Long before World War II caught the attention of the United States, Virginia M. Eberharter of Connellsville, PA wanted to be a nurse; she wanted to be of service to people in need. It was such a determined decision for a young high school freshman, but her far-off dream stuck with her throughout all four years of high school.
In 1941, as America went off to war in earnest, Virginia finally began her training in the “fine art of nursing,” as Florence Nightingale described the profession. At the end of another four years, Virginia finally graduated from Maryland’s Memorial Nursing School. A nurse at last.
By 1945 the war’s fury griped the nation tightly. The effort to defeat the Axis was full on. In every way possible, those who could help were expected to help, and that’s what Virginia Eberharter did with her nursing skills. She became a Navy nurse.
“I wanted to serve my country,” she says without hesitation,” and the Navy seemed like such an interesting place to be a nurse.”
Three decades later, Virginia Eberharter’s distinguished duty as a Navy nurse came to an end. After a career spanning WW II, Korea, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, Commander Eberharter was piped ashore for the last time and into the golden years of retirement. Her last duty station was the prestigious US Naval Academy, where she served as Chief of Nursing. “It was a wonderful job,” she says about Annapolis. “It was a real honor to take care of the young cadets–the best and brightest young people our county has to offer.”
For many months Nancy Hrabak had been inviting us to her hometown of Connellsville, PA to meet with and record the stories local WW II veterans. Our schedule finally permitted us to visit Connellsville on November 29, 2013–the day after Thanksgiving, which also happened to be National Day of Listening—an effort promoted by StoryCorps to encourage families and friends to record and share their own life stories. (During NDL 2012, Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh partnered with the Heinz History Center to record three sets of conversations between veterans and their children).
Nancy assured us that we would not be disappointed in whom she arranged to interview, but moreover we would be impressed by the recording venue in the newly constructed Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop—a remarkable replica of the original train station that welcomed thousands of GIs passing through the area during the war years.
Indeed, we were impressed with the Canteen; we instantly felt at home by its warm and intimate feel and remarkable collection of World War II era photography and memorabilia. We are grateful to Dan Cocks and Michael Edwards of the Fayette County Cultural Trust for their hospitality and welcoming us to the Canteen and Connellsville.
A Day in the Life of Preserving Veterans’ Stories
Along with the interviews themselves, preserving a record of our oral history field work is important, too. On-location interviewing is an all day affair, and managing the technical logistics of our mobile recording studio can be arduous. We are always grateful when someone is on hand to take a few photos or to video the interview sessions.
Dan Cocks of the Fayette County Cultural Trust produced such a record of our visit to the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop, November, 29, 2013, and he created this vivacious video record of our visit.
Virginia M. Eberharter, 95, Commander U.S. Navy Retired, of Connellsville, died Sunday March 18, 2018, in the Uniontown Hospital. She was born March 11, 1923, in Mill Run, a daughter of the late Frank C. and Mildred Hawkins Eberharter. Virginia was a graduate of Connellsville High School with the class of 1941. She entered the Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, Cumberland, Md., in September, 1941, and graduated in September, 1944, as a registered nurse. Virginia also attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she received a bachelor of science degree with a major in public health. After graduation, she was invited to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as their public health coordinator. Also, she worked for the Visiting Nurse Association in Pittsburgh and the VA Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. Virginia was a member of the Mill Run United Methodist Church and attended Otterbein United Methodist Church, in Connellsville, where she served as a Sunday school teacher, trustee and on different committees. Commander Eberharter was a veteran of three wars, World War II, Korean and Vietnam, and she entered the Navy Nurse Corps in April, 1945. She was stationed at several different Naval Hospitals in the United States. During the Quomoy situation, she was elected to serve with the M.A.A.G., Military Assistance Advisory Group, in Taipei, Taiwan. From there, she was sent to Yokosuka, Japan. Also, she served as chief nurse at the Naval Hospital in Naples, Italy, from November, 1965, to September, 1967. While there, she had the privilege of moving into a new hospital. She was a member of the Retired Officers Association, General Greene Chapter in Latrobe, Indian Creek Valley VFW Post 12091 and a charter member of the Navy Nurse Corp Association. During her naval service, she was awarded the National Defense Medal, American Defense World War II Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal. Throughout Commander Eberharter’s Navy Career, she received commendations, letters of appreciation from her commanding officers and upon retirement, on July 1, 1972, as Chief of Nursing Service at the Naval Academy Hospital, Annapolis, Md., and she received the Certificate of Merit from the surgeon general of the Navy. She was indicted into the Class of 2011 of the Connellsville Area Falcon Foundation Hall of Fame and she received the Patriot Award from the Paralyzed Veterans of America in 2013. She is survived by an aunt, Betty Hawkins, of Mil Run, and her beloved cousins, Wanda Brooks, Larry Burkholder, Pastor Thomas J. Hawkins Jr., Gorman Dull, Marlyn Dull, Patty Broadwater and Barbara Firestone. In addition to her parents, she was predeceased by her uncles and aunts, Roy Hawkins, Mae Krepps, Ernest Hawkins, Gertrude Dull, Ruth Burkholder and Alverda Ohler.
Friends will be received from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the BROOKS FUNERAL HOME INC., 111 E. Green St., Connellsville, where services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday with the Rev. Gary Dull and Rev. Dan Blank, co-officiating. Interment will follow in the Indian Creek Baptist Cemetery. Military honors will be accorded at the graveside.