by Ramona Tirado
Mount Sinai Archives intern, Fall 2014
Veteran’s Day is celebrated as an opportunity to reexamine past conflicts and acknowledge the men and women who have risked everything in a fight for their nations, their people and their beliefs. Military leaders recognize the great value of having clinicians available to attend those who have been wounded in battle and many Mount Sinai physicians and nurses have contributed their specialized skills in military service during wartime.
Mount Sinai’s Archives and Records Management division has among its holdings collections of documents detailing service of The Mount Sinai doctors and nurses in World War II. This Veteran’s Day, we would like to highlight one such nurse who represented the United States and The Mount Sinai Hospital in that war, Isabelle Cedar Cook.
Isabelle Cedar had just graduated from The Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing in 1940 when the U.S. Surgeon General proposed that Mount Sinai establish a 1000 bed hospital to treat soldiers overseas who had been wounded in the war. When the call was made for nurses to volunteer, Cook felt moved to action and enlisted to do what she felt was her duty to her nation. Cook was accepted into the Army Nurse Corps as part of Mount Sinai’s 3rd General Hospital unit, and in 1942 she reported for basic training at Camp Rucker in Alabama.
In May 1943 Cook traveled from Alabama to Casablanca, Morocco, where she and the rest of the unit awaited orders to report to the 3rd General’s site in Tunisia. Cook arrived in Tunisia as part an advance team that included 10 nurses. Upon their arrival, the nurses took over the French army barracks that the Germans had used as a hospital. The nurses were surprised to find the barracks still occupied by severely wounded Germans and a single doctor, all of whom had been left behind when the fighting ended. The nurses assumed the responsibility of caring for the wounded, and the doctor and all of the German soldiers became prisoners of war.
Over the next three years, the 3rd General Hospital would follow the front into Italy and then France. Cook celebrated the end of the war by marching in the VE (Victory in Europe) Day parade in Aix-en-Provence, France alongside Allied soldiers. The order came to close down the 3rd General in August 1945. She received her formal discharge in December 1945 having earned the rank of First Lieutenant.
In 1999, she published a book describing her experiences in the war. The book is titled In Times of War: Memoirs of a World War II Nurse.