In Her Own Words - Louise R. Camden - U.S. Army Nurse Corps - CBI Theater
In Her Own Words
Louise R. Camden
Major, U.S. Army Nurse Corps
CBI Theater of World War II
Louise R. Camden served as a U.S. Army nurse in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II.
This timeline and letters written home tell of her years of service - In Her Own Words.
16 April 1904 - Born in Columbus, Ohio
June 1923 - Graduated from Saint Mary of the Springs High School
June 1927 - Graduated from Mt. Carmel Training School for Nurses
14 Nov 1942 - excerpt from diary on enlistment in Army Nurse Corps:
"Took oath of office in City Hall. Mayor Rhodes & Att. Kaffits then Chief of Police as Witnesses.
Am now a 2nd LT. in the Army Nurse Corp - USA."
Instructions to Aunt Mary on personal matters:
"... Besides my bonds - and the money I have in the bank - the exact amount of which I have in my
checking I'll let you know.
I'll write a letter later about the money in the checking account.
Besides that if anything happens to me - you'll receive my pay check for 6 months afterwards.
Too - I have my antiques - which I'll list - with the value (in money) for you.
Now don't be getting any fool notions that I don't think I'm coming back, etc.
I'm only telling you these things because I don't want everyone to know my business - once my letters are censored.
Too - for heaven's sakes - in case I'm reported missing please give me a year to show up for sometimes I'm a little
slow - as you well know or did you? In other words - don't - for heavens sakes - sell my antiques and spend all my
money before the years up for I might fool you!!
Take $5 regularly out of it - and there'll be enough - and have Father Estadt say 5 low Masses
each month for my safety & well being.
You might tell him to be very patient but firm with the good Lord when he says the Masses."
Graduation from Mt. Carmel Training School for Nurses. Louise R. Camden is second from right.
16 Nov 42 - Reported to Billings General Hospital, Indianapolis, IN
8 Mar 43 - Promoted to 1st Lt.
8 Jun 43 - Reported as Asst. Chief Nurse, Station Hospital, Camp Bowie, TX
22 Aug 43 - Letter to Martha:
"Well, did Smitty have any comments on the Capt? ...
This isn't for anyone but you folks, your Mother, Smitty, and you, but I'm marrying him if he and I both come out of
this mess whole and entire.
We're not engaged, as we both feel that it wouldn't be fair, since either or both of us may crack up.
... I'm really crazy about the man and he seems to feel the same way."
19 Sep 43 - Letter to Martha from Camp Bowie on adjusting to military life:
" ...Listen old bean, I'm going to have myself a time - nobody - and I mean nobody is going to have
a chance to tell me what to do or when to do it - for at least 2 months after I leave the Army.
I'm going some place where I can eat when I want, and what I want, drink whatever I can find, and sleep until I'm
ready to get up. Now if you know of some place like that - besides having no gates with guards, no taps or reveille,
no band playing at 6 AM with the sound of marching feet, no uniforms, no salutes....Too, almost forgot, it has to
have a rocking chair."
26 Sep 43 - Letter to Martha:
"... Heavens they have a lot of nurses there - 350.
We have here only 54 and according to the number of patients we have at the present time we should have 160 nurses. ...
I wrote Smitty that I would like to have some of her Farcell's book. Heavens - you've no idea how thirsty one can
become for good reading. There is a library on the post but very little good Catholic literature - none of G. K. C. -
Hi Belloc - just a few of W. Cather. Plenty of all this modern stuff.
... Now of course my favorite Captain - Ed doesn't come in that category - you should meet him.
I'm sure you'd approve of him. If our plans work out - and God wills it, you'll meet him someday I hope.
I certainly miss the man and he writes me that he misses me too. ... I can just hear what Fr. Estadt, our pastor and
a few more of my priest friends will say when & if I marry a non-Catholic. They'll just pop. Hope I get the knot
tied before I return after the war for I'll catch hell - and would rather have it after than before. ... Please don't
say anything to Mary - for she'd die if I'd get married without her being around to get excited over it, but I hate
that sort of thing. I'll do it & then announce it."
