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Interview with Erma Flitsch [2/16/2004]

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- at Air Force Village One in San Antonio, Texas, on February the 16th, 2004. Erma Flitsch is being interviewed by Ruth Stewart, assisted by Marian Rodgers, for the Women's Overseas Service League, San Antonio Unit. Erma, start out by telling us where you were born and a little bit about your early life and then how you got interested in nursing and where that took place, your training.

Erma Flitsch:

Okay. I'm Erma Flitsch, and I was born in Wisconsin, and my early years were in Milwaukee. I lived with a family over there as a child. And then I became interested in nursing due to influence by friends and people that were in nursing. And then I went to Mount Sinai School of Nursing in Milwaukee, which also had a hospital in Chicago. And from there, I worked in that hospital for a number of years, and then I decided to join the Air Force, which I did. And my first assignment was Bergstrom at Austin, Texas.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Okay. [Microphone screeching.]

Ruth F. Stewart:

Erma, what year was it that you went to Bergstrom?

Erma Flitsch:

It was 1955, about that time. And following that, I went to the Philippines to Clark Air Base, which was an interesting assignment, and was there until '58 or fift- -- let's see; '55, '56 -- probably about '58 or '59, when I transferred to Japan after being at Clark. And following that time, then -- let's see. I was at Tachikawa in Japan. And that was also an interesting assignment. And I was on air-evac duty during that time in that area, Japan and Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa.

Ruth F. Stewart:

That was throughout the Pacific then.

Erma Flitsch:

Yes. Yes. It was, that I remember, Ninth Air-Evac that was in that area. And then there was another group that transferred patients from Tachikawa to the U.S. -- to Hawaii and then to the U.S., Travis Air Base. After Japan, I was assigned to Lackland Air Base here in San Antonio, Texas, and I was there from probably about '60 to '63 or '64. And following that time, I was transferred to Pakistan. And that was an assignment that was a very small air base near the Khyber Pass. And following that assignment, I was assigned to Andrews Air Base in Washington, D.C. I was there for several years. And following that assignment, then -- I've forgotten. Let's see. Following Andrews, I was transferred to Germany. And I was at Hahn Air Base in Germany for three years. And following that assignment, I was transferred to March Air Base in California, at which time I retired.

Ruth F. Stewart:

What year was that then?

Erma Flitsch:

I retired in January of 1977.

Ruth F. Stewart:

And what Air Force base in California was that?

Erma Flitsch:

March Air Base.

Ruth F. Stewart:

M-a-r-c-h?

Erma Flitsch:

Yes. At San Bernardino/Riverside area. You're acquainted?

Ruth F. Stewart:

Okay. Let's go back to the time when you were in the Pacific area. And what was it like for you serving in that area and going from place to place in the Pacific? How did you live?

Erma Flitsch:

Air-evac duty into Korea was interesting. And we did have to stay there TDY for six weeks, or maybe it was longer, and get the patients prepared for air-evac to Japan. And it was cold while I was there, real cold. And the only other person I remember being there, there -- only one nurse was there -- was a Special Services worker by the name of Mary Mitchell. And every GI knew Mary Mitchell during that period of history. And she had a very interesting, a very worthwhile service club while there. And she loved the Korean people, and she would arrange trips to orphanages and to old Buddhist remains. And she just knew the history very well. And she would get buses to transport the GIs to these different locations. And there's nothing more generous, as we know, than a GI. No matter what his pay scale is, he always has money for an orphanage or for some poor soul around. And it was very cold in the wintertime, extremely cold, but where I lived had an oil burner that was quite warm. I'd get -- I'd turn it off at night, but I had it on in the daytime or whenever I was in this room. And this was a building occupied by Mary Mitchell of Special Services and myself. And every three months, or maybe it was more often, there was another -- a nurse come in TDY to this -- to assist in preparing patients for air-evac. And some -- most of these patients went on from Tachikawa to the U.S.

Erma Flitsch:

Oh, yes. Yes. Or medically incapacitated. I think a lot of them were older service people that had medical conditions, heart attacks and things of that nature.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Your own living when you were there, how did you adjust to -- you were telling us about how cold it was. How did you dress for that when you were out? What kinds of foods did you have? How were they prepared?

