Lt Mary Jane Healy- WWII Army Nurse With “Attitude”

 In History

Lt Mary Jane Healy was a whopping 4’10 1/2″ tall, too short to to be a nurse in the Army, and only weighed 95 pounds. But they needed nurses in WWII, so her file suddenly stated that she was 5’1″ and 100 lbs. Problem solved. And she was a spitfire, that one. She had what her daughter Kitty Delorey Fleischman calls “attitude.”

  

Lt Healy met Lt Donald W. Delorey on the USS Butner on their way to India. Love at first sight…ok maybe it took about 3 days, but they loved each other, there was no doubt about that.

Attitude

A tough little Irish Catholic and proud of it, she didn’t take anything off anyone, including a Chinese Major who rode up to her on his horse and demanded a cup of water. She politely pointed him to the water pump down at the end of the camp, told him there was a cup hanging from it, and to help himself. He drew himself up on his horse and said, “I am a major in the Chinese Army, a graduate of the University of Chicago, and a medical doctor. I told you to go get me water.”
 
Her eyes flashed, and with her signature hands on her hips, she flatly told him, “I am a graduate of Providence Hospital in Detroit, a lieutenant in the American Army, and a registered nurse. I’m here to take care of the sick and wounded, and you don’t look like either of those! If you want water, Buddy Boy,  you go get it yourself.”
 
When she was called to the tent of the head nurse, she was ready to do battle, but her commanding officer just laughed and said, “No, no, Mary Jane! You don’t have to get the water, but in the future, please don’t refer to an officer in the army of an ally as ‘buddy boy.'”

Was I kidding when I said she had attitude? She truly did graduate from the Detroit Providence Hospital’s nursing program in 1941. It was a tough, rigid program  that created in her the skills necessary to become an exceptional nurse.

I have known Mary Jane’s daughter, Kitty, for a few years now, and I can tell you she’s got attitude as well. And she is deeply proud of the military service of her parents, uncles, cousins, two of her five brothers (one Marines, one Navy), a Coast Guard niece, Navy granddaughter, and Marine grandson.

Military Legacy

That “attitude” thing runs in her family. And it should, her father is in the Ranger Hall of Fame: Lt. Donald W. Delorey, a member of Merrill’s Marauders during the war. None of the unit received their Ranger tabs until after the war. [Note: a film about the famed jungle warfare unit known as Merrill’s Marauders was made in 1962.] The 3,000 man unit was considered “expendable” and no one expected them to win against the Japanese, who significantly outnumbered them. Eventually, with much depleted ranks, they were able to force the Japanese to leave. The unit was disbanded in May of 1944.

“They’d marched more than 1,000 miles through the foothills of the Himalayas, fighting the Emperor’s Chrysanthemum troops—the cream of the Japanese Army—all the way.” Kitty

Love Story

Lt Donald Delorey adored Lt Mary Jane Healy, and that is evident by a letter he penned to Kitty in the 1980s:

“The picture is old. For forty years I’ve carried it in my billfold. I’ve showed it to everyone kind enough to listen to my stories. I wasn’t just a kid when I met her. I was 28-years old. She was a 24-year old army nurse. She was five foot one and weighed about a hundred pounds. She looked so darned cute in her oversized coveralls and army shoes, I called her ‘Butch.’

“No one in the world had ever said ‘Don’ and smiled the way she did. Her charm was her goodness. It’s true. I did ask her to marry me on the second day I knew her, and after she said ‘yes’ on the third or fourth day, we talked about a little house in the country and a bunch of kids. The ship we were on was the U.S.S. Butner, a Liberty ship bound for India. On each long, hot day we stayed together as we went through the South Atlantic around South Africa into the Indian Ocean and on to Bombay.

“We parted in Bombay. I told her I loved her and that I’d find her again some day.

“All my dreams came true. The little white house in the country, all the kids. It’s true, kids, your mother did wear army shoes – size 4 1/2.” [Donald W. Delorey]

She may have been small, but she was a giant in her own right, and extremely wealthy – not the wealth of money, but the wealth of love and faith. Not only was she an extremely competent nurse, but her incredibly deep faith and common sense mixed with love helped sustain her…and those around her in the darkest times.  

