good nurses. With good nurses, you do alright,” said Nolan.
Nolan’s final assignment was Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.
“I had 100 nurses and 200 airmen on my staff. That was a job,” said Nolan.
Nolan would retire after 23 years, a feat she says was made possible with the help of an extraordinary band of sisters.
“I had, through the years, good chief nurses, and I listened, I knew what they said and how they dealt with it, so I thought, well, do the best I can,” said Nolan.
Nolan says even at 101-years-old, she’d go right back to military life if she’s called upon to do so. She also says she’s still in contact with many of the nurses she worked with and mentored throughout the years.
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.