Riverside Public Library

Riverside Public Library

Interview with Helen (Pat) Brusca

Helen (Pat) Brusca
Nurse, U.S. Navy (Lieutenant)

Interviewed on February 7, 2007 at the home of Mrs. Brusca in Riverside, California


This is an interview with Helen Pat Brusca. My name is Bob Fitch and today is February 7th, 2007 and this interview is taking place at Mrs. Brusca's residence in Riverside, California, as part of the Riverside Veterans' History Project, in partnership with the Library of Congress.

Bob: Good afternoon Pat. What is your full name?

Pat: Helen Pat Graham Brusca.

Bob: And where were you born and raised?

Pat: I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and I was raised there.

Bob: You went through the school system and graduated?

Pat: I went through the public school system in Worcester, Massachusetts. I went to, I think it was the Milbury Street Grammer School - that's been abolished. And the high school I went to, Classical High for high school too has been wiped out. Then I went on to nurses' training.

Bob: What year did you graduate from high school?

Pat: 1938.

Bob: Where did you take your nurses training?

Pat: Well, first I went to the State Teachers College in Worcester for a year and then I went to the School of Nursing at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. .

Bob: All right. And you completed that training in what year?

Pat: 1942.

Bob: What was your first nursing assignment?

Pat: Well, after I graduated ... well, you see, I was a student nurse when the war broke out ... when the United States went into the war, December 7th, 1941, but I was a student then and I had to complete my training and take my state boards and then I went into the service. Every able-bodied nurse was expected to go into the service really.

Bob: Before we go into that service, let's back up and talk a little bit about your family. What was your father's occupation?

Pat: He worked in American Steel and Wire and then he was a fireman.

Bob: For the city of Worcester?

Pat: Yes. Yeah.

Bob: Did your mother work outside the home?

Pat: No. She was a homemaker.

Bob: How many children did your parents have?

Pat: Six. Yeah.

Bob: Nice family. Did they have any qualms about your going into the service after the war began?

Pat: No. I kind of made my own decisions. Everyone was going in and two of my brothers were in the service and I just joined in.

Bob: All right. Where were you first assigned as a nurse ... in the Army, is it?

Pat: No. Navy.

Bob: Navy.

Pat: Navy (laughing).

Bob: Navy. All right. Sorry.

Pat: No, I knew from the very start that I wanted to join the Navy. I had this dream to be getting on a hospital ship. (Laughing)

Bob: Yes.

Pat: My first assignment ... I was sent to the Naval Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia.

Bob: For how long were you there?

Pat: It's hard to say. I was there just a few months. I never kept a record of it so I don't really remember. But maybe it was something like six months, or so. It was hospital duty. And then I was transferred to the Dispensary in Washington, D.C., at the main Navy Department.

Bob: Right. You had some special assignments there?

Pat: Well, in my nurses training I had a special assignment to the Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Infirmary, and so they put me in charge of this Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic at the Dispensary.

Bob: You went into the service with a rank of Ensign?

Pat: Yes.

Bob: And you were promoted as time went on?

Pat: As time went on, I guess if you've conducted yourself well, they promote you automatically. (Laughing) So I ended up being a full Lieutenant ... that's two stripes.

Bob: Yes. All right. Do you have any particular memories of that service in Washington that you can recite?

Pat: Well I knew that I would never want to live in Washington. I remember it as being so cold and bleak and the slush ... you know, the snow seemed to turn to slush and it was just very uncomfortable. We had to travel by bus, you know, picking up the local bus and it was just ... I don't remember anything really pleasant about it, so I was glad when I got orders to come out here to California.

Bob: Where did you live during your duty in Washington?

Pat: Well, we had to find our own living quarters. That was something peculiar to the Dispensary. Kind of a wartime happening because if you're stationed at a hospital, you know, of course you had nurses quarters, but at the dispensary they had nothing. You had to find your own quarters and you know, food and all, and it was very hard. It was just a tough experience.

Bob: You mentioned your assignment to California. When and where was that?

Pat: I think I came out here in '44 to the Naval Hospital at Norco. It was the Norconian Club, you know, very exclusive.

Bob: Yes.

Pat: And when I was assigned to come out here they told me, "Keep your suitcase packed because you're heading for the Pacific." But fortunately the war ended while I was there and I just stayed on there at the Naval Hospital. And the big happening there was I met my husband there. He was my patient.

Bob: Great. All right. You say it was continued as a Navy Hospital but you continued as a civilian?

Pat: No. Well, you see, they had patients ... when the war ended, you still had patients to take care of ... post-war ... so they were releasing people and if you really wanted to be released, you could, but then I just said I'd stay in six months longer to take care of whoever was still left in the hospital. And so that worked out for me because then I went back to Massachusetts for the summer and then I came out here in the fall. I was supposed to be a college student. Originally I was supposed to go to Stanford under the G.I. Bill and then Lew and I were dating and so I transferred to UCLA and that's where I was supposed to enroll. But we decided to get married instead. (Laughing)

Bob: Let's go back to your meeting Lew. You said he was a patient of yours? And I can appreciate why you were attracted to him because I knew Lew very well.

Pat: Yes.

Bob: What was the nature of his injuries or illness?

Pat: Well, he was an executive officer on a ship. He always had active duty. He never had a desk job. He went from one ship to another ship and so when he was ready to be discharged and they found he had a hernia. I told the children that he got this hernia because he was lifting cannon. (Laughing) But it just happened that the doctor, you know, examining him said "You'd better have this taken care of while you're in the Navy." So they said he could go to the hospital nearest his home and, of course, he's a native Riversider, so he went to the hospital at Corona and there I was ... ready to take care of him.

