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It Just Had to Be
Orange County Public Libraries
Birenbaum, Betti Handler
Contributing Institution
OC Public Libraries
California Revealed from Orange County Public Libraries
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Visiting and returning to California after serving as a nurse in World War II.
One of my assignments while I was still stateside was to transport wounded soldiers on a hospital train from the east coast to the west coast and drop them off at hospitals nearest their home town. The last stop of this trip was California. We were in the San Fernando Valley. It was perfectly blue skies, sunshine and no smog, and all this open land after being in the cities. Oh, I thought of it like paradise. I decided that I was gonna come back. There was the Birmingham Army General Hospital and that’s where we dropped the patients off. Picked up more patients from there and went back to North Carolina. Well, soon after that I received the orders to go overseas. All of us were transported to England and from there we sailed on to France. The beach where we were at was Omaha Beach, which was the same place where D-Day took place. Our unit was supposed to be ready for the Battle of Germany. So in the meantime, we were just taking care of patients wherever they were. We went on a boxcar for six days. Finally, when we arrived in Belgium, when the people saw us, we were pretty ragged because we would get one canteen of water per day which was for drinking as well as for brushing the teeth. Helmets were used for a lot of things. They came in very handy for washing things, washing your hair and stuff like that. The people were so happy to see us. The hairdresser, he opened his shop and he washed our hair, every one of us. It was the greatest thing he could have done for us. The war was winding down. We stayed on, whether we wanted or not, with what was called the army of occupation. We saw all kinds of patients. At first, the greatest number were almost a thousand patients that had been liberated from a concentration camp. They were in terrible condition, very emaciated, and they were infested with lice. After I was discharged from the military in January of ’46, then I had to make a decision where I wanted to go and what I was going to do. So I remembered my thoughts about California and what I had then planned at that time – to come back. I just decided, “Well, I’ll just take a train and go”. I arrived at the Union Station in Los Angeles and it was quite a letdown, a totally different view of California. But I realized that. I then was introduced to a gentleman who, after a few months, got married to. So we were trying very hard to find a place to live. We really didn’t know much about the area at all. We just happened to come upon this one tract of new homes and I didn’t realize for quite some time that this tract of homes was the exact place where the train had stopped and where the hospital was. When my children were school aged, this old army hospital – Birmingham Hospital – had been turned into a high school. So the whole area, and our living there – I had a feeling all along that it was something that just had to be. I had come to the place before, not intentionally, and something had drawn me to come back.
California Preservation Service (CAPS)
moving image
World War II
Birenbaum, Betti Handler
The California Revealed Project is supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

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