By Shirley Stirling
It was a birthday fit for a queen. And she had a crown…and a sash too.
About a hundred guests were present, representing each of his 100 years. It was the birthday of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Barbara Nichols (Retired) of Lacey, Washington, a veteran of three wars. On August 19, she and an entourage were driven in a luxurious black Olympic limousine to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). They stopped in the circular circuit of the Lewis Army Museum, a three-story white Swiss chalet-style building famous for the First World War.. The immediate grounds of the building were decorated with birthday greetings and two-foot patriotic symbols by Eva Rivera of Card My Yard. Stepping out of the car, LTC Nichols was amazed by a 13-member color guard made up of members of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution (SAR and DAR) with American Revolution uniforms, fifes and drums playing, waving flags.
“Is that all for me? she asked in a small voice. And that was just the start.
Inside, complementing the Museum’s display of facilities, historian Alice Miller presented an exhibit showcasing the career of LTC Nichols alongside women’s military uniforms, as part of the “Beauty and Duty” exhibit. which has been shown in museums and various venues, across the Northwest and beyond. . The models sported livery from LTC Nichol’s long career, including Barbara’s own Vietnam-era uniforms, which she donated several years ago.
The military career of Barbara Nichols
LTC Nichols served as a battlefield and operating room nurse in the United States Army, a veteran of World War II, the Korean Wars, and Vietnam. She is highly decorated, including a bronze star. She has served many people, from American soldiers in MASH units in Korea, field hospitals in Vietnam, a 10,000-bed POW hospital in Korea, to orphans in a missionary facility. She drove her own army jeep and cared for President Eisenhower as a personal nurse at Walter Reed Hospital in DC. With special skill in the operating room, coupled with advanced training and common sense, she served wherever she was needed.
Prior to the Army Nurse Corps, as a teenager, Barbara worked at Boeing as a Rosie-the-Riveter defense worker. His last job at Boeing was placing the fiberglass nose on the B-17 bomber, a coveted job requiring precision…and small size!
In his own words, “I was working in a Boeing factory helping to assemble B-17 bombers when President (Franklin D.) Roosevelt created the Cadet Nurse Corps because they needed nurses for the war. The Second World War was different, no one had heard of the Cadet Nurse Corps, but I joined, trained for three years at Everett General Hospital and became a registered nurse. farewell speech from the nursing class at Everett General Hospital in 1947. Then the Women’s Armed Services Entry Act of 1948, approved by General Eisenhower, gave women the power to serve as permanent and regular members of the armed forces.She accepted a commission as 2n/a Lieutenant in August 1948.
In 1950, Nichols was sent to Korea, and was ordered to take the night train from Pusan to Seoul, then go by any means possible to join the 8055th MASH, near the border of the two Koreas. Soon after, she was sent back to Pusan and served as the head nurse of the operating room of the Third Field Hospital. Whenever she could, she helped local missionaries care for orphans and gave gifts to children, sent from her hometown of Everett and her niece’s efforts in Friday Harbor. In Korea, she cared for all patients with equal compassion, whether they were American soldiers, refugees, orphans, or Korean POWs. She was among the first group of nurses to arrive and among the last to be evacuated from Korea.
During the Vietnam War, she was awarded the Bronze Star for extraordinary service. “Vietnam,” she comments, “was the hardest thing to do. Really hard. But I [also] survived that one.” Later, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., Barbara was chosen as former President Dwight Eisenhower’s personal nurse for an emergency operation and she got to know him well. as well as former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.
One hundred and thirty-six people registered to attend his party, but the great hall could only accommodate 100. The party was preceded by a birthday card drive with a goal of 100 cards. LTC Nichols received 172 cards from DAR members nationwide, friends, relatives and other supporters. A basket containing the cards was presented to him with a large flourish, along with a special handmade card enlarged to 24″x36″ from the Leedstown Resolution DAR Chapter in King George, Virginia.
The museum opened at 10 a.m. and guests started arriving early to view the newly renovated museum ahead of the party.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing too much,” this writer, event organizer joked, looking at oversized portraits of LTC Nichols and a large American flag birthday cake. which Barbara sliced with a Revolutionary War sword. (That being said, most of her fans would say a party for this great lady could NOT be overdone!)
LTC Nichols received the following introductions and greetings:
- The DAR Distinguished Citizen Medal of State Regent Chris Crowder
- Women in History Medal of First Vice Regent Melanie de Leon of the Mary Ball Chapter
- Letter from Governor Inslee
- City of Lacey Proclamationpresented by Sacajawea Regent Mary Blake
- Greetings from the National and National DAR Chaplain for her 100e anniversary, read by WSSDAR Chaplain Darlene Carlson with the two Chapter Chaplains, Ann Olson and Tami Reynolds
- Greetings from Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Director Alfie Alvarado-Ramos,
- A quilt from Quilts of Valor Greetings and from Washigton State Ambassador Lanora Tanakarepresenting the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation and Quilts of Valor
- Greetings from the Military Officers Association of AmericaOlympia Section President, Carrie Nielsen;
- A photo of the 5000e Bomber B17 signed by all defense workers, including Barbara when she worked as Rosie-the-Riveter, presented by Lee Thomason, Rosie the Riveter Historian and member of the George Rogers Clark Chapter SAR.
Many dignitaries were present
- Honorary State Regent of the DAR, Carol Jean Gaffney
- DAR First Vice Regent, Jackie Riddell
- Acting Deputy Commander, Chief of Inpatient Services, COL Pauline Swiger
- President of the Society of Military Widows, Tulip Chapter #37, Captain Marilyn Likens,
- NCO in Charge, 133d Army Band, Brass Quintet, SGT Collin Chandler
- Chief Historian, Office of the Secretary of State, State of Washington, John Hughes,
- Women’s history and female uniform historian, Alice Miller
- Director of the Kari Atkinson Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, Virginia
- Art Dolan, President of the SAR, George Rogers Clark Chapter and Commander of the Colorguard.
The party was the literal 100 of Nicholse anniversary and was hosted by its two DAR chapters, the Sacajawea Chapter in Thurston County and the Mary Ball Chapter in Tacoma. Historian Alice Miller said it was “the best such event I have ever attended”.
circle of life
Army Nurse Col. Pauline Swiger joined the party despite her busy schedule and stood in uniform for the Army Song. She expressed her admiration as she saw two eras that day separated by a century, first that 100th anniversary celebration, followed by a graduation ceremony for young soldiers who had just begun their patriotic service.
LTC Nichols said, “Thank you for all of this…but I really can’t believe I’m 100!”
Longtime Lacey resident Shirley Stirling is retired from Washington State and has taken up pen (and mouse) to begin a career as a writer. She has primarily contributed to editing and writing historical publications, including her role as co-editor of the recently released Thurston County History Book, Water, Woods & Meadows.