An unpressurized DC3 transport plane touched down in Hawaii carrying Cmrd. Margaret Covington and nearly a hundred wounded soldiers. This young, attractive woman from Richmond County, North Carolina, had never been in a plane before she enlisted in the United States Army to fight in the Second World War. The first time she flew, she embarrassed herself by becoming air sick. Now, she could barely remember a time when she didn’t fly on an almost daily basis.
Taking soldiers off the plane from their temporary bunks, which were stacked like tight shelves, was one of the least stressful part of her duties. This was despite seeing them so severely wounded and in such distress. Tragically, she was experienced enough as a nurse to know at a glance that some would be losing a limb. Some, she struggled not to imagine, might not leave the army hospital alive.
Standing solidly on the tarmac, loading the wounded on gurneys, Covington was still feeling uneasy. They had been under fire when they retrieved this load of soldiers from the battlefield. The enemy likely could tell who they were. The Japanese soldiers knew that those inside the DC3 were not a threat to them but only there to sort through the fallen to find survivors. However, that didn’t mean in a single moment a nurse, like Covington, couldn’t become one of the wounded herself, or become one of those who would never return home.
Still, in spite of the risk, that wasn’t even the most difficult part of Covington’s duties. She had been trained to assist doctors, to provide medical care and to comfort the sick. She had not been trained to make split second decisions that would involve life and death for young men on the battlefield in the Pacific Theater. There were times when she was forced to look into the eyes of a solider, maybe not even out of his teens, and realize there was nothing medical care could do for him. Those eyes, of which there were far too many for her heart to contain, would haunt Covington the rest of her life.
Personnel from the Tripler Army Medical Center arrived to provide whatever services they could as the wounded were brought into the large, coral pink facility that, since the attack on Pearl Harbor, had mushroomed from a 450-bed facility into a 2,000-bed hospital.
As a commander, Covington had to account for the nurses who worked under her, as well as complete the paperwork, which detailed every aspect of her recent mission, as well as the name and serial numbers of the recently wounded.
Covington knew from her medical training that coffee wasn’t the best thing to calm her nerves, but she wanted a cup anyway. She made her way to the cafeteria and was about to join the line when the man in front of her made way, saying,
“Please go ahead. You look like you need coffee more than I do.”
“Thank you,” she said, mustering a smile.
“No more than usual,” she said, thinking that was more true than she would like.
He extended his hand to her, smiled and said, “Dr. Ernie Blair. Margaret Covington. Do you work here at the hospital? I see you’re a nurse, Commander. As only a captain, I should have saluted you. I’d make it up to you. May I buy your coffee?”
The two became a couple. There were stolen moments on breaks, dinners together and even walks along lanes shaded by Hawaiian palm trees, where the sounds of gunfire and the eyes of the wounded faded into the colors of the sunset.
Covington’s best friend, Geri Haoupe, ran across the couple on one of these walks. She happened to have a camera with her.
“Please, Margaret,” she begged. “Let me get a picture you two.”
“Oh, no, I look a mess,” Covington said.
“Nonsense,” Dr. Blair said. “You look beautiful as usual.”
They posed for the camera.
“I’d like a copy,” Blair said. “Meet us for breakfast tomorrow in the cafeteria at 7 a.m., and I’ll give you my address.”
But Dr. Blair wasn’t in the cafeteria at 7 the next morning. By 7:30 a.m., Covington knew something was wrong.
“Dr. Blair was shipped out in the middle of the night, Commander,” she was told. “You know very well I’m not able to tell you where.”
Covington never saw Ernie Blair again.
It was decades later, after a distinguished career as a nurse, both in the military and in civilian life, when Covington showed a copy of the photograph to her friend, Linda. “Oooh,” said Linda. “What a handsome fella.”
Covington smiled at this. It was a smile full of the bitter complexities of life.
“War was no time for love,” she said.
Covington, 98, now resides at Scotia Village in Laurinburg. She never married.