Pearl Harbour nurse enjoys peaceful life at Hervey Bay
FOR Mary McDonald, the balmy temperatures and laid back lifestyle of the coastal community of Hervey Bay in Queensland, where she lives in residential aged care at RSL Care Baycrest, evoke memories of her childhood in Hawaii.
Mary, 95, was born in Monroe, Washington in 1921 to a father who was an Army reserve officer and a mother who was a nurse, and the family moved to Honolulu in 1923 when her father took up a posting in Wahiawa near the Scholfield Barracks.
The world will remember the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, but for Mary it's a day she has never forgotten.
At the start of the Second World War, Mary's father had been recommissioned as a Colonel and taken charge of military transportation across the island, and she had entered nurse training at the Queen's Hospital School of Nursing. On what she calls 'that fateful day', she had been given a Sunday off and was one of seven passengers and four children crowded into a taxi as events unfolded.
"The first bomb had already dropped on Pearl Harbour and we could see black smoke up ahead, however we didn't realise how serious the situation was until the military policemen turned us off the main road and into a back road through a cane field," Mary recalls.
"Just as we were coming out of this road a single zero aircraft came towards our taxi. It was flying so low that we could clearly see the pilot as he dropped a bomb over the road we had just been driving down. "
She tells how the taxi driver became very scared, stopped the car and tried to flee the scene. Another passenger had to pull him back into the vehicle.
"We later learned the pilot was not trying to bomb us, he was aiming for an ammunition storage dump burrowed in the side of the hills which he missed.
"On our way back we had to drive past Pearl Harbour. The battleship USS Arizona had already been destroyed and other ships were breaking up and burning.
"It was here we also saw the horrors of war, there were sailors jumping off the ships into the burning oil on the surface of the water. It was truly a terrible sight."
On her return home past the air force base Mary noticed all the planes on the tarmac had been destroyed. A radio announcement informed her that martial law had been invoked and war with Japan was declared.
"We were informed all nurses and medical personnel were requested to return to work immediately. When I reached the hospital the wounded were already coming in," she remembers.
"The beds were non-existent and the wounded were on stretchers in the verandahs on the ground floor. Those requiring surgery had to be carried up five flights of stairs to the operating rooms as we were fearful of power failures and using the lifts.
"The hardest part about that day was treating the civilian victims, those who had been caught in the crossfire suffering from wounds and burns from misdirected bombs. I worked all through the day and night and when I finally returned home I collapsed from exhaustion."
"When I look back on those experiences I realised I should have been scared but I wasn't."
In March 1942 Mary boarded a military commanded cruise liner to evacuate people from the Hawaiian island, however the boat was overloaded and she remembers there were not enough life jackets to go around.
The journey took twice as long as it should have as the crew feared attacks from enemy submarines. The passengers were uncertain of their destination, and it was only when the welcoming span of the Golden Gate Bridge appeared they realised they were headed for San Francisco.
Back on the mainland as a young woman, Mary headed to the decidedly frostier climate of Minnesota and completed her nursing degree in 1944. She earned a degree as a Registered Nurse and Bachelor of Science in Nursing Education. She taught nursing in Minnesota and later worked in a hospital in Virginia.
She migrated to Australia in 1964 and moved first to Brisbane and then to Cairns, where she met and married Jack McDonald.
At RSL Care Baycrest she still pursue the interests she loves, particularly books and history - she is a particular fan of Australian novels.
Her lively intelligence and love of learning are a driving force that allows her to continue to study, learn and engage with fellow residents and employees.
Keeping abreast of technology is another focus, and she uses her iPad every day to keep in touch with friends and family and stay abreast of current events.