“I wanted to see big water, so I joined the Navy!”
Margaret “Pat” Patton joined the Navy at the age of 19 in 1943. She had just two years of nursing training at this point. During World War II, registered nurses were needed across the military forces.
Pat in her nurses' uniform
Getting her training
Pat spent one quarter at the University of Minnesota after being turned down from St. Mary’s in Rochester, Minnesota because she was only 17 and needed to be 18 to start at St. Mary’s. In February of 1942, Pat turned 18 and found a special class that St. Mary’s was offering for nursing training. St. Mary’s had just lost three quarters of their nurse pool to the military, who was in critical need to help soldiers during World War II. “They (St. Mary’s) were really up a creek without a paddle,” recalls Pat as she described the events that occurred leading up to her Navy service. “We got two weeks before we were issued uniforms (at St. Mary’s) and were working on the floor.” Because of the shortage, nurses hit the floor quickly and were tasked with a little bit of everything. “We scrubbed floors, made patient beds, took care of patients, but we had to be supervised.” Pat worked eight hour shifts and some overtime along with classes at night during her two years at St. Mary’s. “We had one weekend a month off and worked our little hearts out!” Pat received her “Nurses Cap” on June 7, 1942.
Joining the service
After two years of school, Pat decided that it was time to move on. “I was a Minnesota girl, born and raised. I’ve seen a lot of water, but I wanted big water, I wanted to see the ocean. So I decided to join the Navy, and I did!”
Her first base camp was at Hunter College in New York. They used an old apartment building as barracks. Six women were assigned to one apartment. “We had bunk beds in the living room. We had to take turns using the bathroom and kitchen, but it was great,” recalls Pat. She also remembers being asked about her set of qualifications. “They asked me if I knew anything about guns. I said I knew a little, I had brothers and uncles who used them and I helped cleaned them. Then they asked me about Morse code and I told them that I had been a girl scout.” They finally found out about her medical training and decided she would be the most useful in that capacity. Pat started in the medical branch working with X-rays. Training classes for X-rays were in San Diego, California. “I had seen the Statue of Liberty and the Atlantic, and then I went to San Diego and saw the Pacific.”
From ocean to desert
Pat trained at the San Diego Naval Hospital before getting reassigned. “They told me the Navy is starting a new base in the Mojave Desert.” The new base was the Naval Ordinance Testing Center where work was being done to build guided missiles. It had a medical center, but was too small to be considered a hospital. Pat worked in the X-ray department and in the ER. “It was mostly accidents (in the ER) and not too many fortunately.”
While Pat joined the Navy to be near “big water” and ended up in the desert,
Pat and William Patton
her reassignment to the Testing Center led her to her husband.“I met my husband, William John Patton, there. He was a Corpsman 1st class and had just returned from a two year deployment in the South Pacific.” Their shifts seemed to match up quite well and they spent time together in the “Chow Hall”. She recalls his proposal at one mealtime, “He was getting assigned, again, to the South Pacific and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to marry you. I want something to come home to and you’re it!’” William and Pat were married in 1945. As it turned out, he did not redeploy as Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. William was discharged at the end of the war but stayed on as a civilian employee while Pat finished out her enlistment. She and William had one child while living in the desert. They moved back to Pat’s hometown of Faribault, Minnesota where they made their home and had five more children. Pat was in the Navy for three years in the medical units. She continued to work in and out of hospitals during her remaining working years. Pat lived in Faribault until 2004 when she moved to the St. Cloud area to be near family. She currently resides at St. Benedict’s Senior Community.