WWII Army nurse finally gets her medals at 91

A one-time Army nurse who has family in the Williamsport area only recently was given her medals for service during World War II.

Jean Keirstead Hutchinson, 91, recited the “Nightingale pledge” by memory to a nurse at the Central Maine Medical Center in August 2012.

Because Hutchinson was sick and having trouble remembering her own name, the story of her reciting the pledge often taken by nurses at their graduation made its way back to her family.

Stories she had told family members were recalled and an investigation into whether she received all the medals due her began.

Wayne and Janice Welshans live in the Nippenose Valley – Janice is Jean’s daughter. Wayne told David Bower, director of Clinton County Veterans Affairs, his mother-in-law’s story and some calls were made.

“When we found out she had not received a couple of her medals, well, we can take care of that issue,” Bower said. “It would only be appropriate if an actual commissioned officer or an Army nurse presented the medals to her, so we called up to Boston, Mass., and active duty Army nurse Lisa Buckles drove up to Maine for the ceremony.”

Buckles, who served in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, presented Hutchinson with her European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal and her battle star, earned at the Battle of the Bulge, along with one of the Woolrich Freedom Throws given to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Hutchinson entered the Army Nurse Corps in 1944, the first year nurses could be awarded ranks.

She started her training at Fort Devens, Mass., then passed through Camp Kilmer, N.J., before boarding the Queen Mary with other members of the 221st General Hospital on Dec. 10, 1944. The British superliner was the largest troop transport for the Allies during the war, with a crew of 1,084.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 221st Hospital was in the thick of the action.

“They were in a large, old, French cavalry school, which was picked out as an ideal spot for the hospital by an advance group of officers,” Wayne Welshans said.

The makeshift hospital had 225 beds in four long stable buildings.

Hutchinson, 23 at the time, wrote a letter to her parents in Maine that was picked up by a local paper.

“When we first arrived here, we were only a few miles from the front and, of course, were not allowed out alone or without a group and several officers,” Hutchinson wrote.

Hutchinson’s husband, Alton, was a second lieutenant in the Third Army at the time, attached to Gen. Oscar Koch, the chief intelligence officer for Gen. George Patton. In late December 1944, the Third Army was executing the Ardennes Forest offensive, fighting back the last great German attack of the war.

“At some point during the operation, he got (use) of a Jeep and went to see her,” Welshans said. “She used to tell (Alton), ‘Thank goodness your old Fourth Armored saved us.’ Both were in the Army and both ended up in the same place.”