One of the angels who mended the warriors
The war was winding down by March of 1945.
But while the final outcome was no longer in doubt, men were still in harms way.
That meant men were still coming home wounded, or worse, and the need for skilled medical professionals wasn’t going away.
Leaving a position in surgery at the Franklin hospital, Fannie Donovan answered the call.
Donovan is originally from Franklin, but has been living in Warren for 23 years.
“I was raised alone, I was adopted,” she said. “There were six others in the family.
But as the youngest child, and with her adopted father having passed away at the age of 45 in 1933, the decision to enlist was not easy.
“There was just my mother and me. I had to think about that, too,” she said. When asked what her mother thought of it, she said, “we made an agreement.”
Her mother, who Donovan described as a “praying woman,” was actually a Rosie the Riveter during the war years.
“It was war-time work,” she explained. “There was a machine shop in Franklin. She got a job working on machine parts. She was happy with that. I had to make sure she was well enough. She had had surgery a year before.”
Donovan’s boyfriend Bill, who became her husband in 1949, didn’t want her to go. He was in the Army band and was familiar with the army life.
But she felt she needed to go.
“There was a time when I felt I should go along with my friends,” Donovan, now 94, explained of her service between March 15, 1945 and August of 1946 in the U.S. Army as a nurse. “They were closing up some bases.”
When she went to enlist, Donovan went to her family doctor, who had just returned from the service as a major. “I told him I was interested,” she said. “He gave me the information.”
While she was ready to go, her employer wasn’t.
“They didn’t want to discharge me,” she said. “Then I wrote to the Surgeon General. He made an arrangement.”
Donovan explained that she worked at the Franklin hospital starting in 1939 and had taken surgical training in 1942 and then again in 1944 in Philadelphia, training that would be invaluable during her time in the Army.
That training also allowed Donovan to serve as a 2nd Lieutenant.
“I thought I wanted a little more experience and to be a part of it,” she said.
While one might assume that war wounds were treated at military hospitals, that isn’t necessarily the case.
“There was a lot (of soldiers) coming back to Franklin for surgery,” she explained.
And while she was prepared as a surgical nurse to serve in a military hospital, the Army put her through some additional training.
Reporting to Fort Lee in Virginia after her enlistment, Donovan said “we had some medical training, what you do out on the field for emergencies. After I was in I found I didn’t have to go through the major basic (medical) training. Of course we had our marching days. It was still the training you had to go through. Because we weren’t going overseas, there was more to it than what I went through.”
With her training complete, Donovan was stationed at the base hospital at Fort Belvoir, 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C., in Alexandria, Virginia.
According to the fort’s history, Belvoir was the home of the Army Engineer School as well as the Engineer Replacement Training Center, where 147,000 engineers were trained for service. Additionally, the Engineer Office Candidate School, which produced 22,000 2nd Lieutenants, was also facilitated at Belvoir.
That meant that accidents happened and Donovan’s surgical skills were put to work during 12 hour shifts.
In addition to the accidents, Belvoir “got the overflow from Walter Reed,” she said.
“We were just busy,” she said. “It was a busy time. More and more were coming back from overseas with injuries. Walter Reed was overloaded and we took care of a lot of them. A busy time… day and night.”
Asked whether there were common procedures the medical team at Belvoir performed, Donovan said, “whatever surgery was needed. All kinds of surgeries. All kinds of injuries It seems like we had a lot of bone surgery to go, knees. I remember a couple with their jaws.”
But it wasn’t all war wounds. She said they also performed routine procedures like appendectomies for the engineers training at Belvoir.
“It was just a busy one,” she added. “You had your time off but never knew when they were going to call you back for work. We had our time to party,” she said.
That included a bus that would take them into Alexandria or Washington.
“That was about the limit we could go to,” she said. “Just the surrounding… (It is) beautiful country down there.”
And the country was a little more beautiful when Donovan found out the war was over.
“I think some of us were out for lunch. We heard this (that the war was over),” she said. “We were at officers headquarters having lunch. Oh boy, everybody got happy. It was great. Officers get treated good. I could always remember the shrimp cocktail. It was a great day.”
But with the war over, the medical work didn’t stop.
“After the war had ended,” she explained, “then they started closing up camps, started sending some of the girls overseas for wherever they needed help.”
Fortunately, the service was optional.
“I was able to sign up that you didn’t want to go,” she said. “You had responsibilities. That saved me that I had my mother because we had a choice, going or staying.”
To this day, Donovan is humble about the roll she played.
“It was just something I needed to do,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of it, for the experience.”