2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan (1918–1943)

2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan, in a photo she apparently sent to her brother, Tommy (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives, enhanced with MyHeritage)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Pennsylvania, DelawareRegistered nurse
BranchService Number
U.S. ArmyN-722877
TheaterUnit
Mediterranean32nd Station Hospital
Military Occupational Specialty
3449 (nurse, general duty)

Author’s note: Sheridan served in my grandfather’s unit. This article incorporates some text from my previous articles published to my 32nd Station Hospital website, “Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part III (Last Names N–S)” and “The Mystery of Rachel H. Sheridan, the 32nd Station Hospital’s Lost Nurse.”

Early Life & Family

Rachel Sheridan was born on September 30, 1918, in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, near the town of McAdoo. She was the fifth of seven children born to Thomas Theodore Sheridan (a coal miner, 1884–1949) and Hannah B. Sheridan (née Shovlin, 1884–1954). Her father was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Rachel had three older brothers: Cornelius F. Sheridan (1909–1951), Francis P. Sheridan (1910–1939), and John T. Sheridan (1913–1984). She also had an older sister, Margaret Sheridan (1915–1916, who died of bronchitis when she was just eight months old, before Rachel was born), as well as a younger sister, Mary Lou Sheridan (later Bauer, 1922–1997), and a younger brother, Thomas T. Sheridan, Jr. (1924–2002).

The Sheridan family was recorded on the census on January 13 or 14, 1920, living at 55 Main Street in Banks Township in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. By the time they were recorded on the census on April 14, 1930, the Sheridan family had moved to West Blaine Street in nearby McAdoo. Sheridan graduated from grammar school at St. Patrick’s in McAdoo and then McAdoo High School in 1936.

Sheridan was Catholic. A December 16, 1943, article in The Plain Speaker reported that “She was a member of St. Patrick’s church, McAdoo, and of the Immaculate Conception Sodality of the parish.”

Newspaper articles printed on September 20, 1937, and December 30, 1937, stated that Sheridan was attending Pottsville Hospital School of Nursing. It appears that she dropped out or transferred, because on September 1, 1938, Sheridan began nursing school at the Delaware State Hospital in Farnhurst (south of Wilmington). Several months later, Sheridan’s brother, Francis P. Sheridan, a coal miner, died suddenly on January 8, 1939, apparently due to a cardiac ailment of unknown cause.

It appears that the Delaware State Hospital nursing school was live-in. Sheridan was recorded on the census on April 13, 1940, on an institutional sheet for the Delaware Hospital & Training School for Nurses. Sheridan graduated from nursing school in 1941. She may have continued to live at the hospital, since her mother listed it as her preservice address in a statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission.


Military Career

Sheridan was recruited for the Army Nurse Corps through the Delaware Chapter of the American Red Cross. She went on active duty in the U.S. Army on February 5, 1942, serving at the station hospital at Camp Upton on Long Island, New York. Her mother’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission stated that 2nd Lieutenant Sheridan went to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, on maneuvers from August 31, 1942, to October 31, 1942, before returning to Camp Upton.

Lieutenant Sheridan’s niece, Rachel McHugh, recalls being told that sometime in 1942 or early 1943, Lieutenant Sheridan was able to meet her younger siblings, Mary L. and Thomas T. Sheridan, Jr., in New York City one last time before going overseas. Their older brother, John T. Sheridan, was either already overseas or about to ship out with the U.S. Marine Corps. Later in 1943, Mary Sheridan, also a graduate of nursing school at Delaware State Hospital, joined the Army Nurse Corps and Thomas joined the U.S. Navy.

2nd Lieutenant Rachel Sheridan (Courtesy of Leo McHugh)

2nd Lieutenant Sheridan joined the 32nd Station Hospital at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on December 29, 1942. On January 13, 1943, she boarded the transport U.S.S Ancon (AP-66) at the New York Port of Embarkation. Ancon departed early the following morning as part of Convoy UGF-4, arriving at the port of Mers-el-Kébir (near Oran, Algeria) on January 26, 1943. The following day, Sheridan disembarked and entered staging with the rest of the unit at Bouisseville, Algeria.

