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A Conversation with Muriel Engelman author of Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock
http://www.bookpleasures.com/websitepublisher/articles/574/1/A-Conversation-with-Muriel-Engelman-author-of-Mission-Accomplished-Stop-the-Clock/Page1.html
Kathryn Atwood

Reviewer Kathryn Atwood:  Kathryn is the author of Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue:  Click Here To View More Of Kathryn's   Reviews.


 
By Kathryn Atwood
Published on April 18, 2009
 

Author: Muriel P. Engelman, WWII Army Nurse, retired R.N.
ISBN:  978-0-595-48110-1
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.



Kathryn Atwood, one of the Bookpleasures' reviewers interviews Muriel Engelman author of Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock





Author: Muriel P. Engelman, WWII Army Nurse, retired R.N.
ISBN:  978-0-595-48110-1
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.




Good day Muriel and thanks for participating in our interview:


Kathryn:


Ms. Engelman, you mention early on that you were “born to be a nurse” and that you were always bandaging wounded animals, even as a child.  You were apparently already a nurse-in-training when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  When and how did you make the decision to become an army nurse?


Muriel:


I made my decision to join the military on the day when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but it took almost a year by the time I graduated, made up sick time and went through the red tape of signing up. As for my decision to become an army nurse rather than navy, I think I felt at the time, if I was going to be subjected to danger, I'd rather be on the ground than on water.


Kathryn:


When one thinks of the Normandy invasion, the picture that comes to mind are the young men who landed on the beaches to begin spearheading the Allied assault on the Nazis.  The perspective your book provides – a troop transport ship full of army nurses making a slow crossing because of all the battle debris – is a very unique one.  Can you describe in detail your emotions at that moment and also some detail on the battle debris that slowed down your trip across the Channel?  What exactly did it look like?


Muriel:


The troop transport carried our entire hospital unit across the channel (as well as the Atlantic) which consisted of 100 nurses, 50 medical, dental and medical administrative officers and 500 enlisted men to assist in the care of patients and help maintain the hospital. Ours was a general hospital which holds 1000 beds. While crossing the channel at first we were concerned with our personal  needs, like finding a space on deck of the ship to sleep because the staterooms were all infested with bedbugs.


The male officers tried to get whatever rooms were available first but then they gallantly gave them up to the nurses and we soon found out why. So we slept on deck in the complete blackout as Nazi planes flew over at night and you couldn't as much as light a cigarette.  The first couple of days there was no wreckage but as we approached the French coastline we could see the sunken planes and wreckage that slowed our progress. This was about a month after D-Day so presumably a lot had been cleared away. As I stated in the book, we ran out of food aboard ship but still had our K-rations to eat so we didn't starve.


Disembarking from the ship on Utah beach was tricky as we were so loaded down with our gear piled around our shoulders and backs. We had to descend the swaying rope ladder that swayed with every wave and getting into the flat bottomed landing craft that moved away from the ship with each wave also was tricky. When the landing craft was filled to capacity with everyone standing, jammed next to each other,  it took us to within a couple of hundred yards from the shore and we had to wade in the rest of the way. The water was warm and not unpleasant. Utah Beach terrain was flat as I recall unlike the cliffs and palisades that the soldiers experienced when they landed at Omaha Beach.

 

Kathryn:


I realize that most of the WWII-generation does not consider their actions to defeat Nazism heroic, and of course, the generations that have followed you completely disagree with that assessment.  You were all “just doing your jobs” but I can’t help but think – especially after reading your book – that army nurses were just as heroic as their male counterparts who were fighting on the front.  Your description of living and trying to nurse wounded patients under the constant danger of buzz bombs is particularly engrossing.  Can you give a detailed description of one of the buzz bomb attacks on your hospital?


Muriel:


Our hospital tents were spread out over a huge area, several acres, and I didn't happen to be in any of the sections that received buzz bombs at the time. It was so common to have them exploding all around and we would brace ourselves for the concussion that followed which could knock you off  your feet, it was so powerful. Our patients joked about the buzz bombs and would send the wardmen out to see whether the bombs were coming in on track 1, 2 or 3 and you'd hold  your breath and wait for an explosion. Even with their joking, they hated being hospitalized in “Buzz Bomb Alley” which is what they called the Liege area and they all said they would rather be at the front lines where it was comparatively quiet some of the time.


Buzz bombs were also called V-1's, V-2's or Robot Bombs, each packing about 2000 lbs. of explosives, looking like flying crosses in the sky, and making a put-put-puttering noise that got louder as it approached. As it's fuel was expended, the motor of the bomb would shut off and the bomb would plunge to earth with a horrible whining whistle at a 45 degree angle, destroying everything in it's path for hundreds of yards, and it's concussion could be felt miles away. When we heard that whining whistle that's when we'd brace ourselves for the concussion.

 

We'd always hold our breath till the bomb reached overhead, because if the motor shut off after it was overhead, it wasn't going to come down on us. However a little while later they did come out with a bomb that reached overhead and you'd start breathing again, and then it made a sudden u-turn and headed back in your direction. They also came out with bombs that came from 3 different directions at a time and they came every 15 minutes of the day and night for the next two months.


Kathryn:


Your description of the difficulty of adjusting back into civilian life was very poignant and you mention that you would seek out old army buddies after the war as often as possible.  How many have you kept up with?


Muriel:


The first 10 years or so I was in active contact with many of the nurses, physicians and dentists who lived in the NY, NJ and MA areas and we had reunions every year that were well attended by hundreds from the outfit, usually in some hotel in Boston, NY, Philadelphia etc. I didn't go after about the 20th reunion though I know some members were still going till about the 50th reunion and then I guess it just petered out from people dying off or lack of interest. I was in active contact with many nurses for about 25 years but at this point most of them have died and I am just in touch with one nurse from our outfit, about whom I just wrote a story for my newest writing class.


Kathryn:


I enjoyed reading the chapter “My Four Best Marriages” describing how you were quite a successful amateur match-maker among your friends and relatives.  How many successful matches did you make altogether?


Muriel:


I made 14 successful marriages so I wasn't exactly an amateur and it was interesting to note that when women became widowed where we lived, I would get phone calls from them within a few months after the deaths of their spouses, and to this date I still have the reputation of being a matchmaker though I haven't had a live and breathing man available for years. The only one that ended in divorce happened to be Mel's first cousin, but they lived together for 10 years and had two boys so it wasn't a total loss. I did have more marriage stories written but couldn't put them in the book as some families are still alive and I didn't want to "put them on the spot" so to speak. Some of my best stories aren't in the book too for the same reason--I might provoke a divorce or two which is not my intention but was good material for a writing class, with the characters all camouflaged with different names, locale, occupations etc.

 

Kathryn:


You are obviously fascinated with human behavior and you have the writer’s talent to make these descriptions come to life.  Can you recall how/where/when you became so utterly fascinated with human character and behavior?


Muriel:


I have always had this trait of being interested in other people and caring about them which is why my mother felt from the start that I "was born to be a nurse." When she was left a widow at 38 with 3 young kids to bring up and provide for them, she had no social life whatsoever as all her friends were married and I was always looking around for a "date" for her. She was involved in her own dress shop business and did a marvelous job keeping active in civic organizations but socially it was a lonely life for her because no unattached male wanted a woman with 3 kids, especially one who wasn't wealthy.


Kathryn:


Thank you so much for writing your memoir and thanks to your family for encouraging you to publish it outside of your family circle!



Click Here To Purchase Mission Accomplished: Stop The Clock: A Personal Memoir



Click Here To Read Kathryn's Review of Mission Accomplished: Stop The Clock: A Personal Memoir