By Shirley A. Stirling
She is petite, less than five feet tall, but her ceremonial uniform shows medals and ribbons showing great service to the United States in three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
This is U.S. Army Lt. Col. Barbara J. Nichols (Retired) of Lacey, a battlefield nurse.
Last week, Lacey Town Council declared August Barbara Nichols Month, celebrating her 100e birthday, August 19, 2022!
City council proclamation
At the August 4, 2022 city council meeting, Barbara listened intently to each council member read a section of the proclamation, describing their life and career. Afterwards, the city council thanked her for her service with a bouquet of flowers. She then sent a short message and exclaimed, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m 100!” She thanked and praised the Board for their civic service.
You may have seen it:
- Interview on Erik’s Heroes, KIRO television in May;
- Raise the flag 12 during a Seattle Seahawks military game;
- Accept a medal of gratitude from the South Korean government at the state capital campus;
With a long career as a nurse and travels around the world, she started in an unlikely place, an airplane factory!
Boeing aircraft assembly
As a teenager during World War II, Nichols worked with her parents at Boeing in Seattle, where she was promoted from the assembly line to precision work, installing the plexiglass nose on B-17 bombers. It was a top-notch mission, and it was perfect: small enough to fit inside and demanding in its work. When the 5,000th B-17 left Boeing, she was among the workers who signed it. They were proud of “The Flying Fortress”.
Cadet Nurse Corps and World War II
Then, she seized an opportunity with the Cadet Nurse Corps for free schooling! After a three-year program, she graduated valedictorian of the nursing class of 1947 at Everett General Hospital.
With the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 and its credentials, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. The inclusive dates of World War II service are December 7, 1941 through April 28, 1952, and his career began with the final leg of the American theatrical campaign. Many female soldiers returned home and married after the war, but Nichols again committed to active duty.
In 1950, Nichols was one of the first nurses to land in Korea and, at the end of the war, one of the last to evacuate. Once in Pusan, she was ordered to take the night train to Seoul, then to go on her own “by any means possible, taking into account the exigencies of war”. With delays due to damaged bridges and blown railroad tracks, she reached the 8055th MASH, near the border of the two Koreas. Thanks to her surgical skills, she was soon reassigned as head nurse of the Army’s Third Field Hospital. So she took the precarious path back, to the outskirts of Pusan!
take care of all
Whenever possible, Nichols helped local missionaries care for orphans and provided gifts for children, sent from his hometown to Everett via his mother and through the efforts of his niece in Friday Harbor.
By 1951, Nichols had supervised over 10,000 patients, many of whom were prisoners of war. She cared for all patients with the same compassion, whether they were American soldiers, refugees, orphans or Korean prisoners of war. She received captain’s bars in a battlefield commission.
Vietnam, Germany and Ike
In Vietnam, she was awarded the Bronze Star for her “heroic, skilled, and devoted” service on the battlefield. She also served in other places, including Germany – her favorite tour!
In 1967, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, Nichols served as President Eisenhower’s personal nurse when he went there for emergency surgery. She says she knew him and Grandma well. Nichols retired in 1969, two years after being promoted to lieutenant colonel, the highest rank a woman could achieve at the time.
Nichols is proud to have served her country, even though she suffers from chronic peripheral neuropathy due to exposure to Agent Orange, a 100% combat incapacitation. She still suffers from it but looks back with pride on her career.
Nichols is a lifelong hiker and camper and loves Mount Rainier. As a retiree, she joined several volunteer groups.
Nichols traced his ancestry to the American Revolution and the Mayflower. A trained genealogist, she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1988, the Mary Ball Chapter of Tacoma, establishing four Patriots: Henry Amick, Abel Nichols, John Nichols and Asa Corbin. In 2016, she was transferred to the Sacajawea chapter, near her home in Panorama.
On the way to Shari’s
Following the town council meeting, she went with an entourage of friends from DAR and Panorama, to a pre-birthday celebration with pie at Shari’s restaurant in Lacey.