Second Lieutenant Gertrude Indoe, 1943. Photo courtesy of the Mills and Switaj families.
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Gertrude and her brother, Technical Sergeant Edward Indoe, reunite in France, 1945. Photo courtesy of the Mills and Switaj families.
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Before she was “Mom-mom” Mills to her grandchildren, Gertrude Indoe Mills was born 27 November 1920 in New Jersey. Last month she celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family. In that celebration came stories of service to the country. Military service was not foreign to the family. Her grandfather served in the Army and her father, who also served in the Army, commanded the local Patterson, New Jersey American Legion. Gertrude completed her registered nurse training at St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing (now St. Joseph’s Health) in Patterson, New Jersey in 1942. She continued post graduate work in obstetrics at Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey before volunteering for service as a Second Lieutenant Army Nurse Corps officer on 15 August 1943 at Fort Meade, Maryland. Her brother, Edward Indoe, enlisted in the Army the next year.

Second Lieutenant Indoe arrived with her unit, the 226th General Hospital, on 16 December 1944 in England. The Allied invasion of Northern France had begun that summer and the European Theater of Operations was spreading throughout France and inching into Germany through the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Once the Army began pushing into Germany from the foothold in Normandy, France, the Medical Services established the Communications Zone general hospitals directly receiving patients from the Combat Zone evacuation hospitals. Here patients received definitive care for longer periods of time than available in the Combat Zone. Doctrinally, the general hospital provided the most difficult and specialized procedures with the most elaborate equipment in the Theater of Operations. Equipped to operate under tentage, most general hospitals utilized available structures in establishing capabilities supporting 1,000 to 2,000 beds.[1]

The European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, Office of the Surgeon, Operations Division selected the area where general hospitals were established and the Hospitalization Division determined the exact building or land used.[2] The 226th General Hospital swept through France establishing operations just behind the Combat Zone. The 226th was one of 6 general hospitals established in the vicinity of an airfield near a former French cavalry post 1-mile southwest of Mourmelon-le-Grand, southeast of Reims, France in March 1945. The surrounding area was devastated from German occupation and Allied bombing and had served as the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division recovering from their invasion of Holland in December 1944 just before their famous fight in Bastogne, Belgium. Hospital staff countered busted water pipes, inoperative bathroom facilities, stripped electric wires, and no heat with Lyster bags for drinking water, outdoor latrines, light sets, and coal stoves.[3],[4] In a newspaper article, Indoe described the trying conditions where water was difficult to acquire and nurses were heavy-laden bearing the water-filled buckets to each ward.[5] In the former French post, she was responsible for one entire building of the 3-5 buildings occupied by the 226th General Hospital. As dictated by doctrine, her patients arrived from evacuation hospitals and were sent back to the United States or England for additional rehabilitation.

 Gertrude was promoted to First Lieutenant on 1 June 1945 while outside of Reims, France. The year also saw Indoe reunited with her brother, Technical Sergeant Edward Indoe, who travelled from Deggendorf, Germany from his station with the US Third Army. The war came to an end for the 226th General Hospital when it redeployed to the United States on 10 September 1945. On 4 January 1946, 1LT Indoe finally completed her term of service and demobilized from the US Army at Camp Sibert, Alabama with 28 months of active duty service. In that time, she served 3 months in England and 6 months combat service in France supporting the Army’s push into the interior of Germany participating in the Rhineland Campaign. Her decorations include the European, African, and Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Medal with bronze service star, the American Theater Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Upon transition to civilian life, Gertrude married Gerard Mills, a Military Police noncommissioned officer stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Together they reared 4 daughters.

There were more than 59,000 women who served in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II.[6] Like Gertrude, they were all volunteers. Her recent celebration of a 100th birthday recalls the great life-story of one soldier in World War II. However, 1LT Gertrude Indoe’s Army Medical Department story continues. Continuing the legacy of medical service is her grandson, COL Timothy Switaj, U.S. Army Medical Corps. Always interested in medicine, he recalled receiving her medical textbooks while growing up. Just as Army service began with her grandfather, the family legacy of service continues through the generations in her grandchildren today.

[1] FM 8-5, Medical Department Units of a Theater of Operations, May 1945, pp 320-334.

[2] Cosmas, Graham A. and Albert E. Cowdrey. Medical Service in the European Theater of Operations. US Army Center of Military History, Washington, DC, p 336.

[3] https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/189th-general-hospital/

[4] https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/220th-general-hospital/

[5] “As Nurses Leave Transport, The Boys Raise the Roof,” The Bergen Evening Record, Setpember 11, 1945.

[6] The Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service, US Army Center of Military History.