Remarks at the Vietnam Womens Memorial, Monday May 31, 2005
Colonel Lenore Enzel
Good afternoon. I am so honored to have been asked to speak to you, on this special day, about the memory and service of CPT Gussie Mae Jones. I am mostly going to tell you the story of CPT Jones’ life and service through the words of others.
CPT Jones died at age 41 of a pulmonary embolism on March 7th, 2004 while serving as a critical care nurse with the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. She was an accomplished military officer and critical care nurse whose rare qualities of kindness and compassion demonstrated on a daily basis how one single individual can truly make a difference in the lives of many.
LTC(P) C.J. Moore, a former Army Nurse Corps Historian, told me that CPT Jones is the first African American Nurse to die in war and the first Army Nurse Corps officer since Vietnam to die during a deployment.
CPT Jones was born on December 11, 1962 in a very small town outside of Raleigh, Arkansas. There wasn’t a lot of money in the household, but there was a lot of love. Each night the 6 girls piled into a full-sized bed and their 2 brothers got into their twin bed in one of the 2 bedrooms in their Palestine, Arkansas home that had no running water. Their father died of a stroke when they were young children. Then, when most of the kids were teenagers, their mother died of cancer. They learned to depend and rely on each other. CPT Jones’ sister, Berdia, said “That’s all we had, one another. It was a rough life, but we made it.” Although not the oldest, Gussie became the family’s caretaker; caring for her 7 brothers and sisters. Her oldest sister, Rosemary said “Even when she was young, she wanted to be a nurse and help others. We always knew she was different than we were.”
CPT Jones was quiet and unassuming, often letting her siblings do the talking. But her guidance was never scarce. “She would always be giving advice, telling everybody to live right, trying to get everyone to straighten out." her sister, Berida, said.
An honor roll student, CPT Jones saw education as an opportunity. With the help of federal grants, she was the first in her family to go to college. Through hard work and perseverance, in 1986 she graduated from Central Arkansas University with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from. She returned to Palestine, but soon decided she wanted more than what rural Arkansas had to offer. Committed to serving her country, CPT Jones began her Army career in 1988 as an enlisted soldier. She primarily worked as a personnel clerk and obtained the rank of SGT/E-5. Setting herself apart from her peers, CPT Jones was selected for the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Syracuse University in 1998.
To her family, it seemed natural that she went into a field serving others. “She gave more than she received,” her sister said. “Even if she didn’t know you, she would help you.”
Despite joining the Army and moving away, Gussie never lost the connection with her family. She was the rock, the one everyone spoke with about their problems. She steadily provided spiritual, emotional, and financial support. She frequently visited, telephoned and emailed and continued to do so while serving in Iraq. She was always full of prayer, guidance and good advice and continually made time for others.
CPT Jones regularly donated to several churches. During the holidays, she bought toys for low income children. On her vacations, she would cook, clean, and watch her sisters’ children so they could rest. Deeply religious, she sometimes stopped during long distance telephone conversations to pray. Shortly before she deployed, she visited her family in Little Rock. While there, she clasped their hands and asked them to pray with her. They asked the Lord to stand by her.
“God has been good to this family,” Berdia said. “He just took one of our soldiers home, but I guess he needed her more than we did.” Her brother, David, said he felt that her predeployment visit to Little Rock might be her last. “When she went over there, I didn’t think she was coming back,” he said.
At her funeral, her brother, SSG Van Jones, who is currently deployed to Iraq for the second time, told me of an incident when they were both in Iraq in January 2004. SSG Jones’ unit was on buses, readying to move to new area. Just as they were readying to drive off base, suddenly in front of the convoy, someone was franticly waving, trying to flag down the buses. It was a female Army officer. They stopped the convoy and sure enough, it was CPT Jones. She boarded the bus, asked for her brother, and said, “You don’t think you’re leaving without giving me a hug, do you?” and proceeded to hug him in front of his unit.
In 2003, the nursing leadership team at William Beaumont submitted CPT Jones as our nominee for the Army Nurse Corps Award of Excellence. Although she did not win, she did attend a leadership conference with other junior military nurses and spent time with the Chief and Assistant Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. I’d like to read you some excerpts from that nomination:
CPT Gussie Jones is an energetic, dynamic and compassionate Army Nurse Corps officer who epitomizes all the best attributes of a military officer and professional nurse. She is an exceptional clinician, educator, and an outstanding nurse leader.
As charge nurse, CPT Jones has set herself apart from her peers as one of the strongest charge nurses in the Intensive Care Unit. She expertly triages patient care needs and matches them appropriately with various nursing staff. She consistently diffuses potential crisis with her forward thinking and analytical problem solving skills.
