Phyllis M. Gervais was working as a student nurse when World War II began. “There were rumblings on the horizon, but I don’t think many people in America absorbed that least of all me,” Gervais said. She remembered just coming off a 12-hour shift when she heard the news.
“I was just numb, I don’t even remember having a reaction maybe because I was so tired,” she said. She decided to enlist in the Army in 1943.
Gervais went overseas in July 1943, where she served the 51st Evacuation Unit and Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit.
“Sometimes I’d be an operating nurse, sometimes I’d be in a surgical unit, sometimes I’d be assistant chief nurse,” Gervais said, explaining her different jobs while in the service. “But I had experience in all of them.”
By November 1943, Gervais’ unit went to North Africa, where they served in cities including Casablanca. During her service, Gervais said she learned that “when you jump into the thick of it, you better know how to do something. It seems like that in the service, you’re pushed into things you’re not prepare for and it’s almost like within days you’ve always done it.”
Gervais recalled traveling to Paris after the city was liberated in 1944 and dancing the night away with her friends. She came home to the United States in July 1945 but was soon sent to South Korea for the Korean War. While stationed there, she recalled meeting President Syngman Rhee the day before his inauguration in 1948. After leaving the service in 1955, Gervais kept correspondence with her friends from the service and attended several reunions in the 1960s.
We honor her service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Editor: Michelle Cannon
Fact checker: Crystal Moore
Graphic artist: Nikki Lumbre