Every Veterans Day, soldiers from past and present wars are remembered, but what about the women who sacrificed their lives to aid those soldiers? Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, two former military nurses co-wrote a book to honor the 59,000-plus women who made up the Army Nurse Corps in World War II. The book, And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II, tells the story of numerous nurses in the war and the trials they had to endure. One such individual acknowledged in the book is McGregor native, Adeline (Si) Simonson.
Adeline Simonson was born in 1920 to Betty (nee Iverson) and Simon Simonson of McGregor. She had two sisters, Arlene (died in infancy) and Mardell, now Mrs. Lee Peterson, who live in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Adeline graduated from McGregor in 1938 and went on to St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Duluth. “She was working at St. Luke’s,” Mardell explained. “They [a group of nurses] just decided, heck, let’s do this and joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. They all made it back. How; I’ll never know... because they got shelled many times.”
Adeline was attached to the 95th Evacuation Hospital as a surgical nurse giving anesthetics. “She served in North Africa, the Anzio Beachhead and Italy. Her ship was bombed in the Mediterranean with many casualties. Their unit was evacuated from and returned to the Anzio Beachhead several times due to severe fighting,” shared Mardell.
“She rarely talked about the war, except, like everyone else, she talked about the fun parts,” Mardell said. “I do remember her saying the hardest part were the children at the hospitals.”
“We never heard a complaint about the service. She seemed to have good memories, I mean of the friends,” remembered Mardell. Adeline made lifelong friends while in the war. “Whenever she would come to McGregor to visit, she would always look up some of the others,” explained Mardell.
One of the reason’s that a book like And If I Perish, is so valuable is because many soldiers and nurses don’t talk about their experiences in the war. The book covers the unspoken memories. It talks about the air raids, the bombings, the casualties, the hospitals and more. Adeline is mentioned in the book many times, some good and some bad. One of her memories from the book reads, “Simonson remembered how her tent-mate, Lillie “Pete” Peterson, had planned ahead for the next raid. ‘One night, we popped popcorn. I don’t know where we got it. We heard the whining of shells and had to get in our foxholes. Pete grabbed the bowl of popcorn, a flashlight, her hometown newspaper, and a blanket. She put those things in the foxhole that was underneath her cot and crawled in. She sat there eating popcorn and reading the hometown paper during that air raid.’”
While Adeline was in North Africa, she met Capt. Marvin Williams, a career Army man, and decided to get married. The book has a detailed description of the event,
“Nurses also found time, just before shipping out for the invasion of Southern France, to attend the wedding of Lieutenant Adeline “Si” Simonson to Capt. Marvin Williams of the Thirty-fourth Infantry Division. The two had met at a dance in North Africa and, after a year of dating, decided to get married. In compliance with military rules, they applied to their respective COs for permission; requests were also submitted to the chaplain as well. Usually the only marriage requests that were disapproved by the army were marriages between a female officer and an enlisted man, as this violated the military’s nonfraternization policy.
The wedding took place at one of the few Protestant chapels in Naples. Before the ceremony, the couple realized they had not had time to obtain a wedding ring and were glad of Speedy Glidewell’s offer to lend them hers for the time it took to take their vows.”
It went on to describe the event,
“The reception, held at the well-known “uptown” Orange Grove Restaurant, offered the guests a change to indulge in local Italian food. The restaurant was famous for its delicious dishes, and guests from the 95th Evac and Thirty-fourth Infantry Division ate heartily despite the general order not to eat the local food. The chocolate eclairs were a big hit with everyone and nobody gave a thought to the unpasteurized milk products that went into them.
When the reception ended, the guests followed the bride and groom to a waiting jeep with JUST MARRIED on the rear bumper. The couple drove off for a five-day honeymoon in Rome, and the guests went back to their units. The next morning, wedding guests who had enjoyed the eclairs were running high temperatures and suffering from diarrhea and nausea. Glidewell was admitted to her own hospital in Naples with a temperature of 105º, abdominal pains, and a diagnoses of salmonella.”
When the war was over Adeline and Marvin began their family. They had three daughters, Marilyn, Carolyn and Betty Ann, and one son, Marvin Jr. Adeline and the children even came back to McGregor for a short time while Marvin was assigned to duty in Turkey. Marvin Williams died in 1997 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. Adeline, who past away in December of 2002 is also buried in Arlington Cemetery. “What a ceremony,” Mardell said of the burials in Arlington. “They really know how to do it right.”
Being buried in Arlington Cemetery is a remarkable honor. Adeline Simonson and all the Army nurses played a large role in World War II and for that we acknowledge and thank them. And if I Perish, is an exciting and new perspective on an old, highly written about war. “The book is an unbelievable account of the actual events of all the fighting units and hospitals and one that should be read by all persons who participated in the war from North Africa through Germany,” shared Mardell.