6 Mar 44 - Reported as Chief Nurse, 69th General Hospital, Camp Swift, TX
2 Apr 44 - Letter to Martha:
"Yesterday afternoon I took off for a PM and went to Austin, the first time I've been out of the gates.
Did I have fun - Bought a few things I needed, had a steak dinner with 4 of the others and then went to confession in
a church. So you see I'm really ready now."
Letter to Aunt Mary - date unknown (probably from Camp Swift, Texas) on why she joined the Army:
"Now, Mary, please don't feel too badly about me going - even though the circumstances here were as
they are. I bear no malice towards certain people, even though I may feel that it was arranged. Thus certainly this
assignment couldn't be any harder than what I've experienced here. True, there may be a little more physical danger
and discomfort, but be assured my peace of mind and the good of my soul can't be in as much danger. When I learned
there was to be a change, I prayed hard and had masses said that my new post would be a happy one - and free from any
spiritual danger. I feel that this is the way the good Lord had of answering my prayers and I'm very grateful.
He apparently has made it safer for my soul and thrown in my hands a wonderful opportunity to help others physically
and spiritually. You know me well enough to know I'm sincere in saying that, even though you may not agree with me.
The hard part of the move is for those of you left behind for even though I've told you not to worry, you will.
Try not to worry or miss me too much for you know I'm happy in doing the thing I most want to do.
Try not to think I've "stuck my neck out", for you know in your heart I didn't. Feeling the way I did and do now,
I had to enter the Army to do what little good I could, no matter what the cost to me personally.
You know there's such a thing as peace of mind and a knowledge that one is giving the best one has for the relief of
the sufferings of others. I've had that peace and satisfaction ever since I entered training, and then in civilian
nursing. This is just a continuation of all that and a wonderful opportunity to do a great deal more. It's really a
privilege which I wouldn't have missed for anything.
You know me well enough to know that I know why the good Lord created me, namely for Heaven, so it really doesn't matter much if in attaining that goal, I should be sent overseas, or anyplace. Just know, that, in case anything does happen me, with the help of God, my soul will be in the state of Grace, and after all that's all that really and truly matters in this life, and is the very reason the good Lord created me. I have no fear of going and facing anything so please remember some of these things when you may not be hearing from me. I'm sure God will be generous and bless the loved ones of all us in service for that's His way of loving people. Just keep on smiling and trying, but above all pray for me always. It'll all turn out the way that God wants it and I'm satisfied with His Way so you should be also.
Carry on now - I'll write you later. It's 9 P.M. and I'm packed and ready for bed and anxious to get to my new post.
Good night and cheerio, Louise
Louise R. Camden
Letter to Martha:
"Received your letter s some days ago but darn it all I've no time to myself. This job of getting 112 women ready for a trip - overseas to both types of climate is a huge task. Our luggage in itself is a problem - to say nothing of a million and one other details which I can't disclose. Records, records, etc.
Mary called Sat night for she hadn't heard from me and was anxious. ... It would simply kill me to know that she'd worry over me. First place I'm worth more dead than half alive like I feel - and second place there's no reason to worry. The good Lord will see me through if its in that Divine Plan and if not I'm fairly confident - in fact very sure that He'll temper His justice with mercy in my case & in every case. Wish you and all my family and friends could share in this feeling I have and have had about God. I feel about God like a child with a secret that I'm dying to tell but can't explain & tell it. Ah, I know you think my religion is part emotional or maybe all - but it isn't. How did I get on that? Anyway, I'm still here - won't be here too long. I'm busy and working harder than I've ever worked but I'm happy. What more could any creature ask for?"
11 Apr 44 - Departed Camp Swift
14 Apr 44 - Arrived Camp Patrick Henry, VA
23 Apr 44 - Departed Camp Patrick Henry, VA
Letter from sea - enroute to India 1944
"Hello Family, Greetings from the sea again - Still on the way but hope to be someplace one of these
days and when we do arrive I'll wire you immediately. So far I'm well and happy and we all have stood the trip, I
would say exceptionally well.
