Jill Pitts, Red Cross Doughnut Dolly

Jill Pitts Knappenberger

Jill Pitts was born in Evanston, Illinois, but she was raised in Mt. Hope and Bloomington, Illinois from the age of two. Her father was a farm implement dealer. She attended school in Mt. Hope and Bloomington, then Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri and the University of Illinois. During the war Jill volunteered as a Red Cross hostess and was assigned to be a “Doughnut Dolly.”

Jill was interviewed in Champaign, Illinois as part of a remembrance project “Central Illinois World War II Stories.” Her complete interview can be heard at this link.   Another interview was made with Jill Pitts Knappenberger by the National Museum of the Pacific War. Once again, I have created a link for readers to see the transcript of her interview. All of these interviews were found through the Knappenberger Family History website at http://www.knappenberger.net/introduction.html

A third interview of Jill Pitts appeared in the University of Illinois Alumni magazine and is reproduced here in part:

My two brothers were in the military; all the young people were 100 percent behind the American forces to get rid of Hitler and the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor.  I didn’t want to be a WAAC or a WAVE because I wanted to go overseas, so I joined the Red Cross.  I wanted to be a Clubmobile operator.

We were to ship out before Christmas in 1943, but the Germans heard about our convoy leaving New York City, so we got delayed.

Our convoy zigzagged across the Atlantic; it was the largest convoy that had ever left the States.  You could look out on deck, and there were ships as far as you could see—battleships, aircraft carriers and a lot of luxury ships like ours that had been converted to troop carriers.  It took 10 days for us to get to Scotland.  I got my permanent assignment at Glatton Airfield, the largest B-17 bomber base in England.

Our unit would travel in these Green Line buses, which were equipped with doughnut machines and coffee makers.  We knew the military was preparing for the D-Day invasion, and we volunteered for that mission.  We couldn’t take the Green Line buses to the continent because they only had six inches of ground clearance.  Consequently, we traveled to London to take a course on how to drive two-and-a-half-ton, GMC army trucks.  We learned how to double clutch, do maintenance, change 55-pound tires.  Of the 1,000 people who took the course, only two got a superior rating, and I was one.

In May 1944, the Germans started sending over the V1 and V2 rockets – the “buzz bombs.” So long as you could hear them, you were alright.  But when their engines shut off, they dropped immediately – and they were very deadly.  I managed to lose 10 pounds in that time because of nervous tension.

Our unit landed on Utah Beach during the last week of July.  We were attached to the Eighth Corps, Third Army, and moved with them through Normandy and Brittany.  I didn’t feel I was really in danger until Dec. 16 – then we knew we had a problem.  That was the first day of the Battle of the Bulge.  One of my brothers was killed that day by an 88-mm German shell.  One of the hardest things I had to cope with was when they told me I couldn’t write or inform my folks about what had happened.

We were cut off and surrounded.  The weather was very cold, 10 to 20 degrees below zero; there were high winds and heavy snow.  Everyone had frozen hands, faces or feet.  Finally, the 101st Airborne came in and escorted us out.

We were driving along with a Jeep carrying a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a captain.  It was dark and they crashed into the back of an Army truck hauling ammunition, so we transported them in our Clubmobile.  Of course, I did all the driving.  I could do it and liked it.  We zigzagged randomly out of Germany.  Eventually, we found our group in Charleville, France.

Jill returned to Illinois after the war, married Theodore G. Knappenberger and lived in Champaign, Illinois, where she was active with the University Extension Services. A family history website does not record Jill Pitts Knappenberger’s death and she would be 101 years old at this time (2019).

I am so grateful for the recordings that exist of Jill telling her story, and I was thrilled to find another Doughnut Dolly (Jayne Stickrod is the other Doughnut Dolly from McLean County). Here is a sad fact: The Doughnut Dollies had the highest mortality rate of any body of women active during the war.

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Josephine L. Dawson, Red Cross Worker

Josephine L. Dawson was the daughter of Charlotte and Albert Dawson, a bookkeeper with a dry goods store in Bloomington. She was born in 1910 and had just one sister. She attended Bloomington High School. Josephine received her bachelor degree from ISNU and then received her masters degree from the University of Colorado prior to the war. She was teaching in Beardstown in 1943.

