Patriotism, love of medicine led nurse to join Army in 1941

There are at least three major things in life that impress Las Vegas resident Victoria Beimfohr -- a man in uniform, medical knowledge and books.

During her 88 years of living, she was married to two Army officers, served as a nurse in the Army and volunteered at two local public libraries. Born in New York and growing up in Manhattan, she found she was drawn to medical subjects, and when the time came, she enrolled in a nursing school, a city hospital that was attached to several universities. "It was a long time ago," she reminisced.

Her family had no background in medicine, but her mother always had Red Cross magazines around the house. "I was always entranced with the nurses with the red crosses on their headdresses," she said. She graduated as a nurse after three years, but before she could seek civilian employment, World War II broke out in December 1941.

"As soon as I took my state boards, I went into the Army as a nurse," she said. When asked why she wanted to join the military, she had a one-word answer: "Patriotism." Later she added, "Patriotism was a big word then. We all were very patriotic. It was a different time."

She entered the service as a second lieutenant and was initially stationed at a base in Alabama for a military indoctrination. She then was reassigned to North Carolina, "where I practiced medicine as a nurse." Her patients were virtually all servicemen returning from European war zones.

"Mainly they were frostbites," she said, gangrene-infested wounds that soldiers could not escape, emanating from the freezing cold that fighting men faced while engaging the enemy over vast, open spaces in wide-ranging sub-zero war zones.

She mainly worked assisting doctors during surgery. Her face saddened when she recounted that "they usually removed toes. Mainly toes."

When the war ended, she worked as a civilian nurse in Louisville, Ky., where she met an Army officer. Marriage beckoned, and when her husband was deployed to the Philippines, she followed him. But in order to keep his commission, the Army wanted him to serve in a combat-ready unit, and the couple ended up in Japan. Soon the Korean War began, and her husband was sent to fight in that conflict, where he was killed. Two months later, Beimfohr gave birth to their son.

Returning to the U.S. and living as a single mother, as a former Army nurse she often attended veterans functions where she met another military officer serving as an Army lawyer. They married, had two children and were together for 44 years before he died in 1995. The couple had been living in Santa Fe, N.M., and the climate was getting to be too much for the petite senior. She found Las Vegas to be to her liking and relocated in 1998. She initially volunteered at the Summerlin Library, investing 10 years there. Wanting a change, she said she was offered more responsibility volunteering in the used bookstore at the Sahara West Library. Run by a foundation, the money earned from selling discarded and donated books is used for upkeep of the library.

Today she is happy to be in Southern Nevada and giving her time to assist book lovers. She points out that neither her parents, her brother, her sister nor her children ever joined the military, even though she is a veteran and her two late husbands were veterans. "Isn't that unbelievable? I was the only one," she said.

About her wartime experience, she said, "I thought it was wonderful." And with the current wars going on in the Middle East, she is quick to add, "If I were younger, I would still be in the military. I loved it."

Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada's Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the "Veterans Reporter Radio Show" on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays.