She never thought she would see the battlefield again, or behind one for that matter. After World War II while her efforts and those of millions of other women were praised, she was one of the ones that were thought she should now be married with at least two children hanging from her skirt. The husband would be the breadwinner while she stayed at home as the merry homemaker. Her career now finished.
No, that was not in the plans for Genevieve McCullough.
Genevieve, or Vivi as she was often called, could have been a doctor. But funds and the desire to be in the field quicker, brought her to nursing. She was top of her class in her New York City nursing school and became a registered nurse quite quickly. Her father, Daniel, could not help but have a hand in that. A surgeon of the highest caliber and a honorably discharged captain of World War I, he found that his little Vivi was more interested in playing triage than house. She was his only child, his wife and Vivi's mother Sabrina, found that conception for a second child was not in their cards. So any hopes for a namesake were all but lost.
But none of that matter to Daniel and Sabrina. Or at least on the surface. While Sabrina taught Vivi the fine arts of homemaking, Daniel had Vivi beside him watching a baseball game or tossing a football outdoors.
One fateful day Sabrina brought Vivi to Daniel's practice, a basket of lunch clutched in her little hands that she insisted on carrying. Thrilled to see his little family ushered into his office, he decided to make a pseudo picnic and put a large blanket that he grabbed from supply on the floor. As her parents started unpacking the items, Vivi, being the ever curious tot, climbed onto her father's desk chair where she saw an X-ray sitting.
"Picture." She uttered.
Daniel turned and laughed heartily as he watched his little girl's eyes scan over the picture of a broken arm.
"That's called an X-Ray, Vivi." He said.
"'s-ray." She repeated.
Daniel got up and lifted his daughter from his chair. Placing her on his lap he started explaining it to her.
"Yes, it's a picture taken of bones." He said. Giving her arm a playful squeeze, he explained that it was a broken arm of a boy that had fallen on his bike.
"Danny, no, you'll frighten her." Sabrina scolded. "Bring her here so she can eat."
Daniel obliged, but that was the start. When he came home that day, the first thing Vivi asked him was to see an x-ray. And the day after that, and the day after that, until Daniel found himself bringing X-rays home. Down the road when she was of age she began begging him to take her to work with him instead of going to elementary school.
She was noticed by her teachers as extremely bright, but easily bored. When they got to science and math her attention span came back. When she asked to visit the bathroom, she would visit the school nurse instead and pester her with questions with medical questions, to the point Vivi would have to stay after school and write that she would not bother school nurse twenty times.
When she reached high school and many of the girls and some of the boys in Biology bucked at the idea dissecting a frog, Vivi took it with vigor, to the point she was dissecting too well her teacher noticed. It was practically flawless, especially for a high school freshman. Her parents were alerted later that evening by a proud Biology teacher who thought Vivi showed great promise and recommended Vivi spend her high school career exploring the sciences.
Daniel was beaming with pride, Sabrina was worried. She wanted the best for her little girl and was glad Vivi took her education seriously, but it was not easy being a woman in a man's world, even in the good old US of A. Sabrina too had big dreams and came over from Italy in the early twenties with the desires of being a famous actress on the big screen. What she found were hard times and any jobs she could take and in not so great places. She ended up being a lounge singer for a time until she met Vivi's father not too long after. She felt like Vivi needed to also be more social, more open to friends and even boys. She did not want Vivi to canvas this world alone. A spinster who no one would come to love because they were too busy being more than what a woman should be.
It was no lie that Vivi was a lovely girl both inside and out. She had inherited her Italian mother's hair color of chocolate and soft green eyes, with her father's Irish porcelain skin with a few freckles here and there. Her figure too was easy on the eyes even if she was a tad short in height. There were boys who came around, but often became bored of the fact that Vivi would rather memorize the Periodic Table of Elements instead of neck in the library or that should would actually rather go home and study about germs instead of go parking somewhere late at night.
