Mary & Al Generous – WWII Army/Air Force Nurse & United States Airman, A “Greatest Generation” Love Story
Posted on November 11, 2014
Article by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke these words upon asking the U.S. Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, thus marking the entrance of the U.S. into World War II.
Those who victoriously faced down the despotism of that era have come to be known as “the Greatest Generation.”
With World War II raging overseas and American casualties mounting, in the early 1940s “Uncle Sam” put out an urgent appeal for military nurses. Between December of 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the end of the war in 1945, the ranks of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps swelled from fewer than 1,000 to more than 59,000, according to http://www.nationalww2museum.org. These dedicated women, it was noted, served close to enemy frontlines sustaining casualties themselves, in field and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and ships, and medical transport planes.
And they served on the homefront, where the need was said to be critical to treat not only returning warriors but also airmen injured in training accidents in those pioneering days of American WWII aviation.
The story of “the Greatest Generation” includes Army/Air Force Nurse Lieutenant Mary Campany and US Airman Alfred R. Generous, a pilot in the Army Air Force, who were married in 1945. In response to questions presented by newsandviewsjb, their daughter recently shared a history of her parents’ military service.
Mary Campany of Croghan, New York, was a petite young woman who was graduated as a registered nurse at the top of her class from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital School of Nursing in Massachusetts. Turning down a full scholarship to carry on with her studies, she chose instead to answer America’s call to service and joined the Army Nurse Corps and became a lieutenant.
At that time in his mid-twenties and having begun a promising career at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, the tall, broad-shouldered Alfred “Al” R. Generous from North Windham, Connecticut was determined to become part of the war effort as an airman.
Their devotion to country led Mary and Al to each other, and a romance that endured through more than fifty years of marriage. Over the years they shared their memories of those times with their children, particularly their oldest daughter Mary Elizabeth “Libby” Generous Smith, now of New York.
“The military was pleading for nurses as they had a shortage due to the number of casualties overseas,” Libby said.
Public service was stressed in the village of Croghan where Mary grew up. In fact, said Libby, during those World War II years, Croghan had a population of just 700 residents and of that number, one hundred entered the military. The Campany Family was well represented in military service – Mary, two of her brothers and an aunt. In addition, Mary’s sister left a teaching position to serve with the American Red Cross.
Stationed at Westover Air Force Base in Westover, Massachusetts, Mary treated America’s troops returning from the battle zones, nursing men who had suffered serious wounds. One memory her mother shared with Libby stood out in her mind she said, “I remember her saying that big, strapping, battle hardened veterans who had seen unspeakable things, would keel over in a dead faint at the sight of a hypodermic needle.”
A few years back, in her girlhood home of Croghan, Mary was honored for her service. She was invited to participate in the Memorial Day Parade and a ceremony to dedicate a memorial to the town’s WWII veterans – a project initiated by the research of an Eagle Scout. In addition, Mary’s name is proudly listed on a memorial in Washington D.C. dedicated to women in the military.
There has been some disagreement among Mary’s children as to whether she was an Air Force Nurse or as their mother has maintained, an Army Nurse attached to the Army Air Force. Libby said she believes light can be shed on the matter by a review of a timeline which indicates the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the military in 1947, two years after Mary was honorably discharged, making her mother’s explanation of her designation accurate.
A growing effort in the U.S. has sought to bring greater recognition to the women of the WWII nursing corps. Their skills and selfless compassion are credited with helping the U.S. and the other Allied powers win the war perpetrated by German dictator Adolf Hitler and the Axis countries.
In an introduction to “WWII Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II” published in preparation for the 50th anniversary of WWII, Gordan R. Sullivan, General, US Army, who was then chief of staff, wrote: “The skill and dedication of these nurses contributed to the extremely low post-injury mortality rate among American military forces in every theater of war. Overall, fewer than 4 percent of the American soldiers who received medical care in the field or underwent evacuation died from wounds or disease.” Sullivan went on to characterize WWII as “the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind.” A war said Sullivan that more than any “united us as a people with a common purpose.”
And what about that airman who won Mary’s heart?
Mary and Al met in Westover, MA where Al had been transferred for treatment of the serious injury he sustained when his bomber crashed during a training mission.
“Training was rugged in those early days of World War II aviation. I understand there were a lot of serious injuries from training accidents,” noted Al’s nephew, John F. Bennett, Jr. of Connecticut, himself a USAF veteran.
Setting the stage for those who followed in their footsteps, Al’s nephew further noted early military aviators were an extraordinary breed, “high-spirited” and almost fearless, with a allegiance to duty that ran deep. All of those traits were apparent when, Al, a B-17 bomber pilot, faced serious injury in the wake of his plane crashing while he was flying training missions out of Tampa, Florida, on the eve of deployment overseas.
“Training was sort of ‘seat of the pants’ flying according to Dad,” said Libby.
“Dad managed to keep the plane in tact, breaking only the propellers and his ankle, which was smashed. His engine had died and he wanted the air corps to be able to have as much in tact as possible to find out the cause of the problem,” she added.
As a result of his injury, Al was transferred from hospital to hospital in search of the best treatment that could return him to the cockpit. His brother, Oliver Generous, was a fighter pilot during WWII who went on to fly Berlin Airlift missions. When Al was sent to a hospital in Westover where Mary was stationed, their lives melded.
Mary was considering signing on as a transport nurse for overseas flights returning soldiers from battle, and Al was eager to get back to flying.
Cupid had something else in mind for Mary and Al.
The love story…
Smitten with this caring nurse, Al began wooing her which led him to make multiple marriage proposals. His flirtations with Mary were said to have caught the attention of the chief of staff on base.
“Dad said the chief of staff at the base hospital, an older, fatherly sort of senior officer came to see (Dad) in his room and read him the riot act. It went something like this, ‘ I know you fly boys and your attitudes. So you leave Lt. Campany alone. She is one of our good girls’,” Libby said.
However, Al was a small town boy and he and Mary shared many of the same family values. Wearing their uniforms, they married in August of 1945.
After they were married, Mary became pregnant and was honorably discharged. Al had been able to return to his post in Florida prior to their marriage but his injury prevented him from going overseas. He traveled from Florida up to New York for the wedding and was subsequently placed on indefinite leave, later receiving an honorable medical discharge. Al brought Mary back to Connecticut with him where he resumed his career with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft serving as an aircraft inspector and consultant. Another interesting anecdote shared by Libby is of her parents’ return to Connecticut by train with then 7 month old Libby in tow, “in a large wicker laundry basket.” They raised their family in Connecticut – Mary Elizabeth “Libby”, John David “J.D.”, Barbara Jeanne, Robert Alfred, Daniel Campany, Edward James, Steven Joseph, Teresa Anne, Oliver Elwyn, Martin Paul and Renee Claire; (Steven died in infancy, Daniel and J.D. are also deceased). Mary and Al had 23 grandchildren and to date have 25 great-grandchildren.
Al passed away at age 87 in 2003. Mary, 94, resides in New York.
“Coming from a family with a strong Air Force Tradition we appreciate the dedication of all men and women in armed services,” said Edward Generous of Connecticut, Mary’s and Al’s son.
(Writer’s note: Alfred Generous, “Uncle Al”, was my mother, Cecelia Generous Bennett’s brother, and John F. Bennett, Jr. is my brother. Many thanks to my cousin “Libby” for providing an extensive history of her parents’ military service for this article.)