War memoirs of Grace Smith
© Copyright 2008 CatholicHistory.netThe following is an edited transcript of an oral interview with Grace Smith conducted by Vicki Bentley, February 7, 2007. It is edited for readability and length.
Part I (Part II)
VB: What were your experiences during World War II?
When I was in Italy on two occasions I had the opportunity to see and be blessed by Pope Pius XII.
VB: Tell me more about that.
Well, on each occasion I had to go up to Rome. We were in Naples ... a dirty city, but when we got to Rome, it’s all the difference in the world. It's clean, it’s lighted up, it's beautiful. But we lived in Naples.
VB: What did you do there?
We got the wounded back from the field... I was attached to the 37th general hospital, which was, the full name of it was the Kings County Hospital. Did you ever hear of Bellevue? I graduated from nursing school in 1935... Bellevue and Kings County were the two largest hospitals in the city of New York Department of Hospitals and Bellevue was in Manhattan, Kings County was in Brooklyn. But they were each 3000 bed hospitals—even in that day, that was pretty big for a hospital.
VB: Tell me about your background. How did your Catholic faith affect your job?
It helped me all through nursing... There were many times... For instance, when we were set up in Naples, we had a young fella, must have been handsome, but his jaw was blown off. He was pretty well screened off to keep out infection and what have you. When I came off duty, very often I sat with him and held his hand. And he didn’t know who I was. I told him who I was but that didn’t help, so, but I think it made him feel better to be so far away from home and have somebody hold his hand.
VB: Did you pray over him, too?
Yes, I prayed. I don’t know whether he was Catholic or not, but what difference did it make, you know we all pray to the same Father.
VB: What did your father do?
My father was a house painter and when the war broke out he was employed by the Graceline picture company doing stage painting and whatever and every once in a while—he was one of the oldest painters—they would sling him over the side so that he could paint, repaint the word Graceline on the side of the boat...
I was born in 1914 ... I went to nursing school, I graduated in ‘35, so I went into school in ‘32 when I graduated from high school.
VB: What did your mother do?
My mother had been a milliner... she worked on hats. She worked for the Knox hat company, and I think they’re still in business.
VB: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
I had three brothers. Two of them died at birth. The other was almost two years old when died. So of my mother’s four children, I was the only one who survived.
VB: Do you have any memories of World War I?
No. Well, I do. We lived in a house on—see I’m from Brooklyn, New York—we lived in a house on Pacific Street and the next street in back of us the railroad had an elevated track and every once in a while a troop train would go by and I remember my mother holding me at the window with an American flag to wave at the troops as they went by.
VB: Did any of your uncles fight in WWI?
My mother’s brother was in the Marine corps. He saw action and I don’t know where.
VB: Did he survive?
VB: Were your parents faithful Catholics?
Yes. My mother was a convert. My father was raised in a Catholic orphanage.
VB: What did your mom convert from?
VB: Did she ever share with you the reason?
No. But a cousin of hers was married to an Episcopalian priest and very often—they lived up in Middletown, New York—and very often I would go to stay with them for maybe a week or two, but they always took me to church on Sunday.
When I started school, I went to kindergarten in public school and had a uniform, but in the third year the Catholic church to which I was affiliated opened its own parochial school. So that was Holy Rosary School and when that school was opened I was transferred form the public school to Holy Rosary School.
VB: What experiences do you remember from that school?
Sisters of Mercy. I thought they were all saints. They were just wonderful people. All the time I thought I was going to be a nun... As I grew older, I didn’t think this was what I wanted to be.
VB: So you chose to serve as an army nurse? A similar kind of life.
A very structured life...
VB: You chose to serve your country. That’s admirable.
I was in the army. We were set up first in Naples... I guess I felt it was my duty. I was a registered nurse. I had something to offer, so I offered it.