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Edna Learner « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Edna Learner

Hometown: Wadesboro, NC
Branch of Service: Army Nurse Corps, 76th Field Hospital
Location of Service: Pacific

The following account was written by Edna Learner who served with the Army Nurse Corps in the 76th Field Hospital on Okinawa:

I was born in 1919 in Wadesboro, North Carolina. I lived through the Great Depression, some of the most desperate times of this country’s history .

I went to nurse’s training school, thanks to my supervisor at the National Youth Association Project. That was one of President Roosevelt’s projects to put people back to work. The year was 1938, and I was 19 years old. I attended Anson Sanatorium in Wadesboro. Room, board, meals, and laundry were furnished, and ten dollars a month was given to each of us for spending money. My family was still in a desparate condition, so I would buy groceries and take them home and give Mama what was left for the rent.

When my class graduated in September of 1941, the whole world seemed to be engaged in war. Our young men were being drafted wholesale, and we entered World War II, even though no one wanted to be involved.

I applied to be in the Army Nurse Corp, only to find out I needed nine months of graduate training. I was accepted at Gallinger Municipal Hospital in Washington, D.C. I would get my training and also be paid to work for the hospital. As I struggled through the courses, the war was escalating. Every effort was being made to send men, materials, and everything else.

I enlisted in the Army Nurse Corp and was sworn in at Wadesboro in Anson County at the court house. Thank goodness I enlisted with three good friends. Frances Harris, Edith Best, and Amy Gardner, who were all R.N.s, all enlisted the same time I did. We all received our orders together, and we were assigned the same orders to go everywhere together. After basic training we eventually were sent overseas.

I was stationed on Okinawa Shima where I was assigned to the 76th Field Hospital. About three days after we arrived there, another nurse and I were assigned to go with a small group of people in jeeps. Some of them were Congressmen and Senators from Washington. We were in several jeeps. We drove for a while and came to part of the battlefield. The battle was over now, and the American troops were gone. There were hundreds of dead Japanese bodies. The smell was like nothing you can imagine. They lay where they had fallen. I thought how horrible it was that they had died in such a senseless terrible way. Many of our young men died there, too. War is very ugly.

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While I was at the 76th Field Hospital, another nurse asked if I would like to meet a friend of her boyfriend. I said that would be fine, so the next time he came, Lt. William David Lerner came with him. The four of us sat in the jeep and talked. He was in the Air Corps in the 396th Bomb Squadron, 36th Bomb Group. He was 1st Lt. from Chicago, and had been in the service several years.

Bill’s squadron would go out in the early morning to bomb the main Japanese island. Some of their planes were shot down. On those days when he came, he was very sad. Some of the people in the planes that went down were his friends. He lived under a lot of stress, not knowing if the next time might be his time to go down.

On the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Bill’s squadron was told to go towards the Japanese main island to take pictures. He was very close to that explosion, and I think he flew through the cloud to get some pictures . Neither he, nor I, or anyone else for that matter, knew the deadly results of the radiation from that bomb.

The bomb was brought by the cruiser, Indianapolis. It was unloaded in a plain 15-foot wooden crate. The Indianapolis then moved on toward the Philippine Islands. Even though the Captain had been reassured the route was safe, there were Japanese submarines in the area. Four days after delivering the Atomic Bomb, the Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

Bill and I sometimes went to a movie shown out in the open, so if it was raining, no movie. He brought me some pictures and a little camp stove, and said his squadron was scheduled to go back to the States. He was going to stay in the service, but would have some time off. He gave me his home address and telephone number in Chicago. Before he left Okinawa, we went to his squadron and had lunch, and then we went for a ride in a B-25 plane. It was a great day for me. I really loved it.

We were married July 23, 1946, at a little church on Central Avenue in Charlotte, NC. It was a simple ceremony with just Bill and me, Bill’s mother, and my father and my sister and her sons.

Bill and I had a wonderful life together and were blessed to have three children, Barbara, Max and David and five wonderful grandchildren, Tonya, Tammy, Mark, Mary and Emily.

For 59 years we were together. We had the usual good times and bad. We helped each other through it all. We loved each other and our children and grandchildren. The whole family helped throughout the long illness and death of our dear loved one, Bill Learner. We know we will see him again. We love and miss him.

I just turned 88 in May 2007 and I will never forget the things that happened in World War II, or the people who served our country so bravely.