CPT Jones is one of the finest young officers that I have worked with. She is an accomplished nurse with superb clinical skills and exceptional leadership abilities. Those senior to her depend upon her maturity and effective influence to bring about positive change and innovation at the unit, departmental and organizational level. Her peers and subordinates look to her for guidance, mentorship and support.
When I announced her death at WBAMC, one of the residents in our training programs said “She will be sorely missed by all the residents here at WBAMC. She was always a pleasure to work with and exemplified the Army traits and values. I found her patient and caring and she was truly a pleasure to work with and learn from. Yesterday the Army and the world lost a true hero.”
MAJ Joecelyn Crittenden, CPT Jones’ head nurse both in El Paso and in Balad said, “She had a fun-loving personality and always had a jovial smile. She was an optimist whose special interests included reading Christian devotional journals, Christian music, church services, fine dining, and cosmetology. Her name meant “Staff of God” and she loved the Lord with all her heart and mind; she epitomized Christian culture. Gussie’s personal dream was to become a wife and mother. Her professional dream was to obtain her master’s in critical care through the Army. CPT Jones was committed to the welfare of soldiers. She ensured her peers and superiors had a battle buddy; CPT Jones was my battle buddyand my friend.”
At her memorial service in Baghdad, COL Rick Beitz, Commander 31st CSH said the following:
The Chaplain at her Baghdad Memorial Service said:
Back in El Paso, upon hearing of CPT Jones’ death, CPT Susan Gilbert, a fellow critical care nurse said:
In San Antonio, MAJ Ralph Grinnell, a retired Army Nurse was given a copy of a story that ran in the El Paso Times at the time of Gussie’s death. He wrote to the reporter, “I first met Gussie at Brooke Army Medical Center here in San Antonio. Gussie was an angel walking on earth. Gussie was one of the few nurses who put her entire self into caring for others. She had a heart of solid gold and she was a loving, spiritual person who I considered a very good friend.”
To me, Gussie was one of the most spiritual people I’ve known. She had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and the goodness of mankind. Taped to the back of her dog tags she had the following scripture from Joshua 1:19:
After we recovered from the shock of Gussie’s death, the nurses at William Beaumont wanted to do something to serve as a permanent memorial to this remarkable woman. We wanted to ensure that her life and service to her country were properly honored. For the staff that knew and worked with her, her influence and spirit remained a strong and continued presence in the ICU. It seemed natural to them that the ICU should be the place designated in her honor. So, we decided to name our Intensive Care Unit in her honor. Like anything else in the Army, we learned that there was a procedure and that we needed lots of approvals. And so we began. Finally, our request was approved.
Then the work really began. We wanted a portrait of CPT Jones to hang in the ICU with her biography so people would know who she was and what she did to serve her country. We also wanted the Jones family to share the occasion with us and to see how much their sister meant to us all.
For 6 months, over 25 nurses participated in fund raising events. We had bake sales, we had hotdog sales, we had basket sales, we had taco sales (after all, we do live in El Paso), etc. We raised enough money to commission a large portrait of CPT Jones be painted. We also paid all the expenses to bring to El Paso 6 of her 7 siblings from their respective homes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Dallas. Unfortunately, her deployed brother could not join us. But luckily, numerous nieces and nephews also attended and learned how much we cared for their Aunt Gussie.
On March 7th, 2005, the first anniversary of her death, we dedicated the ICU at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in honor of CPT Jones. In the entranceway, hangs a beautiful portrait that serves as a reminder of her extraordinary talent and skill as a military officer and professional nurse.
LTC Joan Lancaster, Critical Care Nursing Section Supervisor at William Beaumont Army Medical Center said:
MG Gayle Pollock, Chief Army Nurse Corps said:
At the ICU dedication, her sister, Wanda, said, “We are very appreciative of what has been done in our sister’s memory. We are honored that everyone cared so much for her.”
I’d like to read some notes I received in response to my request for comments to be read at the dedication of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center ICU in CPT Jones’ honor.
The first was written by CPT Ricky Norwood, a graduate student in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences located right here in Bethesda, MD.
