Part 1 of 4
Twenty-four wounded soldiers were aboard the C-54 transport plane. They'd been fighting in the battlefields of Europe to stop Hitler's Third Reich in 1944, when they were felled by enemy fire. All had been blinded.
The 29-hour trip back to the United States for intensive medical treatment had to be made in three legs because the plane could not hold enough fuel to go nonstop.
Leaving the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands, they were on their way to Newfoundland, then on to New York. Only one medical corpsman and one nurse was assigned to the flight. 1st Lt. F. Rosalind Westfall was the flight nurse totally responsible for the care and safety of the injured, sightless soldiers.
"I enjoyed the boys," Rose Westfall Sellmer said recently from her home on north Washington Street in Brazil. The 83-year-old lady is the mother of local funeral home manager, Vanita Moore. They were discussing Rose's distinguished past.
"I always tried to keep the soldiers cheerful and contented," Rose continued. "Mostly they were happy because they were going home. But this group was different. They were so helpless. And so frightened or withdrawn. The Army Air Corps didn't do any more flights where all of the boys were blind. It was just too difficult."
F. Rosiland Westfall was a nurse in the Army Air Corps for more than five years, Jan. 13, 1942, through Feb. 16, 1947. She was a flight nurse for 18 months and logged nearly 1300 flight hours. But being a flight nurse was not a lifelong burning desire for her.
That career didn't even exist when Rosiland was born, Nov. 22, 1920, in the sleepy holler of Dunbar, West Virginia. The tomboyish little girl loved to climb trees and do cartwheels. She scuffed her shoes so badly that her dad, Clint Westfall, would buy her a new pair every two weeks on payday.
Her dad was a gregarious, friendly, kind man who was always helping others. He enjoyed his good paying job at Libby-Owens Glass. Her mother was involved in many social activities. Home served as an infrequent meeting place where Rosalind and her brother, Wilford, who was two years older, waited for one of their parents to return.
When Rosalind was about five, her parents divorced. The judge asked the children if they would rather live with their father or mother. They both chose their dad.
Initially, after the divorce, they all lived with Rosalind's aunt, their dad's sister. But sensing that the kids were homesick, Clint moved them back to the family home. They lived there for the next four years with a succession of housekeepers to tend to the house and children.
One day Rosalind's dad brought a woman home for the kids to meet. The nice, pretty lady smiled and told Rosalind she was going to try to keep her from needing so many new shoes. Rosalind realized it was the lady who worked at the shoe store.
Their dad married Fern and their new mother brought a little 2-year-old brother, Billy, into the family. Fern, or "Toots" as she was called, was wonderful. She took good care of the three children and Grandpa Westfall who also lived with them.
Grandpa died about a year after Toots came. That was the first of several tragedies to darken the normally bright Westfall home.
One morning when Mother and Dad were having breakfast, Mother said she smelled smoke. Then they noticed smoke coming from under the door of the back porch. When her dad opened the door, the whole porch was in flames.
They lost everything they had except the clothes they were wearing. The house was rebuilt and the furniture replaced. When they moved back in, life resumed much as it had before. Then the Depression hit.
Though her parents seldom talked about it, Rosalind knew something was wrong. Her dad's salary was cut severely. Then he broke his arm and was off work for a while. They had to move from their lovely home into a smaller house.
But children are resilient. Even though things were never quite the same, they weathered the storm and life went on.
Several years later they moved out into the country where the Westfalls bought a 150-acre farm. Dad bought the kids a Mexican pony which had been a racer at one time. Dolly was a beautiful trotter. She had a colt, Barney, the next year.
Rosalind's dad taught the colt to chew tobacco. Any man who chewed had to be alert when Barney was around because he'd lift the tobacco pouch right out of their back pocket if they stood too near. Dad also bought a buggy for Dolly to pull which delighted the three Westfall teenagers.
In 1937 Rosalind's parents adopted a little boy, Richard Lee. The older siblings delighted in spoiling their new baby brother. Rosalind had a very happy childhood.
Tomorrow: Rosalind decides to go to nursing school.