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Two Purple Hearts become one

Ruby L. McCrea's road to a field hospital in Anzio, Italy, and a brush with death during World War II as a registered nurse took many turns along the way.

The now-95-year-old Southtowns resident says that she was raised on a 153-acre farm "way out in the country" in Missouri and that if her father needed her to work out in fields, she did just that.

If her mother needed her to work indoors keeping up the household, she did that as well.

"If we wanted to eat chicken, we raised them. If we wanted to eat bread, we baked it," said McCrea, who was the middle child of three in her family.

The chance to go to high school did not present itself to her until she was a young adult.

"There was no high school around where I was born," she said.

But by the time she was in her early 20s, McCrea left the family farm and found a job as a housekeeper in a town 30 miles away, Cape Girardeau.

"The family I was working for was interested in education, and they talked me into going to high school," McCrea said. "I worked very hard at it, then after high school, I went to Columbia, Missouri, to nursing school."

By time the United States entered World War II, McCrea was a registered nurse and decided to enlist, answering a call of patriotism. Uncle Sam wasted no time putting her valuable medical skills to work.

"I was sent to England and then to Africa and then back to England," she recalled. "Sometimes you worked in a hut, sometimes you were working out in the open. Soldiers came with fresh bullet wounds and sometimes wounds from hand-to-hand combat."

In time, she met her future husband, Paul McCrea, a soldier, in Africa. Though the details of how they managed to strike up a relationship in a war zone are now foggy, she says that they married shortly after the war.

But what she is certain of is that her future husband was wounded and received a Purple Heart. And why is she so certain?

"He had a Purple Heart, and so did I," McCrea said.

McCrea was wounded at a field hospital during the 1944 Battle of Anzio, part of the Italian campaign of the Second World War.

"I was working in the hospital when I was hit by a piece of shrapnel in my right wrist," she said. "Others were wounded at the same time, and some of them died. I was very lucky. The shrapnel is still in my wrist. I was told it was in a spot where there are a lot of little bones, and if they tried to remove it, they would probably do more damage than help."

An old newspaper article provides chilling details about the attack.

"It says the field hospital was bombed, and five soldiers were killed and 34 wounded," said Michele McCrea, a daughter of the veteran.

After the war ended, Ruby and Paul quickly began their life together as husband and wife, marrying in France before returning stateside and taking up residence in Buffalo, where Paul McCrea had relatives and found work on the South Buffalo Railway.

The couple became the parents of seven children.

"My husband died many years ago, but all our children are alive and well, and so am I," McCrea said.

Reflecting on her wartime service, she says it's something that she remains very proud of.

"I'm glad to have served my country," she said.

As for farm life so long ago in Friedheim, she says she returned home at different points in her life and, most recently, several years ago for the funeral of her older brother, Clarence Hoppe, who continued to work the family farm "until he died."

***

Ruby L. McCrea

Age: 95

Hometown: Friedheim, Mo.

Residence: Blasdell

Rank: First lieutenant

Served: World War II

Years of Service: Enlisted in Army in 1943, served until around the end of 1945

Honors: Purple Heart

Specialty: nurse

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