At 100, World War II Nurses Have Friendship of a Lifetime


They were young Army nurses in World War II, sharing a room and experiences that forged an extraordinary bond.

A monsoon destroyed part of their hospital on a South Pacific island. They were swamped with the sick and wounded near the front lines. A disease outbreak killed colleagues. Yet Amelia “Mimi” Greeley and Ruth “Brownie” Girk survived, and so did a friendship that still spurs near nightly phone calls as both turn 100.

“We’ve always appreciated our friendship, but as it gets later and later, we appreciate it more,” says Girk, who turns 100 in June. Greeley celebrated her birthday last week.

“We’re sort of like sisters — that get along,” says Greeley.

Then Amelia Devivo and Ruth Brown, the two women met after volunteering at a war hospital being organized by NewYork-Presbyterian, where both worked. They thought the same way about medicine and shared a readiness to laugh and enjoy life, traits they’d need after getting to Goodenough Island in early 1944.

A monsoon on the mountainous island, part of what’s now Papua New Guinea, poured mud into the newly built Ninth General Hospital and destroyed several wards. An outbreak of scrub typhus, a mite-borne disease that causes high fevers, sickened dozens of the personnel and killed eight.

Within months, the Ninth General moved closer to the fighting. A hospital designed for 1,500 patients sometimes cared for as many as 2,500.

“When you’re in the service, you’re away from home, you become very close to people,” says Girk, of Arizona. “They’re your alternate family.”

After both worked six postwar months at a now-closed Army hospital in New York and finished their service as captains, they married and moved.

But their friendship held fast. They spent holidays and traveled together with their husbands and later without, after both were widowed in the 1980s.

It’s now several years since the duo saw each other; medical issues have made travel difficult. But their phone calls keep the friendship immediate.

They trade updates on their days, confer about their health, revisit three-quarters of a century of memories and had-to-be-there jokes.

If there’s a secret to a long life and friendship, Girk thinks it’s “happiness and a pleasant outlook on life.”

“We couldn’t care less about being 100, believe me,” she said.

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