... Everyone has been lovely - especially the Captain of the ship. This is the first time he's ever carried so many
women, and at first he was rather concerned about the whole thing but the behavior hasn't been too bad and I guess he
now feels we weren't too bad. I've been the Officer in Charge of all the women and have tried to maintain order and
discipline....I guess I'm the only one whose been out on deck - just once - after dark - and that was a gorgeous
moonlight night while we were near the equator. Never have I seen such a sight. The water was very still and the
moon was up sometime before the last rays of the sun left the sky.
We watched the colors of the sun change from all shades of gold to purple red and pale pink.
Then the moon made the strangest patterns on the water and for miles, as far as we could see.
Far in the distance, on the horizon, the reflection on the water was such that it looked like a beautiful lighted city.
The stars looked so close that one felt they could reach up and pluck them out of the sky.
Until the sun's rays were completely faded, we could see the flying fishes, tiny silver fish, coming out of the water
and flying, in great numbers, around about.
Then when it was a little darker - at the side of the boat, we could see the reflection of the stars in the water.
It was beautiful! The ship of course was darkened and it was a strange feeling to be way up high, gazing on all this
beauty, in the quiet of the night, Would that all of you could have seen it.
For me, its been one of the highlights of the trip and something I shall never, never, forget!
...So far I haven't had a great deal of trouble - in fact no trouble in disciplining the nurses.
They've all been grand and I've enjoyed it all. Did I tell you that one of them became a Catholic at the POE and
another one is taking instructions aboard this ship? Naturally I made it a point not to discuss the subject of
religion since I'm the Chief Nurse. I've been and will continue to be very, very impartial, however before we left
the POE I suggested to them all that they take a day off - which I arranged for them to have - to take care of their
own personal selfs and see the chaplain - both Catholic and Protestant about any problems or worries which they might
have and suggested they get their spiritual life in shape for the "battle of the Atlantic". It was that which started
the one on her way to being a convert, however, when she came to me - after she had already started instructions I
gave her quite a good talking to - explaining to her that it was a serious step... The other one, taking instructions
now, is a college graduate and a very intelligent girl - older too. She had told me back at Camp Swift that she
thought I was silly, thinking that God would even take time out to remember me let alone hearing my prayers.
(She had seen my rosary on the dresser). Then she also told me religion was for the weak and if my believing in all
the fairy tales of the bible made me feel any better she thought it quite the thing for me to practice religion of
any kind. Of course I didn't argue with her - but I did tell her in no uncertain terms what I thought of her ideas
and asked her if she were really happy believing her way. Anyhow, I didn't discuss it anymore with her until we had
been on the ship quite awhile and she came to me, with a Catechism, and told me she had seen the Chaplain, a Jesuit,
and had told him she had had a lot of time to think and observe and that I had something in the way of happiness that
she didn't have but felt she was entitled to, if it were possible. She's very determined and intelligent and I don't
think will be lead into anything blindly. The Chaplain has since talked to me about it. Naturally I feel very happy
about it but at the same time its becoming quite embarrassing at times. He told me to suffer the embarrassment rather
than keep even one soul out of the church.
So you see, the good Lord has already rewarded me a hundred fold for whatever sacrifice I have made
in coming into this Army. Remember that always, no matter what might happen to me.
"My Basha - June 1945"
26 May 44 - Arrived CBI
30 May 44 - Arrived Calcutta
5 Jun 44 - Departed Calcutta
4 Jun 44 - Letter from India on living conditions
"Dear Family, ...we had visions of having at least a permanent building in which to live and a chair
to sit in. We have neither - that is to date. I'm taking the day off today - being Sunday - and since I haven't had
even a minute off since March, I felt I needed a little rest. Tomorrow I'm taking the bull by the horns and see that
our living conditions are improved. Most of our group are here with me and none of us have anything approaching the
bare necessities of living. Our mosquito netting is pulled down over our cots at 5 PM so we don't have a chance to
even sit on that to write letters. If we sit on the floor after dark the bugs eat us - and being women we're all
afraid of snakes of which there are many poisonous kinds around.
...We're all wondering how the war's coming along. Is it still going on? We did hear the invasion
had started but nothing new since the first day we heard it."
