Esther Parsons comes from an all military family, but that is not why she chose to join the Army at the outbreak of World War II. She joined because her country needed her.
“They needed nurses,” Parsons said. “When the war started, they were short on nurses and I had just finished school. They needed nurses to help out so a lot of us joined straight out of school.”
Parsons proudly wears the title of veteran and Melrose Veteran Services is proud to have her serve as our Veteran of the Month for January 2012. Her story is one of service and sacrifice, a shining example for the many female veteran generations who would follow her lead.
After completing nursing school in March of 1944, Parsons received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and shipped for basic training in Syracuse, NY. There she and other medical officers earned their bars through basic training, complete with 20-mile roach marches along the beach shores of Northern New York’s lake region. She remembers the challenges of basic serving as a stark reminder that she was no longer just a nurse—but an Army nurse.
“I liked basic,” Parson said. “Except for the pack we had to wear on those marches. That was not one of my favorite parts.”
Her basic was abbreviated due to the need to get medical personnel to facilities caring for the wounded from the battlefields in Europe and Africa. Her first station was Fort Dix, New Jersey. There she treated soldiers shipped home from combat and deemed too injured to return to duty. Among the wounded she encountered in New Jersey was her future husband, a purple-heart recipient who partnered with Parsons to raise a family of six in Melrose beginning in 1951.
But before she became Mrs. Esther Parsons, she was 2LT Parsons, heading overseas to serve in the American Hospital in Banbury Cross, England. The trip across the Atlantic took two weeks by boat and like all World War II ocean crossings, danger existed above and below from German airplanes and submarines. Her boat travelled in convoy and those aboard blackened their windows at night to avoid enemy detection. Parsons, however, does not remember being scared.
“I was 21-years old,” Parson said. “I don’t think I had brains enough to be scared.”
At the American hospital, Parsons assisted soldiers returning from the Battle of the Bulge. She worked 10-hour shifts in the burn ward and remembers terrible images of soldiers coming from the battlefield to a hospital that was desperately short on supplies. Still, her 182nd General Hospital outfit provided care as best they could.
“We didn’t have antibiotics,” Parsons said. “We mostly were able to change dressings and provide regular care. It wasn’t like it is today, or even like it was back home.”
Parson served in England from October 1944 to January 1945. Her overseas tour was cut short by news that she was pregnant with the first of her six children. The news landed her another two-week boat crossing and honorable discharge from the military, but eventually led to her starting her family life and continuing her medical career in the civilian world. Looking back, Parsons is fiercely proud of her service with the Army.
“The Army was like an extension of my nursing training in the most intense environment,” she said. “You just did what you had to do with what you had. It was an amazing experience.”
While her military career ended in 1945, her involvement with soldiers and veterans never stopped. Along with her husband, who has since passed, Parsons serves as a lifelong member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans. She was very active in the DAV due to her husband’s wartime wounds and her name is mentioned often mentioned among the circle of citizen volunteers here in Melrose, whether at the Senior Center or the VFW.
But she is most well-known among the Melrose Veteran’s Group that meets weekly at Memorial Hall. Started 24-years ago as a VA outreach program, the group outlasted its federal funding, and continues to meet regularly for Friday breakfast. Parsons considers the members of this group as some of her best friends, calling them a wonderful support group and an example of how veterans can come together once their service time ends.
“I would tell today’s returning veterans that they should stick with their veteran organizations,” Parsons said. “It gives you a sense of camaraderie since you all share similar experiences and if you have an issue, you know every one of them will be willing to help you out.”
Among the lengthy list of accomplishments that Parsons can be proud is serving as a female veteran in the generation that opened the door for today’s honorably serving woman population. She said she comes from the generation that fought for women’s rights and has nothing but admiration for the women currently serving and thriving in the military. When prompted, she said having woman serving on the frontlines is something she never imagined seeing.
“I think having so many women in the military is a great thing,” Parsons said. “The VA is always pushing to help our woman veterans. The psychological trauma that comes from having mothers and women in combat is something new and I think the VA is recognizing that. It is a very important issue.”
Parsons was selected as our January 2012 Veteran of the Month not only because of her honorable service in the military, but her continued service to the community. Like many veterans, Parsons took her lessons learned from the Army and applied them to her civilian life. Her list of accomplishments includes, but is not limited to, fighting for veteran rights, supporting local veteran initiatives and serving as a nurse at the Wakefield Memorial Hospital for more than 16 years. We are very proud to recognize the lifelong service of 2LT Parsons and believe she serves as a wonderful example of the impact our amazing veterans have on Melrose life.
If you would like to nominate a future Veteran of the Month, whether it is a family member, a friend or a respected member of the community, please contact Veteran Services Officer Ryan McLane at Melrose Veteran Services (781) 979-4186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.