Erma Flitsch:

I think I ate most of the time at the officers club, which was nearby, and occasionally I would eat just in the dining room of the mess -- of the mess hall, as they called it, of the GIs. They said no, I could eat down there, too, but most of the time I ate at the officers club. And there was a way of having sandwiches or something in between times, or I had ways of -- of -- I could get down to the dining room of the GIs. And I don't remember how I managed this financially, but they had some adjustment for these two people that were there, Mary Mitchell and myself. And every nurse that was there during the '50s knew this Mary Mitchell. And I'm sure she's long gone. But she was an interesting character and loved her GIs and would plead for buses. She would make herself acquainted with the commander. As soon as he got there, she would make an appointment to visit him and get a bus so -- she needed that for the GI -- [Malfunction in recording.]

Ruth F. Stewart:

Probably did. Okay. Let's try it. Go ahead.

Erma Flitsch:

Again?

Ruth F. Stewart:

Yeah. Try again.

Erma Flitsch:

I was at Kimpo Air Base, which was very small at the time, but it was an international airport. Winters were very cold there, and summers could be very hot. And during the time I was there, probably about 1960, President Eisenhower visited there, which brought out all the Korean nationals, and they had a big celebration for this occasion.

Ruth F. Stewart:

It was an interesting time for you to be there then.

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Tell us a little bit more about your role in preparing the combatants to go to Japan for care there. What did you, as a nurse, do for them?

Erma Flitsch:

Well, on air-evac, we had to be sure that they had everything with them for transfer to Tachikawa Air Base in Japan and then to continue on to the States. Many of them were due for retirement, and they had to have the medical treatment for whatever they were suffering from. And they would -- we would have to be sure they had medication with them for this trip back to the States. And perhaps -- probably 90 percent or more were due to go back for retirement or for reassignment due to their illness. So we had to be sure that they had everything with them and that they had their -- they were leaving permanently. There were very few that were just being transferred to Japan for other treatment. There was a hospital run by the Army at Seoul which was very modern and very well-equipped, but it was not a big installation, and that took care of the military that were injured over there due to physical traumatic injuries, and they did not have to be transferred to Japan, and then they could be reassigned -- or they would be going back to their units. And it seemed like there were a lot of Army troops while I was over there assigned to the various bases in Korea. That's about it as far as Korea.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Could you talk about your trips to the DMZ?

Erma Flitsch:

Oh, now, Mary Mitchell would always arrange for a bus to go to the DMZ, and the DMZ trip had to be set up with the base commander and the authorities at the DMZ, the military -- the U.S. military, and the North Korean military. And they would have guides up there, and we could -- there was definitely a dividing line between the South Korea and North Korea. And it was a very tense period. And they did have a big conference room they showed us, and that was where the conferences were held and what would be allowed and what would not be allowed, and it was set up for the -- for the conference meetings that they would have.

Erma Flitsch:

No. No. There was no partic- -- this was just merely a trip to show the GIs, and myself included, what this dividing line was like. And it definitely was a dividing line and --

Erma Flitsch:

Well, I don't remember as there was a fence, but there were guards, North Korean guards, that were on one side, and they would walk back and forth. And, of course, the U.N. Forces were on our side guarding. And there was no contact between these guards. None whatsoever. But we had no conversation with this at all. And I'm sure it's still going on much the same way. And I know at the conference tables, there was always a big dispute about the -- the height of the flags and whether the U.S. flag -- if it was a fraction higher than the Korean flag and -- but it was ultimately settled and was even.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Okay. How did you maintain contact with your family and friends here in the States when you were overseas?

Erma Flitsch:

There was -- there was mail service, APO mail service, during that time. And I don't know the exact route of mail at that time, but I would suspect it took about seven days. I can't recall any particular problems. And I never made any telephone calls, as I recall. I'm trying to think of what means -- there was a way you could telephone between the bases. Oh, it was called watts line, I think, at the time, and that provided a way of communicating between Korea and Japan. But I never made any calls -- personal calls, but I did make calls to the squadron to tell them what I needed or what the GIs needed. And usually the medics would say, "Get such and such," or if we needed something special for a flight, they would let me know, and I would go to their orderly room, and they would help make the call back to Japan. And it never presented any big problem.

