A story from Pearl Harbor

Published 7:05 pm Saturday, December 5, 2015

“I hadn’t been there very long before the bombs descended,” said Kathryn Mary Doody.

She’d moved to Hawaii just weeks before — quite far, both in geography and profession, from her childhood life on a farm in rural Maryland. Her mom had urged her to train to be a nurse.

Doody did that, but she was unsatisfied at the quiet private hospitals near her home. She wanted to feel she was truly making a difference. So she joined the Army Nurse Corps, and found herself months later traveling thousands of miles from home.

Email newsletter signup

That December morning, she was on call.

“They woke me up, the noise,” she said. Doody recounted the confusion in her nurses’ quarters as everyone around her startled to the sound and smoke outside, trying to make sense of what was happening. She received a phone call from the operating room. They needed her to come in.

Doody ran as fast as she could from the quarters to the hospital, not knowing what else might fall from the sky, fearing for her own life but not hesitating for a moment.

Doody was only 25 years old when she was thrust into the world of combat medicine at Tripler Army Hospital on Dec. 7, 1941. As an operating room nurse, she cared for an overflowing room of wounded men and assisted with amputations even as bullets hit the pavement outside. She worked until midnight before taking her first break.

Doody was an everyday American, from a small town in rural Maryland. But she went on to save lives. She was young, with limited experience and credentials. But she had the courage to run toward danger when duty called.  She didn’t have a particularly exciting background or a glamorous career. But she had a vision for making a difference for our nation.

Her story is sown into the fabric of our nation. It is archived and shared in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. She is connected to the veterans she cared for on that tragic day. She witnessed living history.

Doody wouldn’t realize it until later, but Pearl Harbor gave her a calling. She went on to lead a long and distinguished career as a combat nurse, serving in Europe during World War II and with Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units (the ones later made famous in M*A*S*H) in the Korean War.

She made it her duty to carry out the Army Nurse Corps creed: to nurture the most helpless and vulnerable and offer courage and hope to those in despair.

When I hear stories like Doody’s, I can’t help but think — that’s us. The American character at its core is selfless, gritty, and honorable. As we remember Pearl Harbor, I am moved by the raw courage of quiet heroes like Kathryn Mary Doody and the many others like her who put service before self that day and to this day.

This is what makes up the spirit and character of America. It’s what spurs us to greatness. It’s what sets us apart.

Our immediate connection to Pearl Harbor is flickering. Kathryn Mary Doody died five years ago at the age of 93. Today, 74 years after the attacks, only a small group of survivors remain. We must resolve to remember. To tell the stories, to honor the sacrifices, to emulate the courage.

Despite the challenges we have faced in the past and will face in the future, one thing remains the same: the American character. It defines us. It sustains us. At a time when many Americans feel like their country is slipping through their fingers, it motivates us.

It’s a character worth fighting for – on the front lines, in our communities, and in the halls of Congress.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.