While we celebrate all veterans and recognize their service every day, we wanted to take a moment to share a story from a Concordia at Sumner resident who served in the Army Nurse Corps during the Vietnam Era.
Jo Ann Collier was born in a small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania (Titusville) during WWII. Her father, B. Frank Herring, was a Sergeant in the Army. Although Jo Ann had four siblings, she explained that their family was more like two, because her father’s absences during his time in the service left a large age gap between siblings.
“I was the second of five children,” Jo Ann explained. “We always joked since there was a 15-year span between the siblings the ‘first family’ included the oldest three siblings and the ‘second family’ included the younger two.”
Her father’s time in the service also meant that the family moved a great deal across different parts of the country and abroad.
“We lived in Germany in Bavaria for three years,” she said. “It became harder moving as I got older because I had to make those transitions to different schools and leave friendships behind.”
After graduating high school in Franklin, Pennsylvania where her father was overseeing a National Guard Installation at the time, Jo Ann decided to pursue a career in nursing. Despite her father’s long career in the service, she initially had no plans to join the military.
“I was in nursing school [at Hamot School of Nursing in Erie, PA] and recruiters from different branches of the service came around to recruit nurses as part of a ‘manpower planning program,’” she said. “They would give you a stipend while you were in school, and you were assigned a rank and considered to be in the military – but not on active duty.”
In 1964, Jo Ann decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (ANC), a decision that would alter the course of her nursing career and provide her with lifelong friendships, including with fellow recruit Barb Hershelman.
The ANC was established in 1901 as an official corps of the U.S. Army Medical Department. According to U.S. Army History, during the spring of 1944, the U.S. War Department advised that a new quota for the ANC needed to be set at 50,000 due to the critical shortage of Army nurses and medical units in the European theater. The ANC would continue to seek new recruits over the next several decades to replenish the supply of the diminished corps.
“A lot of things happened in the late 50s and early 60s where the services joined forces on man power planning,” Jo Ann explained. “This happened across the services because we were coming out of both WWII and the occupation of Japan. There were many issues with staffing and career military people were retiring. The Army Nurse Corps was part of that planning initiative to recruit new nurses.”
As soon as she passed her state boards, Jo Ann was commissioned for active duty as a Second Lieutenant and went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for six weeks of basic training in February 1966.
After her time in San Antonio, Jo Ann was stationed at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center (FAMC), located in Aurora, Colorado. The facility, which is now redeveloped for civilian use as the Anschutz Medical Campus and the Fitzsimons Innovation Community, was founded in 1918 by the U.S. Army during WWI to treat the large number of U.S. service members suffering from the effects of chemical weapons and tuberculosis, and was decommissioned by the Army in 1999.
During her time there, Jo Ann worked tirelessly to treat service members from Vietnam who were suffering from severe illnesses and traumatic injuries.
“When I was first there, the center was considered to be the evacuation place for service members who had infectious diseases,” she said. “I was on a unit with a lot of young men who were suffering from blackwater fever, malaria and intestinal parasites. We also treated a lot of men with eye injuries. So many young men had been blinded or had neurological injuries.”
One of the greatest barriers she recalled facing was the lack of resources the Army provided, both to the medical departments and the enlistees coming back from their tenure of service.
“I can remember feeling so angry and sad,” Jo Ann said. “There we were, under resourced and under staffed – when casualties surged I was working six days a week for 12 hours at a time – and we didn’t have any options, we couldn’t say no. The worst part was witnessing the moral injury of how the men coming back from Vietnam were being treated by the community. It was a very tough time, and these poor guys had insults hurled at them on top of what they were dealing with to recover. So many suffered PTSD and there was no support from the government or community at the time. It was so shameful.”
Jo Ann was honorably discharged from service in February of 1968 after serving as an active duty nurse for two years.
“After my time at Fitzsimons, Barb [Hershelman] and I (who I met during my time at Hamot), decided to start working at the Presbyterian Medical Center in Denver. It was when I was living in Denver when I met my husband Barry in 1969,” she explained.
After marrying her husband Barry Collier in 1970, the couple moved to the Akron, Ohio area in January of 1974, but not before Jo Ann would obtain her Master’s Degree in Nursing from the University of Colorado, Boulder that same year. She would also receive her PhD in Medical Sociology in 1987 and work at the University of Akron for 23 years, teaching for 10 years at the graduate level. During her time teaching, she made strides in the field, spearheading clinical research as well as working with organizations like the American Diabetes Association.
“I left in 1997, then I assumed a variety of part time positions including diabetes educator, nurse practitioner in endocrine practice and a health department, led professional continuing education seminars, and participated in planning and presenting educational programs for the American Diabetes Association as well as being a consultant to legislative and national diabetes-related initiatives,” Jo Ann said.
After her retirement in 2004, she stayed busy, volunteering in a number of organizations and singing in her church choir as well as taking part in one of her favorite hobbies as a member of a local sewing guild. Her decision to move to Concordia at Sumner came at a difficult point in her life after her husband died of cancer in April of 2018.
“After Barry died I was living alone,” she said. “I didn’t want to stay in the house and deal with the upkeep, and I had an accident that affected my health. That’s why I came to Concordia, and I also knew some great people who lived here.”
Jo Ann moved in to her new apartment in January of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and she looks forward to the opportunity to meet more of her neighbors soon. For now, she continues to spend as much time with her close friends and family as she can, including her former roommate and best friend Barb, who she met during her time in nursing school.
“If there is one thing I tell people when they thank me for my service it’s that I think of myself as a witness,” she said. “There were so many brave men and women who I had the privilege of working with and it was a great honor to witness their service.”
While Veterans Day is an important day to set side to honor veterans and their stories, they deserve our greatest respect every day of the year. Concordia salutes Jo Ann and all veterans for their dedication and service to our country.
For more information about Concordia at Sumner and the senior care services provided there, call 330-664-1000 or message us through the contact form on our website. You can also check out our interactive Care Levels and Services map for more information about the services offered at our locations in Western PA, Eastern OH and Tampa, FL.
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