US Navy NC
1942 – 1964
When did you enlist in the Navy and why did you enlist?
LCDR KB: I was 33 when I joined up with the Navy. I signed up in Canton, Illinois. It was 1942. I was working as a nurse at the Graham Hospital in town. I completed my nursing degree at the Graham Hospital Nursing School in 1938. I wanted to get out of town. I was tired of my family trying to marry me off to the first male who came along! My mother never forgave me for enlisting in the Navy.
Would you tell me a little about your duty stations?
LCDR KB: I held nursing Posts in Boulder, Colorado at the University. I went as directed to a specific address. It was the home of a doctor who was on the Board at the University. Both he and his wife were elderly.
At this time all the students were males. The doctor needed help. There weren’t any nurses in town. It took so long for an answer to his request for help to arrive when I showed up he almost forgot someone was coming to help him. He just didn’t expect a woman in a uniform to show up to help him.
I waited on the porch for two nights because the doctor was out in the rural areas. There weren’t many new people in town and when I came looking for the doctor, the doctor’s wife didn’t want to be alone with me dressed in an Army Uniform. She thought I was going to have guys over every day. It was summer. I slept on her porch right outside her kitchen door without any blankets. She slept in her kitchen and during the night she gave me a cup of tea to warm me. People thought my presence there dressed in a uniform was a joke. Women were not in the service or so they thought!
The Navy also sent me to the University of Colorado in Denver to obtain the Nursing and Institutional Administration Degree. I graduated from this four-year program in two years never earning a grade below 90.
What type of work did you do?
LCDR KB: I worked in operating rooms. The only two town doctors sent me to the hospital and left me there to see the patients saying “if you need us call”! The first time I went into the space there were a couple of men there who needed to talk with some medical person. I was the nurse. When I would call the doctors, they would come over, take care of the patients and go back to surgery. It wasn’t hard work. It was different though!
This town was a little tiny old place. The doctors told me to go out and see the patient in the rural area and decide if they needed to come into the hospital. They had quite a few people coming into town. They started to send patients in as well. I took care of five or six over and over again. It was the beginning of basic nursing care in town.
One day one of the doctors said to me “I’ve got something for you tomorrow morning. I will pick you up at 0830 and don’t wear any fancy clothes!” That was the beginning of another adventure. We would drive to the airfield and fly to different places to provide medical help. We went to the West Coast. We said we went to the North Pole, but we never made it.
I was in the Navy for years. I wrote a few sentences every night about my work and the experiences I had. I dated and signed every entry. I had thirteen three-ring binders filled with notes about my service from when I first joined forward. One day when I visited my mother at home, I left the 13-three-ring binders with her. I thought they were safe with her. I knew she hated my service. I knew she hated me wearing a uniform because good women didn’t wear uniforms. I knew she thought I was a disgrace to her and her family; however, I didn’t think she would destroy my notebooks nor the extra uniforms I left at home. My mother wanted me to be a lady. My joining the military caused her such anxiety. LCDR Barclay showed me a watch on her wrist. Her mother gave it to her for her birthday. She said, “It never made me eat like a lady!”
The Navy moved me to many duty stations. I wasn’t married and I didn’t have children. As a result many times the I was sent to the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth Virginia. I thought it was an important visit, although no one told me what I was to do there. I flew there and sat in a car the entire time. It was crazy.
Is there anything else you would like to share with me?
LCDR KB: On February 9, 2012, nurses from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) joined the Portsmouth Area Nurses Association (Reserve and Active Duty) to celebrate LCDR Kathryn Barclay’s 100th birthday. They celebrated her as one of the oldest living retired Nurse Corps Officers and as a fellow Nurse Corps Officer “who helped pave the way for the rest of us who followed.”
Would you do it again?
LCDR KB: Absolutely! Ive had the best time. I traveled. I was a part of important work and I served my country!
LCDR Barclay served in the Navy as a Nurse from 1942 – 1964. She served during World War II and the Korean War.