Sarah Jo Allmendinger never set foot on a World War II battlefield, but she witnessed the effects of the war first-hand.
As a medical social worker for the American Red Cross, Allmendinger was charged with keeping injured and ill soldiers in contact with their families.
“I thought it was something that was very meaningful to do. It was not something that a lot of people would choose to do,” the Brandon Wilde resident said. “It was pretty meaningful work to me. I enjoyed being able to help, because there were so many wounded. It was just incredible.”
Allmendinger offered her wartime recollections Friday during a video interview for the Veterans History Project. The goal of the project, created by Congress in 2000, is to collect the personal accounts of American war veterans for future generations.
The project is spearheaded locally by the Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society and its coordinator, Fred Gehle.
“We have been interviewing veterans of World War II and civilians who were connected to the war,” Gehle said, adding that nearly 750 veterans of several conflicts were interviewed in nearly five years. “At Brandon Wilde, since we started, we have interviewed 27 residents.”
Allmendinger’s husband, Paul, who served in the Navy during World War II, described his wartime experiences for the project about two years ago.
Sarah Jo Allmendinger remembers being shocked at the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor because she had a brother and numerous cousins.
“It was alarming and frightening and sad,” Allmendinger said.
After her relatives were sent off to war, the South Carolina native said, she enlisted with the Red Cross in 1945, received a few weeks of training and went to work at Finney General Hospital in Thomasville, Ga. It was one of 60 Army hospitals built to care for sick and wounded World War II soldiers. In less than three years of operation, 23,055 soldiers were treated there.
“It was not an easy, not a happy, job at times,” Allmendinger said. “At night, sometimes you almost had nightmares. When you went to bed and laid down and thought about what you’d seen all day at Finney … you couldn’t help but think about it.”
Allmendinger said she was trained to be concerned, but not to show much emotion while with the patients, most of whom had been injured in battle. She managed at least one critical ward at Finney along with two or three other wards.
The social workers went bed-to-bed each day, talking with the soldiers, gathering information about their families, writing letters for them and arranging shopping for those who couldn’t. She kept the families informed of the patients’ conditions and wired money to the families of critically or seriously ill or wounded patients for travel and lodging so they could be at the soldiers’ sides.
The Red Cross offered to send Allmendinger for more training at Louisiana State University.
She was then sent to work at Pensacola (Florida) Naval Hospital, where she saw more illness than injury, because the war had ended.
One of the more difficult aspects of the job was watching seriously ill or injured soldiers fall into depression.
“That was hard to face, because somebody that has no will to live, you can’t put a shot in his arm and give him will to live,” Allmendinger said.
Because her brother and many first cousins were shipped off to war, Allmendinger knew that letters from home were important to the soldiers, many of whom had never left their hometowns before being drafted.
It was these young men, who came through her wards at just 18 to 22 years old, who she felt sorriest for.
“They were the ones who understood little about life outside of their home and hometown,” she said. “I can think of several cases where really good-looking, talented, well-educated boys, it was the end for them. There is nothing sadder than to have a life end at that young age.”
While serving in Pensacola, Allmendinger met her future husband. He was playing golf a few times a week, but was still checked into the hospital for a leg infection. The pair were married and had three sons. She stopped her work with the Red Cross to raise her family and move for her husband’s job.
Gehle said the historical society is looking for more veterans, military or other service people like Allmendiner to lend their stories to the project. Anyone interested can contact Gehle at (706) 738-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.