FRESNO – In the fall of 1944, just a few months after the Normandy invasion, Jane Boote endured a night she’s never forgotten.
“That first night in France was the coldest night of my life,” the 100-year-old Army veteran and career nurse recalled. “The GIs thought they were doing us a favor by giving us cots to sleep on. But it would have been better to sleep on the ground. The cold air under the cot made it really cold.”
That frigid foray marked the beginning of a voyage that took her and her mobile hospital through France, Belgium, and into Germany tending to the wounded soldiers from General Patton’s Third Army, right up until the end of World War II in Europe.
“(Patton) was going fast, and we had a hard time keeping up,” said Boote, who lives at the Veterans Home of California-Fresno, operated by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. “We quit trying to stay right behind them. We triaged (the wounded) out to appropriate hospitals, mostly back to England.”
Indeed, Boote played a role in our military history, and Women’s History Month (March) is the perfect time to tell about it.
Any time, in fact, is a good time to herald women veterans and their contributions to the nation.
A Christmas Day baby born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1919, Boote left home in 1938 to become a nurse. She joined the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
She was assigned to Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she spent the first couple of years of the war. There, she nursed some of Doolittle’s Raiders wounded in the first bombing raid against Japan following Pearl Harbor. Among them was Ted Dawson, who wrote the raid in his book “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” which then became a movie starring Spencer Tracy. And Boote met the man who led the raid, General Jimmy Doolittle. Perhaps “met him” is an understatement. She nearly kicked him out of the hospital because he came disguised as a private to stay under the radar when he came to visit some of his men.
“He didn’t belong in the officers’ ward,” she said.
She longed for – and volunteered for – overseas duty that took her to Iceland, and then to the mobile hospital that cared for Patton’s Third Army casualties across Europe.
“You just did what you had to do, and go where they sent you,” Boote said.
But the war was just the beginning of a nursing career that spanned 43 years and took her to Veterans Administration hospitals across the country before she retired in 1984.
“I did surgical nursing during the first part of my career,” she said. “The last years, I was in psychiatry at the VA in Palo Alto. That was my love.”
Along the way, she married – husband Keith was a chief of processing and distribution – and they raised two daughters.
She said she returned to Europe with a group of veterans in the late 1970s, seeing many of the places where she’d been during the war. Some of the men in her travel group had fought at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and other major battles.
“The wives who sent along with us said their husbands never talked when they came home,” Botte said. “Come to think about it, we (the nurses) didn’t either. The war was over. We came home. That was it.”
They’ve never asked for recognition, but it often finds them. Last month, during Fresno State’s basketball game against the Air Force Academy at the Save Mart Arena, Boote took center stage – rather, center court – surrounded by members of the university’s ROTC during a poignant and moving program.
Folks in the crowd listened as the arena announcer told her story. They stood and cheered. Some even cried.
And unlike her very first night on French soil in 1944, the 100-year-old woman veteran basked in their warmth and shed a tear or two of her own.