Over 40 Years of Providing Care: An Interview with Diane Haley Smith
March 5, 2013
Diane Haley Smith has some interesting stories to tell. She has traveled the world and helped countless people by serving as a nurse in the Army and in the civilian world. In an oral history interview through the AMEDD Center of History and Heritage, she describes some of her adventures.
"I had always wanted to be a nurse," she recalls. Her parents tried to encourage her into another direction by having her attend Colby Jr. College in New London, New Hampshire to become a medical secretary. After trying it for a year she continued to follow her dream and pursued her education at the Cooley Dickinson School of Nursing, graduating in 1955. Working through school as a part of the program, Diane provided care at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, Northampton State Hospital, and Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, Massachusetts. In some instances she worked isolation wards that were filled with victims of the polio epidemic of 1953.
Graduating with both a degree and practical experience, Diane considered her future. "I was offered a position as an office nurse, but I thought at the time that was something I could do when I was 60," she laughs. Looking for a little more adventure, she chose the Army. Braving a snowstorm, she traveled by car and then train to her initial physical appointment. She was impressed by her positive treatment.
Diane Haley joined the Army on April 5, 1957 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Her first duty station was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where she attended the six-week AMEDD Officer Orientation Course. "There were 46 men and 13 women in the class. We (the women) had constant attention." Most of the course centered on classroom material, but there was also time spent in the field. All of the students went to the rifle range and qualified with the M-1 carbine.
After completing training at Fort Sam Houston, Diane was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. She approached her daunting duties without hesitation, at first providing care in the neurosurgical ward and to quadriplegic and comatose patients. Later her tasks would change to Recovery Room Nurse, involving individualized care to active duty personnel, Family members, and dignitaries including Vice President Richard Nixon's daughters following their tonsillectomy surgeries.
Working at Walter Reed also provided some other adventures as well. One Sunday afternoon, in a rush to get to the dining facility before its closing, 2nd Lt. Haley hurried through the hospital's main hallway, turned a corner and found herself directly in the arms of President Dwight Eisenhower. Amused and surprised, he asked what caused her to be in such a hurry. Diane replied truthfully she was trying to make it in time for dinner. Pioneering work on open heart surgery was also being completed during Diane's tour at Walter Reed. While not involved in the operations, she and other staff members were able to view some of the procedures from special viewing areas.
In 1958, tensions and unrest in the Middle East prompted the deployment of American troops into Lebanon. As a part of the contingency plan for support of U.S. Forces, medical Soldiers would travel from Walter Reed through Germany and then to the Middle East. Diane remembers, "I was on alert to go to Lebanon. It was a tense time. We had more carbine training and vaccinations at Fort Meade." The alert expired and her medical section was not called upon for deployment.
"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Walter Reed," Diane recalls. The work had its challenges, but it was rewarding and there were some benefits as well. Diane met her future husband while working in the same ward. Not long afterward, Sgt. Herbert O. Smith and 2nd Lt. Diane Haley were married in the Walter Reed Chapel. The officer and enlisted union had some fallout. After the wedding he was sent to Iceland for a year. Keep in mind the Army did not have a contingent in Iceland at the time. Working with the Air Force, Sgt. Smith enjoyed his year and remained in service after his tour. He later retired as a Command Sergeant Major.
After being promoted to First Lieutenant by Maj. Gen. Leonard Heaton, the commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and later Surgeon General (1959-1969); Diane Smith considered her next journey. After fulfilling her obligation to the Army she left the military, the uniformed portion. Diane Smith continued to serve as a dedicated spouse traveling throughout the United States and overseas to numerous Army posts, while raising three daughters.
When possible, she continued to provide care as a nurse in different capacities. Constantly updating her skills as medical technology advanced, Diane Smith retired as an occupational health nurse in 1997. She said it was a good way to retire after previously serving as a recovery room, psychiatric, emergency room, geriatric, and private duty nurse.
A Tradition of Service
Diane's nephew, Raymond F. Chandler III, is the current Sergeant Major of the Army. She will not take credit for his enlistment, but states that he may have been influenced to join by other military members of the Family including several uncles who retired from the Army and a great uncle who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.