Today is National Nurses Day and also a sad link to WWI history. While the nation salutes those brave professionals on the front lines of our healthcare during the pandemic, it is also the perfect day to remember the nurses who went before them. Exactly 100 years ago today aboard the Army Transport Ship Wheaton were the flag-draped caskets of 11 American nurses coming home in time for Memorial Day. They are among the almost 200 women who died in American uniforms in the war, both overseas and in U.S. hospitals.
These 11 women had been buried in France following their deaths while caring for the American Expeditionary Forces and Allies. Their families had notified the War Department that they wished to have their daughters brought to their hometowns. These 11 were among the 5,212 American war dead on the ship that departed from Antwerp for Hoboken. Their names are:
Anna K. Welsh, Massachusetts
Annie Marie Williams, New York
For National Nurses Day, here are a few stories as we prepare for Homecoming 21 on Memorial Day.
Miriam Knowles, Pennsylvania
There are only two American Legion posts named for nurses, and one of these is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to honor Army Nurse Miriam Knowles. She was a graduate of Wellesley College and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. When America entered the war in April 1917 she joined a team of doctors and 65 nurses to staff Johns Hopkins Base Hospital Unit No. 18. They arrived with the First Division in June 1917. She tragically contracted scarlet fever and died November 12, 1917, a week before she turned 28.
Nurse Knowles was buried in a small cemetery near the French town Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, a commune in the Vosges department in Grand Est in northeastern France. In 1921 she was returned home and is buried beside her sister in St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Yardley, Pennsylvania. It appears the whole town turned out for the memorial ceremonies and funeral. Today, a century later, American Legion Post 317 honors her memory with visits and tributes to her memory.
Ima I. Ledford, Oregon
There was just one nurse from Oregon to die in World War I. Ima I. Ledford, 25, was following in the footsteps of her father, pioneer George T. Ledford, a shopkeeper who had fought as a cavalryman in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. Before WWI she was a young nurse at Multnomah Hospital in Portland. She left home to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces in the Army Nurse Corps at Base Hospital 116, also at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse. She died on October 7, 1918. Her siblings requested the nurse be returned home to be laid to rest next to her father, who had died in 1915. She is interred in Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery in Washington County, Oregon.
Norene Mary Royer, Washington
Twenty-six year Norene Mary Royer was a new nurse from Spokane, Washington, who had only graduated from nursing school in 1916 when she volunteered to serve with the American Red Cross. She died after contracting pneumonia and was interred in the American cemetery in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse. Following the war, her father, a doctor, requested his daughter be returned home. A funeral service was well attended at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral and the young nurse was interred in the American Legion plot of Riverside Park Cemetery. A U.S. Army honor guard from Fort Wright conducted full military honors with a rifle volley over her casket; 20 Red Cross nurses in uniform came to say goodbye. Nursing meant so much to the Royer family that her gravestone has the Red Cross symbol carved into it.