Leola J. (Vande Velde) Coniglio
1st Lt. U.S. Army Medical Corp as Army nurse
Duties - Army Nurse- Mos 3449 (Mos Military Occupational Specialty) - Renders General Nursing Care to all types of patients. Plans daily schedules of care for groups of patients. Prepares for and administers prescribed therapudic treatments assist physicians in treatment and diagnostic measures, meets medical and surgical emergencies which arises in absence of a physician. They also keep watch over a patients conditions, securing services of a physician when necessary. It keeps records of progress of patients. Resuestions of supplies and cares for equipment in a ward. Maintains wards and surrounding areas in the best possible condition. Affords companionship, sympathy and encouragement, when and if necessary discipline and control of a patient. She assists in electro cardiogram and measuring basal metabolism. They must be qualified in administering narcotics, providing the safe keeping and record of narcotics administered.
Duty stations - Fort Dix, Trippler General, U.S. Army Hospital 119th Station, Camp Beale, Calif., New Jersey, Hawaiian Islands, Guam
Decoration Awards - World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Service
Married - Nov. 15, 1947 to Louis Coniglio residing on Cleveland Ave., Fredonia then moved to McAllister Road.
Children - Charles Coniglio, wife Janice; Cynthia, husband John Fitzgerald; Candace Jordan; Raymond Coniglio, wife Cynthia
Grandchildren - Christopher, wife Louise Coniglio; Steven Coniglio; Gwen Fitzgerald, Dr. Ellen, husband Mike Farkas; Derek Jordan; Jessica Coniglio.
Great-grandchildren - Caetie, Claire, Cecilia
Leola J. Vande Velde (Coniglio) was born on Feb. 19, 1924. She is the daughter of Harold and Bernice(Bessie) Vande Velde. As a child, she grew up playing in her home on 60 N. Ermine St. in Dunkirk. Living in the First Ward, there was plenty for her to do with Lake Erie being a stones throw away. School time came and the daily walks to School 7 were now the order of the day, while school was in session.
After completing grade school the daily walks now were to the Dunkirk High School where Leola graduated in June 1941.
With a high school diploma pinned to her wall, she wanted to participate in the nurses cadet program. The Bolton Act, which was a law passed by Congress to accelerate nurses training to keep up with the nursing demand the war had placed on our country. Leola wanted to do more with her life. She and two of her high school classmates and friends were now to Buffalo and enrolled in Meyer Memorial Hospital School of Nursing (now called ECMC).
While at Meyer Memorial. Leola did participate in the Nurses Cadet Program, along with the accelerated and additional training. Leola recalled getting special rates for the movies and additional discounts for uniforms. This all was a bonus for participating in the program. The spring of 1945 brought Leola another graduation certificate. This one giving her the title registered nurse. Her two friends were Claire Burchett Castleberry and Lucy Testa Stepp. The three also were co-workers at Brooks Memorial Hospital later on in life
World War II was still going on with no official end in sight. Leola with her certification in hand, single, and having the opportunity to continue her nursing profession almost anywhere in the country decided that she wanted to do something special, do something that could help the sick, something that would really matter. On March 14, 1945, not knowing where she would go or what she will be doing Leola Vande Velde officially became 2nd Lt. Leola Vande Velde. S/N N796-382 of the U.S. Army Medical Corp. All Leola knew for certain at that time was that she will be heading to Fort Dix, N.J., to receive her military basic training as an Army medical nurse. While in training Leola told me that at Fort Dix while doing her nursing duties she met Mr. Carl Scagilone from Dunkirk who as a patient was recovering from wounds received in action.
Upon graduation from basic and army medical training 2nd Lt. Leola received orders to the U.S. Army Hospital, Trippler General in Oahu, Hawaii. She then boarded a U.S. Naval ship and sailed her way through the Panama Canal with its final destination the Hawaiian islands. Leola enjoyed working at Trippler General because there it just wasn't only servicemen she got to treat, she also got to treat the Army families including the wives, children and newborn babies as they arrived into this war inflicted world.
Trippler was a large Army military installation built in Hawaii many years before Pearl Harbor was attacked. This tour of duty at Trippler lasted five months. One of the highlights of being stationed at Oahu was meeting Brother Albert (Abby). New orders now for Leola were to report to the 119th station hospital 5 in Guam.
Being assigned to the 119th station in Guam, Leola saw wounded servicemen brought in on a daily basis. Being so far away from medical attention that could not be given in the states because they were not stable enough to make the distance. Many wounded servicemen and women were sent to Guam to be treated by stabilizing them enough to make that long journey by ship, or that extensive long, bumpy plane flight back to the states.
