A quiet hero
Editor’s note: Andy Winder, of Mifflin, recently researched the military history of Miriam Troxell, of Lewistown, and presented his findings and some of Miriam’s photographs to The Sentinel for publication as a tribute to her service on Veterans Day. Miriam Troxell was the aunt of Winder’s wife, Mindy.
When I first met “Aunt Mimi,” she was already retired.
Her naturally short stature had begun to diminish from age, but the twinkle in her eye, and her ready laugh, made her sisters and their children enjoy her company.
Her reputation in the family was of a woman who enjoyed living, loved her cats, and didn’t necessarily stick to a schedule when it came to serving an evening meal.
Little did I know that she had helped create a heroic history as a pioneering young nurse in the Army Air Force.
Miriam Lucille Troxell grew up on Shaw Avenue, then Highland Avenue in Lewistown in the 1920s and 30s. After graduation from high school in 1932, she completed training at the Lewistown Hospital’s nursing school, and became a registered nurse, working as an obstetrical nurse.
After the U.S. entered the Second World War, she decided to enlist as a nurse. On May 1, 1943, she was appointed a “reserve nurse” in the Army Nurse Corps. What followed is a remarkable story, one that she never trumpeted to the world, but is worthy of being honored on any Veterans Day.
The Second World War saw the wholesale adoption of aircraft as a means of moving people and supplies, including an entirely new approach to the medical support provided to combat troops in the battlefield. The army began training flight nurses in 1943, at Bowman Field, Kentucky.
Lt. Miriam Troxell was among the nurses who volunteered for this program, and she completed that training in January 1944.
After arriving in England in March 1944, she joined the 815th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, and in July, began flying missions into France to evacuate wounded combat troops to England.
The C-47 aircraft used for this mission were jammed with supplies on the trips to France, and filled with evacuees on the return trips. They operated from makeshift airstrips not far behind the battlelines.
In the first months after D-Day, the planes still showed the invasion striping that had been painted on them.
As the Allied offensives progressed through France, into Belgium and ultimately into Germany itself, the MAES units continued to provide vital evacuation flights to the wounded troops. Aunt Mimi recalled that their flights would usually be three C-47s or C-54s flying in close formation, and displaying no lights whatsoever, to avoid drawing attention to them from any German anti-aircraft artillery or patrolling German fighter planes that might still be operating wherever the MAES flights were headed. Landings were kept as short as possible, and each aircraft followed the other as close in time to each other as possible, for the same reason. Flights into Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge were particularly dangerous, as the Allied troops were in some cases almost completely surrounded by hostile forces. It is interesting to note that while Miriam Troxell was flying into the area of the Battle of the Bulge, her future brother-in-law, Charles Z. Yoder, was on the ground engaged in the fight. The U.S. Army recognized the contributions of Lt. Troxell during the period from June 29, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, by awarding her an Air Medal for her service which, in the words of the citation, “exhibited a high degree of courage, technical proficiency and devotion to duty, often under the hazards of unfavorable weather and when attack by hostile aircraft or ground forces was probable and expected.”
The mission of the MAES units did not end with the formal declaration of victory in Europe in early May, 1945. The unit to which Miriam Troxell was attached from May 1, 1945, to June 30, 1945, handled the medical care and treatment of 56,453 patients on flights from the European Theater, and was awarded a Meritorious Service Unit Plaque for that historic achievement.
The Korean Conflict
The next era of notable service by Troxell was the Korean Conflict. She was sent to Japan as a part of the 801st MAES in August 1950, and remained there until December 1951. During that 16-month period, air evacuation of wounded combatants occurred at forward locations, including Kimpo airfield (immediately supporting the Inchon amphibious landing) and the airfields supporting the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir, under severe threat of enemy fire. The conditions were primitive for the nurses, as can be seen by the accompanying photos.
In the nine-day period of Sept. 21, 1950, to Sept. 30, 1950, 1,449 battle casualties were evacuated by the 801st from Kimpo airfield. During that period, two of the C-54s used for the evacuation missions were damaged by enemy fire so badly that they could not fly after sustaining the damage. In December 1950, during the battle of Chosin Reservoir, the temperatures reached -35, and the Hagaru-Ri airfield was completely surrounded by North Korean and Chinese forces. Nevertheless, the 801st evacuated 4,689 wounded or injured troops during the first nine days of December. For these two operations, the 801st became the first USAF in-theater unit to be awarded the Air Force Distinguished Unit Award. Troxell logged 89 in-flight hours in September 1950, and 69 flight hours in December 1950.
One of the few stories she shared of those months was one in which she was attending the evacuees on a flight out of Hagaru-Ri, and one of the wounded looked at her and said, “Hey, you are the same nurse that evacuated me from the Battle of the Bulge!” That lucky soldier had just earned his second Purple Heart.