When the 32nd Station Hospital arrived overseas, its strength was 21 medical officers (18 doctors and three dentists), 55 nurses, 13 other officers (10 administrative officers, two chaplains, and a laboratory officer), 269 enlisted men, and six civilians (two physical therapists and a dietician who were later commissioned in the Army of the United States, and three American Red Cross volunteers).

On February 18, 1943, Sheridan traveled with the rest of the unit inland to Tlemcen, Algeria, to begin operations. The 32nd Station Hospital requisitioned two local schools to use as hospital wards, supplemented by several smaller buildings constructed by engineers. Officers were billeted in the beautiful Hotel Transatlantique. Beginning on February 28, 1943, the hospital treated patients from nearby installations (such as the Fifth Army’s Tank Destroyer Training Center in Sebdou) as well as battle casualties from Tunisia and Sicily that were brought in by rail or flown to La Sénia Airport (now Ahmed Ben Bella Airport), located outside Oran.

While operating in Tlemcen, Algeria, 32nd Station Hospital officers (including Sheridan) lived in the Hotel Transatlantique (Courtesy of the Goss family)
Building “A” at the 32nd Station Hospital in Tlemcen, previously L’Ecole des Filles Indigenes (Courtesy of the Hagelshaw family)
The huts collectively known as Building “B” (Courtesy of the Mann family)
32nd Station Hospital Building “C” in Tlemcen, previously L’Ecole des Filles (Courtesy of the Devereaux family)

Writing over five decades later, another member of the 32nd Station Hospital, Technician 4th Grade Willard Havemeier (1920–2009), recalled in his memoir that some nurses including Sheridan attended the enlisted men’s dances despite being forbidden from doing so due to regulations prohibiting fraternization between officers and enlisted men. Havemeier recalled: “I became friendly with one of the nurses, Rachel Sheridan, a real Irish beauty with a great smile.  We were seeing each other regularly at the dances.  I really liked her a lot.”

On the morning of November 24, 1943—the day before Thanksgiving—2nd Lieutenant Sheridan boarded a Douglas C-47 (serial number 41-7811) at Maison Blanche (now Houari Boumediene Airport) near Algiers. There were three crew members and six passengers aboard when plane—operated under the auspices of III Air Service Area Command, XII Air Force Service Command and piloted by 1st Lieutenants Jerome B. Jordan, Jr. (1920–1943) and Michael J. Lagio (probably 1917–1943)—took off for a flight to La Sénia.

The reason why Lieutenant Sheridan was on the plane is unclear, though circumstantial evidence suggests that Sheridan enjoyed flying and hitched rides on aircraft when she had the opportunity. According to Leo McHugh, Sheridan’s great-nephew, his grandmother (Lieutenant Sheridan’s sister-in-law) told him that Lieutenant Sheridan was dating a pilot, a major in another unit. McHugh recalls being told that “Rachel saw an opportunity to meet him [and] volunteered for a transport, taking wounded back to a larger hospital.”

That Sheridan was dating a pilot is consistent with rumors swirling around the 32nd Station Hospital, but there is no evidence in surviving 32nd Station Hospital reports that 32nd Station Hospital nurses ever served as flight nurses. There is no indication that anyone aboard the C-47 was a patient, so if such an air evacuation flight took place, Sheridan must have been returning from it.

The airfield at Maison Blanche, Algeria. Remarkably, the photo is dated November 24, 1943, the same day as Lieutenant Sheridan’s ill-fated C-47 took off from this field. Numerous C-47s are visible in this photo, including the plane in the foreground with the truck parked next to it. (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

Shortly after the plane took off, disaster struck. An engine fire forced the pilots to ditch the C-47 in the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers recovered only three of the nine people aboard the plane: Sheridan, 1st Lieutenant Walter H. Baker (1919–1981), and Sergeant Kenneth B. Conlin (1919–2015). Both Baker and Conlin submitted statements that were identical, word for word, so the actual author is unknown. The statements indicated that they written at the 29th Station Hospital (which was in Algiers at the time) on November 25, 1943. The text of Lieutenant Baker’s statement is as follows:

On 24 November 1943, I the undersigned, Lt. Walter H. Baker, Jr., 0793714, 38th Air Depot Group, was a passenger on a C-47 type plane making a routine passenger and cargo flight from Algiers to Oran.

