Enumclaw veteran nurse featured in newsletter

Joel Estey, with the King County Veterans’ Program, calls them the “unsung heroes,” their stories of war time service often untold. They are nurses, engineers, guards, chaplains and many others, who served their country behind the scenes, helping those on the front lines.

People like Enumclaw’s Marion Early, who served as a nurse during the Korean War and spent years in Veterans Association hospitals.

“They went to war for us,” she said of the soldiers and veterans she served. “Now it’s our turn to take care of them. I tried to treat the whole guy not just the condition.”

Early, who has told her story to The Courier-Herald before, was recently highlighted in the pages of the Chehalis, Wash., Veterans Memorial Museum quarterly newsletter.

As a young girl, it took one look at a family friend in her white nurse’s uniform and cap for Early, now 88 years old, to see her future.

“That’s what I want to do,” she said. “I’m going to be a nurse.”

Independent, perhaps stubborn, she went through training and began her career with a community hospital, but later found herself working in a veterans hospital.

It was the stories of World War II nurses and the veterans Early, then in her 30s, was serving in her work that led her to join the Army.

“Not that I wanted to go to war,” she said, “but I wanted to get the experience.”

Experience came. She was assigned to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit in Korea, where she was on the other end of treating the soldiers who arrived at her veterans hospital.

She said it was often the mental damage that was harder to treat than the physical injury.

“Not only are you dealing with your physical injuries, but your dealing with what you saw and what you had to do. I wanted them to bring out what was locked up in here,” she said pointing to her head and her heart.

She said a lot of prayers.

After her tour, she returned to the Illinois veterans hospital before duty called again. This time her skills were being sought to care for Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who was paralyzed after a 1972 attempted assassination.

For someone who was born and raised in or near Chicago, heading south was as foreign as Japan or Korea, but it turned out to be a good experience.

Later, she returned again to the VA, where she retired and then followed her sister and her sister’s family to Washington state.

After all these years, Early’s Illinois nursing license still hangs on the wall of her room at High Point Village retirement home along with her service awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. Nearby sit reminders of her religious faith.

And inside her heart, Early holds on to each soldiers’ and veterans’ bravery, and that, she said, comes in different ways.

“Sometimes it’s the fact they won’t talk about things and you deal with the hurt,” she said. It’s different with each person.”

Things, she said, have not changed with today’s war – there will always be a need to treat the injured and treat them personally.

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