With Donald Delorey deployed as part of the 5307th Composite Unit, (Merrill’s Marauders), his beloved Mary Jane found a way to visit him when he was wounded (shot 3 times). Kitty stated that Mary Jane hitched a ride on an unarmed military cargo plane. The pilot knew that “100 lbs of sugar” on the manifest was Lt Healy, but the guy on the ground with the checklist didn’t, and they didn’t want the Japanese to know there was a woman on board. She’d have been quite a prize prisoner.

At the time, she was deployed to Okinawa before the bombs were dropped on the Japanese homeland.

When Typhoon Louise struck Okinawa, Lt Healy and two other nurses spent three days huddled under a butcher block. The camp was essentially blown away-  no combs, no toothbrushes…nothing.

When it came time to evacuate the nurses, Mary Jane refused to be hauled up the ship in a basket like others who were afraid.  She carried her pack up the net on the side of the ship while it was still heaving in the aftermath of the storm. She’d take her chances, even though she couldn’t swim. Attitude, like I said.

Though she was offered a promotion if she remained, she declined and headed home to see her true love and start a family. Donald Delorey spent 18 months in bed – in traction – at Lovell General Hospital in Massachusetts. He had been out of traction for five days when they got married.

“His crutches were leaned in the corner behind him. Essentially, Mom is holding him up. The priest who conducted the ceremony was recovering from a stroke, but he had baptized Mom, and insisted he wanted to be there. Mom said she wasn’t sure who she’d have to pick up off the floor first.” Kitty

Kitty let us know that her mother was no wimp in spite of her small stature. If a neighbor kid remarked ‘my dad can beat your dad,’ Kitty had a different take on it.

She said, “My MOM can beat your dad.”
 
Next thing Kitty knew, her mom, who had heard the exchange through the screen door, came out of the house, grabbed Kitty by the ear and dragged her into the house with a stern warning that she was NEVER to say anything like that again. Kitty didn’t until she wrote her mother’s eulogy. That was more than 20 years later, and by that time, Mary Jane loved the humor in it.

Ultimately, Mary Jane and Donald would have 8 children within 11 years, two of whom died young. They never hesitated to help someone in need. For about a year she took care of 2 men (her brother Pete and her husband) and 7 kids under the age of six. Was she exhausted? You wouldn’t know it by her stamina.  If more people showed up to dinner, she’d just “add a little water” to the soup.

Donald and Mary Jane Delorey

“For all of us who have shared in portions of this story, you know that Mary Jane and Donald Delorey have a rare and very special love. It is a love that has thrived through war, hard times and lean years, surmounted endless stacks of bills for doctors, kids’ clothes and shoes, car repairs, payments on houses that hadn’t sold along the way and debts taken on willingly to help out someone who needed it more than they. It is the kind of love that stood firmly side-by side, hand-in hand through the death of a cherished little boy and the loss of a baby.” Kitty Delorey Fleischman,  Excerpt from Lt Mary Jane Healy Delorey’s Eulogy 1992

Lt Mary Jane Healy Delorey passed into eternity in 1992. She received a 21 gun salute at graveside, with even members of the Honor Guard shedding a tear. Her record was unique for a woman at the time, and Kitty told us that “no one had ever heard of  a woman with a record like Mom’s.”

Her husband Donald Delorey passed away in 1997. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including an Infantryman’s Badge, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, 2 Bronze Stars, plus 3 Purple Hearts. The Marauders also received a “Blue Unit” or Presidential Unit citation for their valor.

Proud legacy: The Pacific theater award is Mary Jane’s, not Donald’s.

Few women in any career are as courageous as Lt Mary Jane Healy Delorey. Whether it was as a nurse, saving the lives of our military who suffered from gruesome wounds, or facing typhoons, or jungles full of snakes, this woman was of a breed of powerful women unheard of today. It was her kindness, her faith, her love that made her strong. And maybe a bit of ‘attitude’ to go with it.

 

 

 

Showing 2 comments
  • Kitty
    Reply

    Thanks, Faye! Mom’s 100th birthday is coming up next week, and you managed to give me goosebumps with this.

  • Roy Cossairt
    Reply

    Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

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