At approximately 15 miles out at sea, 15 minutes from take-off at Algiers about 10:00 AM the right engine started burning at 2500 feet altitude.  Bail out order was given but the aircraft lost altitude too rapidly to use parachutes.  The plane pancaked and all personnel cleared the ship and when doing so made attempts to put on “Mae Wests” [life vests].

A French Merchant Marine officer saw the plane go down and ordered two fishing boats to go out and at about 11:00 AM the boats picked up 2nd Lt. Rachel H. Sheridan, N-722877, Sgt. Kenneth B. Conlin, 14080604, and myself.

To the best of my knowledge andbelief [sic], the remaining six (6) individuals drowned.  The nurse, 2nd Lt. Rachel H. Sheriden [sic] died the 24 November 43 enroute to this hospital.

Lieutenant Sheridan’s cause of death was drowning according to several documents (report of burial, hospital admission card, and reconstructed service record at the National Personnel Records Center). If accurate, she apparently died prior to rescue but rescuers determined that their efforts to resuscitate her were futile during transport to the 29th Station Hospital.

In her 1943 nursing report, 1st Lieutenant Helen W. Brammer (1906–2001), the 32nd Station Hospital principal chief nurse, wrote:

          Thanksgiving Day was well marked with an excellent turkey dinner and trimmings and our Mess Department received a unanimous vote of thanks for having made the day so pleasant.  A bit of gloom hung over the day, however, for we had received official word that one of our Nurses had been killed in an airplane crash on her way from Algiers.

2nd Lieutenant Sheridan was initially buried after a Catholic service in the El Alia Cemetery in Algiers on November 25, 1943. During subsequent operations in Caserta, Italy, the 32nd Station Hospital’s personnel named the hospital chapel the “Sheridan-LaMonica Memorial Chapel,” also honoring Technician 5th Grade Dominick La Monica (1907–1944), another member of the unit killed in an accident on November 3, 1944.

1st Lieutenants Evelyn H. Wilson and Annie P. Barone outside the 32nd Station Hospital chapel in Caserta, Italy, on June 14, 1945, the day Barone married Chief Warrant Officer Thomas J. Hagerty. Note the sign reading “SHERIDAN-LaMONICA MEMORIAL CHAPEL” in honor of the two members of the 32nd Station Hospital killed during the war. (Courtesy of the Hagerty family)

The Wilmington Morning News reported on May 18, 1945, that a class of cadet nurses that graduated from Delaware State Hospital the night before “was named the Rachel H. Sheridan Class in tribute to Lieutenant Sheridan of the class of 1940, who was the first Army nurse graduated from the hospital to die overseas.” Later that year, Sheridan and her sister were among the Delaware nurses whose names were honored for their World War II service on a plaque displayed at the Delaware Chapter of the American Red Cross headquarters at 911 Delaware Ave in Wilmington. Dorothy Mowbray, who served with Sheridan in the 32nd Station Hospital, was present at the unveiling ceremony.

Dorothy Mowbray, who served with 2nd Lieutenant Sheridan in the 32nd Station Hospital, at the 1945 unveiling ceremony for the plaque honoring U.S. Army and Navy nurses from Delaware who served in World War II (Courtesy of the Mowbray family)
Detail from the above photo, in which both 2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan and her sister’s names are visible (Courtesy of the Mowbray family)

After the war, in September 1947, the Army offered Sheridan’s family the option of either repatriating her body to the United States or leaving her in a military cemetery overseas. In 1948, Lieutenant Sheridan’s mother requested that her daughter remain in a military cemetery abroad. On February 8, 1949, Sheridan’s body was laid to rest at the U.S. Military Cemetery Tunis (Carthage), Tunisia, now known as the North African American Cemetery. The six men killed in the crash are also memorialized on a cenotaph there since their bodies were not recovered. Sheridan’s mother also placed a memorial honoring her daughter at Sky-View Memorial Park in Hometown, Pennsylvania. Her name is also honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.

