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Nurse answered call to serve city, country



Published: Sun, November 11, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



She was an Army nurse stationed in Europe during World War II.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Friedl Polk Fisher, a nurse with the Army Nurse Corps in World War II and with the Visiting Nurse Association for nearly half a century here, has seen a lot of life.

She grew up and was educated in Germany as the Nazis were coming to power. She trained to be a nurse at the University of Tuebingen and graduated from there in 1932.

In 1934, she left her home in Bad Buchau, a small town about three hours from Stuttgart, to come to the United States and Youngstown where she lived with relatives, the Oppenheimers, on Laura Avenue.

She did volunteer work at Southside Hospital, where she took classes to prepare for the state board examinations for nursing, which she passed in December 1935.

Joined VNA: In June 1936, Fisher began working with the Visiting Nurse Association, first filling in for vacations and then working full time in 1937.

"I like that kind of nursing, a little bit of everything," she said of the VNA. At first, she specialized in maternity and children, doing baby and immunization clinics.

"A lot of people delivered at home then and we went out [to patients' houses] with the doctors," she said.

Later, she worked at the venereal disease clinics at St. Elizabeth and South Side hospitals. Part of her job at the VD clinic was to find out from whom clients contracted the disease or who they may have infected.

"I went to bars and houses of prostitution to find contacts. To convince one girl to come to the clinic, I said, 'You don't want this on your conscience, do you?'"

"I really liked working in the VD clinic. I felt like I was really helping people," she said.

When she became a U.S. citizen in 1940, she was able to bring her parents to the United States under the preferred quota program.

"All Jews were getting out of Germany because of Hitler," she said.

Army Nurse Corps: In December 1942, a year after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, she joined the Army Nurse Corps as a lieutenant and was a captain when she mustered out three years later.

"This country was very good to me. I felt I should do my part. I felt like I did some good," she said.

Assigned to the 317th Station Hospital, she cared for wounded Americans in England, Ireland, France and Germany. "We really worked hard, but no one complained," she said.

"The toughest thing was seeing all the wounded soldiers. I was glad to be of some help. I was glad I was a nurse," Fisher said.

She was in France when the war in Europe ended with the surrender of Germany in 1945. "We got drunk on champagne," she said with a laugh.

The church bells rang for the first time in years, she remembers. "I don't care what religion you were. We all were on our knees," thankful it was over, she said.

One of Fisher's fondest mementos of that perilous time, a decorative pillow, was acquired when she was on four weeks' detached duty in Oxford, England. A young soldier who had lost an arm and a leg made the pillow, which has on it her unit's number and name, the Army Nurse Corps symbol and the names of countries in which she served.

Friends: Lasting friendships were forged in those uncertain days.

Two of Fisher's wartime friends, with whom she has kept in contact for nearly 60 years, are Mel and Phyllis Lightner of Des Moines, Iowa. Lightner was a medical technician and ward master with the 317th. A sergeant, he worked under Fisher's supervision.

"She [Fisher] was wonderful to work with ... so full of energy," Lightner said. "There are certain people you keep in contact with, and she is one of them," he said with affection.

Fisher, of Levy Gardens on Granada Avenue, is married to Werner Fisher, who was manager of Lerner's Department Store in Youngstown. Her first husband, George Polk, who worked at Commercial Shearing, is deceased.

Even after retiring from the VNA in 1975, Fisher remained very active.

She volunteered 20 years for the American Red Cross, and until four months ago she swam daily at the Jewish Community Center. She is a member of Congregation Rodef Sholom, where she used to cook for dinners and parties. "I was a good cook at one time," she said.

alcorn@vindy.com




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