Along with being stationed on the other side of the world in Guam, seeing patients being brought in on an hourly basis, the extreme hot climate and the 12 hour days in 1945 also brought many tropical storms and typhoons. Leola was not exempt from any of Guam's weather. In 1945 typhoon Connie hit, bringing brutal winds of 140 mph and water seemed to be everywhere. Leola remembers being called back to duty just after getting off her 12-hour shift to start moving patients into two different wards. One ward was for all the bed-ridden patients and the other ward was for servicemen who could move with a little assistance. She recalled when the storm hit the 119th hospital and within minutes or transporting patients to the wards that the main ramp washed away. The rest of the night was spent with patients who were bound to their beds, not being more than a whisper away.
Now with the war in the Pacific over, Leola now was promoted to a 1st lieutenant. While no specific orders were issued yet, Leola was invited to attend the Japanese Generals War crimes trials that were being held in Guam. An honor that was given to some of the nurses for their outstanding service to the wounded.
In these trials Leola witnessed some of Japan's crimes against humanity. War crimes from the Battan Death March, war crimes from the gassing of U.S. servicemen with aviation fuel in the Philippines along with many other crimes. Leola said these generals were still in their full Japanese generals uniforms. The trail lasted for many weeks. Finally orders came and she was headed to Camp Beale in California for her honorable discharge from the army medical corp. In San Francisco she then proceeded to the train station for her next leg home. While talking about train travel she recalled after the war she had taken her mother on a trip back to California with a stop in Salt Lake City, Utah and while standing in the train station an extremely large man was approaching her at a fast rate of speed. In a flash he put his arms around her yelling "thank you Lt. thank you for taking such great care of me!" It was an old patient she had taken care of in Guam.
When she came home Leola found a job at Brooks Memorial Hospital. Leola ended up doing the job she loved so well for 39 years. Twenty-two of them being the head nurse of ward 3 A. Always stressing to her nurses on her ward the importance of their patients being treated with the most comfort as can be administered and sharing the ups and downs with the patients families. After putting in 42 years in the medical field she found time to enjoy working for Dr. Damania and Sood.
Now Leola is enjoying her retirement. She loves to travel with California and Philadelphia being her top destinations to travel. With her good friends Jeanne Seybolt and Peg Masserio, you will find the trio at 8 a.m. Mass every day. Along with being active with senior citizens activities, lunches and meetings which she attends with her brother-in-law Charles Alaimo, she is also a life member of the Frank Acquivia American Legion Post. She is also an active member of its auxiliary.
She enjoys coffee with friends and family and always looks forward to having lunch with retired nurses. Leola's name was given to me by a friend, Michelene Pucci stating that Leola was an army nurse during the war and the wonderful things she has done as a nurse. Making the call and explaining my intentions, Leola gracefully told me that she really hasn't done enough to have her story told and if I was still interested to call her back in a few weeks.
The weeks passed and again stating she really hasn't done that much for me to do a story on her. In the next few weeks her name along with another local army nurses came up. These two names became now a mission I had to complete. Finally I got an interview that other nurse who name I had received had nothing but praise for Leola.
Stating that it was because of Leola's story was the reason why she enlisted in the army medical. Right then I knew I had to do whatever it took to talk to this lady. In my two army nurse interviews I learned what the word dedication really means. Here is what I learned from this interview. Leola, this beautiful girl, single holding a RN's degree, had the choice to perform her profession anywhere in the U.S. Knowing that we were in war with no end in sight, she goes out and enlists in the army medical corps, not knowing where she will end up or when she will return. A young nurse being sent to a place where wounded servicemen were sent to have their lives saved. She was put in a place where patients were admitted directly from the battlefield.
In my experience with combat and being evacuated to a hospital ship, knowing the feeling one has when you wake up and see that nurse watching over you and her just knowing the right words to say. I also learned the enemy will do anything he could to kill you. When that happens, it makes the war easier for them to win. But the war also brought more than the dead. It brought the wounded, the mangled, the burned, the limbless, the mentally scared soldiers. Wars need a place to send these soldiers. A place to repair the wounds. A place to restore life. When I read the duties of the army nurse I wonder how one kept sane.
Not knowing what the next stretcher was bringing, not knowing if it was a friend from back home, a friend from school, even another army nurse? I didn't see working through a calendar. Would she still be there in a month? A year? Five years? Will she ever see Dunkirk again? The man who ran up to her in Salt Lake City. The eyes of that patient that knew now because of that look in the nurses eyes he was going to make it. He still may go back home and live his life. Enjoying the work, that was Leola's pay.
All she wanted to talk about were her patients. Only God knows how many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and possibly great-great-grandchildren are in our world today because of the dedication they had received from the nurses during the war. She worked a total of 42 years as a nurse. She was honored in Washington at the World War II memorial for her service and dedication as an army medical nurse and for her duty during the war. She was honored there at the request of her son, Ray Coniglio.
She was a nurse who told me she hasn't done anything to have her story told. To me that's what heroes are made of! Leola is a hero. She always will be one to me. For that, she is our hero of the week.