Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Chicago, IL) Constance Preston grew up in Chicago and Milwaukee during the Great Depression and World War II. Almost immediately after graduating from high school she entered nurses training and became a registered nurse at age 21. She graduated from Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in Milwaukee on September 7, 1951 after completing its three-year course. Connie stayed in Milwaukee working at Johnson Emergency Hospital. She emphasized that “this is the hospital to which former President Theodore Roosevelt was taken after an assassination attempt on October 12, 1912.” Connie recalls that Roosevelt was undeterred by the nearly fatal wound, giving a campaign speech before agreeing to be treated at Johnson. She remembers one of the nurses she worked with there was on duty when Roosevelt was admitted and told her that she heard his comment that “it takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose.”
The Korean War raged on into the early 1950s, having begun on June 25, 1950. Connie’s charge nurse at Johnson encouraged her to join the U.S. Navy as a nurse. Connie took her advice and received her commission as an Ensign on June 4, 1952. Her indoctrination to U.S. Navy nursing was conducted at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York. She remembers that the hospital was located adjacent to the old Belmont Park Race Track, home of the Belmont Stakes one of the Triple Crown races for three-year-old thoroughbreds. Connie and her fellow officers took every advantage of New York, seeing the sights and enjoying time off.
Later in 1952, she was assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. Connie loved being a Navy nurse. “You had lots of responsibility, not the same as in a civilian hospital,” she said. Charleston Naval Hospital routinely treated casualties injured in Korea. The ward in which she worked was the EENT ward, which of course means eyes, ears, nose and throat.
Connie’s duties were extensive and included serving as operating room watch officer once a month. This meant she was the head nurse for the entire hospital, quite a responsible position for a 22-year-old newly minted Ensign Navy nurse. She also supervised Navy corpsmen in the operating room during emergency surgery, taught the corpsmen hands-on patient care, was responsible for all medical equipment being calibrated and in functioning order, stood sick call with ward medical officers, conducted weekly inspections and accounted for all controlled drugs on every shift.
Even with all the responsibility she had, Connie had time to meet her future husband in Charleston who was there also serving in the Navy. She completed her service receiving an Honorable Discharge on August 31, 1953, just after the armistice was signed.
After her service Connie became very involved in public service. She served as a GOP county commissioner on Staten Island. In that capacity she met and interacted with Nelson Rockefeller who was in the process in revamping the New York state public university system. Similarly, she met and talked with a “very charming” Richard Nixon in the 1960s. In 1961, she met a host of luminaries at an annual U.S. Military Academy reunion dinner in New York including former President Eisenhower, Bob Hope and Walter Cronkite, among others, and she got their autographs.
Connie recalls she had the occasion to visit with General Anthony McAuliffe, the U. S. Army division commander of our troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. McAuliffe is the officer who responded to the German’s demand to surrender his troops with the one-word, “Nuts”, which he translated for the Germans as “Go to Hell”. She is a frequent guest speaker for the U.S. Navy nurse corps, most recently making a presentation in Park Ridge.
Over the years Connie continued to work in the nursing field, had three children, earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY in 1982 and became a registered phlebotomy technician. In 1999 she was certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. As you can see, she has never stopped learning. Connie is also an accomplished pianist who plays to this day.
Connie is excited about her upcoming flight and visit to Washington, DC. Thank you for your service and enjoy your upcoming Honor Flight!