Ford tough: Former U.S. Army nurse Marta Ford reflects on years of service
Marta Ford feels she is busier these days than she was when she was an active duty member of the Army Nurse Corps in the ’60s. She recently became the first female commander in Newton American Legion Post 111 history, served on the Freedom Flight Committee and is the chair of the Jasper County Commission of Veterans Affairs.
Marta, whose father was a World War II veteran, was an active duty nurse from 1966 to 1969 and also spent nearly three decades as a member of the Army Reserves, where she retired as a lieutenant colonel.
“We were doing our psych affiliation up in Independence, Iowa, and we were playing hearts,” Marta said. “If you lost, you had to sit on the floor. There was a brochure laying there about the Army Nurse Corps, and I picked it up, and I read it and decided, ‘I think that’s what I want to do.’”
Marta was 19 and still in nursing school at the time, so she needed her parents’ signature to sign up.
“My dad wasn’t real thrilled,” Marta said. “During World War II, he was a bombardier in Europe and flew missions over there. When I was born, in fact, they had just come back from a bombing run on Munich, Germany. His buddy came running out to the airfield with a telegram that said I had been born. Dad said he knew that it was a girl and that I would never have to serve in the military.”
Marta, of course, would go on to prove her father’s proclamation wrong.
“So he wasn’t real gung ho about it, but my mother convinced him,” she said.
Although she is a Vietnam-era veteran, Marta said she had never heard about the war before joining the service.
“As I recall, the recruiter, who was a major and a nurse and the recruiter for the state of Iowa, never mentioned it,” Ford said. “I didn’t hear the word ‘Vietnam’ until I went to basic training in early 1966. Then they were asking for volunteers.
“A lot of nurses volunteered,” she continued. “That was the one thing my dad had told me before I went in: ‘Don’t volunteer for anything.’ So, I didn’t volunteer.”
Marta went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for basic training for eight weeks.
“Basic training consisted of nurses and doctors, and the doctors had all been drafted. They were not happy campers at all,” Marta said jokingly. “They acted horrible, that’s what I can remember a lot about. (Basic) consisted of orientating you to the military, a lot of classes — which we paid no attention to at all — and marching.”
With most of the people attending basic with her being in the medical profession, Marta said other soldiers laughed at them for kicks.
“That’s how everybody at Fort Sam got their entertainment every day. They would stand out on the balconies and watch all these doctors and nurses drill in ceremony,” Marta said. “We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Not a clue. It was horrible.”
After her training was complete, Marta was stationed in Fort Lee, Va., which was her second choice.
“I had never been out of the state of Iowa, except on vacation. Texas, Colorado, Chicago was all I could remember. But that was with my folks,” Marta said. “I grew up in Killduff. There were a 150 people in Killduff. I went to country school from kindergarten through eighth grade. There were four kids in my class. Going to Des Moines was a big deal, and going there to school was a bigger deal.”
Being on the East Coast allowed her to experience many different cultures, she said. This also exposed her to some of the significant cultural events happening at the time. Marta said she was in Washington, D.C., during the riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She met and treated many of the injured who were coming back from war and saw how segregated Virginia was at that time.
Once her active service was up, she remained in the reserves until 1975. She then rejoined the reserves again in 1980, remaining a member until 2004.
During her time in the reserves, she served in multiple roles and received numerous awards. Her former commander, Arthur Bean, was thoroughly impressed with Marta’s help in combining the services of the Army hospitals in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
“(She) was instrumental in developing unit cohesion between the 830th Station Hospital and the 73rd Combat Support Hospital when they merged to form the 4224th United States Army Hospital,” he wrote. “(She) personally traveled numerous times to Cedar Rapids to maintain the morale of all soldiers during and since the transition.”
At that time she served as chief nurse and directly supervised 60 officers and 150 enlisted medics.
Marta credits family support for enabling her to serve her country for so many years and stresses its importance to military families.
“Both of my children are proud of my military service,” Marta said. “I just did my job. I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.