“Women Contributing to the War Effort” by Christian Wanamaker with Alvina Bowen, WWII-201
“Women Contributing to the War Effort” Alvina Bowen (WWII-201)
By Christian Wanamaker, Intern
Listen: Oral history interview clip at UFDC with Alvina Bowen 00:55
Alvina Bowen was just seventeen years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She recalls how, in the weeks and months following, most of the boys dropped out of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Dayton, Ohio to enlist in the military. Seeing recruitment posters and young men, including her brother, Robert Ford, go off to fight the war encouraged Alvina to do her part in the war effort. Between 1942 and 1944 Alvina worked in the General Motors office in Dayton until she came of age to enlist herself. Despite requiring a height and weight waiver, she joined the Navy and was sent to Basic Training in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, and then on to six weeks of medical records training before being sent to Baxter General Hospital in Spokane, Washington.
Working in a west coast hospital, many of the patients Alvina interacted with came from the Pacific Theater, the majority of which were liberated prisoners or war suffering from diseases like Beriberi, due to malnutrition during their internment. Other patients were wounded or crippled from combat and could not leave their rooms without assistance, so nurses along with other office staff, including Alvina, would come up with various ways to keep the pent-up patients entertained; Alvina frequently read to patients during her free time.
Baxter General Hospital didn’t just handle injured US soldiers from the Pacific Theater. Alvina recalls there was being a German prisoner of war camp on the grounds of the hospital, as well. While she was prohibited from speaking to the German prisoners, she admitted they seemed to be happy to be so well taken care of. Specifically, Alvina recalled with wonder how the Germans kept the grounds very beautiful, and had planted flowerbeds all along their barracks. She frequently saw them playing tennis, and tending the grounds of the hospital, otherwise the prisoners were employed in taking out garbage or other maintenance chores around the hospital, in any case, they appeared very happy to be away from the war.
Baxter General Hospital closed in 1945, when the monumental task of transferring patient files from Baxter General to various other hospitals across the country fell to Alvina and the rest of the office staff. Following the closure, Baxter General was acquired by the navy, and the building was demolished. In 1948, it was declared that the property would be the sight of a new Veterans Administration Memorial Hospital, one of only three VA hospitals in the Western US at that time. The VA Hospital still exists and operates to this day, and saw service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Alvina returned to the General Motors factory office in Dayton, Ohio after the war, settled down with her husband, Robert Lee Sweitzer, and raised three children. Alvina and Robert had married in1945 while they were on leave, just after VJ Day.
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