Rockport resident LTC (U.S. ANC, Ret.) Helene Harris, a proud member of the Army Nursing Corps, was keynote speaker at this year’s Veterans Day Ceremony.
She provided a moving message, talking about three lessons she learned through the years while caring for the injured.
Harris enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1974, where she immediately trained as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She left the service in 1977, and re-entered the U.S. Army as a Reservist in 1978. She attended Jacksonville State University and in 1981 received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
After graduation, she was commissioned into the Army Nursing Corps on Active Duty as Second Lieutenant.
As a member of the Army Nursing Corps, she served in numerous locations.
Harris completed her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of Texas El Paso. She retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
She opened her speech addressing why she was not in uniform.
“When I served I was a size 6,” said Harris. “I’m no longer a size 6.”
She briefly talked about the Army Nurse Corps, Air Force Nurse Corps, and Navy Nurse Corps. The Army and Navy Nurse Corps have served in every war since WWI.
During WWI the military recruited 20,0000 registered nurses (all women) for military and navy duty in 58 military hospitals. The nurses helped staff 47 ambulance companies that operated on the Western Front. More than 10,000 nurses served overseas.
In WWII 96 percent of the 670,000 wounded soldiers and sailors who made it to a field hospital staffed by nurses and doctors survived their injuries.
The first major deployment of men as nurses occurred during the Vietnam War.
Harris said she never talked to her grandfather about his service during WWI, but recalls hearing her dad say in WWII there was some good food and he met nice friends, but “there were some bad times.”
The three lessons learned all dealt with the caring of patients.
The first lesson is to never shake a veteran.
She recalled, while as a young nurse, she entered a room, flicked on the lights, and shook the patient when at first he didn’t respond.
The patient jumped and reacted as if he was in battle.
“He told me about being in a fox hole and being on watch,” she said. “When (the fighting got bad) they would shake the others in the fox hole to get their attention. (When I shook him) it brought back bad memories.”
The second lesson she shared was the importance of taking care of a patient’s current needs, as well as his or her end of life needs.
Harris recalled the time a Navy retiree was dying of pancreatic cancer.
“He always said he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread over the USS Arizona,” she said.
When he died, his wish was carried out.
Harris said she never understood why this final act was so important to him, until his ashes were poured over Arizona.
The third and final lesson was the importance of taking care of personal, as well as emotional needs.
Recalling the time she helped treat 19 Marines involved in a helicopter crash, in which all of them suffered second and third degree burns, Harris said, “It’s very trying and hard to treat burn patients.”
One of the patients wasn’t on “the list”, but asked that his parents be notified.
“That was hard to do back in 1989,” said Harris. “We (didn’t have the communications we have today).”
The Marine’s parents were notified, and relieved to learn their son was still alive.
When the Marine left Harris his dog tags when he was flown to San Antonio for his continued care.
“I still have them to this day,” she said.
“I learned many lessons from veterans.
“I’m third generation military and thankful to God for that life.”
Harris closed reciting the Prayer of the Army Nurse, attributing it to all military nurses.
Prayer of an Army Nurse
Hear my prayer in silence before Thee as I ask for courage each day.
Grant that I may be worthy of the sacred pledge of my profession, and the lives of those entrusted to my care.
Help me to offer hope and cheer in the hearts of men, women and my country, for their faith inspires me to give the world and nursing my best.
Instill in me the understanding and compassion of those who led the way.
For I am thankful to You for giving me this life to live.
The ceremony included a presentation and posting of the colors by the ACISD Navy Junior ROTC, recognition of local veterans’ organizations and law enforcement agencies, laying of the wreath and dedication by Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills and Rockport Police Chief Greg Stevens, and the presentation of the National Anthem by Rockport-Fulton High School’s Band and Choir.
Refreshments were served after the ceremony at the American Legion.