Liberation: Nursing the Starved Body and Understanding Sexual Identity

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:10 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Patricia Chappine, Drew University
The women of the US army nursing corps served in the field. Their experiences of the war included many of the same experiences of the US combat troops. Nurses landed on the beaches of Normandy mere days after American forces launched the D-Day invasion. With the daunting and hazardous task of following U.S ground forces through the European theater, the number of Army nurses reached its maximum strength of 17,345 by June of 1945. These nurses faced the uncertainty of working in combat zones, treated wounded soldiers, learned to bathe using their helmets and received instructions in case they were captured by the enemy. With the many heart-wrenching tasks performed by nurses in Europe, the liberation of concentration camps remains a rarely acknowledged experience. This chapter examines the reactions and coping strategies used by US army and navy nurses as they faced unbelievable images of starvation and death when US troops “liberated” the concentration camps. The food policies of the Third Reich and the exportation of hunger to the those in the concentration camps were clearly visible to the well-fed military nurses. Indeed, tasked with administering care to the prisoners found still living, US nurses attempted to mask their horror as they encountered disease, starvation and infestations of lice and their dismay at being unable to determine gender. This chapter focuses on the way starvation disguised gender and the way US military nurses dealt with the dual horror of their inability to determine the sex of their patients at the same critical moment they dealt with personal fears of contagion. While maintaining a degree of professionalism as they administered care to the living and dying among the liberated prisoners, military nurses did more than feed bodies back to health. They also nursed bodies back to sexual identity
See more of: Starving Women’s Bodies
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