Josephine joined the Red Cross in February 1944 and was sent to Britain to act as a club organizer. She was stationed with the air force bases in England. In a Pantagraph interview after the war, she recalled serving the men as they left on their missions, and then waiting for them to return. One of her most memorable activities was when the British royal family visited the aero base for tea and the christening of a new bomber. Josephine served tea to the King and Queen as well as the young Princess Elizabeth.

After returning to the States Josephine continued working with the Red Cross and was assigned to a post in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was later transferred to Chicago where she was the director of Red Cross School Services.   Josephine was an associate director of admissions at the Illinois Institute of Technology. (Photo above)

She and Jean Middlebrook, another Red Cross woman, started Middlebrook Enterprises, a travel agency in Chicago named after her friend. (Jean was also a Red Cross club organizer in Europe during the war.) Travel documents show them traveling to the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s. At the same time, Josephine was an associate director of admissions at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Josephine never married and lived with Jean Middlebrook in Evanston, Illinois. She died in 1981.

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Dorothy Lucille Henneke, Red Cross Worker

Dorothy Henneke was an ISNU student from 1933 – 1936 and in 1940 was an office worker at the Beich Candy Co. Her parents lived in Taylorville, where her father was an engineer with the Peabody Coal Co.

At ISNU, Dorothy was the associate editor of the Vidette in 1936. Between the time of her graduation in 1936 and her entry into the service of the Red Cross November 1942, Dorothy had many different jobs, possibly as a result of the Depression. She was a school teacher in Hoopeston, a secretary at Beich Candy Co., a student at the University of Illinois and Gregg College in Chicago, a secretary at the Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago and at the CIO in Washington D.C. After training at Fort Riley, Kansas, Dorothy was posted at a hospital in the Fiji Islands. In 1943 the Vidette reported that Dorothy was appointed administrative assistant to the director of the operations of the Red Cross in the South Pacific.

In March of 1944 a letter by Dorothy appeared in the Kerrville Mountain Sun, telling of her service in the Fiji Islands. 

“For nearly five months our hospital Red Cross headquarters was a fragile black pyramidal tent, a small affair the size of a night club dance floor, and furnished with the best in packing boxes. Right under my typewriter lived a family of glassy eyed family of toads who puffed heavily through the heat of the day and pent a dissolute night life smoking cigarettes. One of the few diversions of the medical detachment men was making toads dizzy with cigarette smoke. Mice ate incessantly at our inadequate supplies, essaying such ambitious assignments as hard rock candy, chewing gum and checkers. ” Along with three other Red Cross workers, she wrote letters and cables for service men who couldn’t do it themselves, planned parties and Christmas celebrations, and admired the fighting men who never complained and always sheltered their families from the worst of their ordeals.   

Ship and airport manifests indicate that Dorothy traveled from the Philippines to California in May of 1945, from Seattle to Yokohama in 1953, and from San Francisco to Tokyo in 1957. When her mother died in 1983, Dorothy’s place of address was given as San Francisco. In an Air Force directory, she was listed as an Assistant Education Services Officer from 1963 to 1969 with the 5th Air Force in San Francisco.

Dorothy died February 28, 1993 in Naha, Japan at the age of 79. According to her death record, her last address was the U.S. Consulate in Naha. No record remains regarding why she was living in Japan or how she came to die there. 

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Captain Nelle Crout

Nelle Crout, a nurse from El Paso Illinois was reported to be the only woman from McLean County to die during service in World War II. Nelle received her nursing degree at Rush Presbyterian in 1928. She was already an experienced nurse when the war began, so her services were especially prized. In 1942 Nelle was busy helping to organize and recruit nurses for the 13th General Hospital, which was organized by Rush Presbyterian Hospital. Perhaps it was no surprise when Nelle was selected to be the lead nurse of the hospital and advanced to the rank of Captain.

Nelle Crout is the woman holding a coat a papers.

