WWII Snapshots by Becky Neeley - 2008

Pauline Norby, Navy and Oscar Norby, Navy

Pauline Misemer had always wanted to be a secretary. It was her dream, and the type of work she really enjoyed. However, after her father's tonsillectomy, he thought nurses were "the top of the world." So, after Pauline turned 18, she left her hometown of Grant City, Mo., and walked into nursing school at General Hospital No. 1 in Kansas City in the fall of 1939.

Her first two years of schooling went fairly smoothly, but on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. When she heard the news, she was waiting for an elevator on the second floor of the nurses' quarters.

"I didn't know what to think," Pauline said. "[We were] all in shock. We didn't realize what it meant."

Pauline still had a year left of training, and was scheduled to graduate in September 1942, but contracted three separate illnesses that year.

"I had scarlet fever, mono [mononucleosis] and an appendectomy all in my senior year, with three weeks recovery time for each illness."

Although she graduated in September, Pauline had to stay in nursing school until December 1942 to make up for lost time. After completing nurses training, she worked in the Kansas City General Hospital as a night supervisor in the obstetrics department.

Not too long after, in January 1943, Pauline's younger brother Kenneth "Buster" Misemer was drafted into the Army Air Corps, with orders to report to Fort Leavenworth. Several of Pauline's classmates had already entered the service, but on her way back from seeing Buster off at the bus station, she had a revelation.

"I decided that if he has to go into service, I'm going too," she said.

At age 22, she decided to be a Navy nurse, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. By September 1943, she was in Mare Island, Calif., approximately 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, waiting for stationing. Both Cary Grant and Bob Hope visited them at Mare Island. Pauline sat across the table from Grant when he came for dinner at the Nurses' Quarters. When Bob Hope came, she was in the front row closest to the stage. He picked her out of the crowd and danced with her on stage.

"I always enjoyed seeing Bob Hope," said Pauline. "He was a great entertainer."

On Christmas Day 1943, Pauline said she met her greatest Christmas present, souvenir and award of the war: Oscar Norby. Oscar was stationed on the USS San Diego, a Navy ship that had pulled into the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs and upgrades. One of her fellow nurses had a date with one of the men on the ship, and asked Pauline to go along as a blind date. Pauline agreed.

When they boarded the ship, Oscar was the Officer of the Deck, and, as is customary, everyone saluted him before descending into the mess hall. When Oscar's shift ended, he came to dinner, too, and the only available seat was next to Pauline. They instantly struck up a conversation.

The USS San Diego went back out to sea on Jan. 4, 1944 and didn't return until mid-March 1944, when additional repairs and upgrades were required. Pauline and Oscar had one date before he was granted leave to return home to Pratt, Kan.

Shortly thereafter in late March, Pauline was transferred to the Marine Corps Base in San Diego, Calif., but she and Oscar wrote letters frequently. At the Marine Corps Base, Pauline worked in the dispensary as one of the first 12 nurses to be stationed there. The base was relatively new, as it had been founded a few years prior on Sept. 25, 1942.

As they were the first nurses there, no housing was provided. The 12 nurses lived in the Beauty Rest Motel for two weeks while searching for housing that was more permanent. Then, they found Marian Swain, who lived in a big house with her daughter. All 12 nurses left the Beauty Rest Motel, and moved into the house. Swain treated the nurses to a special Thanksgiving dinner, featuring a cake decorated with a Navy ship and the phrase "Anchors Aweigh!"

In August 1944, Pauline was transferred again to the Navy Hospital in San Diego. The Naval Hospital received many war casualties, but also cared for military dependents. Pauline worked in obstetrics, and later was in charge of the obstetrics and nursery department of the Navy Hospital. She became Lieutenant JG (junior grade) on March 1, 1945.

One day, while Pauline was working with a doctor, a woman came into the delivery room and gave birth to her child. Three days later, the woman left the hospital under protest. Another three days later, the same woman returned to the delivery room and gave birth to the twin of the first child. A few weeks later, Pauline and the same doctor were preparing for the birth of another set of twins. Pauline said she gave one look to the doctor and said, "Let's get all of them this time."

Not all deliveries were joyous, according to Pauline. She recalled one woman who came into the delivery room, and was administered a caudal, an anesthesia injected into the lower spine. It was standard procedure, but the woman died just a few minutes later. A cesarean section was performed to save the baby, but Pauline does not remember the fate of the child. Tests showed that the woman had an unusual opening in her spine that allowed the anesthesia to travel directly to her brain.

While stationed at the San Diego Navy Hospital, quarters were provided to the nurses. The building had formerly been an exposition building for a fair, which had been converted into housing. It consisted of cubicles for rooms, and each room had bunk beds and a burlap curtain for a door.

Pauline received news that Oscar had been transferred to Pearl Harbor to be an instructor at a torpedo control school in June 1945.

Her living conditions were also crowded in her next station, Aiea Heights Naval Hospital in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As soon as Pauline received her orders, she wrote a letter to her parents explaining that she was going to Hawaii. She then called home, knowing her brother Buster was on leave. She mentioned nothing of Pearl Harbor, because she didn't want her family to worry. She knew her letter would arrive in Grant City, Mo. after the telephone call. When the letter reached its destination, Pauline's father gave Buster money, telling him to see his sister in California before she left for Hawaii.

