She Wore Combat Boots

The old joke goes: “Your Mama wears combat boots.” For my wife, Mary — it was true.

Her mother, and my mother-in-law, Helen Conklin did wear combat boots during World War II. She was a nurse and 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 01 May 1945 to 06 December 1946.

Boot camp for Helen was at Fort Lewis, Washington, where she was assigned to the 51st Evacuation Hospital, which was by them seeing action in the European Theatre. Upon graduation, 02 June 1945, she was reassigned to Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, California.

The hospital specialized in general medicine, central nervous system syphilis, rheumatic fever and psychiatry. It also had a small prisoner of war compound.

Due to its nearness to Hollywood, many radio and movie stars visited patients at the hospital. Jack Benny even broadcast his annual Christmas Party from the hospital in 1944.

On 31 March 1946 the hospital was transferred to the Veterans Administration, which closed it in 1950. Official Army records points to a study of an antibiotic ointment used on patients with chronically infected compound fractures, which was one of the first topical uses of penicillin.

Helen Conklin, born Helen Elizabeth Gleeson, 05 January 1923, in Bisbee, Arizona, passed away peacefully at her home in Ramona, California, 29 October 2002. She was laid to rest with full military honors.


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