Ex-Army nurse receives 10 medals

Severn resident says working in war zones was just doing her duty

April 07, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Agnes Sweeney never thought she would be given a hero's reception -- not when she volunteered to become an Army nurse, not even after she helped save countless soldiers' lives while bombs exploded so close that she could see them.

And certainly not now, at age 84, long after her service through World War II and Korea.

She was assigned to field hospitals in Africa, Italy, France and Germany during World War II, and marched with soldiers liberating German concentration camps.

Yesterday, the Severn woman stood in an auditorium at Fort Meade, being pinned with 10 distinguished and meritorious service medals, including the Bronze Star, and receiving praise for deeds of long ago.

"It's such a strange feeling," she said before the ceremony. "I never thought this would happen after all these years."

She was in her early 20s, then Agnes Kierepka, when she joined the Army Nurse Corps in World War II. And when she received notice that the Army needed nurses in 1950, she returned to work in Korea and Japan. "I just wanted to help," she said.

Sweeney retired as a captain in 1956, after 13 years and seven months in the Army, much of that time on surgical teams close to battlefields. She still gets emotional remembering the soldiers she helped.

"They were so young," she said. "You'd see them waiting to go the front lines of battle. You'd look into their faces and you knew they were thinking of their deaths."

Sweeney also remembers the soldiers who were saved. Nearly 96 percent of those wounded survived and were able to return to service or home, officials said yesterday.

She should have received the military honors long ago. But, like many other veterans, especially women, Sweeney's service record had been overlooked.

Sweeney's nieces discovered the oversight when they were looking through her papers after her husband, Joe -- also a veteran of both wars -- died four years ago. They contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, which oversaw the process.

"She risked her life for her country. She didn't have to go either war," said a niece, Doris Thomson, one of the relatives who traveled from New Jersey for the ceremony.

Sweeney said it never mattered to her whether she received an award.

"I felt I did my duty," she said. "For me, it was about the patients."

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