Most of the young men in Bette Hill’s hospital had not yet seen warfare. As more recent enlistees, they were still based in the States.
But one of the wards was different.
Hill, 93, of Tulsa — who was an Army nurse at Camp Crowder, Missouri, during World War II — counted among the wards she supervised one reserved for German prisoners of war.
The idea of taking care of the enemy, Hill said, was one she “had no problem with.” Of course, she added, she didn’t know then about all Nazi Germany’s atrocities.
“But I don’t think it would’ve made any difference to me. The German leader was so cruel,” and you couldn’t hold that against the young men.
This Wednesday, Hill will join some of her fellow World War II veterans, along with veterans of Korea and Vietnam, for a trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the O&A Honor Flight program. Departing from Tulsa International Airport, the group, including 75 veterans, will spend the day in D.C., where they will tour the nation’s war memorials and other sites, before returning to Tulsa on Wednesday evening.
A sendoff ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University. The event is free and open to the public.
The veterans are from Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas, and represent the conflicts of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Program officials said 10 of them are 90 or older.
Each veteran will be accompanied by a guardian. Program staff members are also making the trip, along with Miss Oklahoma Sara Kline.
Hill, a resident of the Montereau retirement community, had wanted to go on an Honor Flight previously, but it didn’t work out.
“I really thought I’d missed my chance,” she said. “I’m so thankful to be given a second. It’s very special to me.”
Hill’s guardian on the trip will be her son, Mike Hill, a Tulsa attorney and Army veteran who served during the Vietnam era.
A former farm girl from Clinton, Iowa, Hill was in nursing school in Davenport when news of the Pearl Harbor attack broke in December 1941.
At the time, she said, the thought of military service had never crossed her mind. But over the next two years, as she continued studying to be a registered nurse, it became clear to Hill what she must do.
Upon graduating in 1944, she joined the Army.
“I hadn’t even asked my parents,” she recalled. “But they took it well. They knew I had a strong will to do that kind of thing.”
As an Army nurse and second lieutenant, Hill would spend her entire time in the service at Camp Crowder, where among her duties she supervised various wards.
Most of the patients there were being treated for mumps, measles, scarlet fever and other illnesses. Among the troops — many of them from rural settings and in a big group for the first time — infectious disease could spread quickly, Hill said. At one point she caught the measles, too, she said.
Camp Crowder was also where Hill would meet her future husband, Windham Hill. A Shawnee native who had joined the service in 1942, he was head of the hospital lab.
In D.C. on Wednesday, when Hill sees the World War II memorial for the first time, her husband will be on her mind, she said. He died last year after 69 years of marriage.
Hill said she’s also looking forward to seeing the Korea and Vietnam memorials, hoping “they will help me gain a new appreciation for those who fought in those wars.”
This week’s trip will be the second O&A Honor Flight, and first to fly out of Tulsa. The inaugural flight of the new program, which succeeded the original Oklahoma Honor Flight program, was in April and flew out of Bentonville, Arkansas.
The O&A program (Oklahoma & Arkansas) is based in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and replaced previous Honor Flight programs in the two states.