CLOTILDE GOVONI KALUTA
First Lieutenant, US Army Nurse Corps, 1942 - 1945Click on photos to enlarge in a new window. Overzealous popup blockers may prevent the image from displaying.
I volunteered to the Army Nurse Corps in 1942 and became part of the 136th Station Hospital Group stationed in Acton Place, England. German bombers used to fly over us on their raids to Cambridge. After six months I volunteered for a field hospital. Just before leaving England, we were told that we were going to Russia as part of a top-secret operation called FRANTIC. I still have copies of my secret orders (Page One, Page Two). Even today not many know that the United States had three military bases in Russia located in Poltava, Mirgorod and Piryatin. Twelve nurses, four to a base, were going to set up field hospitals. Our code name was Frantic 5.
The Germans knew where our bases were and there were air raids immediately after our first bombing mission over Germany. I was at the hospital in Mirgorod. It was summer and that night I was in my tent. The sides of the tent were rolled up and I could see the tracer bullets the Russians were firing. At first I thought they were doing target practice, but in actuality, they were firing at the German bombers that were bombing our base in Poltava. Later we could hear the bombing. Every B-17 we had in Poltava was destroyed that night. A few hours later a German reconnaissance plane flew over Mirgorod. The next day our complete hospital was shut down and moved to a new location. The next night, the Germans bombed Mirgorad, but our hospital and planes had been moved to a different location. Because we had moved in such a hurry, the foxholes hadn't been dug, so we nurses jumped into the newly dug latrines (which fortunately hadn't yet been used) and the doctors tossed mattresses on top of us.
During the summer, a young lieutenant frequently came by our base to serenade us with his accordion. Our dental assistant played the violin and the two of them played duets. That lieutenant and I were married several months later while still in Russia.
I was chosen to spend the winter in Russia. The bases at Mirgorod and Piryatin were closed so I went to Poltava and lived in a prefab hut. I was able to visit Moscow and saw the Swan Lake Ballet at the Bolshoi Theater. In Moscow we stayed at the home of the American Ambassador, Averill Harriman. When we returned to Poltava our hospital was filled with ill soldiers, many of them had been in prisons. I flew to Persia (now Iran) with five patients on their way to another hospital. When we returned to Poltava, we got a royal welcome. We hadn't known that our plane was carrying the Signal Corps Equipment for the Yalta Conference.
My greatest memories are of the devastation of the war and the way the survivors pulled together to help each other in all the countries I passed through: England, Morocco, Egypt, Persia (Iran) and Russia. It sure was good to get home.