Local WWII veteran Shafer visits Tomb of the Unknowns

LOCAL VETERAN Bernice Shafer takes a seat at the Nurses Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Shafer, who served as a U.S. Army nurse in World War II, was one of many Fredericksburg and area WWII vets who took an Honor Flight to the nation’s capital. She also visited the Tomb of the Un-knowns to pay her respects to a service member who died in her arms; she never knew his name. — Photo courtesy Cam King

By Richard Zowie —

Sixty-eight years ago, Bernice Shafer served as a nurse in World War II in the Philippines toward the war’s end.

Even after the war ended, she carried a memory that haunted her for many years.

Shafer, along with about 30 local veterans, visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 28. She helped lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery, her way of paying her respects to the nameless, mortally-wounded soldier she comforted in his final moments nearly seven decades ago.

She spent two years as a nurse in the U.S. Army and would later serve three years in the reserves of the Army Air Corps (now the Air Force).

Following basic training in Camp Carson, Colo. (now called Fort Carson) in 1944, Shafer received orders to go to the Philippines in 1945.

“General Douglas MacArthur cleared the path for us to go there,” she said.

There, in the hot, humid Asian archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, she served in a hospital outside of Manila.

She and others helped to set up the hospital unit in an open field with mud paths. Tents were assembled, and men put up the hospital units while the nurses scrubbed floors, put up beds and bathrooms.

The patients then began arriving. Shafer served in the operating room.

Then, she was transferred to another hospital.

“It was supposed to be a hospital, but it had only surgical patients,” recalled Shafer, 90. “I don’t remember seeing anyone else there.”

She did notice one particular patient, a service member who was dying from a head injury. His injury was such where there were no doctors there who could save his life.

“I stayed with this young man until he died,” she said. “It was very quiet and very peaceful.”

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