main story image for facebook sharing

History and Heritage

Stories from World War II:

WWII Navy Nurse recalls her time treating wounded Sailors

In the quiet town of Earleville, Maryland a woman with poise and grace celebrated a quiet 94th birthday, a day after the U.S. saw its largest attack, a day that would live in infamy.

Ensign Millicent Hignett Wagner (ret.) served as a Navy Nurse Corps Officer during WWII and sat down with All Hands Magazine to tell her story.

Wagner, a native of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, treated wounded Sailors from the Pacific theater of the war at Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Later, she served at the Naval Hospital in Dublin, Georgia.

"Philadelphia was so busy and active because we had so many wounded Sailors there," Wagner said. "We were in charge of everything: medication, giving the IVs and treating the wounds. We assisted in any surgeries. At the time we were getting a lot of burn cases from the Pacific and they were very difficult to take care of. They were in a lot of pain."

Wagner was celebrating her 19th birthday at the time and already training to become a nurse when she heard the news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

I still get a chill. It changed everyone's life. It was such a shock to us that it made me realize that as soon as I got through training I was going to join." - Millicent Wagner

"The country was very together in fighting this war because we thought we had to save ourselves," Wagner continued. "We all knew we had to win that war."

Though she was in training as the war began, she was recruited by the Navy during her training and went into service as soon as her she was state certified.

Wagner got her introduction to nursing from her mother, who worked with the Red Cross and influenced her to become a nurse.

"I grew up during the depression, we were very poor like a lot of other people and my mother thought it would be wonderful if I got to be a nurse because it wasn't very expensive. She knew people at the local hospital and that's how I got my start" said Wagner. "I trained at Scranton State hospital, which was a small general hospital, but it was good training."
Three photo collage of Ensign Millicent Hignett Wagner (ret.).

After being discharged, Wagner used the G.I. Bill to get a bachelor's degree in Public Health from the University of Pennsylvania and continued to treat patients at various hospitals in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island until her retirement.

To celebrate her birthday, Capt. Deborah Roy, deputy director of the Navy Nurse Corps, visited Wagner in her Earleville, Maryland cabin to present her with a challenge coin and exchange stories.

"It's really special to be here to honor one of our own," said Roy. "She took care of America's wounded and America's service members during some of our most trying times. She deserves every bit of thanks she gets."