“In 2000, I met Gussie Jones when I was co-chair of the Junior Officers’ Council at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX. Gussie actively participated during the meetings with a very pleasant smile, quiet demeanor, and was always in control. Her friendship, leadership, advice, encouragement, and professionalism were second to none. Gussie was always one to be the first to volunteer to assist in events, the first to show up at those events, and the first to lend a helping hand when other committee members requested help. I particularly enjoyed talking with her because I truly admired her inner strength and ability to handle things in a positive manner. She was always so calm. I used to joke with her about things just to get a reaction from her, and she would always laugh and tell me that I was crazy. There were times during some of the JOC sponsored events that I thought we were over our heads, and Gussie would tell me to relax, and that things would work out. I could not figure it out, but she always seemed to know what to say and how to say it to bring out the best in people. For me, Gussie was best described as the behind the scene director, you knew that everything would be all right because she had your back, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Gussie was not only a great person to work with on the JOC, but she was also a great nurse. Many times, I would see her on the ward; she would be smiling, and doing what she does best – taking care of patients. I remember seeing her during her off time at BAMC helping out friends or working on something to improve her nursing abilities.
When I heard of Gussie’s passing, I was saddened because I had lost a friend. But I find comfort in the many fun memories of her smiling, doing her thing, telling me to slow down and relax, and to trust that everything would be all right. I know that a higher spirit guided her because it showed in her words and actions. Just as in life, Gussie continues in death, to share her joyous spirit, providing a smile when I think about her. With the friendship she shared and worldly advice she gave, I believe with blessed assurance that we will meet again.”
Ms Mary Walker, a civilian nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center wrote:
Even after I left 2 East I ran into Gussie several times before she left BAMC. I saw that she had advanced through the steps of novice to expert and was now precepting new nurses. It always brings warmth to the soul when you are able to witness the transformation a nurse makes. Gussie loved being a nurse.
Although Gussie is gone I know that she is an angel in heaven and is doing God's work. I will always remember her and even today I can see her smile. If she has a choice in heaven she is probably the angel sitting on the shoulders of all the new nurses who come into the Army Nurse Corps. They are very lucky to have an angel like her. One day we will all meet again. God Bless Gussie.”
CPT Victoria Prescott Ragan wrote:
I found Gussie always to be thoughtful, considerate, and accepting of others. Often times after working a long night shift, we would go out to breakfast together; some of my fondest memories of Gussie center around us eating together at IHOP or Cracker Barrel. Discussing the previous night’s events or frustration at breakfast was very helpful to me, because Gussie was a good listener. Gussie's tender heart made her a great person to talk with, and she would always offer me encouragement, and a shoulder to lean on.
Gussie could always be counted on to assume care of some of our most unpopular patients. What I mean by unpopular were those patients that tried the staff's patience.
In particular I recall one patient that was very difficult to care for because he was very ill, and angry, and often times he would take out his frustrations on the staff. Gussie was on the few nurses who could tolerate taking care of this patient for an entire shift. I admired how she dealt with him. When the patient would get abusive towards her, Gussie never took it personally, and continued to do her best in caring for him. Gussie treated all her patients with kindness, empathy, and respect, even if her patients didn't reciprocate these feelings. She was meticulous in her work, and always could be counted on to give 100% of herself to her patients.
I will always remember Gussie. She was my Army buddy, my coworker, and most importantly, my friend. I hope to be more like her one day.”
MAJ Bernadette Thompson at Brooke Army Medical Center said:
LTC Kelly Wolgast wanted us to know that:
At the ICU dedication, LTC Tom Yarber, Chief Nurse, 31st CSH had the following to say about Gussie:
When she died on 7 March 2004, I was in Balad visiting the nurses and other staff. I received a call from Baghdad early on Sunday morning and I’ll never forget the words,”Tom, Gussie Jones died this morning…” We convoyed back later that morning and all that I could think about was Gussie. A day never passes without me thinking of her. I decided that I needed to know more about her.
I spoke with many nurses and other personnel that knew her and after returning to Fort Bliss, I read many tributes that were sent to COL Enzel and other nurses at William Beaumont. Over and over, I read about her wonderful sense of humor, her willingness to always listen support the people around her. She led by example as an officer, mentor, friend, and lived this all through her nursing.
Gussie always had a smile and a kind word especially when the day was difficult -and we had many difficult days in Baghdad.”
I’d like to end with a quote from William Penn said, “I shall walk through this world but once, therefore if there is any good that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not delay or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” CPT Gussie Jones was the embodiment of this statement in her life and her death.
If there is something to be learned from CPT Jones’ untimely death, the life she led, and the lessons she tried to teach it is to let people know that we care about them and to live our lives for the fulfillment of others.
Rest well, CPT Jones. And know that just as there always has been, there are still women willing to serve and to sacrifice for this great nation.
Thank you for coming and helping me to celebrate the life and memory of CPT GussieMae Jones.
|Colonel Lenore Enzel|