JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Retired Col. Hazel Zachar summed up her 20-year career as an Army nurse in three words.
“I worked hard.”
Zachar, who served from 1954 to 1974, celebrated her 100th birthday Jan. 27 among friends and staff members at The Towers on Park Lane, a senior residence community located near Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where she has lived for 27 years.
While she put in many hours and shifts being an Army nurse, Zachar said she did it for 20 years because she felt what she did was important to her, the people she worked with and the patients she cared for along the way.
“Nursing is meaningful,” Zachar said. “I had a job and I was always enjoying it. It was always interesting.”
Born and raised near Jefferson, Iowa, Zachar grew up on a farm with her late parents, Arthur and Bertha Brown, and two older sisters, who are now deceased.
Growing up during the Great Depression, Zachar said her parents taught her the values of hard work and honesty, which have guided her throughout her long life.
“I knew about hard work,” she said. “You didn’t cheat about anything, you didn’t lie about anything – your word was absolute, solid, and honest. It’s just part of me, I couldn’t change it.”
Zachar worked hard while attending Jefferson High School, graduating as the class valedictorian. She furthered her education by going to college and got into nursing as part of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Program, which was established during World War II to train new nurses, women ages 17 to 35, who were enrolled in nursing school. The students in the program received uniforms and tuition along with $15 a month.
In 1946, Zachar graduated from the University of Colorado, earning degrees in both education and nursing. She then worked at the Methodist hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, for a few years before joining the Army in 1954 at the age of 32.
Zachar decided to join the Army after her first husband, Capt. Bert Young, whom she married in 1948, passed away in 1953. Young had been in the Army for several years, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
“I thought there were a lot of opportunities and it looked more interesting than where I was in Rochester,” Zachar said. “I thought I would try it, and I stayed for 20 years.”
When she entered the Army, Zachar was commissioned as a first lieutenant because she had a college degree. She did her basic training at Fort Sam Houston and was then assigned to her first duty station, Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, Colorado, in 1955.
Besides Fitzsimons Army Hospital, Zachar’s career as an Army nurse took her to several military hospitals in locations in the U.S. and around the world, including Okinawa, Japan; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Sam Houston, France, Germany and Fort Benning, Georgia.
While in the Army, Zachar completed the Advanced Career Course at Fort Sam Houston in 1963 and earned a master’s degree in nursing from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968.
Her final duty station was at Fort Sam Houston from 1970-74 where was the Chief of the Army Health Nurse Program at Brooke Army Medical Center. It was at Fort Sam Houston where she retired from the Army in 1974.
Zachar said she had several memorable moments in her Army career, including being on a team of pediatric nurses who took care of children who were recipients of open-heart surgery while she was stationed at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, where she served from 1955-58; being awarded the Legion of Merit award and the Army Commendation Medal. She was also on the first promotion list to be promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1967 after the law was changed earlier that year.
She said her favorite assignment during her Army career was at Fort Sam Houston because of the people she got to work with during her role as Chief of the Army Health Nurse Program.
“It was just a friendly, beautiful assignment,” Zachar said. “I had a wonderful, professional staff to work with.”
Zachar married her second husband, Martin Zachar, whom she met while she was in the Army, in 1963. The couple was married for 36 years before Martin passed away in 1999.
Since becoming a resident at The Towers on Park Lane, Zachar has served on several committees at the senior residence facility and is the founder of the Towers Military Women Group, which she started 10 years ago. The group is made up of retired military women who reside in the senior residence facility and meet quarterly to share mementos, photos and share stories of their time in the service.
In addition, she has also given back to her hometown of Jefferson, Iowa, starting a scholarship in 1993 for the top female high school students who have graduated at the top of their class. Since the scholarship was established, Zachar said a total of $100,000 has been awarded to 70 students.
Zachar said she appreciated the 100th birthday celebration planned by her friend Edie Weiskotten which was attended by approximately 100 residents and staff members at The Towers on Park Lane. “It was beautiful,” Zachar said.