VERONA ISLAND — Gertrude Fraser, 98, spends a lot of time sitting at her table overlooking the Penobscot River and putting complicated jigsaw puzzles together.

But the World War II veteran of the Army Nurse Corps was willing to take a break Monday and talk about her years in the service, during which she took care of wounded soldiers in Houlton, Maine; Syracuse, New York; and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Before she enlisted, Fraser had been the head nurse on the infants ward at Boston Floating Hospital, but she knew she wanted to do her part for the war effort.

“I just felt I was going in to serve,” she said.

Fraser is one of the veterans that area American Legion officials have been working hard this year to honor. This summer, she was among the 50 octo-and-nonagenarians from Waldo County and the surrounding environs who came to a special ceremony held in Belfast. In addition to the World War II veterans in good enough health to participate, more than 200 people came to honor them and listen as the members of the “Greatest Generation” lifted their voices in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It was a heart-felt event. One that really brought tears to your eyes,” Lee Snyder, the adjutant of the American Legion Department of Maine’s 11th district in Waldo County, said Monday. “Patriotism, I think, is alive and well in Waldo County.”

He said that he and others are eager to make sure that the World War II veterans are recognized before it is too late.


“They’re getting old and passing away, so we wanted the community to be aware of what they’ve done, and to honor them,” Snyder said.

Snyder said that Fraser is a “very interesting person and full of good spirit.”

The veteran nurse describes her three years in the Army with matter-of-fact good humor. The Army was desperate for nurses at the beginning of the war, she said, and so did not require her to do basic training before she was deployed to northern Maine. She had wanted to enlist in the Navy, but her eyes were too bad.

“They didn’t take girls with glasses,” Fraser recalled, still sounding incredulous about it.

Also, she didn’t weigh enough to be sent overseas. So the Malden, Massachusetts native, wearing her fur coat and high-heeled shoes, hopped a train from Boston to take her to Houlton, which she described as a very pleasant post.

“They called it the country club of the north,” she said.


At that time, Presque Isle and Houlton were busy military communities, where Royal Air Force pilots and personnel passed through, along with the wounded men returning from the European theater.

After a year and a half there, she was stationed in upstate New York, then transferred down to Alabama, to work in a large hospital that had been built quickly for the wounded soldiers. Living in the segregated south held some shocks for the New England-bred Fraser.

“The thing that surprised us most was that they had different water fountains at the train station. We couldn’t understand that,” she said. “And there was a ward of wounded black soldiers, and they didn’t allow us to take care of them.”

Fraser worked in the paraplegic ward, which she described as hard duty but surprisingly, a lot of fun.

“Then they transferred me to the ward with soldiers who were out of their minds,” she said. “I objected. I said, ‘I’ve never worked with psychiatric patients.’ They said, ‘you can’t object. You’re in the Army.’”

Some of the soldiers, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or what then was called “shell shock,” were treated with electroshock therapy.


“It was very interesting — we learned a lot,” she said.

She remembers how, during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 and early 1945, the government didn’t want civilians to know how many Americans were getting wounded, so the injured soldiers would be moved to the hospital under cover of darkness.

By the end of the war, Fraser was ready to go back home to Massachusetts, but something seemed to be holding up her military discharge. Finally, she learned that Army brass, concerned that she had never gone through basic training, thought she might need to do it before she got out. Finally, they determined that she did not.

“I was glad to get out,” Fraser said.

She later met her future husband on a visit to a relative in Verona Island, and has stayed in Maine since her marriage.

Ken Fraser, her son, said that the family is proud of her wartime work.

“She’s very strong,” he said of his mother. “There aren’t many veterans of World War II left.”

Area veterans are invited to the American Legion Post #157 in Stockton Springs for an open house from noon – 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11.

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