Randy Forbes: A story from Pearl Harbor
She’d moved to Hawaii just weeks before – quite far, both in geography and profession, from her childhood life on a farm in rural Maryland. Her mom had urged her to train to be a nurse. Kathryn did, but she was unsatisfied at the quiet private hospitals near her home. She wanted to feel she was truly making a difference. So she joined the Army Nurse Corps, and found herself months later traveling thousands of miles from home.
And that December morning, she was on call.
“They woke me up, the noise,” she said. Kathryn recounted the confusion in her nurses’ quarters as everyone around her startled to the sound and smoke outside, trying to make sense of what was happening. Kathryn received a phone call from the operating room. They needed her to come in.
Kathryn ran as fast as she could from the quarters to the hospital, not knowing what else might fall from the sky, fearing for her own life but not hesitating for a moment.
Kathryn Mary Doody was only 25 years old, yet she found herself treating patients at Tripler Army Hospital on December 7, 1941. In that moment she was thrust into the world of combat medicine. As an operating room nurse, she cared for an overflowing room of wounded men and assisted with amputations even as bullets hit the pavement outside. She worked until midnight before taking her first break.
Kathryn Mary Doody was an everyday American, from a small town in rural Maryland. But she went on to save lives. She was young, with limited experience and credentials. But she had the courage to run toward danger when duty called. She didn’t have a particularly exciting background or a glamorous career. But she had a vision for making a difference for our nation. Kathryn’s story – however small or large one may think it is – is sown into the fabric of our nation. It isarchived and shared in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. She is connected to the veterans she cared for on that tragic day. She witnessed living history.
She wouldn’t realize it until later, but Pearl Harbor brought her into more than a career – it gave her a calling. She went on to lead a long and distinguished career as a combat nurse, serving in Europe during World War II and with Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units (the ones later made famous in M*A*S*H) in the Korean War. She made it her duty to carry out the Army Nurse Corps creed: to nurture the most helpless and vulnerable and offer courage and hope to those in despair.
Remembering anniversaries like Pearl Harbor is important not just to our history, but to our national identity – to know where we’ve come from and where we are going. It reminds us of who we are as a country – who we are as Americans. Because it is at these turning points in our history – these defining moments – that we are stripped down to our raw selves and our character is revealed.
That’s why when I hear stories like Kathryn’s, I can’t help but think – that’s us. The American character at its core is selfless, gritty, and honorable. As we remember Pearl Harbor, I am moved by the raw courage of quiet heroes like Kathryn Mary Doody and the many others like her who put service before self that day and to this day. This is what makes up the spirit and character of America. It’s what spurs us to greatness. It’s what sets us apart.
Our immediate connection to Pearl Harbor is flickering. Kathryn Mary Doody died five years ago at the age of 93. Today, 74 years after the attacks, only a small group of survivors remain. It is our responsibility to resolve to remember. To tell the stories, to honor the sacrifices, to emulate the courage. Anniversaries like Pearl Harbor remind us of that despite the challenges we have faced in the past and will face in the future, one thing remains the same: the American character. It defines us. It sustains us. At a time when many Americans feel like their country is slipping through their fingers, it motivates us.
Because it’s a character worth fighting for – on the frontlines, in our communities, and in the halls of Congress.
Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.