George and Donna Francis were married in June of 1952. A student at Valparaiso University in Indiana at the time, he had no idea he would be drafted into the Army two months later and serve in a mental hospital in Germany.
The U.S. was in the middle of the Korean War when Francis and 10 others from his hometown of Storm Lake were sent to Fort Crowder, Mo. to get their uniforms and instructions. After a couple of days, they were sent to Camp Pickett, Va. for three months of basic training in the Army Medical Corps.
“The reason I was assigned to the Medical Corps was I had worked in a mental hospital — Beatty Memorial Hospital near Valparaiso — to earn money for college,” Francis said.
“I worked in a ward taking care of elderly, mentally ill patients. We had 25 people in the ward. They were not locked in. The door was open. Many were syphilis and gonorrhea patients in the final stages.
“That experience saved me from going to Korea,” he commented.
After three months at Camp Pickett, Francis was sent to New York where he boarded a troop ship and crossed the Atlantic. After three days of being seasick, he arrived in a port along the northern coast of Europe and was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, where he was stationed at 97th General Hospital for 1.5 years.
“I worked on a ward with two other Army nurses,” he said, and we were locked in that ward eight hours a day.
“There were 20 mentally disturbed GIs there — some violent, some not violent.
“It was a rather stressful job,” he said. “There was either unrest or the patients couldn’t be trusted. We often had to break up fights, or a patient would become violent and we had to wrap him in frozen bedsheets for two hours to calm him down.
“This happened at least once a day, and fights occurred an average of once a day.”
Among Francis’ duties were serving meals and giving baths.
“Sometimes a patient would turn on me and try to hurt me,” he said. “Almost every day, I had a patient try to attack me, and I had to learn to defend myself.”
Francis said in his position, he never knew what was going to happen. The patients were not only mentally ill, but some also had physical ailments.
“Most of their mental breakdowns were a result of the service,” he said.
“Some were so desperate to get back to the states they shot themselves in the arm or the leg. Sometimes the patients were just worn out physically and mentally from practicing in a foxhole for days and days.”
While in Frankfurt, Francis lived in a barracks near the hospital. Though it was 1953 or 1954, he said the residential areas of Frankfurt were still in ruins from World War II, but rebuilding had begun in downtown Frankfurt.
“I served my time and went back to the states, experiencing another three days of seasickness,” he said.
Francis arrived in New York City, getting a chance to see the Statue of Liberty, then traveled by train to Chicago where he received his honorable discharge.
“I got on an Illinois Central Train — a steam engine — at Grand Central Station in Chicago,” he said. “It was the best day of my life. I had dreamed of home, and in six hours I would be back in Storm Lake.
“It was about 5 in the afternoon when I arrived and saw my wife at the depot. We both cried. It was one of the happiest days of our lives.”
After returning home. Francis finished his college education at Buena Vista in Storm Lake with the help of the GI Bill while Donna served as a secretary.
He started teaching in 1956 at Webb, which is northeast of Storm Lake and near Sioux Rapids.
“I taught business education for seven years, and in the spring of 1963, I was informed they were going to reorganize the district. I didn’t want to go, and saw that Davis County was hiring teachers.
“They hired me after a phone interview, and I moved my family here by truck. We lived on West Walnut Street for seven years, then moved to Washington Street. I’ve lived there ever since.
After teaching business in Davis County for 30 years, Francis retired in 1993 and one of his former students, Sandy Warning, took over his position. “She’s a good teacher,” he said.
Donna, Francis’ wife of 65 years, passed away on Nov. 14, 2017, and is buried in Memorial Lawn Cemetery north of Ottumwa in the honorable plot section for veterans with honorable discharges and their wives.
Francis is proud of their children, Jeff, Teresa (Smith), and Allan of Bloomfield and Julie (Roemerman) of Indiana as well as their 10 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. A great-great-grandchild is due around the first of September.
At age 90, Francis said he has had “surgeries galore” but he is still active and continues to hunt turkey and do some bow-hunting for deer. “I use my third arm,” he said, holding up his cane, “and sit on a pail by a tree trunk.”
Looking back at his time in the service, Francis noted he went in as a buck private and came out a corporal. “That’s good for two year’s work,” he said.