”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Lillian Oleson

Nurse, Army Nurse Corps
(June 9, 1893 – November 14, 1995)

Contributor:  Valentina Sainato

Description

  • Green eyes; brown hair
  • Weight 125 pounds when enlisted

Background

  • Daughter of Ole Oleson (April 2, 1856 – June 25, 1942) and Polly Philena Patton (January 19, 1856 – October 11, 1934)
    • Parents moved by covered wagon to Oregon
    • Both parents died in Oregon
  • Lillian, born on June 9, 1893, in Raleigh-Hills, Oregon, was one of eight children; she had one brother and six sisters
    • Her siblings were Alden, May, Thelma, Polly, Visa, Olive, and Edna

Becoming a Nurse

  • Lillian and her sister Olive received nurse training at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, Oregon
  • Lillian and Olive were registered nurses in Portland, Oregon, when the U. S. entered the Great War

Enlistment in Army Nurse Corps

  • Lillian's (and Olive's) Enlistment date is unknown, but (1) the Army Medical School in Portland, Oregon, administered anti-typhoid vaccine to Lillian in February 1918, and (2) in the same month Lillian indicated her desire to be attached to Army Base Hospital #46 in Portland, Oregon [Nursing Service Certificate of Immunity (photocopy), 25 February 1918]
    • Note—On March 28, 1918, the Army Nurse Corps assigned Lillian to active service; she was administered the oath of office on April 6 [Army Nurse Corps, assignment document, 28 March 1918 ("Oath of Office" stamp dated April 60), photocopy]
    • Lillian's granddaughters Laurel and Leslie remember Lillian saying that she and Olive were eager to join the war effort—to do their patriotic duty [William S. Harris, telephone conversation with Frank Mazzi, 26 May 2010]

Departure for England

  • Lillian was attached to the sanitary service in the Army and embarked for France from Hoboken, New Jersey [United States of America War Department Certificate of Identity (photocopy), 4 June 1918] on the British ship RMS Aquitania, which a chronicler of Base Hospital 46 described as "wonderfully camouflaged" against submarine attack. [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 56; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
    • Note—Apparently worried about inappropriate shipboard conduct, the captain forbade dancing, though other amusements—for example, instrumental music, singing, and afternoon tea—were permitted [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), pp. 56-57; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
  • Once out of New York Harbor the Aquitania was convoyed for several hours, then sailed across the Atlantic alone. Two days from arriving at Liverpool, England, the Aquitania was, for protection against submarines, escorted by five destroyers, which a Base 46 chronicler described as "little 'live wires' of the sea." [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 56; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
    • This Base Hospital 46 chronicler went on to report, "Everyone had the feeling of wanting to lean over the railing to give them a hearty hand shake or hug and whisper, 'Gee, we're glad you're here.' All through the night the guns of the little destroyers and of our vessel kept booming." [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 56; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
    • The nurses got little sleep and were required to wear life preservers at all times
  • Arrived at Liverpool, England, at about 8:00 p.m., on July 12, 1918

Liverpool to Southampton

  • Base Hospital 46 personnel departed Liverpool by train at about 10:00 p.m. on July 12 and arrived at Southampton early July 13, where they boarded a hospital ship for the trans-English Channel voyage to LeHavre.

Southampton, England, to LeHavre, France

  • All lights were out during the voyage
  • Ship arrived at LeHavre on July 14

LeHavre to the Front

  • Base Hospital 46 personnel boarded a train in LeHavre
  • First stop was Paris
    • Ultimate destination was Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France ; town's population was about 400 [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 66; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
  • Lillian and Olive served as a Reserve Nurses in Base Hospital 46 at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse
  • Personnel of Base Hospital 46 arrived at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse on July 2, 1918; nurses arrived two weeks later
  • Base Hospital 46 was functioning by third week of July 1918
  • Among Lillian's patients were doughboys who were victims of chlorine, phosphine, and mustard gases
  • As seems common among wartime veterans, Lillian spoke little about her wartime experience
    • Lillian's son, William S. Harris, born on December 16, 1931, notes that his mother never went into any detail about her wartime nursing experiences [William S. Harris, conversation with Valentina Sainato, St. Helena, California, 10 April 2010]
    • Lillian's granddaughters Laurel and Leslie remember Lillian saying about her role as a nurse during WWI that there was very little they could do to help injured soldiers except comfort them and change their dressings; they had sulfur drugs, but no antibiotics [William S. Harris, telephone conversation with Frank Mazzi, 26 May 2010]
    • Note—At a celebration of Lillian's 100th birthday, given by the St. Helena, California, post of the American Legion in 1993, one of the American Legion members asked Lillian how she remembered her experience with Army doctors. Her response was, "They were feisty." [Dave Curtin, telephone conversation with Frank Mazzi, 9 April 2009]

