Elizabeth Ann (Dermody) Enemark
Ensign – U.S. Naval Nurse
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love” (Martin Luther King Jr.). World War II impacted the world in unimaginable ways and millions of Americans decided they would serve to protect the people, the nation, and the values of the United States of America. Many believed the only way to serve was over seas, however, Elizabeth Ann Enemark and her fellow Naval Nurses in Rhode Island demonstrated to Americans their work and service was equally crucial.
Born March 26, 1925 in Seekonk, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Ann Enemark recalls memories of World War II and Pearl Harbor. During that time she was living in a dorm at the Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing, where she remembers it was a terrible time for all Americans. She constantly thought of her brother, Charles, and the other men serving, and those who died in combat. Women weren’t allowed to do much in the military, except for nursing and ferrying planes back and forth across the US. Elizabeth chose to become a nurse primarily because her mother was a nurse, and she wanted to help those who were ill and better their lives.
In reality, her navy nursing career was a little different than she expected. With many long hours and without the presence of modern-day drugs, plus extremely ill and injured patients, it was hard work. For example, the treatment for a patient that needed oxygen required a big square plastic oxygen tent that was placed over the injured patients. To ensure the oxygen would remain cool, there was an aluminum box over the bed, which required ice to be refilled on a regular basis. On some mornings, Elizabeth was responsible for ten patients, most who required bathing and constant care. In the afternoons, she attended classes with her fellow nurses and if their work (i.e. maintaining patient charting) wasn’t completed they had to go after class to finish it. She remarks on the conditions of the hospital, “There was sufficient food and medical supplies because we were in the United States, so we had everything we needed…The patients’ conditions in the hospital were good. They were treated well very well. The hospital was very clean.”
Training requirements for becoming a US Navy nurse, were rigorous and challenging. Elizabeth trained in Boston and then she was sent to Newport. In addition, to studying to become qualified in medical and surgical fields, there were physical requirements to become a US Navy Nurse. One sole requirement included swimming the length of the pool to rescue a patient. Elizabeth described herself as not being a strong swimmer, however she persevered and passed the swimming exam.
Elizabeth Enemark served from October 1948 thru January 1950. She explains why she served for only two years, “The reason I served such a short time is because I got married. In those years, women were not allowed to be married and be a naval officer. Today it is quite different. Now they have women who are pregnant…and husband and wives are sent to the same duty stations now, which really is a great advantage.” She was allowed to move freely on and off the base, but rarely did she go into other units unless there was an emergency. Her Father came to see her often and she remembers, “In the evening he would come to the dorm and take me to dinner and then return me to the dorm. He always had to either write a letter or call in advance that he was coming or I wasn’t allowed to leave the dorm.” Elizabeth took pride in her work and she was very motivated during her service. Her work was extremely important to the war effort because many patients were recovering from war wounds or were there for psychiatric treatment and needed care.
Elizabeth coped with her experience well; her transition back to civilian life was easy. She was close with the other nurses as they spent much of their service together. Unfortunately, she lost touch with them over the years. She reflects back, “We made it fun, I enjoyed my service very much.” After her service and as a newlywed, she lived in Connecticut with her new husband, where she did work at the local memorial hospital. For a year she specialized in operating room technique, believing that running an operating room was something she studied and studied and found challenging and thought she would like to do. After her first husband passed, she founded two companies and one corporation. She said, “I sold my real estate corporation in St. Helena. It was called Betty Ford Inc. Realtor. People never forgot my name, it was wonderful.”
Elizabeth Enemark considers her military service a joy and she recommends that anyone who has the desire to serve their country should do so. She tells future generations that the key to success is to be honest, sincere, and hard working. She is an inspiration to all Americans as she served her country with pride and honor.
Interview by Casey Koslosky on December 6, 2013.