Sheridan was one of two servicewomen from Delaware to die during World War II, the other being Auxilary Alice L. Brittingham (1919–1943) of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.


Crew and Passengers Aboard C-47 41-7811 on November 24, 1943

The following list was adopted from Missing Air Crew Report No. 1465 with grade, unit, service number, and crew position if applicable. Baker and Conlin were the only survivors.

Crew

1st Lieutenant Jerome B. Jordan, Jr. (16th Troop Carrier Squadron, 64th Troop Carrier Group, on detached service with III Air Service Area Command), O-789722 (pilot)

1st Lieutenant Michael J. Lagio (Headquarters Squadron, III Air Service Area Command), O-917215 (copilot)

Staff Sergeant George Vilen (42nd Air Service Squadron, 329th Air Service Group), 6979312 (aerial engineer)

Passengers

1st Lieutenant Walter H. Baker (38th Air Depot Group), O-793714

Sergeant Kenneth B. Conlin (38th Air Depot Group), 14080604

1st Lieutenant Ernest W. Dvorak (Repair Squadron, 38th Air Depot Group), O-793746

Private Gomer Jones (38th Air Depot Group), 16098225

2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan (32nd Station Hospital), N-722877

1st Lieutenant John R. Southerlin (16th Troop Carrier Squadron, 64th Troop Carrier Group), O-789743


Notes

Place of Birth

Sheridan’s mother’s 1946 statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission listed her daughter’s place of birth as Audenried. However, she listed her daughter’s place of birth as Yorktown in a 1950 application for World War II compensation submitted to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Both locations are very close to one another, in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, north of the town of McAdoo.

1920 Census

In January 1920, the Sheridans were recorded living at 55 Main Street in Banks Township, Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Yorktown Village was listed but then crossed out on the census sheet. The only extant Main Streets in Banks Township today appear to be in Junedale and Beaver Meadows, and it appears only Junedale has a 55 Main St. Junedale appears to be somewhat east of Yorktown, however.

1930 Census

The 1930 census stated that the Sheridan family was living at 314 West Blain Street in McAdoo. It is likely a typo, as they were recorded at 304 West Blaine Street on the 1940 census and other records. It is certainly possible that they moved. However, the 1930 census taker appeared to be going in order up the street. Despite that, after the Sheridans, two more families were recorded at 304, then 310, then 312, then 322. The address of 314 West Blain Street does not appear in the 1940 census, nor is it an extant address today.

1940 Census

The 1940 stated that Sheridan’s occupation was “Nursing”—but she clearly was a nursing student. In addition to the newspaper article giving her graduation date as 1941, the census record stated that she did not work or earn income in 1939, nor did she work in the week of March 24–30, 1940.

Hospital Admission Card

Hospital admission cards were filled out even when a victim did not survive to reach treatment, including in this case.

Michael J. Lagio

The C-47’s copilot, Lagio was listed as a 2nd lieutenant in the M.A.C.R. but as a 1st lieutenant on various casualty lists.

Photo Enhancement

The photo at the top of this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (in this case, because the original print had a texture which limited details that could be resolved in a scan). I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below.

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)

Acknowledgments

This is an especially meaningful story to me since 2nd Lieutenant Sheridan served with my grandfather, Dr. Robert Silverman, for nearly a year. Special thanks to Lieutenant Sheridan’s niece, Rachel Sheridan McHugh, and great-nephew, Leo McHugh, for contributing information and a photograph. Thanks also go out to the Delaware Public Archives and the families of 32nd Station Hospital members for the use of their photos. For a comprehensive history of her unit, please visit my other website about the 32nd Station Hospital.


