At 100, World War II Nurses Have Friendship of a Lifetime

Amelia "Mimi" Greeley and Ruth "Brownie" Girk survived World War II, and so did their friendship that still spurs near nightly phone calls as both turn 100.

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AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
In this Tuesday, March 1, 2016 photo, Amelia Greeley reflects on her time spent as an Army nurse during World War II in the South Pacific, in New York. Greeley, who goes by Mimi, celebrated her 100th birthday this week and will be sharing the milestone with a friend she made nearly 70 years ago during the war.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
EMPTY_CAPTION"We've always appreciated our friendship, but as it gets later and later, we appreciate it more," says Girk, who turns 100 in June. Greeley celebrated her birthday this week.n

n"We're sort of like sisters — that get along," says Greeley.n

nThen Amelia Devivo and Ruth Brown, the two women met after volunteering to serve in a war hospital being organized by what is now NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where both worked. They thought the same way about medicine and shared a readiness to laugh and enjoy life, traits they'd need after getting to Goodenough Island in early 1944.
A monsoon on the mountainous island, part of what's now Papua New Guinea, poured mud into the newly built Ninth General Hospital and destroyed several wards, according to histories compiled by NewYork-Presbyterian. An outbreak of scrub typhus, a mite-borne disease that causes high fevers, sickened dozens of the hospital's personnel and killed eight.n

nWithin months, the Ninth General moved to Biak Island, off Indonesia's Papua province and closer to the fighting. A hospital designed for 1,500 patients sometimes cared for as many as 2,500. By the war's end in September 1945, the hospital had cared for about 23,000 people.n

n"It was awful" sometimes, says Greeley, who lives in New York. "But if we saw them get well, it was worth it."
Yet there were adventures, too, such as a 15-day leave that stretched far longer as Girk and Greeley waited to hitch flights in Australia. And there was the camaraderie preserved in a fading photo from the hospital's archives, showing Greeley, Girk and a half-dozen colleagues with broad, carefree-looking smiles.n

n"When you're in the service, you're away from home, you become very close to people," says Girk, of Peoria, Arizona. "They're your alternate family."n

nAfter both worked six postwar months at a now-closed Army hospital in New York and finished their service as captains, Girk studied industrial nursing and worked for an insurer before marriage and moves to the Midwest and elsewhere. Greeley returned to work at NewYork-Presbyterian until her marriage in 1966.
But their friendship held fast. They spent holidays and traveled together with their husbands and later without, after both were widowed in the 1980s.n

nFriendships among older adults can yield more than emotional benefits, researchers believe. Studies have suggested that people who feel more connected to others live longer, though it's difficult to quantify the effect, said psychologist Louise Hawkley of the NORC research center at the University of Chicago.n

nThese days, it's been several years since Girk and Greeley saw each other; medical issues have made travel difficult. But their phone calls keep the friendship immediate.n

nThey trade updates on their days, confer about their health, revisit three-quarters of a century of memories and had-to-be-there jokes. Laughter starts quickly, stops slowly.
If there's a secret to a long life and friendship, Girk thinks it's "happiness and a pleasant outlook on life."n

n"We couldn't care less about being 100, believe me," she said.n

nAnd Greeley's opinion?n

n"I think, very often, that we were just two lucky gals."
In this Tuesday, March 1, 2016 photo, a photo of Amelia Greeley, left, and Ruth Girk sits amongst other photos and notes on a bar top inside Greeley's apartment, in New York.
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