Tsuris recalls service as army nurse in WWII

Posted November 13, 2013 at 10:14 am

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PHOTO: Clara Schatz Tsuris


By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

Clara Schatz Tsuris grew up on a farm outside of Monticello. As one of eight kids, she knew the meaning of hard work.

Before World War II was even declared, Tsuris was in the midst of nursing school in Des Moines.

In an interview she gave to 2003 MHS graduate Jill (Ehrisman) Powers for a U.S. history class assignment from teacher Todd Hospodarsky, Tsuris stated, ” We here in the isolated Midwest, Iowa, were only vaguely aware of the unrest taking place in Europe. But kept doing our daily chores, not imagining in our wildest dreams we would ever be involved in their war because we felt safely isolated in America.”

At the age of 22, Tsuris was on her way to her first nursing job in Oskaloosa when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I heard about it on the radio in the car,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was. I didn’t think anyone would ever beat the U.S.”

A week or so later, Tsuris enlisted as an army nurse. She served for two and a half years on an island off the coast of Australia in the Pacific called New Caledonia.

“Everybody was volunteering at this time,” Tsuris said of why she enlisted. “So many boys 18 on up were enlisting. They were out to get the Japs.”

Tsuris said the army was the only branch of service she knew anything about. She had three brothers in the army as well, and met her husband, Pete, overseas. Tsuris said they were married on the island.

As a second lieutenant nurse, Tsuris said she would care for injured soldiers who were brought back from the front lines. “I passed out meds.” Some soldiers were then either sent back to fight or sent home. “I learned a lot about people,” Tsuris said of the experience.

With four members of the Schatz family engaged in the war at this time, Tsuris said, “It was a depth no parent should have to go through.” Miraculously, they all returned home, which she said was rare in that time.

Looking back on her time on New Caledonia, Tsuris said there were 10 nurses on the island all caring for soliders. “There were very few women in the army,” she said.

In her interview with Ehrisman, Tsuris offered her thoughts on arriving on New Caledonia: “It was a real eye opener. The hospital was a grouping of tents, which were made of cut trees draped with canvas. Our patients consisted of malaria, jungle rot and depression.” She said it was quite a shock what the nurses saw of the wounded soliders.

One thing she does not miss is using the outdoor toilets. Tsuris said while in nursing training in Springfield, Mo., they had running water and indoor restroom facilities as well as “great food.” That was not the case on New Caledonia. “That was a big disappointment. I don’t miss it!”

After her time was over, Tsuris was sent home. Her husband had to remain on the front lines because Tsuris said he was being disciplined for their relationship. “The enlisted men were not supposed to associate with the nurses who had the rating of an officer,” she said in her interview.

“I was so anxious to get back to a normal life,” she said. She said people didn’t really pay much attention to returning service members back then. “I wanted to start my family.” When her first daughter was born, Tsuris’ husband was not home for the birth. “I lived with my folks till my husband came home eight months later.”

The couple moved to Pittsburg for several years before returning to Iowa.

When the end of WII came, Tsuris said in her interview with Ehrisman: “We were all terribly relieved that the announcement had come that the war was over.”

Looking back, Tsuris said she is proud to be a veteran. One of her brothers donated money toward the Women In Military Service For America Memorial in Washington, D.C. to have her name placed on the memorial.