Ruth F. Stewart:

What was your recreation for you, as an individual female, overseas during this period? You must have had some fun someplace.

Erma Flitsch:

At Kimpo they had various activities for the GI, and I remember they had a photograph -- a photography shop, and they had supplied them with ways and means of developing pictures. Now, they were only black-and-white, but we had a lot of fun developing pictures of whatever you would snap pictures. And I did not have a car over there, but the GIs would take me into the towns, the little villages, for just snapping pictures. And there was no rules against snapping pictures there of the Koreans. And some of the Koreans on the post would -- they'd allow you to snap their pictures, and they wanted a picture of the Americans, too, so it was a give-and-take situation. But there was not a lot of entertainment. We did not have television. There just was not a lot of entertainment. But there was homemade entertainment, like this photography shop, and I got involved in that. They also had a ceramic shop, and the GI would go there and do ceramics. But that was about it as far as what I remember. And they would occasionally get a Jeep and have some reason to go out to the villages and -- or go down to -- I think they went down to Seoul or Osan occasionally, and I'd ask to go along. And there was a big Army hospital, a MASH unit, nearby, and I did go up there at times. Well, that's where I would visit patients to see what all they needed to come back with and get their -- all their equipment and their footlockers packed up. I didn't do it, but be sure to have everything in there. And they had their duffel bags all packed, and it was a big move.

Ruth F. Stewart:

So then you're moving around from one place to another, which you did fairly often.

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

How did you react to that? Did it work out okay for you?

Erma Flitsch:

Yes. It was fine.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Made contact with people --

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- each place that you would --

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- go?

Erma Flitsch:

There was usually a few people that you would get to know or that knew somebody that I knew someplace else, so that was never a problem.

Ruth F. Stewart:

So then when you came back, tell us a little about being at Andrews Air Force Base. That's always one of those places that we hear from the news some rather grim stories about it.

Erma Flitsch:

That was a -- I enjoyed the assignment. Having been from the Midwest, I enjoyed Andrews more than anything else, any other assignment, because it had so much history there. And there was just a lot of things to do in the Washington, D.C., area that didn't cost a lot of money. And I visited all the downtown Washington, D.C. The assignment in itself was good. It had a big hospital with all services there for whatever was needed, plus there were three other large hospitals. There was Walter Reed and Bethesda and NIH and -- oh, there was other civilian hospitals. And so the physicians were in contact with all those doctors for whatever reason, for whatever contact they had to make with Walter Reed or Bethesda or NIH, the big ones, George Washington Hospital.

Ruth F. Stewart:

And then you did retire in 1997 --

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- in --

Erma Flitsch:

At March.

Ruth F. Stewart:

And what did you do from then on? What was your retirement --

Erma Flitsch:

Oh.

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- what was and is your retirement like?

Erma Flitsch:

Oh, I went back -- oh, I took care of a relative for a period of time. But then I knew that I wanted to come to Austin Texas, and I moved to Austin. And, oh, I did some -- I took some classes there. But then I worked at Prudential Insurance Company. They had an HMO at that time, which no longer is -- is in existence. And I worked for them until I retired from that. And I worked in claims, and that's -- was -- I had the know- -- medical knowledge how to be claims and -- well, there was some learning involved, coding and that sort of thing. And then I retired from there, and I had bought a home in North Austin. And then in 19- -- oh, in 2000, I moved to Air Force village, and that's where I am now.

Ruth F. Stewart:

This is a very nice place to be --

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum.

Ruth F. Stewart:

-- in terms of the easy -- easy living.

Erma Flitsch:

Um-hum. It's easy living, yes. You get used to having things done for you.

Ruth F. Stewart:

Well, thank you very much, Erma. We appreciate your taking the time to do this.

Erma Flitsch:

Yeah. (End of CD.)

 
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