7 Jun 44 - Arrived Ledo, Assam, promoted to Captain. Serving as Chief Nurse, 69th General Hospital.
8 Jun 44 - Letter to Aunt Mary describing arrival at Assam
"At long last - we've arrived bag & baggage - came last evening - before dark after tracking a long
time by ship, several train rides - and then a jeep ride for me - with the adjutant - and then here! Heavens, how
glad we were to be here - and guess what happened - As I was riding along with the adjutant - who should pass by in a
truck but Charles Camden! Well, he recognized me - hollered out - & there I was - dirty - in my fatigue suit, helmet,
and everything. He asked me where I was going so I told him - so last night he & Buddy came to see me - Gee I was so
darned glad to see them both & of course they were happy to see me too.
...And my promotion! What a tale. I was promoted as of March 23 - the orders went to Camp Swift &
then followed the men on their trip. ... I started out with the group - in a truck but they (the adjutant & the
executive officer) met us on the road and pinned my Captain's Bars on me in the road. Some ceremony!
... Too - all this happened to me on the anniversary of Pop's death. I couldn't help but think of
him all day - and would love to have had him here or perhaps have been home when it happened. Heavens - how time &
life does change things."
Medical wards, dental clinic and lab of the 69th General Hospital at Margherita, Assam, India.
13 June 44 - Letter to Martha
"Greetings from India! Can you imagine it? No, neither can I. Its true enough.
This much I can tell you - we're in the jungles of India; our patients are some of Merrill's Marauders.
Right now, at 8:30 PM, I'm sitting on a box which I appropriated today for a chair, writing this letter on my scrap
book by the light of a kerosene lamp. My home is a tent with a brick floor, my bed, a collapsible cot which gets,
oh, so hard! We eat our food from mess kits and stand in line, wash our kits in boilers over an outside fire.
Its really rugged.
... Its getting late - 9PM, and I'm tired. It's pitch dark outside my tent. The stars look so
bright and almost close enough to pluck out of the heavens. The voices of the nurses in the other tents float
through the night and there are other sounds, weird ones, not so pleasant. Heavens, wait till this is over. You can
have all the picnics and camping. I'm living in luxury and I dare anyone to ask me to go on a picnic - ever!
19 July 44 - Letter to Martha
"Did I tell you about our crossing the Equator and being initiated into the Royal Order of King
Neptune and coming out a full fledged Shellbacks? It was a great day on the ship, one which we nurses will never
never forget for each one of us graduated, like all the men - from the state of a low pollywog to a Shellback.
We were the largest group of women to ever cross on the particular ship which brought us, The Captain and the Officer
in Charge of the affair asked me several days in advance if I thought the nurses and other women would like to enter
into it - and knowing the spirit of the nurses I said yes. From then on, until the day arrived, we heard nothing but
the terrible things they were preparing to do to us. Those who had crossed before were in charge - and it was with
fear and trembling that we awaited the arrival of King Neptune and his Court. Those in charge selected one of our
best looking nurses - with long hair - a beautiful girl - to be the Royal Princess. They made her a beautiful
flowing robe of yellow - and she was beautiful.
Early in the morning - and I mean early - 5AM a Shellback in a black suit, red hat, his face all
painted - and carrying a big club - came around to all State rooms - loudly announcing that we Pollywogs had just
1 minute to get up and get dressed and go to the enlisted men's Mess Hall for our breakfast. We all scrambled out -
marched down - picked up a tray and started down the mess lines to be served. What a breakfast! They had kidney
beans - just half cooked and in castor oil at that, a half grapefruit and black coffee and bread. They asked each
one if they wanted a lot of beans. Poor me I said just a few - and they heaped my plate full. That wasn't all.
They stood behind us with clubs and tried to make us eat every last one. I ate some with a spoon, some in a bean
sandwich, some I managed to slip on the floor and some I put some in my coffee & threw away. I did eat enough to
feel them the next day.
