JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
A class of nursing students at Brooke Army Medical Center had a special visit from a World War II Army nurse Aug. 7 as part of their training.
Earlyne Reidland Sheets was stationed at then-Brooke General Hospital at Fort Sam Houston and also worked there as a civilian nurse for many year before retiring.
Sheets’ cousin, Staff Sgt. Luke Griffin, decided to invite the 100-year-old Texas native to speak to the students about her life experiences.
“I was teaching resilience training and I really wanted the students to have an opportunity to ask her any questions about how she was able to maintain her drive, health and mental sharpness for more than 100 years,” Griffin said.
After graduating from Breckenridge School of Nursing as a registered nurse in 1941, Earlyne Reidland was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and reported for active duty Sept. 10, 1941. Her first duty station was at Brooke General Hospital.
On Aug. 15, 1943, she departed for England and was stationed at the 130th Station/Evacuation/General Hospital in Swindon, England, near Tidworth Barracks.
“We went over on the Queen Elizabeth, zig-zagged every seven minutes because the German subs were out there,” she recalled. “Every night we would go in the big rec room and sing songs. We had a nice trip, then we went to our unit, which was set up in huts.”
Sheets described what it was like taking care of the war wounded.
“They put up a big tent for the walking wounded,” she said, “because we got many, many patients.”
The wounded came by plane, boat and truck. Soldiers still in combat fatigues were examined, uniforms cut from their bodies and any urgent care administered.
“The first seven months, we saw 30,000 patients and only lost 12 of them,” Sheets recounted proudly. “The best thing I ever did was to go overseas and take care of the young war wounded.”
Sheets said nurses are smarter today.
“They know more and they have better equipment,” she said. “We didn’t have a whole lot to work with. When I was young, penicillin was a wonder drug. We treated it like it was gold, because it was to our wounded.
“I’m amazed at all the beautiful equipment you have in this hospital,” she said. “I’ve been a patient here quite a few times and they always treat me so nice.”
When asked how she kept calm under pressure, she responded, “We were all happy. We stayed busy. You don’t know how busy you are until you get in the middle of a war and then you know.”
She told the students about getting married in England and having only a few hours for her honeymoon before her new husband had to leave.
The young nurse married Army 1st Lt. George J. Sheets, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, after receiving permission from his commanding general, Maj. Gen. Edward Brooks. The couple got married at 2 p.m. on June 5, 1944 at St Mary's Church in Tidworth and their honeymoon was over by midnight.
Since they both lived in tents, the best man, Lt. Col. Rudy Quillian, gave up his quarters for their honeymoon. The next morning, her new husband departed and crossed the English Channel to join in the fight.
When asked for life advice, Sheets said, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t do drugs. It affects your motivation.
“Eat a lot of chicken and fish and good healthy vegetables,” she added. “It’s always helped me.”
She also told the nursing students to treat people with kindness. “Take good care of your patients and you will do fine.”
Griffin said several members of his family are military veterans and he appreciates the legacy left by all of them but Sheets is special.
“Earlyne is unique because she is still with us and of sound mind and body,” he said. “I think her secret to longevity is she treats people with kindness and never misses an opportunity to smile.”
(Note: Historical information was provided by family member Dolores Hamilton.)