In December of 1942 the nurses of Unit 13 transferred to Camp Robinson in Arkansas and the announcement read: “As they say in Arkansas, we are powerfully proud of our Nelle Crout for she now is wearing two silver bars.” The 13th Hospital was then moved to Los angeles to an apparently decrepit abandoned state hospital where Nelle Crout organised her nurses to clean, spit and polish their new accomodations. One nurse wrote: “Believe me Capt Crout has earned those two gleaming silver bars by long hours of detailed work which no one can appreciate unless he has dealt a little with Army red tape.”

From Los Angeles, the 13th was sent to Australia and then New Guinea. Nelle’s obituary in the Rush Alumnae newsletter gives only the bare bones story of her service. Nelle died Nov 30 1944, somewhere in New Guinea. The circumstances are not explained in any of her obituaries, but she was one of ten who died with the 13th Hospital.

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Florence Schertz and Anna Spurling, 105th General Hospital, Pacific

Florence Schertz and Anna Spurling were two young women who started life in Bloomington but they each moved West after their nursing training in Bloomington.

In making her choice to be a nurse, Florence had the example of her sister, Carolyn Schertz Geneva to follow.  Carolyn was thirteen years older and had served in Europe during WWI. Their father, David, was a farmer near Normal and her mother, Kate, was a farmer’s wife. Florence was trained at Brokaw and joined the Red Cross after working at Brokaw as the night supervisor. She moved to California where she was a nurse at the Hollywood Hospital in Hollywood.

Anna (Aegis yearbook 1927) was the daughter of Ira and Marie Spurling and was born in Minier in 1909. Her father was a truck driver for a coal company in Bloomington. He died in February of 1940, when Anna was already living in Helena, Montana and working as a nurse. Helena may have had a draw for Anna beyond its legendary beauty — her uncle, Harry Spurling, lived in Helena as well. Anna was a graduate of the Brokaw nursing school and had moved to Helena to work in the state hospital there in April of 1939 as a Red Cross nurse.

Both of these women volunteered as army nurses before the U.S. entered the war and were sent overseas months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They received their army training at Camp Haan in Washington. The group assigned to the 105th General Hospital was made up of nurses from all over the United States. The hospital was one organized by Harvard and many of the nurses came from the East. The nurses mixed easily however and learned to be army nurses together.  While they were in Washington, there was much mystery as to where they would be sent. Rumors flew that there would be no soap where they were going, so everyone rushed to the PX for bars of soap and stuffed their lockers with cakes of soap. Their time was filled with gas mask drills, lectures, insurance, wills and many many inoculations! As officers, the nurses had the run of the officer’s club and very social evenings were spent at the club.

They left Washington via troop train — still dressed in their civilian best, but with glamorous touches added by  helmets, gas masks, and pistol belts. They were outfitted in uniforms in San Francisco in the short days before their ship sailed. Acquiring a uniform that actually fit was one of their challenges.

The 105th arrived in Melbourne in early June of 1942 and were welcomed by a contingent of retired Australian nurses who made them feel welcome with an elegant tea. The next morning however, they were on the train to Brisbane. One of the trains they took was a triple decker hospital train with no seating space — just cots for wounded.

Soon a barracks was built for them on the campus of the Gatton Agricultural College, which continued its operations on a scale smaller than usual during the war. The campus was about 50 miles inland and far from any place for really exciting R & R. The closest town was Toowoomba and the closest city was Brisbane. They made their own fun on the base, playing sports, writing a post newspaper, listening to records and having dances in the Officer’s Club. There were 115 nurses on the base, as well as a handful of civilian workers and Red Cross workers, who made sure the troops were entertained. They had pets on the base, costume parties, and gardens.

But as nurses, they learned all about tropical diseases and nursed fallen soldiers from the war in the Pacific. Continuing education classes led by the physicians on base kept everyone up to date on medical developments. The nurses were led by Major Margaret P. Hession during the two years they were in Australia. Their Australian story was told in a book compiled by the men and women who wrote the base newspaper. The book was later distributed to the  members either before they left Australia for other parts of the Pacific or after the hospital was dismantled in September 1945.