Then later on in the morning the King arrived! In the procession was the Captain of the Ship in his
immaculate white uniform and he escorted the King. Behind them in the parade - with all of us poor pollywogs standing
at attention - came the Tormentors. With socks filled with salt for clubs - they made us all bend over and say
"Allah" to pay homage to the King. They carried large cans of axle grease which they rubbed generously in everyone's
hair. Next to me they made a nurse hold out her hands and then broke an egg in each hand. Of course we were all
convulsed with laughter so it was very easy for the next Tormentor to squirt a solution of Epsom salts and oil down
our throats. Heavens what a taste! They finally marched by to the upper deck - where court was held. Many were
called - and dragged up before the court and sentences passed. Several officers had to stand with their mouths open
and look up - for a matter of hours. It was awful. Then each one of us was called - put in a chair, ducked backwards
into a big tank of water and then sprinkled with a hose. Heavens you should have seen the messes we were. It was an
almost impossible task to get the grease & oil out of our hair - our clothes were practically ruined. Just a very few
of the nurses hid in their state rooms to escape it all - but the men with the clubs came around and forced them out -
and they got a double dose and what a dose!
By evening we were really a weary bunch of women and men. We girls didn't look quite as bad as the
men for their heads had been shaved. It tickled my bones to see some of those dignified high hat Colonels - come out
for dinner - subdued and with hairless heads - just like the enlisted men! We had only one consolation - namely we
were All Shellbacks - and would receive a certificate - and never more - as long as we carried our certificate in
crossing the Equator would we have to go through the thing again! We weren't too tired or weary to enjoy a delightful
banquet - turkey and all the trimmings, ice cream and everything! So ended the day!
"Off to a bath! Assam, India, 1944"
3 Sep 44 - Letter to Martha
"In appearance I've changed - I do have quite a few gray hairs in my head - never had them before. It isn't worry that has put them there, for I don't worry. I blame it on a vitamin deficiency. The real change though I believe is my attitude and outlook. No, I'm not cynical or bitter like some are becoming, nor am I rebellious. I've learned to accept everything - no matter what, in a quiet way. Nothing can get me excited - fear - even when the alert sounds - which it doesn't very often - doesn't get the better of me. I know, and realize as never before that the good Lord is taking care of us - no one else, so it seems to me can do the job."
29 Sep 44 - Letter to Martha
"Martha will you send me some can openers - to open my beer bottles - Had 3, but the natives did away with 2 and the other is as bad as the one Pop tried to use and told us we shouldn't be drinking beer if we didn't have a better one."
20 Dec 44 - Letter to Martha
"If I don't start writing "thank you" letters, I'll have so many letters piled up on I'll spend the duration of the war answering them. Boxes and packages are beginning to pour in - and everyone is so happy. ... Mary scolds the life out of me if I forget to mention each thing (Don't tell her!). She's been a peach - sending me so many little things & hunting for the almost impossible things for which I ask. I get a first class manila envelope nearly every day from her - either paper napkins (colored) clippings, leaflets, etc.
Harry D. brings his pkgs over - unopened & I save mine until evening so we have lots of fun opening them together."
6 Jan 45 - Letter to Martha
"Happy New Year! A little late but there's enough of the year left to wish it to be happy.
... My Xmas was - as I've told you, Gran - a very pleasant but busy one.
The celebration preparations began for us nurses a week before the day itself, for all our wards had to be decorated.
Patients entered into the spirit of the season and you should have seen the results of the home made Xmas trees &
Midnight Mass - 69th Gen. Hosp. Chapel - Fr. Heinzen, Chaplain
decorations! They were really beautiful. Old Santa himself visited all the wards - with a gift from the Red Cross -
one for each patient. He started out Xmas Eve - in the American Hospital and completed rounds in the Chinese Hosp on
Xmas AM. All enjoyed him but the Chinese almost went into hysterics! You should have seen how they gathered around
him - laughing & having the best time.
On Xmas Eve - in the evening we - the Officers & Nurses had a concert of recorded music in our Club.
It was most enjoyable - all Xmas music - and Ave Marias, etc. Harry D. was O. D. in the Club - so we stayed there
until time to go to midnight Mass in our little bamboo Chapel. We had a choir - a crib - real poinsettias, and
everything. Seems there were more Protestants and Jews than Catholics at the service. Even have a Jew, a doctor,
as our organist! He's a character too - an Italian Jew - who was in a German concentration camp before coming to
America. Entered the U.S. Army as a buck private - but in a short time was promoted to 1st Lt in the M. C. - now he's
a Capt., a most lovable chap, emotional - but almost a genius in the lab. ... So you see even way over here there
are ways and means of making it a very happy American Christmas. This is my third Christmas in the Army - the first
in Indiana, 2nd in Texas & the third in Assam. It's too much to hope that my next one will be in Ohio!"
