MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 3448 Army Surgical Nurse, Officer 2nd Lt.
Duty Stations Fort Sam Houston Brook Army Hospital San Antonio, Texas.
U.S. Army Hospital Camp Zama, Japan
Duties - Providing nursing care
Married Ernest Tapasto, United States Air Force, in 1975 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Ernest passed away June 3, 1977
Children: son, Brian Adam Tapasto
Sandra Tapasto was born June 5 in the new wing of Brooks Memorial Hospital to Adam and Josephine (Schultz) Maslach.
Sandy describes her parents as God-fearing, hard working and generous to give time and love to their children. Her family consists of her sisters, Alice Klajbor and Carol Kozlowski, and her brothers William and Richard Maslach. She recalled hearing her mother say that she always dreamed of becoming a nurse. But being in a family of 13, her mother, being the oldest, had to work hard to help support the family. Starting off in school, Sandy attended St. Hyacinth's then went to the Dunkirk High School. Sandy graduated with honors, rating 34 out of more than 200 students. Business was her best subject. Sandy also did well in sports.
A late vocation came after high school graduation, realizing that she wanted to follow her mother's dream and become a nurse. In order to pursue her nursing career she had requested to return back to Dunkirk High School for a fifth year to complete courses that could get her accepted at an accredited nursing college. In her fifth year at Dunkirk High School she was taking chemistry, biology, Latin, German and algebra. Along with her additional year of high school, Sandy also worked full-time at Brooks Memorial Hospital. Sandy will never forget the fifth year of school, which will forever remain with her. She recalled how great the students treated her.
She claims many had heard the story of the fifth year. Many trips were taken to the guidance counselor's office to make sure they were on the right track for the proper diploma. Sandy's future plans were now to become a registered nurse.
The thought of becoming an army nurse never entered her mind until she met Irene Paige and Leola Conigilo, who had both been army nurses. They both told Sandy what a wonderful and fulfilling life an army nurse brings helping all those sick and wounded veterans. After hearing that whatever it took was needed to be done, an army nurse is now what Sandy wanted to be.
Sandy's road to nursing began at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing (ECMC). She also attended classes at Canisius College because at that time they were both affiliated. The Jesuit fathers taught well and most students had nothing but praise for the education received. Mostly commenting on the medical ethics taught, remembering Dr. Stouter who taught anatomy and physiology as one of her best teachers.
After graduating from Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing with a registered nurses diploma, Sandy landed a job at Deaconess Hospital in the surgery department where she worked as a circulating nurse for one year. From there Sandy moved to Roswell Park and worked weekends in the neck and head ward. Her next place of employment landed Sandy in New York City working at the Manhattan State Hospital.
While working in New York City she discovered that the Tribourg Bridge that she crossed daily was partially built by the employees of the Dunkirk Alco Plant. Eventually, Sandy came back to Brooks and worked as a surgical nurse.
The following January, Sandy enlisted in the student detachment headquarters, the first U.S. sanctioned of the State University of N.Y. at Buffalo. Under the army program, Sandy first enlisted in the army as an enlisted woman receiving the pay and rank of a PFC (private first class) six months prior to receiving her degree. She was awarded her first commission and a substantial increase in her salary and benefits. While attending the University of Buffalo, the army paid all tuition and fees. Sandy's only duty was to attend classes and earn her degree.
Sandy graduated from the University of Buffalo with a B.S. degree in nursing in Feb. 1967. Army nurse time came and Sandy went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for her boot camp. She eventually got to work at Brooke Army Medical Center. She found it very rewarding caring for sick and wounded servicemen. Working with a wonderful team of health professionals laid groundwork for what she would experience in Japan.
With the Vietnam War in high gear, her request to serve in Vietnam was denied. Her hopes were to serve in a field hospital in Vietnam knowing the dedication of any army nurse.
It was the request of the majority of the nurses to serve in Vietnam. When orders came, Sandy was to report to Camp Zama, Japan. She later was informed that Camp Zama was actually like serving in Vietnam. Camp Zama was the army's hospital that accepted the wounded from Vietnam that were not stable enough to make the trip back to the States; wounded veterans that needed to be stable before making that long trip back by ship or bumpy plane ride. Patients were flown into camp daily by plane or the two hospital ships, the U.S.S. Sanctuary or the U.S.S. Repose.
In order to get to Camp Zama, Sandy had to fly on a military C-130 with a stop in Alaska then a flight that took her to a military airstrip in Tokyo 30 miles from Camp Zama. Since this is an extremely large hospital, this camp wasn't designed to keep patients long. Most patients ended up coming home. Hardly any went back to see more duty in Vietnam. Sandy worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off. She got one day of the week off. At Camp Zama, Lt. Sandy Maslach picked up the nickname "silver fox" because of the color of her hair.
Sandy loved her patients and they told her they looked forward to her coming on duty. Although she had many patients, sometimes up to 140, not a moment on duty could be squandered. Pain medication had to be administered on time, IVs always needed to be double checked, bandages had to be changed, vital signs had to be monitored closely. Casts had to be checked for proper circulation from fingers to toes. Good observation and dialogue were a key component to keeping patients alive. Diligent rounds prevented many complications from happening, especially hemorrhaging. Close attention was paid to GI and urinary function.
Sandy said the army physicians were intelligent and innovative; other nurses were living saints. They gave their all and without them the outcome may have been different.
The sound of helicopters still haunts Sandy to this day. Helicopters meant more wounded, mangled men from the battlefields. On an off day Sandy took a trip to downtown Tokyo or visited the navy officer's club which was a great place to shop or have a first class meal. There she would talk to the sailors, airmen and marines who had served in Vietnam.
When her tour was over she returned back to Dunkirk, doing what she loved to do, taking care of people. In 1980, Sandy joined the Dunkirk Joint Veterans Council where she now holds the office of chaplain which she held since 2000. Prior to being a chaplain, Sandy had the job of being a flag holder which she held for 20 years.
Sandy also keeps active, being a member of the Rosary Society of St. Hyacinths (Blessed Mary Angela) and active in the church choir. She's also part of the Buffalo regional right to life, the disabled Americans chapter 142, VFW Post 6390 in Sheridan; the American Legion Post 62; WWII Veterans Club; Dunkirk Senior Citizens; Dom Polski home; and the Koscuiszko Club.
Sandy Tapasto is probably the hardest story I had to write because Sandy doesn't want to talk about herself. She always wanted to mention this person or thank this person or say what that person had done this or that. But this story is about Sandy. You can set your clock on Sandy: every Saturday at 4 p.m. she's in church. Every organization she belongs to, she goes to the meetings. She attends any serviceman or servicewoman's funeral, always ready to give encouragement. The one thing I have noticed about her other than the love for her family is her dedication to all veterans. She goes above and beyond the call of duty. Missing a funeral is not in her vocabulary, not knowing that there may be one every day this week. Jumping into her car, using her gas, spending her time for a veteran she never knew, yet feeling it is her obligation to honor them.
Her love for the members of the Dunkirk Joint Veterans Council is overwhelming. She knows every member, where they served and the jobs they held. Her choice to serve during the Vietnam War itself is a story.
Her dedication started in the 1960s and is still going strong. For that Sandy Tapasto is our hero of the week.