Although the 105th left Australia in 1944, their work was not finished. The 105th went on to provide medical care in New Guinea on the island of Biak and in Leyte, The Philippines. The first two years of their service was spent in relative comfort, but conditions in New Guinea and the Philippines were probably less stable and under actual attack. We know that Florence at least, had a battle star for her service in New Guinea.

The hospital dismantled very late in the war and the nurses had just arrived in Washington state and were awaiting to disembark when Japan surrendered and the war finally ended. Florence said that there was no hilarity on the boat, just a somber feeling of sadness for all the damage that the war had done. Florence was decorated for her service and wore ribbons for pre-Pearl Harbor service, Southwest Pacific service and the liberation of the Philippines. She had a battle star earned in New Guinea. Anna Spurling’s awards were not noticed in the Pantagraph — she did not return to Bloomington, but lived in California, where her mother, sister and brother all lived.

Florence returned to her home in California and married William Schrock in January 1946 in California. Sadly, her husband died in March of 1947 and Florence was left with their young daughter. She returned to Bloomington and worked as a public health nurse in Bloomington for the rest of her life. She returned to school and obtained a bachelor’s degree in public health nursing in the Peabody College in Tennessee. Florence died November 20 1991 in Normal, Illinois at the Bromenn Medical Center. She was buried at East Lawn in Normal, Illinois.

Anna Spurling died in the veteran’s hospital in Yountsville, California in 1978. She never married but was long active with the local American Legion post in Eureka, California where she lived and worked. She served as Commander of the Humboldt Bay Women’s Post of the American Legion in 1955.

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Ethel Jones Sheffler, WASP

Ethel Jones was born in Heyworth, Illinois (January 20, 1921) and grew up on a farm there, the youngest of six children. She was a girl who loved the outdoors and music. In 1936 she happened to buy a ticket to ride in a sightseeing airplane that was visiting McLean County. It was then she was bitten by the flying bug. She began saving her money for flying lessons —  not an easy thing to do on a farm in the middle of the Depression!

She took two different jobs after high school at Heyworth High — as a factory worker in a munitions factory in Decatur and as a clearance officer and secretary at the Decatur airport. She began taking flying lessons in 1942:

“My first instructor was Bob Snell, a fat, self-satisfied, draft-dodger with a most colorful vocabulary. After 13 painful hours of instruction, Snell told me, with his most colorful vocabulary, that I could never solo. I was hopeless. He’ll never know the good deed he did that day!

“Then and there, I decided that not only would I solo, but I would get a commercial license as well, which would put me in the ranks of the professionals.
So I got another instructor with more patience and less vocabulary, and after more dual, I soloed. Then after much more dual and much burning of the midnight oil, I got my private, then my commercial ticket. At this time Jackie Cochran was recruiting girls for her ferry command, and I decided to join.”

“Training was fun. There were the usual number of rattlesnakes in the barracks; the usual number of students washed out; there were even a couple of fatal accidents, but on the whole it was fun. I had the good fortune to draw excellent instructors: Mr. Glasnapp for the primary phase, who really taught me cross-wind landings, bless his heart, and who got such a bang out of the way “his girls” had to dress like teddy bears to fly the open-cockpit Stearmans; ever-patient Mr. Smith for basic phase, with his wonderful Texas humor; eager, young Mr. Ryan for the advanced phase.

“Ah, advanced! Cross-countries all over the Southwest, in a sleek singing Six. What could be nicer than popping out of bed at the crack of a beautiful (whether you like Texas or you don’t, you can’t deny their gorgeous sunrises and sunsets) dawn, load up with maps, cushions, clearances and many bars, and hit the wild blue yonder for Tucson or Yuma or Brownsville. That’s living!”

Ethel had just a year with the WASPs in Alabama — training pilots on link trainers and ferrying planes. In December of 1944 the WASPs were rather summarily dismissed, because the men wanted their jobs.

“In December of ’44 things were looking up for the Allies, there was a surplus of pilots and the WASPS were disbanded. Back in Illinois, I did a stint of instructing at Lincoln, then went back to Texas. Civilian flying was getting slack, so I went to work for Pioneer Airlines in Houston, as link operator, and doing instructing for a flight school after hours. Now a link is like an oboe in that it is designed to drive the operator crazy after a certain length of time. But I was saved from this horrible fate by flying the line every few weeks. Flying the line consisted of riding in a little fold-up seat between the pilots and observing their navigation and radio procedures. Of course, they usually let me fly a little illegal time when the weather and passengers were right. This part I liked.”