13 Mar 45 - Letter to Martha
"...I rather imagine a lot of those nurses from other theaters will be coming this way - especially
since nurses are being sent to China. Guess I told you some of our nurses flew the Hump into China. Not me - I
still have yet to take my first plane ride. I'll save that thrill until I'm sent home."
21 Apr 45 - Letter to Martha
"Yesterday Martha I finally accepted an invitation to an English home here. ...Heavens, my dear,
they had a real toilet - and I was almost overcome at the opportunity of "flushing a toilet!"
Just returned from 6 PM Mass. I'm praying very hard these days that this will all be over soon and
that too many will not be lost and injured in battle."
"Lizard found in our water - before boiling"
11 May 45 - Letter to Martha
"So the War in Germany is over! I can imagine the celebration all of you had. I celebrated with an
English family. Had Scotch & sodas, before a delightful meal, then to their Club to a dance. I enjoyed it so much."
21 May 45 - Promoted to Major
27 May 45 - Letter to Aunt Mary about her promotion:
"It's Sunday evening and a very happy day for me. Did you notice on the return address - It's Major
Camden. ...It came as a complete surprise to me. I was getting dressed to go to our High Mass at 4PM, the dedication
of the new Chapel when someone came to my front door - whose voice I didn't recognize and said - Maj. Camden. I
called "just a minute but it's Capt Camden if you don't mind." Imagine my surprise when I answered the door to find
the C.O. there who said "you wouldn't contradict me, would you? Here are your orders" - Enough. I'll write later."
5 Aug 45 - Departed Ledo, Assam
4 Sep 45 - Letter to Smitty
"Isn't it wonderful that the war is finally over? Now we can be thinking of returning to that happy
state of a civilian! Believe me, I've never wished for anything more in my life - been praying so hard for it too.
Our hospital as a unit was headed for Okinawa, but now there's all sorts of rumors going around. Our CO learned in
Hollandria that we may have new orders in Leyte, our next stop, changing our course."
17 Sep 45 - Letter to Aunt Mary after arriving at Okinawa
"...Well, then Sat night the Navy told us to get ready to land or get off the ship so ready we were
after breakfast on Sunday at 7AM. It wasn't until about 8AM that there was a typhoon coming and we'd not debark but
our ship and the others in the harbor would take to sea. Then in the harbor at Okinawa there were hundreds of ships,
anchored closely together and had the storm struck before we got out, there would have been a mess with all of them
bumping into one another. ... So we pulled out at noon time in a convoy of some hundred other ships. We've traveled
about a hundred yards apart & the sea is dotted all around us with all types of ships in formation. The weather
yesterday was awful - stormy & foggy, so much so that at times we couldn't see 3 feet out at sea in the daylight.
The ship has pitched & tossed until most of us had to take to our bunks, yours truly included. ... Heavens, if this
is the tail end of the typhoon I'd hate to think what the real thing is. The waves have come up over the deck -
Operating Pavilion of the 69th General Hospital
everything chairs etc have been secured to the deck and the winds blowing about 50 miles an hour. I'll be darned
glad when we land - as I've told you before. This makes our 44th day aboard ship - we've had no mail so our morale
just isn't too high."
19 Sep 45 - Arrived Okinawa
19 Oct 45 - Departed Okinawa
2 Nov 45 - Arrived Portland, Oregon
3 Nov 45 - Western Union telegram - 8:14AM
To: Miss Mary A. Camden
ARRIVED IN ONE PIECE I THINK. GOD WILLING AND THE ARMY COOPERATING. SHOULD BE HOME FOR THANKSGIVING.
PREPARE WITH RATIONS TURKEY AND ROCKING CHAIR LOVE=LOUISE
6 Nov 45 - Departed Portland, Oregon
11 Nov 45 - Arrived Columbus, Ohio
In Her Own Words
Louise R. Camden
Major, U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
CBI Theater of World War II