Bob: Great. Well then you were married after you were released from your service at the time in Riverside?

Pat: Yes.

Bob: What year was that?

Pat: 1946.

Bob: Back to Norco ... as you have indicated, that was the Norconian Club so I imagine the facilities there for your meals and your housing ... they were very good.

Pat: They were top-notch! Yeah. The nurses' quarters were very fine and the cooking was great. We had our own dining room and we were very well taken care of there.

Bob: So you and Lew were married before you entered training or your work at the University of California, at Los Angeles?

Pat: No. We were married but I never got there. (To UCLA)

Bob: I see.

Pat: We were married and then we had children, so I never went back to school until I was in my fifties, actually, and I got my degree at UCR instead of UCLA.

Bob: And that degree was in public nursing?

Pat: No. That was my intention at first but after raising the family my interest turned to art and so I majored in Liberal Studies, which included art history and performing arts.

Bob: Talk a little bit about your family. Your four children?

Pat: Yes. Two daughters and two sons.

Bob: And the nearest one is in San Francisco?

Pat: Yes, in the South Peninsula. That's my older daughter and then the oldest son is up in Arcata. Then I have a daughter who lives in Hawaii and a son who lives in Italy.

Bob: Interesting.

Pat: So they're in interesting places to visit. (Laughing)

Bob: Yes. I'm aware that Lew passed away. What year was that?

Pat: 1999.

Bob: Then you came to Riverside to live after you were married?

Pat: No. We were married and then Lou worked for, I think it was called ... it was a Catholic school ... he was a social worker ... it was San Antonio's School for Boys. It was a school where delinquent boys were students. And then he really wanted to get on with the Youth Authority and so he got his papers organized and took the exams. It wasn't until 1948 that he actually joined the Youth Authority and it so happened that there was an opening as a Parole Agent in Riverside.

Bob: How fortunate!

Pat: Didn't that work out well 'cause his family was here and he was really the pioneer here for the Youth Authority because he covered all the desert counties ... you know, all the way to the river. It was amazing the territory he had. There was no office here. He'd go into Los Angeles to see a supervisor on Monday, with a briefcase, and then he'd work out of his briefcase, doing fieldwork. And he opened the first office for the Youth Authority out here, about 1953 I think it was. Yeah.

Bob: Well, for the last several years I'm aware that you're involved in many volunteer activities.

Pat: Yeah.

Bob: Could you recite some of those?

Pat: Well, I mainly have been a volunteer at the Museum. I started out at Heritage House and then I enjoyed going on their field trips and so I decided to join the Gallery Docents and so for a while I tried to do both. I tried to work in the gift shop at Heritage House and go to the Museum, but then I found it was too much so I dropped Heritage House and I've been with the Gallery ever since.

Bob: And the Gallery is part of the Riverside Museum now known as the ...

Pat: Yes. It's the Riverside Metropolitan Museum now, they call it.

Bob: Yes. Okay.

Pat: And I held all the offices there. Chairman and so forth and I've been the Docent of the Year and I've been the Museum Volunteer of the Year, so I felt greatly honored by that. I was the book buyer at the gift shop for about thirteen years.

Bob: How do you feel about your military service? Was that experience worthwhile?

Pat: Well, I just never look at it that way. It was the thing to do, you know. We were in war and they wanted nurses and so you would just ... you felt obligated to join. There was just no question about it. Everyone I knew ... all my classmates joined.

Bob: Have you maintained contact with any of the other nurses with whom you served at either Washington or Norco?

Pat: Well, I had a classmate at the School of Nursing and I kept track of her until ... well, we stopped exchanging Christmas cards about a couple of years ago, I'd say. And then I had another friend who was stationed with me in Virginia and she was at Bethesda Naval Hospital when I was at the Dispensary, but we were there the same time. Then she stayed on and I came to California and then she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. We kept very close contact and she died about three years ago. Yeah.

Bob: What other memories would you like to recite, either part of your military service or any other part of your life that would be helpful in gathering this story of your life?

Pat: Well, I think what I appreciate most, and I think it's one of the greatest things I ever did, was as a student, I went back to school in my fifties, and that's before they had all these women resource centers and all, so I've had to kind of hack it on my own, with all these young people around. But it was just such a mind opener. I felt it changed my life, you know, to look at art and it's just ... it's changed my life.

Bob: What particular medium of art is your interest?

Pat: Well, I was in the performing arts and I did oil painting. Then as a student there in the performing arts, I'd take say, sculpture for a year, water color for a year, and then I really stayed with oils. But then I knew that I would never (laughing) be much of an artist although I really enjoyed it and I appreciate other people's art and it's just been a great experience for me.

Bob: Do you still paint?

Pat: No. No. Along about that time, you know, my husband was really a good golfer, and being an artist, or painting ... it's kind of a lonely thing, you know, you paint by yourself, and I really felt I needed to be with people more and my husband enjoyed golf and so I thought I'd pick it up, you know, which I did, (laughing) then I golfed more than he did 'cause I didn't paint. But I think it was much better for me. Yeah. I really enjoyed it. We'd golf together and we took a golf tour to Hawaii so I really enjoyed my golfing experience.

Bob: Excellent. Well, thank you very much for participating in this very important project, particularly with your World War II experience. Your interview will be reviewed and you will receive your personal copy. Copies of today's interview will be placed in the Riverside Public Library down in the basement in the Local History Section and will be indexed at the Library of Congress in the Archives of the National Veterans' History Project.

Pat: Oh. And is all this information going to be available so that people can have access to it?

Bob: Yes.

Pat: Oh, I see.

Bob: So, again, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Pat: You're quite welcome.

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