Ethel returned to Illinois and took a job in flight instruction at the Clinton, Illinois air field in 1946 but in 1950 she was invited to visit friends in Sao Paolo, Brazil and life took another turn. She met Art Sheffler there on a blind date and the two were married.  They had a daughter in Brazil, and then two more after returning to the States. They lived in New Jersey, separated, and Ethel raised her girls alone, flying and working in a print shop.

In the seventies Ethel returned to the Midwest, first to Galesburg, Illinois, then Tennessee and Illinois again, always working as a flight instructor. Her final years of teaching were spent in Bloomington, Illinois. She continued flying until she was 83 years old and moved to Wisconsin to be with her daughter.

Ethel died June 5, 2018 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Ethel Jones Sheffler was brought to my attention by Stephen Kern, a Bloomington resident who had flying instruction from Ethel in the 1990s and remembered her very fondly.

 

 

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Florence Schertz Schrock, ANC

  • Florence Schertz was the daughter of David and Catherine Schertz of Normal, Illinois. She attended ISNU and was trained in nursing at Brokaw Hospital and at Loyola University in Chicago. Like her sister, Carolyn, who she may have remembered serving in Europe during World War I, Florence became a Red Cross nurse and was working in California from about 1939 until she was activated as an Army nurse in 1941 (pre Pearl Harbor).
  • Florence was sent to Australia, where the 105th General Hospital was located at the Gatton Agricultural College in Queensland. The 105th stayed at this location for about two years and then moved to New Guinea, closer to the battles. In the Pacific it was not possible for the nurses to follow the line of battle (the area behind the line of battle being so extremely slim!) and nurses were only moved into locations after each island or area was secured. Below is an undated postcard of Gatton Agricultural College.

4379-gatton

  • Although this was a beautiful location, the work there was not. Injured soldiers were brought to the general hospitals for extensive treatment after being injured in the battlefield or for treatment for tropical diseases. In the hospitals of the South Pacific the doctors made many advances in the treatment of tropical diseases.
  • Florence spent over three years in the Pacific Theater, two of them at Gatton. At Gatton they had nurse’s dorms built by army engineers, clubs for entertaining each other, a hospital newspaper, and a stable supply of medical necessities. The 105th was disbanded and its members transferred to other hospital units throughout the Pacific on December 23, 1943. Florence’s service during the last year would have been serving in areas closer to the action, but the names of the places where she served have not been recorded anywhere. During the war she was awarded the Bronze Star for her service under significant danger, so we know that she was close to the action at some point.
  • The Gatton hospital was somewhat distant from any cities worthy of the name, so R and R was usually a matter of home grown entertainment. A hospital newspaper was published and at the end of their stay a book memorializing their time at Gatton was published by the newspaper staff. It seems that Florence or her daughter donated that book to the library at the Museum of History in McLean County.
  • Florence married January 27, 1947 at the age of 40. Her husband was William R. Schrock, who had also served during the war and who was working in the aircraft industry in Los Angeles. Sadly, William died just one year after their marriage. Florence returned to Bloomington with her daughter, Peggy, and made her home in Bloomington the rest of her life. She furthered her education at the Peabody College in Tennessee where she received a degree in Public Health Nursing. She served a further 25 years in public health nursing in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
  • Public health nursing was a line of nursing that many of the wartime nurses followed. After the relative freedom of nursing on the warfront, these nurses were unwilling to tie themselves down to a job in a hospital for significantly less pay than they made in the army or navy and were unwilling to accept the behavior of less than respectful doctors who did not recognize their accomplishments and ability to think independently. As a public health nurse they traveled in the community and acted as authorities dispensing health education. With her education, Florence was able to raise her daughter in her own home.
  • Florence died November 20 1991 at the age of 86. She was a member of the Carl S. Martin American Legion post in Normal, Illinois.

 

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