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A Huddleston woman who made her mark as a flight nurse during World War II and a volunteer here in Bedford County died Sunday night.
Evelyn Kowalchuk, 93, served as a flight nurse during World War II and landed on the beaches of Normandy just three days after D-Day in her service as a nurse.
Kowalchuk was born in Jersey City, N.J. She obtained her R.N. Degree in October 1941 from Newark Memorial Hospital and entered the U.S. Army on Oct. 1, 1942.
Kowalchuk served with the 818th Air Evacuation Squadron and helped evacuate wounded troops from Omaha beach on D+3. She was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946 and in 1948 married and had two children. In 1971 she received a BA degree from Newark State and a master’s degree in 1979 from Kean College. She was the Board of Health visiting nurse – chest division- and a public school and parochial school nurse in Newark, N.J.
For her military service she was awarded the Air Medal, the ETO Ribbon, the French Legion of Honor, and the American Theatre Ribbon and has credit in the following campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe.
She was a life member of the Flight Nurses Association and was a life member of the VFW.
“My C-47 landed on Omaha Beach on D+3,” Kowalchuk had stated. “Although a number of planes were shot down, that particular danger was not very worrisome at the time. Our real concern was to get the wounded boys on the planes and to a hospital.”
Kowalchuk volunteered for this duty. After she was in the Army, she saw a notice on a bulletin board in the military hospital where she was working stating that the Army was looking for nurses to volunteer as flight nurses. Kowalchuk and some others asked the head nurse what flight nurses were.
“I have no idea,” the head nurse replied.
Kowalchuk and some others volunteered anyway. As a result, they found themselves riding in C-46 and C-47 cargo planes flying across the English Channel to land on improvised runways on the Normandy beachhead in the days following D-Day.
The planes were loaded with severely wounded men to be flown back to hospitals in Great Britain. There would be 24 men in each plane and the flight nurses’ job was to take care of them. Kowalchuk said the men being loaded in the planes were missing arms, missing legs and had head and chest wounds.
Some of the older nurses commented that they had never seen anything like it, even among the victims of the worst accidents.
The flight nurses had very little equipment. They had two types of pain killers and not much else. They often had to improvise and Kowalchuk recalled one of her fellow nurses who saved a man’s arm during a flight by improvising a way to remove a plaster cast without the proper tools. She did it after discovering that the man was bleeding under the cast.
The planes weren’t always able to unload cargo, load up the wounded and depart immediately. Kowalchuk said that she had to spend a night on the beach.
“I slept in a foxhole,” she said, noting that she didn’t know what a foxhole was until that time. A soldier had dug it for himself, but offered it to her.
Kowalchuk said she spent the night in the hole with a board pulled over the top. It wasn’t a peaceful night.
“You tried to sleep at night and could feel the ground shaking,” she said.
April Cheek-Messier, co-president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, said Kowalchuk was one of her heroes. “Beyond her military service, she was a loving, remarkable person,” Cheek-Messier stated. “I always admired her persistence in making sure ‘the girls’ she served with were remembered. Evelyn did all she could to make sure the nurses of World War II were not forgotten.
“We will remember her for her dedication, her achievements, and her smile; her sense of humor and her ability to silence a room as she spoke; her quick wit, her wonderful chuckle, and the way her eyes lit up when she talked of those ‘ladies’ who gave their all,” Cheek-Messier added. “It was a true blessing to have known her. ”