"We were a pretty close family," Pauline said.

While waiting for transportation to Pearl Harbor, Pauline met Anne Kotula, a San Diego Naval Hospital nurse, who would be Pauline's roommate in Pearl Harbor. They still keep in touch. When transportation arrived, they boarded the Pan America seaplane for the journey across the ocean on July 18, 1945. Pauline and Oscar were only a mile and a half apart.

Pearl Harbor did not have a dependents unit, so Pauline tended to servicemen in recovery from combat. The hospital covered 41 acres next to the naval yard, and housed 1,100 beds. Aiea Heights Naval Hospital was later nicknamed "Purple Heart Junction," as more than 700 purple hearts were awarded to combat wounded patients being cared for there.

Other than leave for going home, one- or two-day rest and relaxation periods were granted to the nurses after working a night shift. A popular R&R location was Maui, and the nurses were provided with air transportation to their nurses' cottage, which accommodated three to four nurses, who became a "family away from home."

"You just had to call and ask for arrangements, and it didn't cost anything," Pauline said. Service people were treated really well if they were in uniform, [and] we were supposed to be in uniform 24/7."

The only exception was when the nurses were off duty and in the nurses' quarters.

Servicemen were also kept well informed of occurrences around the world through the Honolulu newspaper and through radio reports. One such radio report came in on Aug. 10, 1945 at 3 a.m. while Pauline and a corpsman watched over an amputee. Following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on Aug. 6 and 9, Japan gave the first offer of surrender. Japan officially surrendered Aug. 14, 1945, which would later be dubbed "V-J Day."

The hospital erupted in commotion. Staff members and patients who could walk were running around. The hospital beds had earphones, so nurses and doctors were gathering around empty beds to listen to the report coming over the radio.

"I will never forget it. I thought, 'Oh, the war is over. Nobody else will be killed now,'" Pauline said.

She said she felt as if the world had been lifted off her shoulders, and she thought of her cousin, who was a driver for Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the South Pacific, and her second cousin, who was serving in England.

Because they had no fireworks, military flares in shades of red and green were shot into the sky over Pearl Harbor, and an impromptu parade began, with people marching down to the harbor.

Pauline stayed on at Aiea Heights Naval Hospital until Jan. 24, 1946, when she received orders to return to the States. She had built up six weeks of leave time, so she was listed as "detached" as of Jan. 30, 1946 in San Francisco, but did not leave the payroll until the middle of March 1946. She served a total of two and a half years in the Navy, but remained in the reserves until December 1950 when she received her discharge papers.

She knew Oscar would be released as soon as he had transportation back to the States, so she called Oscar's aunt who lived in San Francisco. Oscar had given Pauline his aunt's phone number before Pauline left for San Francisco. Pauline called his aunt to tell her what hotel she was staying in. When Oscar returned to San Francisco, he called his aunt to find out where Pauline was staying.

Pauline and Oscar left San Francisco Feb. 11, 1946 and returned home together. On April 28, 1946, Miss Pauline Misemer became Mrs. Pauline Norby, as she and Oscar were married in Albany, Mo.

After the war, everything from white shirts to housing was in short supply, as manufacturing had been geared toward the war effort, and servicemen were returning and starting their own lives. Pauline said Oscar had trouble tracking down a white shirt for their wedding. After they were married, they were unable to find housing, until they heard of one open apartment in McPherson, Kan., which they rented sight unseen to avoid the risk of losing it.

"You could trust people more back then," Pauline said.

Pauline chose to give up nursing in her married life, as she had housework to do, and three children to raise. Later, Oscar decided to attend graduate school in Wisconsin, and Pauline had the chance to fulfill part of her original dream of being a secretary. Oscar had many papers that needed to be typed, and Pauline jumped at the chance. She typed thesis papers for her husband, as well as other graduate students at the college.

She continued this when they moved back to Kansas, this time locating in Manhattan. Their neighbor was a professor in Manhattan, and he had handwritten several books, two of which Pauline typed.

"I liked it better than being a nurse," Pauline said.

Pauline and Oscar had three children. Their first child, daughter Marcia, was born Feb. 24, 1947. Two years later on Dec. 1, 1949, son Galen was born. Son Steven was born May 28, 1953.

Steven was later employed as a professor at Chico State University in California, and Pauline and Oscar traveled to see him. While they were in the state, they visited San Diego, where Pauline had been stationed from March 1944 to July 1945. They visited the naval hospital and found that it was no longer being used as a hospital. They did not visit the Marine Corps Base.

"There were so many changes that it was hard to recognize things," Pauline said. "It just seemed like another trip that didn't mean much." She has not returned to Hawaii since her time in service.

Oscar died in 2004, and had a funeral service with military honors. The folded flag, presented to Pauline, is displayed on the fireplace mantel in their home.

"The war was a great experience for me," Pauline said. "I feel guilty when I say that because so many young lives were lost and families were torn apart. War is so devastating."

"I've had a great life," she said. "I've been blessed with good health, great opportunities and a caring family."

Left: Six Navy nurses: back row, Barbara Mosolygo, Pauline Misemer, Anne Kotula and front row: Lucille Lewis, Katherine Hickson, Genevieve Kolanik; right: Pauline Misemer and Oscar Norby, Oahu, Hawaii, November 1945

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