Armistice

  • Following the Armistice Base Hospital 46 patients were placed in other hospitals; Base Hospital 46 was empty by January 19, 1919 [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 178; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]

Return to the United States

  • Lillian received orders on April 4, 1919, to report to Brest for an April 6 embarkation on board the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria [Major H. F. Ratijen, Hdq., Post of Brest (Casual Office), Base Section No. 5, Travel Order (photocopy), 4 April 1919]
    • Note—a chronicle of Base Hospital 46 states that the nurses departed Brest for New York City on April 9 [O. B. Wight, Donald Macomber, and Arthur Rosenfeld, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, USA, March 20, 1918 – May 25, 1919 (Arcady Press, 1919), p. 180; http://www.archive.org/stream/onactiveservice]
  • From New York City Lillian returned to Portland, Oregon [United States War Department Quartermaster Corps, Government Request for Transportation (photocopy), 21 April 1919]

End of Military Service

  • Lillian's final paycheck was dated May 24, 1919; her bonus was $178.20
  • May 24, 1919 was Lillian's last day of active military service

Return to Oregon

  • Returned to Portland, Oregon, and continued her nursing career
  • In 1922 three of the Oleson sisters—Lillian, Olive, and Visa—purchased a Chevrolet and drove it across the country; one of their stops was Glacier National Park

Marriage

  • Lillian met her future husband William Henry Harris in an Oregon hiking group named the Mazamas [William S. Harris, telephone conversation with Frank Mazzi, 24 May 2010]
  • In 1930 and 1931 Lillian, one of Lillian's sisters, and William H. Harris went on an around-the-world trip, destinations including, for example, Canada, Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Egypt, Italy, France, and New York City.
  • Lillian married William Henry Harris on January 18, 1931, in The Church of the Transfiguration ("The Little Church Around the Corner") in NYC.
    • Note—the church (Episcopalian) was constructed in 1849; in 1973 it was designated a National Historic Landmark and since that date has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places
  • A son, William S. Harris, was born on December 16, 1831
    • Note—her son, William S. Harris, Ph.D., is a retired chemist, a civilian employee of the Navy; in mid-career, in 1975, he switched to mid-management (quality assurance) at Mare Island, California
  • William S. Harris has two daughters—Laurel Harris and Leslie Ades—and two grandchildren

Career

  • How long Lillian worked as a professional nurse is unclear
    • Lillian's obituary notes that she had a fifty-year career as a nurse and nurse instructor [citation], a period of time that would span c1917-c1967
    • Lillian's son William S. Harris notes that about a year after his birth, his mother retired from nursing to become a housewife [William S. Harris, conversation with Valentina Sainato, St. Helena, California, 10 April 2010]
  • Lillian and her husband William moved from Oregon to St. Helena, California (1733 Crinella Court, a house built about eight years earlier), in 1972
  • Lillian's husband William died c1975

Lillian's Second Marriage

  • Lillian met Kenneth Ruhl in the St. Helena Dining Club
  • Lillian married Ruhl in 1978
    • The marriage ceremony took place at the mobile home park residence of a justice of the peace in Calistoga, California
  • Kenneth Ruhl died sometime between 1986 and 1990

Lillian's Last Years

  • In 1993 Lillian celebrated her 100th birthday at the American Legion Hall in St. Helena, California [William S. Harris, telephone conversation with Frank Mazzi, 24 May 2010]
    • By that time she had been a member of the American Legion Post for fourteen years
  • Lillian remained cheerful and friendly her entire life
  • Lillian died in St. Helena, California, at age 102 on November 14, 1995
(rev.5.26.10)