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Kate Dudding: Voices From the Past

More Information on Lt. Colonel Frances M. "Lib" Liberty

Here's Lib's video of the web site of the Library of Congress. You can watch the entire 90 minute interview, or look at 14 excerpts.

Here's an article that was originally published by The Times Union on November 11, 2006.

A Healer at Time of War Shares Story of Courage

Watervliet's Frances Liberty served as an Army nurse in three wars

By CAROL DeMARE, Staff writer

Photo of Lt. Colonel Frances M. Liberty ca. 1960 It wasn't easy to get Frances Liberty to tell war stories. After caring for the wounded as an Army nurse in three wars, she had seen a lot. But like many soldiers, this local veteran preferred to keep it to herself.

Then two years before she died in 2004, Liberty gave in to veteran Jake Landry's urging, and shared on videotape her experiences in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Out of thousands of vets whose stories from World War I through the current conflicts recorded for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, Liberty was one of 37 memorialized in a book.

Not only does the Plattsburgh native, whose family moved to Watervliet when she was 9, get a full chapter in "Forever A Soldier," the combat nurse known as "Lib" is also mentioned in the foreword by author Tom Wiener and introduction by Andrew Carroll.

Published in hardcover last year by National Geographic Books, it is being issued in paperback for Veterans Day. Liberty is featured under "The Healers" section.

"It's very unusual she was in three wars," said Wiener, the historian for the Veterans History Project. "And that she was actually overseas all three times as a woman and served near the front."

Wiener, 59, has a special place in his heart for Army nurses. His mother was one during World War II. She served in Africa and Italy, where she met a GI. They married in Florence in 1945.

Liberty also served in Africa and Italy. She retired in 1971 as a lieutenant colonel.

Photo of Lib Liberty being interviewed in 2002 "I love these nurse stories," from World War II, Wiener said. "They were flying by the seat of their pants, not much to go on, no history before them, and they were put in dangerous situations."

Wiener wove the story from Landry's interview, using Liberty's words and filling in historic detail to give it context. Her interview "is still one of my favorite oral-history interviews from hundreds that I have looked at," he said. "She was a real character, had a great sense of humor, and was a committed person to her profession and to her country."

The Library of Congress archives have 45,000 stories from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"They were looking to get the most interesting, provocative and reflective interviews," said Landry, who lives in Guilderland, and was an Army lieutenant in Vietnam and retired from the Reserves as a lieutenant colonel. "She, obviously, made the final cut."

Liberty crawled along battlefields to reach injured soldiers, cared for the wounded on a hospital train in Korea, and in three tours in Vietnam, worked in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit and other makeshift medical facilities.

She was high-spirited and stood apart for her frank talk as well as her ability to get the job done. In Vietnam, a high-ranking woman officer from Washington paid a visit to Liberty's unit and watched nurses use a water hose to clean off casualties who came in from the field covered in mud and slime.

"Oh my, do you have to use a hose?" the visitor asked.

"Well, what would you suggest?" Liberty responded.

"Well, there must be something," the visitor replied.

"Well now, you go back to Washington and sit behind your nice desk, and when you think of something you tell us," Liberty fired back.

"I think you're being sarcastic," the visitor said.

"Yes, I am," Liberty answered. "Now don't get too close; you might get dirty."

The first time Landry asked for an interview, Liberty turned him down. "But I persisted, and she and I hit it off, so I told her, 'I understand you're reluctant to do it, but I'm going to call you in two weeks, and we'll have breakfast again. If you still say no in two weeks, I'll accept that, but we'll still have breakfast.' " Three days later, she called and agreed to do it. She died in 2004 at the age of 80.

One of Liberty's favorite stories -- told on the video and before that to veterans in 2001 when she served as grand marshal of Albany's Memorial Day parade -- was about a soldier in Vietnam whose "chances of survival were slim."

"While reading his chart, I absently began reciting the rosary," she recalled.

The soldier asked, "What's that noise?" Liberty responded, "My rosary beads."

"Can't you read? I'm Jewish," he said. She asked "Do you believe in God?" He answered that he did. She said, "Same guy."

When he left for surgery, he asked for the beads. The next morning, he was flown to Japan, clutching the beads.

Photo of Lib Liberty being interviewed in 2002 Liberty, who served in Army hospitals throughout the country, including Walter Reed Medical Center, was working in one in Virginia when a package arrived with new rosary beads and a note: "I didn't forget. Thank you. But I'm keeping the others."

Two decades later, the soldier, then a New York banker, called to say he was the grandfather of a baby girl born in Israel. Her name? Liberty Ann. Lib said, "How could he do that to a kid?" The banker said he talked about Liberty so much his son named his daughter after her. Liberty cried.

"It's so important that her story is now published history," Landry said. "She would be proud and humbled that her interview is featured in a book with other veterans."

Lib was one of two combat military nurses were honored in February 2007 by the Foundation of the New York State Nurses Center for Nursing History. A painting of Ret. Maj. Helen Vartigian and Lt. Col. Frances Liberty was unveiled at a ceremony at the Center in Guilderland, N.Y. The painting depicts both women as they would have appeared during the Vietnam War. For more information, please click here and look for the section titled "Military nurses honored by Foundation."

Learn more about other military nurses -- you can access their sites below the info on Lib.
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