V-J Day at Fort Knox, KY

Colonel Frances G. Ballentine, USAF, Retired

Editor’s Note – Sponsored in 1996 by the Air Force Dietetics Association (formerly the Retired Air Force Dietitian’s Association, RAFDA) Colonel Ballentine spearheaded the publication of Recollections of World War II, Air Force Dietitians in the War Years, 1941 – 1945, a collection of memories submitted by some of the military and civilian dietitians who served during the war years.  The following is Colonel Ballentine’s recollection of her experiences submitted and published in that memoire. 

I joined the Army because my two roommates from Cincinnati General Hospital were going.  Many medical people from the hospital had left or were signing up.  I was twenty-two, a year out of my internship, and ready for a change.

Maxine and I reported to Fort Knox for Basic Training on 20 July 1945.  We were met at the gate and hauled in a huge GI truck to the Nurses Quarters to join the other women officer recruits—mostly nurses with a few dietitians and others included.

We lived in a barracks, slept on cots, marched to class by day, relaxed at the Officers Club pool, and partied at the O Club at night.

They issued us Army nurses type clothing—all in terrible shades of olive drab, tan, and beige (with a little maroon trim)—my summer skin tones looked drab and drabber!

Our instructor, a Lieutenant MSC officer had a sense of humor.  He tried to teach us how to tie a man’s necktie (part of our uniform), shine our brown granny shoes, salute, wear insignia, and use a gas mask.  No one seemed to expect too much from us.

We were still at Fort Knox when *V-J Day suddenly arrived!  Controlled jubilation!

General Wood called for a military celebration—parades and speeches!  We watched and joined in.  Later we partied into the night at the O Club.

Orders to Fort Benjamin Harrison (a reserve pool) came shortly thereafter.  At last, a hospital!  A hospital with real dietitians and patients.  The kitchen workers were all military prisoners who were trusty enough for kitchen work during the day but were locked up at night.  No absenteeism here; they could be depended on seven days a week.  They liked to talk to us—young, gullible newly commissioned dietitians; we were told not to believe their stories. 

Orders to Fort Douglas, AZ arrived as my first assignment.  Arizona!  For a New Englander who considered Ohio to be way out west, that was high adventure.

Douglas Field was used by the Army Air Corps to retrain ex-POW pilots in the newer planes—the b-25s.  The base was on the Mexican border with little activity and desert all around.  I found a small hospital with about 25 patients.  The cooks and a civilian lady seemed to run the operation and I can’t even remember a Food Service Officer.  An assignment error, I think.

Soon after my arrival, we received word that the base was to close and all former POW pilots were to be discharged!  The hospital was closing, too!  Everyone was to be transferred out except for a few who had to stay to close the base.  Guess who was selected to close the hospital?  A second Lieutenant dietitian on her first assignment!  

Yes, they left one by one, two by two.  As the hospital staff left, they transferred their records, property, etc. to whoever remained.  I signed for this and that, and finally for all the buildings in the hospital complex.  I mentioned earlier how young and gullible we were.  They moved all the furniture in the Nurses Quarters out except for my cot and dresser.  I was alone.

I was one of the last six people on base to leave—waited for three months for orders on the disposal of hospital property (including the buildings), hospital records, and hospital funds.  We whiled away the time playing bridge at Base Headquarters while we waited.

Finally it was all done, and my assignment came—Williams AFB, AZ!  That was a mistake, too  They had a small hospital where no dietitian had ever been assigned, even in the war years.

I drifted along, watched the new jets arrive, improved my bridge game, and enjoyed the Arizona winter.  Nylon hose became available after the war but were hard to find, except in Mexico for $5.00/pair.  I bought six pair with my first paycheck (we were paid $150 per month then).

Then came The Inspection.  Shortly thereafter, orders arrived transferring me to Lackland Air Base, (it had another name then) to the large Army Air corps hospital there.  Finally, a real job! 

*V-J Day: either August 15, 1945 when Japan ceased fighting in World War II, or September 2, 1945 when Japan formally surrendered

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