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Photo of Mary Elizabeth Hartley

Jennifer Cipriano

A U.S. military veteran with overseas tours during three wars, Lieutenant Colonel Mary Elizabeth Hartley (1920-1999) served in the Army Nurse Corps for 25 years, from 1942 to 1967. A graduate of both New Bedford High School and St. Luke’s Training School for Nurses, Lt. Col. Hartley contributed to the evolution in trauma and casualty care that was spearheaded by the U.S. Army.

A bracelet with 11 charms dangling off of it.
Charm Bracelet from Mary Elizabeth Hartley. A well-traveled woman, Mary gifted her female family members with a charm bracelet highlighting some of her adventures. There are charms for London Bridge, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a windmill from Holland, and others. Citation: “[Mary Elizabeth Hartley’s charm bracelet],” c. 20th Century, Silver Bracelet, Courtesy of Jennifer Cipriano
Pictures tell a thousand stories in the courageous life of Lieutenant Colonel Mary Elizabeth Hartley (1920-1999). Lt. Col. Hartley served in the Army Nurse Corps for 25 years, from 1942 to 1967, with overseas tours during three wars – World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. Mary Elizabeth was born in 1920 in Burnley, Lancashire, England to Ada and James Hartley, a lieutenant in the British Army during World War I. When Mary was four years of age, the family moved to New Bedford, where they settled at 2286 Acushnet Avenue in the city’s North End. After graduation from New Bedford High School, Mary entered St. Luke’s Training School for Nurses and completed its course in 1940.

Dedicated to a life of service and eager to experience the world, Mary enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in June 1942 as a lieutenant. She was stationed at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts, then Fort Ord and Camp Stoneman in California. Lt. Mary Hartley was next sent to New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, for a six-month tour during World War II, when her ship was torpedoed offshore. Upon her return to the United States in March 1943, she was stationed at Nichols General Hospital at Louisville, Kentucky until her discharge in 1943. After only a year of civilian life, Mary re-enlisted and became a 1st lieutenant at Tilton General Hospital in Fort Dix, New Jersey. In July 1949, Mary was promoted to captain in the regular Army while stationed at Williams Hospital at Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts. In the 1950s, during the Korean Conflict, she served 17 months in Japan and Korea at the Mobile 121st Evacuation Hospital. She was transferred to Europe and Korea in this MASH unit. After her return to the United States in March 1952, Mary was promoted to major at Fort Hamilton, New York and studied for a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing administration and field service at Columbia University. In the 1960s, she was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Her military career included dedicated service in three wars and the courage to care for sick and injured service personnel both overseas and state side. She retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel on March 31, 1967.

Over the course of her military career, Lt. Col. Hartley received several decorations and medals, including the Army Commendation Medal, the American Theater Ribbon, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, three overseas bars, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and the National Defense Service Medal. As a member of the Army Nurse Corps, she contributed to the evolution in trauma and casualty care that was spearheaded by the United States Army. Perhaps to bring a sense of normalcy to the stress of military life, she kept pets on base – a dog, a horse, even a deer.

While overseas, Mary remembered her nieces and nephews by sending them gifts from all over the world, including jewelry from Thailand and a leather camel seat from Morocco. She gave each of her nieces a sterling silver charm bracelet with charms for each place that she visited. She gave her mother the same charm bracelet in gold. Lt. Col. Mary Elizabeth Hartley’s niece Jennifer Cipriano adds, “She was an inspiration to us and her experiences made us aware that there is a great big world out there and many life experiences to be had . . . I would also like to remember all our service women whose sacrifice and service contribute to safeguarding our freedom and way of life.”

After her retirement in 1967, Lt. Col. Mary Elizabeth Hartley returned to New Bedford to care for her mother. Her last residence was in Marion to be near her sisters. She passed away in 1999 at the age of 79 and was buried in her uniform and medals at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

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