Katherine Rafalko, nurse

Katherine E. Rafalko

Katherine E. Rafalko, a retired Stella Maris nursing supervisor who had been a World War II Army nurse and treated Battle of the Bulge casualties, died of heart disease Monday at her Timonium home. She was 91.

Born Katherine Kinney in Rochester, N.Y., she attended Mercy High School and St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing, where she earned a diploma in 1943.


"She was in her second year of nursing school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After seeing a movie sponsored by the Red Cross, 'So Proudly We Hail,' she was inspired to volunteer for the U.S. Army Nurse Corps," said her daughter, Virginia Rafalko Canter of Bethesda.

Mrs. Rafalko began basic training at Long Island's Mitchell Field and was later sent to Clovis Army Air Forces Base in New Mexico.

In late October 1943, she received orders to sail for Europe. She traveled aboard the USS West Point, formerly the SS America, with five general hospital units. It took five days to reach Liverpool. She nursed at a military hospital near Chester and sailed across the English Channel in a British vessel, landing near Le Havre, France.

According to notes she kept, she climbed down a rope ladder to a landing craft and spent a night with a French family at Etretat, a coastal village.

"It was snowing and cold," she wrote of her first night in France. "It was almost Christmas, and we celebrated Mass at the marketplace by the chaplain. The village priest said [another] Mass in the little church. It was the first Mass there since the Nazis occupied France."

In January 1945, her unit arrived by train at Saint-Quentin, France. She began treating soldiers wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

Her daughter said that among the initial group of patients was a young Army corporal, Walter A. Rafalko, who had two sets of injuries, shrapnel in his leg and burns from a tank explosion.

"He was brave and well educated. We shared similar values," Mrs. Rafalko said of her future husband. "When he became ambulatory we would meet in the cemetery and take long walks."

After Germany surrendered, they decided to marry because they believed the Pacific war could continue longer.

"My dad and my mother had to get permission from the office of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in order to get married in the Reims Cathedral in Reims, France, on Aug. 4, 1945," her daughter said. "She was technically an officer, and he was an enlisted man. There were rules against fraternization."

To comply with French law, they were also married in a civil ceremony.

"She could have been married in a wedding dress, but she chose to be married in her Army uniform," her daughter said.

Their wedding reception was held at a Reims Red Cross Club, where a French string quartet played. She wrote that they had Pommery champagne, which they drank on future anniversaries.

In December 1945, after nursing in Nancy, France, she sailed aboard the troop carrier Edmund B. Alexander and spent another Christmas during a stormy crossing. She was discharged at Fort Dix, N.J.


She left military service as a first lieutenant and joined her husband in Stoughton, Mass.

Her husband then earned a law degree and taught at law schools before becoming associate dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Mrs. Rafalko raised her 10 children and returned to nursing more than 40 years ago. She retired as a nursing supervisor at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.

"My mother was proud to be a nurse and inspired two of her daughters to enter the profession," her daughter said. "My mother was an unassuming woman, but she was a leader. She had strength. She had the power of forgiveness, love and compassion."

She was active in the Girl Scouts and was a prolific reader. She enjoyed history and spent time at an Outer Banks, N.C., summer house she owned.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane in Cockeysville, where she was a member and taught religious education.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include her son, John Walter Rafalko of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; seven other daughters, Kathleen Marie DeBone of Morgantown, W.Va., Joanne Rafalko South of Timonium, Karen Rafalko Wilson of Fernandina Beach, Fla., Mary Rafalko Reynolds of Lompoc, Calif., Nancy Rafalko Trenti of Middleburg, Va., Patricia Helen Rafalko of Timonium and Julia Rafalko Vaughn of Stevenson; 20 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. Her husband of 65 years died in 2011. A son, Walter Rafalko Jr., died in 1998.