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Cora V. 'Betty' Webb, WWII combat nurse, dies

Cora Webb recalled wartime Normandy as a “dismal scene. There was a lot of destruction.”
Cora Webb recalled wartime Normandy as a “dismal scene. There was a lot of destruction.” (/HANDOUT)

Cora V. "Betty" Webb, a former World War II Army combat nurse who served with the 164th General Hospital and later cared for the wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, died May 3 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson of undetermined causes. She was 94.

The daughter of Tilden E. Storey, a tenant farmer, and Margaret Logan Storey, a homemaker, Cora Virginia Storey was born in Sudlersville and raised in Church Hill in Queen Anne's County. She graduated from Centreville High School in 1939.

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After attending Washington College for a year, she enrolled at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and obtained a nursing degree in 1944.

"Me and my two friends walked down Howard Street right into the Army Nurse Corps and said 'We would like to join the Army,'" Mrs. Webb told The (Easton) Star-Democrat in a 1994 interview. "At the time it was what everyone wanted to do, the war was an all-encompassing thing."

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The next obstacle, she told the newspaper, was telling her mother.

"When I called my sister and told her I joined the Army, the first thing she said was 'Did you tell mom?'" she recalled in the article. "She didn't interfere, but of course she was worried."

"We used to go to the Red Cross and donate blood. That was our big day out. They'd give us coffee and doughnuts," said Mary Ann Michelitch "Mickey" Petrick, a nursing school classmate who enlisted with Mrs. Webb, along with fellow classmate Marianne "Mim" Gillelan.

Mrs. Petrick recalled that the three were walking by the recruiting station and stopped to look at a recruiting poster showing "an Army nurse wearing a beautiful dress."

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"This man came out and said, 'Why not join up and join the war effort?' That was his pitch. ... We had no jobs and said, 'Why not? Let's do it'" she said. "We then said to the guy, if you let us stay together then we'll do it. We'll join the Army."

Mrs. Petrick said the trio went to Hutzler's department store to get "outfitted."

"They asked for our military serial numbers and we said, 'We just joined 15 minutes ago!'" she said with a laugh.

During the summer of 1944, Mrs. Webb and her two friends received training at Fort Meade and later at Camp Lee in Virginia, then joined the 164th General Hospital at Camp Grant in Rockford, Ill.

On Sept. 12, 1944, the hospital unit sailed for Cherbourg, France, aboard the RMS Scythia and landed 12 days later. Army regulations required that doctors and nurses wear Class A uniforms for their midnight disembarkation from the Scythia.

"Our Class A uniform included skirts. You can imagine us climbing over a ship into those barges with skirts and helmets," she told the newspaper.

They were transported to the Valgones Staging Area, where they remained until early October, when they established a 1,200-bed hospital at La Haye-du-Puits in northwestern Normandy, 30 miles from Cherbourg.

"We walked into a dismal scene. There was a lot of destruction everywhere," she recalled in the 1994 interview. "You can't appreciate the full impact unless you were there."

Mrs. Webb, an operating room nurse, recalled that the wounded started coming quickly. "The bad thing was we knew they were going back to fight [once they were treated] and we didn't want them to get well so fast — and they didn't want to get well so fast either," she said in the interview.

Three months later, in December 1944, Mrs. Webb and her two friends were sent to a field hospital during the Battle of the Bulge, where they remained for three months.

"The three of us were loaned to the hospital at the Bulge," Mrs. Petrick recalled. "It was horrible and scary and it was the first time we were told that we might lose the war. It put fear into us."

She added: "I've tried to erase from my mind what I saw and what happened there."

Mrs. Webb "never talked about the bad things she saw at the Bulge," said her daughter Mary Beth Webb of Easton. "She did say she wrote letters for soldiers who could not write for their families back home."

The three nurses, who served throughout the war together, were in southern France preparing to go to the Pacific when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945.

They returned to the U.S. and were sent to Ashford General Hospital — formerly the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., which the Army had purchased in 1942 from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for use as a general hospital.

At Ashford, Mrs. Webb was a surgical nurse for orthopedic and reconstructive surgery. In 1946, she was sent to the 13th General Hospital in Manila, Philippines, and the next year was discharged with the rank of lieutenant at Camp Beale in Marysville, Calif.

In 1948, she married John H. Webb, who later became superintendent of Queen Anne's County public schools. He died in 1996.

Mrs. Webb continued working as a private-duty nurse and also worked at Chestertown Hospital and Easton Memorial Hospital. She later served as a nurse for Dr. Rodney Layton in Centreville until retiring in the 1970s.

The former Centreville resident had lived at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson since 2003.

She was a member of the Queen Anne's County Historical Society and Our Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church, where she sang with the choir and was active in the Ladies Altar Society.

She enjoyed cooking, entertaining family and friends, dancing and singing to the music of Louis Armstrong, and vacationing in York Beach, Maine.

Mrs. Webb donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board; there will be no services.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Margie Starr of Ellicott City; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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