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Friday, May 6, 2016

Angel of the Airways: Nurse remembers military women

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Rose Sellmer, at home March 3, visited with her daughter, Vanita Moore. They talked about Rose's experience as a flight nurse during World War II. Linda Messmer photo

Note this: Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught is looking for the thousands of women who still haven't registered with the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Anyone with pertinent information should call Vanita Moore at (812) 442-8483 or the Memorial Foundation can be contacted at: (703) 533-1155, (800) 222-2294, fax (703) 931-4208, wimsa@aol.com or http://www.womensmemorial.org.

Conclusion of series

During World War II, 400,000 women served in the United States military. Of those, 60,000 were Army nurses. Only about 500 were Army flight nurses. Rosalind Westfall Sellmer, now a Brazil resident, was one of those 500.

Air evacuation of military patients began in North Africa in February, 1943, and eventually became a feature of every theater of war. Due to flight nurses, there were only five deaths in flight per 100,000 patients transported.

The flight nurse uniform was altered out of necessity. Originally flight nurses were issued dresses only. Pants were not included in the official dress code. That changed after the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Col. Florence Blanchfield experienced her first flight.

Blanchfield was dressed in the popular pink and green dress uniform. The plane's engine faltered shortly into the flight. All aboard were instructed to prepare to jump. Even the Chief of the Corps could not maneuver the parachute straps gracefully wearing a skirt. Soon after, flight pants were added to the uniform.

Rosalind Westfall was a flight nurse from May, 1944, to November, 1945. In February, 1946, while stationed at Keesler Field in Mississippi, Rosalind was on the greeting committee for a military dance. There she met a little red headed guy with big brown eyes.

Everybody called George W. Sellmer, "Red". The pilot had recently come back from the Pacific. He called Rosalind "Rose" and captured her heart. From then on she was known as Red's Rose.

Flight nurses were not allowed to marry. But the feisty little girl from Dunbar, W. Va., would not deny her heart. She and Red were secretly married while she was still in the Army. The following year Rose received her honorable discharge from the United State Army Air Corps after more than five years of military duty.

They settled in Indianapolis so Red could go to medical school. Rose continued working as a nurse to support the family and raised their three children. Her daughter, Vanita Moore, moved to Brazil with her husband, Rob, in 1998, to help run Moore Funeral Home.

Red passed away in 1999. Rose moved to Brazil in 2002, to help care for her daughter's mother-in-law, Dorothy Moore, who'd had a stroke. The two nurses had so much in common, Dorothy invited Rose to live with her, where she resides today.

The renowned, world traveled lady with a down home smile and captivating personality has received many awards for her lifetime commitment to serve community and country.

Rose was on seven different boards during her years in Indianapolis. She was honored by Gov. Robert Orr and Secretary of State Evan Bayh for her work in the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Senile Dementia Task Force. She was given the Mayor's Volunteer Partnership Award signed by Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.

Rose was awarded the Air Medal for her meritorious achievement while on medical air evacuation flights outside the continental United States.

In 1997, the U.S. Government announced there was to be a special ceremony for military women at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington D.C. There was also to be a dedication of the Spirit of Nursing Statue in Arlington National Cemetery.

One of Rose's best friends, Marguerite Clark, also a military nurse, wanted to attend the ceremony because her husband was buried in Arlington. She asked her friend to accompany her.

Rose wanted to go but was hesitant. They were getting older and Marguerite had health problems. Rose was concerned about how they'd get there and navigate around Washington D.C.

When Vanita, then living in Atlanta, heard, she immediately said, "You're going. I'll be your chauffeur."

Rose, Marguerite and Vanita joined a crowd estimated at 30,000. After the dedication for nurses ceremony, a younger woman came up to Rose and asked, "You were a flight nurse in World War II weren't you?"

When Rose responded yes, the woman said, "I was a flight nurse in Vietnam. It was because of you and the other flight nurses of World War II who paved the way for all flight nurses, that we were able to save more lives in the Vietnam war. I'm proud to know you." Then she gave Rose a big hug.

Recently Vanita, who is a storyteller and has presented stories about her mother to various organizations, received a call from Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught who is the head of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. She requested that Vanita develop a video about Rose's experiences as a flight nurse to be kept and shown at the Memorial in Washington D.C.

Like many WW II vets, Rose is reluctant to receive acknowledgment for her accomplishments. She doesn't feel she's done anything worthy of recognition. But when Vanita finishes her project for Vaught, Roses' story will be seen daily by many.

And the people will know that, F. Rosalind Westfall, like flight nurses before her and all who followed, was, indeed, an angel of the airways.

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