Died: October 18, 1998
Children: Frances Dassance Dickie
Grace Bassett McKillip was originally from Saranac, near Plattsburgh. She was a Red Cross nurse who served in France during World War I, and later came to Saranac Lake and operated the Dassance cure cottage at 34 Shepard Avenue, about 1928 1.
Excerpted from: "A Red Cross nurse remembers" by Evelyn Outcalt Adirondack Daily Enterprise Weekender December 5, 1987
Grace McKillip's Red Cross activities began when she was Grace Bassett of Saranac, just completing her third year of nurse's training at Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh as an affiliate at Bellevue's Harlem Hospital in New York City. It was the spring of 1918, the United States was engaged in World War I, and the Red Cross was recruiting all the young trained nurses it could get. Red Cross nurses had to have three years' training; regular Army nurses only one.
Grace Bassett graduated on May 4, 1918 and like all her classmates except one, had signed up with the Red Cross on the condition that she pass her state boards, which, of course, she did.
"My parents were just wild about their daughter going away and made me promise that I wouldn't volunteer to go to France," she recalls. There is a twinkle in her eyes, "So I kept my word and volunteered for Siberia."
"I was sent to Lakewood, N.J. for a week and then the entire Base Hospital 93 to which I was assigned went to California, near San Francisco. All I did was delouse the men coming back.
"The Red Cross had met us when we arrived and had given each of us an afghan. And then warm clothes fleece line things, were made for us for the trip to Siberia. Then one day they put all our names in a hat and drew 25 who would be going to Siberia. My name was not among them but my belongings had already been sent and were never recovered. The rest of us, 75, were all sent to France."
Among the mementos are her navy blue American Legion cap with her American National Red Cross Pin No. 22610 on it; a Veterans of Foreign Wars cap; two medals for service; the diploma from the State University of New York testifying that she had satisfactorily passed her state boards; and an American Expeditionary Force passport with the serious young woman in the picture looking calmly but with anticipation to what lies ahead.
Another picture of the entire personnel of Base Hospital 93 shows 100 nurses dressed in navy blue suits with gold buttons, navy silk blouses with white organdy collars and cuffs, highlaced tan shoes disappearing under their skirts, and hats modified only slightly from the style worn by the doughboys. "Our working uniforms were gray chambray with white apron and cap," Mrs. McKillip informs us.
"We sailed on the S. S. Patrie, a French ship which also carried the all-black unit of soldiers who took part in the war. There was a terrible storm and the ship was riding in the trough with the waves breaking over it, but in spite of that and the U-boats we got there. God was with us.
"When we arrived in France we landed in Brest and were on duty for a time, again delousing the boys coming from the front.
"When we got to our own hospital at Mont Dore we had to sleep on the ground at first with some sort of a tent over us, but sometimes when we went back at night there would be a patient sleeping there. And the sanitary facilities were non-existent."
There is a photograph album full of pictures of the hospital, the patients, the staff, French children and the French countryside as well as of Bordeaux and Paris.
She explains, "For every 50 patients, all surgicals, there were two nurses. Many of the patients had arms or legs missing, or eyes. We did the dressings and worked in surgery from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. When we opened our doors we could hear the rats running in the trench around our quarters, and there were mice all over."
But not all the memories are grim. There was tea several times with an English countess near the hospital, and when a group of congressmen visited, a nurse from each man's home state was chosen to be his guide. Grace Bassett was selected to guide New York congressman Fiorello LaGuardia."
"Now, I had never done any cooking and the patients were longing for doughnuts. Well I had no more idea of how to make doughnuts than flying, but I got a big can and a smaller one from the kitchen. Someone got me some alcohol which I put in the large can and I set the smaller one with fat inside it. I made the doughnuts somehow and fried them in the fat in the smaller can which had been heated by burning the alcohol in the larger. From then on my spare time was spent making doughnuts. One day I made 500."
Going home she was aboard an American vessel, the USS Susquehanna, this time in charge of a group of war brides some of whom were "awful" and stole from one another. She was not quite 22 at the time and although she didn't realize it then, she had been infected with tuberculosis.
After the war she maintained her relationship with the Red Cross. After moving to Saranac Lake she rolled bandages, worked at blood banks, and knew all the directors. "I have always admired the Red Cross," she says, "and I was very proud to be a Red Cross nurse and I still am."
2010-02-21 17:10:30 The article states she was from Saranac, not Saranac Lake. We can check with her daughter, who still lives here. —220.127.116.11
1. Saranac Lake Board of Health Disinfection Records