She was no prude by any means and the boys that did pique her interest were able to sway her from the book to romance. When she went to nursing school, she did have her own love affairs, but never strayed to far from education. If she wasn't at school she was at her father's practice becoming more and more involved in his work. Daniel liked having his daughter by his side, even in the operating room. He thought the first time he brought Vivi in to see a surgery close up would make her sick, but instead she just watched with fierce and focused eyes. Soon enough, she was assisting him.
Then World War II came and the horrors with it. With every story of human degradation came more men wanting in. Including Daniel. Oh Sabrina was so mad when she found out he re-enlisted, but also knew he was needed and was thankful that instead of a gun was given a scalpel. Daniel was shipped off to Panama and then Germany just after Vivi had graduated nursing school and landed herself a job at a local hospital.
Until the Red Cross and the Army came calling for her in 1943. Sabrina nearly lost her mind when she found out what Vivi had done that she didn't speak to her daughter until the day Vivi had shipped off. It was because of a letter Daniel had written to her.
"We can't keep her home forever my darling and this war, I'm sad to say is more than is being reported. Vivi is strong willed and skilled. Along with your beauty, she has inherited your sense of compassion. And I am not saying this because she is our daughter, I am saying this as a doctor, we need her. I may even see to it that she join me and my unit, though I cannot make any promises. Our daughter should not be shielded like many of her friends are, from truths and ugliness nor should be treated as a fragile flower. I know her leaving, including mine, is selfish on our parts because we have left you. But trust me darling, and I am sure you know, this war is bigger than all of us."
And with that letter clutched to her, Sabrina let her daughter go.
Boot camp for Vivi at Fort Meade, was actually very eye opening and she developed a strong sense of military discipline and she praised it went she wrote home and to her father. Her father though in his letters told her not to let it take over her.
"Vivi, remember, you are a nurse, not a soldier on the front lines. Patients, especially wounded young men, need your care in both a medical and compassionate sense. For some you will be the first caring, even female eyes they have laid on in a long time. Do not bark at them like a C.O.. Let them cry, scream, hold their hand. A listening ear. Be the pseudo friend, sister, maybe even mother. Remember pumpkin, you are seeing what happens at the end of a battle whereas they are seeing even worse."
Lieutenant Genevieve McCullough would learn that when she was stationed to Germany and even more so in 1945 when liberation finally began.
She thought she had seen the worst when wounded boys were brought to the table, she had no idea of true horror when she, her unit, some press, and the American army flooded the gates of the concentration camp Buchenwald. The smells, the mud and muck, and then the people, so many people, and children, all reduced to pure skeletons. Dead bodies strewn about naked and bony. Coughing, shaking, unable to stand. few were even remotely healthy. Gas chambers, ovens, bullet casings.
Everyone was affected. Even the most hardened of generals could be found vomiting at the sight. Vivi was just frozen, her legs and feet like lead as she went from one prisoner to the next. Some dying right there in front of her, the pure adrenaline of the word "freedom" causing their heart to arrest.
It was pure luck that her father too would be brought to aid the concentration camp, but even he could not be the strength Vivi needed. He uttered so many "Jesus, Mary and Joseph's" as he and Vivi worked side by side, but he was found at night guzzling down cheap liquor to get his mind to sleep. He thought World War I was awful, this was pure mass destruction. Vivi found herself chain smoking as much as possible to settle her own nerves. She got drunk here and there with fellow servicemen and women, but the hangover the next day was even worse than the nightmares that kept her awake. Both father and daughter knew that their lives would never be the same as the war finally came to end, but they also knew they could not let the horror of what they saw be brought back home to Sabrina. They were going home, this was hopefully the end.
And it was for awhile. Nuremburg took care of the Nazis that were captured. Daniel went back to his practice after his promotion and second honorable discharge. Vivi went back to the hospital she had first started at and worked as an Emergency Room nurse. While she was reaching her mid-thirties it did not mean her looks and charm had gone out the window. She was courted by quite a few men. But it seemed she might be engaged soon to a young lawyer named Matthew Dawes she had been seeing for over a year and a half.
But the arrival of the 1950s brought new trouble. But this time it wasn't Germany or Japan, it was Korea.
And Vivi could hear the army calling her again.
This time to the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.