She’s small, standing under five feet, but her dress uniform shows medals and ribbons giving evidence of big service to the USA in three wars, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
She is Lieutenant Colonel Barbara J. Nichols, US Army (Retired) of Lacey, a battlefield nurse.
Last week the Lacey City Council declared August as Barbara Nichols month, celebrating her 100th birthday, August 19, 2022!
City Council Proclamation
At the city council meeting on August 4, 2022, Barbara listened intently as each council member read a section of the proclamation, describing her life and career. Then, the city council thanked her for her service with a bouquet of flowers. She gave a short message afterward and exclaimed, "Wow, I can’t believe I’m 100 years old!" She thanked and saluted the council for their civic service.
You might have seen her:
With an extensive nursing career and world travel, she started in an unlikely place, an airplane factory!
Boeing Aircraft Assembly
As a teenager during WWII, Nichols worked with her parents at Boeing in Seattle, where she was promoted from the assembly line to a precision job, installing the Plexiglas nose onto the B-17 bombers. It was a top assignment, and she was perfect: small enough to fit inside and exacting in her work. When the 5,000th B-17 left Boeing, she was one of the workers who autographed it. They were proud of "The Flying Fortress."
Cadet Nurse Corps & WWII
Then, she grasped an opportunity with the Cadet Nurse Corps for free schooling! After a three-year program, she graduated as valedictorian of the nursing class of 1947 at Everett General Hospital.
With the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 and her credentials, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army. The WWII inclusive dates for service are December 7, 1941 – April 28, 1952, and her career began with the last leg of the American Theatre Campaign. Many female soldiers returned home and married after the war, but Nichols signed on again, for active duty.
In 1950, Nichols was one of the first nurses to land in Korea, and at the end of the war, one of the last to evacuate. Once in Pusan, she was ordered to catch the night train to Seoul, then make her way on her own “by any means possible, given the exigencies of war.” With delays due to damaged bridges and blown-up railroad tracks, she reached the 8055th MASH, near the border of the two Koreas. With her surgical skills, she was soon reassigned as chief nurse for the Army’s Third Field Hospital. So she then made her way back precariously, to the outskirts of Pusan!
Caring for All
Whenever possible, Nichols helped local missionaries in the care of orphans and provided gifts to the children, sent from her hometown in Everett via her mother, and through her niece’s efforts in Friday Harbor.
By 1951, Nichols had overseen more than 10,000 patients, many of whom were prisoners of war. She cared for all patients with equal compassion, whether American soldiers, refugees, orphans, or Korean POWs. She received captain's bars in a battlefield commission.
Vietnam, Germany, and Ike
In Vietnam, she was awarded the Bronze Star for her "heroic, skilled and dedicated" service on the battlefield. She also served in other locales, including Germany - her favorite tour!
In 1967, at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, Nichols served as a personal nurse to President Eisenhower when he went there for emergency surgery. She says got to know both him and Mamie quite well. Nichols retired in 1969, two years after promoting to Lieutenant Colonel, the highest rank a woman could achieve at the time.
Nichols is proud to have served her country, even though she experiences chronic peripheral neuropathy from Agent Orange exposure, a 100% combat disability. She still suffers from it but looks back with pride on her career.
Nichols is a life-long hiker and camper and loves Mount Rainier. As a retiree, she joined several volunteer groups.
Nichols traced her ancestry to the American Revolution and the Mayflower. A skilled genealogist, she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1988, Tacoma’s Mary Ball Chapter, establishing four patriots: Henry Amick, Abel Nichols, John Nichols, and Asa Corbin. In 2016, she transferred to Sacajawea Chapter, near her home at Panorama.
Off to Shari’s
Following the city council meeting, she traveled with an entourage of friends from the DAR and Panorama, to a pre-birthday celebration with pie at Shari’s Restaurant in Lacey.
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