Three nurses who died in World War II are forgotten no longer

They didn’t fire a shot or fight on the front lines. But their behind-the-scenes efforts helped the United States win World War II.

Three nurses who worked at the former U.S. Naval Hospital in Norco will be saluted Monday, May 29, at the city’s George Ingalls Veterans Memorial Plaza.

The names of Lt. Lucille Hendricks, Ensign Helen Mary Roehler and Ensign Ruby Toquam have been engraved in black granite in the wall of honor. Ensigns are junior officers in the Navy.

They are the first women to be enshrined and join 24 men who died in service, were killed in action or died of a service-related injury or illness. All were Norco residents.

“These were handpicked nurses,” said City Councilman Kevin Bash, a member of the city panel that approved the distinction. “They were the best of the best that came here. They were part of us. Sadly, they were completely forgotten.”

The three women were killed April 23,1944, in a plane crash in Alaska.


Bash got the idea to honor the nurses after reading local newspaper accounts of their World War II service. He got military records documenting their work and contributions to the community.

Hendricks, a Texas native, arrived in Norco as chief nurse Dec. 22, 1941, and helped set up the hospital. She helped train the largest group of Mayo Clinic specialists outside the famed Minnesota hospital. Hendricks established what would become a groundbreaking medical treatment center that included the first neurosurgery unit in Navy history, Bash said.

Norco was Hendricks’ home the next three years. She made frequent trips to other naval hospitals to teach medical personnel new techniques in plastic surgery, spinal cord operations and treatment of brain injuries.

“She was a pioneer in the nursing field,” Bash said. “Nothing advances medicine like a war.”

Hendricks was assigned head nurse at the naval base in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in March 1944. She was in charge of creating and expanding treatment centers at several bases and outposts.

Hendricks, Roehler and Toquam died instantly when the plane crashed into a mountain as they were flying to a new hospital on a nearby island.

Read more at The Press Enterprise

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