Bibliography

“31 Join Nurses Class at Wilmington General.” Wilmington Morning News, September 2, 1938. Pg. 10. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92711460/sheridan-wilmington-general/

“54 Enroll in Nursing Classes at Hospitals.” Wilmington Morning News, September 1, 1939. Pg. 10. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92712365/sheridan-class-of-1941/

“2LT Rachael Hannah Sheridan.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/104299916/rachael-hannah-sheridan

Brammer, Helen W. “Report of Nursing Activities – 1943.” World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://32ndstationhospital.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/32nd-sta-hosp-1943-nursing-report.pdf

“Francis P. Sheridan.” Standard-Sentinel, January 9, 1939. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92654338/francis-p-sheridan-obit/

Havemeier, Willard O. “Africa to Italy with the 32nd Station Hospital.” Original website published in the 1990s, last updated c. December 24, 2003. Revised ed. on 32nd Station Hospital website, July 23, 2020. http://32ndstationhospital.com/2020/07/23/africa-to-italy-with-the-32nd-station-hospital-willard-o-havemeiers-website/

Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949. Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–c. 1995. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_1521003238_0910-00666

Humphries, James P. “Missing Air Crew Report No. 1465.” November 29, 1943. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/90906057

“Left For Nursing School.” Standard-Sentinel, September 20, 1937. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92710602/sheridan-nursing-school-1937/

“Lt. Rachel Sheridan, McAdoo Army Nurse, Dies In Africa.” The Plain Speaker. December 16, 1943. Pg. 20. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/62555214/rachel-sheridan-death-the-plain-speaker/

McHugh, Leo. Email correspondence on November 5, 2020.

McHugh, Rachel Sheridan. Phone interview on November 5, 2020.

Morning reports for 32nd Station Hospital Headquarters and Medical Detachment, 1942–1943. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

“Nurse, Educator Unity Advocated.” Wilmington Morning News, May 18, 1945. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92708194/sheridan-class/

“Nurse Trained at Delaware State Hospital Dies in Africa.” Journal-Every Evening, December 28, 1943. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92707993/rachel-sheridan-death/

Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1967. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/5164/images/41381_2421401696_0891-01746, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/5164/images/42342_622204_0706-01574

“Plaque to Honor Delaware Nurses.” Journal-Every Evening, July 6, 1945. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92709582/red-cross-nurse-plaque/

Rachel H. Sheridan Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Rachel H. Sheridan Official Military Personnel File (reconstructed). National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

“Returned To Duties At Hospital.” Standard-Speaker, December 30, 1937. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92711040/sheridan-pottsville/

Sheridan, Hannah B. Rachel Hannah Sheridan Individual Military Service Record, June 11, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/20808/rec/1

Silverman, Lowell. “Introduction to the U.S. Army 32nd Station Hospital (1942–1945).” 32nd Station Hospital website, November 7, 2018. Updated August 24, 2021. http://32ndstationhospital.com/2018/11/07/introduction-to-the-32nd-station-hospital-1942-1945/

Silverman, Lowell. “The Mystery of Rachel H. Sheridan, the 32nd Station Hospital’s Lost Nurse.” 32nd Station Hospital website, April 19, 2019. Updated January 16, 2022. http://32ndstationhospital.com/2019/04/29/the-mystery-of-rachel-h-sheridan-the-32nd-station-hospitals-lost-nurse/

Silverman, Lowell. “Nurses of the 32nd Station Hospital: Part III (Last Names N–S).” 32nd Station Hospital website, April 4, 2019. Updated November 22, 2020. http://32ndstationhospital.com/2019/04/04/nurses-of-the-32nd-station-hospital-part-iii-last-names-n-s/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4384840_00838

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4639482_00469

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00550-00216

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942–1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/record/700848499/blank-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954, https://www.fold3.com/record/702447135/conlin-kenneth-b-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

World War II Veterans Compensation Applications. Record Group 19, Series 19.92, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/3147/images/43191_2421406271_1097-00881


Last updated on August 25, 2022

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