A World War II Nurse Answers the Call of Duty

The year was 1942 when Rosana (Roz) Masse (Welser) answered the call of duty to serve her country. At twenty-one years of age, she was near completion of her third and final year of nursing school in Chicago when America declared war on Japan in 1941.  Since many from her graduating class enlisted immediately, Roz was one of those who volunteered to continue working for another six months at the Chicago hospital where her class had trained.  When that time period ended, Roz and three from her class signed up for overseas duty for the duration of the war.

Roz still does not look upon the decision to enlist as brave or even remotely remarkable. Neither she nor her classmates gave the decision to join the Army a moment’s hesitation. “At that time it was a different attitude.  Everyone wanted to help.  You were asked to pitch in and you did so gladly.  Women went to work in the factories.  As a nurse, I had skills to offer.”

I ask Roz if her parents had any objections or concerns about their only child leaving Chicago for an undetermined amount of war duty to parts unknown. She ponders the question briefly.  “Not to my memory.  It was simply accepted that everyone would do what they could to serve their country.  My mother had been a nurse during World War I and I grew up always knowing I would be a nurse also.  They say ‘once a nurse, always a nurse.’  I still inquire about everyone’s health.  I talk to all the veterans here (at the Council of Aging).”  She adds laughing, “They tell me their war stories and then they tell me all their ailments.”

“After enlisting we were shipped out within three weeks to North Africa where we landed at Oran. We had met two more girls who joined the three of us and from that point on we were together throughout the duration of the three years we served.  After a few weeks in North Africa we were sent to Bizerte in Tunisia and from there we went to Sicily and then on to Naples.  We eventually made our way up to Northern Italy.”

“We were with the 81st Station serving under General Patton in a Mobile Army Surgical Unit (MASH).  Our unit was twenty-five miles from the front line.  It was a tent hospital and there certainly weren’t any luxuries but the five of us bunked together and were very close and had a lot of fun.”  After the war Roz kept in contact with this group of friends.  “They’re all gone now.  I’m the only one left.  That’s what happens when you get to 95,” she adds matter-of-factly.

I’m curious if Roz remembers being afraid and being in danger. “We were always in danger.  We were so close to the front line and were constantly on the move as the front advanced.  There were air raids every night.  We would pile mattresses up and use them as barricades in our tent.  It would get pretty hot in the tent as a result.  We’d put on our helmets and take cover under our beds during the raids.”

“At that time of course there weren’t helicopters so you’d see a long line of ambulances bringing the wounded to the hospital. I didn’t think about being afraid.  I enjoyed the work.  I was in Orthopedics.  I liked the trauma work and found it exciting.  When the injured came in, everyone would join in to bring stretchers off the ambulance.  Even if you had just finished a twelve hour shift, you came back on duty.  We would triage the wounded and immediately take those more seriously injured into surgery.  We relied on the ‘buddy system’ in caring for the soldiers.  We would have many patients and to keep up with the IVs, we would ask the fellow in the next bed to watch it and let us know when and if it ran dry.  The walking wounded would go to the mess hall and bring a tray to feed a patient who couldn’t feed themselves.  If you made it to our hospital, you had a good chance of making it.  We had very few casualties.  We were saving lives.”

Roz explains that there was a hut whose roof displayed a large red cross painted on a white background. It identified the unit as a hospital and Roz believed they were safe because the Germans would not bomb a hospital, just as the Americans honored the same.

“We were always busy in our work but we did get what we called R & R (rest and relaxation) and my friends and I used that time to travel throughout southern Italy together.” Roz met her husband Henry in the 81st station.  Henry was the Mess Sergeant and an enlisted man while Roz was an officer promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.  “It was against the rules to ‘fraternize’ but it wasn’t very strictly enforced and four of our group ended up marrying enlisted men.  Henry and I never talked about the war while in it.  We talked about home.  We discussed marriage but it was never certain where we would get shipped to next and what would happen after the war ended.  It was hard to plan ahead.”

“The war ended when we were in Italy and based on a point system, we thought we had enough points to go home immediately. Instead, we were put on a ship headed to Okinawa.  However on the journey there, the second bomb was dropped and our ship was turned around and headed back to America.  We were told the war had ended and it was like an explosion happened on that ship.  You couldn’t believe how excited and happy everyone was.”  Roz and Henry returned home (Chicago and Salem MA. respectively) in August and were married in October of 1945.

Roz talks about how both she and her husband had trouble settling down to civilian life because they were so used to being on the move. They built a home in Beverly but decided they wanted something different and drove across country to California.  After a short time they decided to return to Salem and Roz continued her nursing career at Salem Hospital where she worked for eighteen years on the Maternity ward.  Henry worked as the Chef at Anthony’s in Lynn and became a skilled woodcarver, showing his work in exhibits.  Roz proudly shows me her cane that he carved from a tree limb.  Along with a carving of a cardinal on the cane (“my favorite bird”), he carved her initials as he knew she was likely to misplace it somewhere.  She tells me her home is filled with many of Henry’s beautiful wood carvings.

At ninety-five years of age, Roz lives alone in the home she and her husband shared for over sixty years. Henry has been deceased eight years.  She manages the care of her home and her own personal care with independence but credits a good support system of neighbors and a niece.  Roz attends her Council of Aging five days/week, meeting friends, participating in activities, and enjoying the congregate meal each day.  Neither Roz nor Henry ever returned to Europe after the war, however she was fascinated by pictures of some of the places where she was stationed which she was able to view recently with the help of staff on the Kiosk’s computer at the Council of Aging.

Roz is not one who needs to talk about how she answered her countries’ call of duty. The way she describes it, “We were just doing our jobs.”  She is much too humble to expect any accolades.  Roz is one of those rare people who asks for nothing, gives everything, and is content with her past and present life.  We thank you Rosana Masse for the career you had and the bravery you showed in fighting for our country and your continued contributions to your community.

Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

Comments ( 4 )

  • Cmoloney@rogers.com'

    Beautifully written story Jayne! Chris and I enjoyed the way you captured Roz’ life story and spirit.

  • cgauthier@nselder.org'

    What a wonderful story Jayne! I so enjoyed reading it and I continue to thank God for our service men and women who give their lives to protect our country! I just want to praise God for Roz and all the others like her, who are so committed, so brave and so humble!

    Thank you Jayne and thank you Roz!

  • dmoses@nselder.org'
    Diane Moses

    Great story! Nice job Jayne!

  • mkcloonan@aol.com'

    What a wonderful story! It brings me right back to my childhood and the war movies from the previous generation that made up the home entertainment for my generation. In addition to being filled with awe and admiration for the bravery and commitment to sound ideals of that generation, I am struck by the stark contrast of that time to the scattered, whimsical values of today’s floundering society. In today’s climate, the red cross is less a symbol of safety than it is a bullseye for a bombing target. It’s very sad, but hearing stories like Roz’s offers encouragement and highlights the true values of a time gone by. While I don’t believe we can, or should, go backwards, it’s nice to remember the positive elements of the past to incorporate into our present understanding.