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Angel of the Airways: Path leads to nursing school

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Right: Rosalind Westfall, center, poses with two unidentified friends. The three were Army nurses during World War II.

Part 2 of 4

Rosalind Westfall treated and nurtured many wounded soldiers as a flight nurse during World War II. She dearly loved the job but the road to her vocation had many hills and curves.

The 83-year-old Brazil resident graduated mid-term in 1938, from Dunbar High School in West Virginia, where she grew up. Raised by a loving father and step-mother, Rosalind had a very happy childhood. She was a feisty young lady who never shied away from a challenge.

After graduation she assumed she'd have no trouble getting a job. Rosalind was not prepared for the rejections she met. Having just turned 17 in November, many potential employers didn't want to hire her because of her age.

She thought she could easily get a job at a local factory where one of the supervisors was a good friend of her dad's. But the supervisor told her he'd received instructions from Clint Westfall that "if my daughter comes in looking for a job don't you give it to her. I don't want her to spend the rest of her life in a factory."

So Rosalind had to consider other options. Her brother was dating a girl who had an interview at a nursing school in Charleston. Rosalind asked if she could go with her.

After Rosalind successfully completed the interview, her friend, perhaps due to jealousy, smugly asked the school representative, "Don't you have to be 18 to get into nursing school? Rosalind's only 17."

The lady said yes, indeed, you had to be 18 to enroll.

The spirited, spunky Rosalind stomped her foot and said, "If you don't take me now you'll never get me."

She entered nurses training with the next class in March. During her first year, Rosalind's grandma, her birth mother's mom, was struck by a hit and run driver. She was treated for several months at the hospital where Rosalind was studying.

Throughout that period Rosalind spent a lot of time with her grandmother and "real" mom, Virginia. Realizing there was another side to her family that she didn't know too well, she took the opportunity to reacquaint herself with her mother.

Rosalind graduated from the Charleston General Hospital School of Nursing in January, 1941, and worked there for a while after graduation. But one of her instructors had said if you wanted to be a good nurse you had to be a Red Cross nurse. Rosalind wanted to be the best. She had to be a Red Cross nurse.

Once again her age presented a problem. The Red Cross said she couldn't join until she was 21. And they wouldn't bend the rules. On Nov. 22, her 21st birthday, Rosalind mailed her application papers.

She was told that to be in the Red Cross, a nurse had to either serve in a foreign country or join the Army. Rosalind chose the Army and sent off enlistment papers requesting that she be given two months before her activation so she could give proper notice to the hospital, take care of some personal matters and have a little vacation.

"The Army would have received my papers either the Friday before or the Monday after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Dec. 7, 1941," Rosalind said. "In less than a month I was in basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky."

After basic, she was transferred to Louisiana. Some of her friends and family were concerned about how far away from home she'd be. It'd been bad enough that when she went to nurse's training she had to go all the way to Charleston. It was so far away. Charleston was 10 miles from Dunbar. The distance from Dunbar to Louisiana was almost inconceivable.

Rosalind worked as a surgical nurse in the hospital at Harding Field in Baton Rouge for two years. Her parents were getting older and still had a child at home. She sent them money each pay to help out. When her dad started having trouble with his knees, Rosalind felt she needed to make more money so she could give them more assistance.

The better paying nursing jobs with training immediately available were in anesthesiology and flight nursing. Rosalind was afraid of anesthesiology because it was too easy to kill somebody if you made a mistake. So she chose flight nursing.

Tomorrow: Rosalind becomes a flight nurse.

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