Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Cumberland Lincoln 04-01-2021

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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CUMBERLAND LINCOLN EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | APRIL 1-7, 2021 CUMBERLAND 13 CUMBERLAND – Madeleine Childress Gray was 22 years old when she enlisted in the U.S. Army/ Air Force Nurse Corps at the tail end of World War II. The Woonsocket native said she had never even made her own bed before shipping out to basic train- ing at Fort Devens, but she learned quickly how to take care of herself and others during her first nursing assignment. "Next thing I know this is August, I'm in Tucson, Arizona, eating a lot of sand, and there was no air condi- tioning. And they put me on night duty right away," she said. Gray, 98, is the 2020 recipi- ent of the Women in American History Award from the Beacon Pole Hill Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The award recognizes women who have played an impor- tant role in the country's past and present history. Growing up as Madeleine Boucher on Elm Street in Woonsocket, Gray was the daughter of the local doctor. She attended St. Ann School and St. Clare High School and was eager to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse after graduation. "I was too young to go into train- ing. I was only 17, so I had to wait a year. There were three or four other girls in my class who were starting at St. Joe's, so I felt a little left out," she said. Her father, she said, didn't want her to become a nurse, knowing how hard the medical professional was. But she persisted and got her RN from St. Joseph School of Nursing in 1944. "Not long after that, the Red Cross was after us to join, join, join. So finally I joined, I think it was March of '45," she said. Some of her earliest memories of the service are of watching the planes come into the bases. At one point, she was stationed at a B-29 base, and she has a special love for floatplanes that land on water. "Maybe if I come back in another life, I'll be a pilot," she said. Gray worked in the base hospital, where she treated soldiers returning home from World War II. At the time, thousands of U.S. soldiers were coming back from Europe, many of them coming directly from field hos- pitals to the base. Gray still gets emotional remem- bering those men who returned with injuries. "It's not a pretty sight. They were all so young," she said. Of course, not all of those who came for medical treatment arrived with war injuries. On Valentine's Day in 1946, a young soldier walked into the hospital to have his ton- sils removed. Four weeks later, on St. Joseph's Day, Gray and the young soldier, Emmett Childress of Kentucky, were married. "I don't know what we were doing," she said, laughing. "Things were different. It seemed that you were kind of living minute by minute and you had to make the most." Gray's family used their gas cou- pons to travel to the ceremony in Salina, Kansas, where she was sta- tioned at the time. The couple wore their military uniforms for the wed- ding. What she didn't know at the time, she said, was that the military wouldn't allow her to serve once she was married. If she had, she said, she might have given it a second thought. "I was going to stay in the service and be the first woman general, until I got married and they said I couldn't 98-year-old WWII vet receives Women in American History Award By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Deputy Editor MADELEINE CHILDRESS GRAY, pictured in her military uniform after joining the service in 1945. At right, Gray receives the Women in American History Award during a ceremony held at her home on March 7. See HISTORY, Page 16

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