Lea Ball, Nurse, US Army, Korea, Vietnam 1970-71

Lea Edmonds was born in the huge metropolis of Millinocket Maine. She was part of the Dana and Florence Edmonds family along with one brother and four sisters. (Yvonne,Bill,Rita,Theresa, and Madeline). Rita and Theresa are deceased. Millinocket was home to about 1000 people, most connected to the Great Northern papermill. Lea’s father Dana, a veteran of WWII, having served the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, negotiated a land deal with the mill for a plot of land that was subdivided for houses built for returning vets.

The family moved for work to Bangor Maine where Lea completed two years of high school. Dana was a building contractor and when a job opened up in Port Clinton Ohio the family moved west. Lea would finish her high school years at Port Clinton high school, home of the Redskins. 

Florence was a nurse and Lea followed her mother path, entering St.Vincent’s Nursing Program. She graduated at the age of 20 with her Registered Nurse (RN) degree in 1967. The Vietnam War was going on and the nurse recruiters were working hard to get the newly pinned nurses to join the military. Lea was one of six in her graduating class to enlist into the Army Nurses Corps. 

She was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in September of 1967. Lea’s first military experience was a t Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio Texas where she was issued her white nurse uniform, qualified as expert with the M-16 rifle and the 45-caliber pistol. After completing her eight weeks officer orientation Lt. Lea was ordered to the military hospital at Ft. Gordon Georgia where she was assigned to caring for Vietnam soldiers in a post-op ward. She served there from November to January until her Chief Nurse informed of pending orders for Lea to ship out to South Korea. Lea’s response was, “Where is Korea?”

Lea joined the 43rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Camp Mosier located in Uijeongbu, South Korea.  Hospital was support for 7th Division, HQ at Camp Red Cloud, a short distance away.

Lea describes the hospital: “It was sooo barren. The hospital consisted of Quonset huts utilized as surgical rooms, patient care wards and sleeping quarters. It was cold ALL the time! The winter was so harsh. There was a single stove in the middle of each Quonset hut for warmth. The nurses would pull the patients beds close to the stove to keep them warm. We were busy covering three post-op wards with 20-25 patients in each and a medical ward.”  

Lea was promoted to 1st Lt. in Korea during her year there in 1968-69. Returning to the states Lea, only 22 years old, was now stationed at the two story 1000 bed Valley Forge General Hospital, located at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Due to a shortage of almost 3000 nurses, the Army nurses took on huge responsibilities. Lt. Lea was placed in charge of wards 9A and 9B, caring for an average of 100 patients, supported by 2-3 corpsman per shift, working 12-hour shifts. (There were a number of times she worked double shifts due to nurse shortages.)

In 1969 the TET offensive in Vietnam occurred which resulted in medivac arrivals at Valley Forge of wounded soldiers, often three times a week. 

“Treatment of the soldiers was often keeping penicillin and erythromycin in them to combat infections and gangrene and walking through the ward with a jug of Darvocet asking patients who needed pain medication. In addition, this was a post-op ward with numerous patients with temporary colostomies, and wound/bandage care.”

“As a 22-23-year-old nurse I was given great respect by the doctors and surgeons. It was a team effort and I learned something new every day. I loved my soldier patients; they kept my mood up…they laughed, talked and teased each other!”

Her year at Valley Forge ended in November of 1969 when the now “Captain” Lea received orders to the St. Louis, Missouri Federal building to be a nurse recruiter, as the nurse shortage had now grown to over 9000. She stayed there only two months before she volunteered to go to Vietnam.

“After what I had seen and experienced at Valley Forge, even though I was only 23, I was experienced at treating 17-18-19 young baby-faced soldiers. I felt they needed me more in Vietnam.” 

Arriving in Vietnam Lea was assigned to the 8th Field Hospital at Nha Trang. It was located very close to the airstrip and was used by the 254th and the 571st Medical Detachments, (air ambulance UH-1Ds) to bring wounded soldiers directly to the hospital. The hospital was closing due to deactivation and being turned over the RVN so after a month Lea moved next to the Army’s 6th Convalescent Center at Cam Ranh Bay, a short-term unit for injured and wounded soldiers preparing them to return to duty. She served there for about six months before being transferred to the 3rd Surgical Hospital at Bien Thuy, where medical staff treated wounded, post-op patients. 

On the 7th of March 1971, wearing her class A uniform Lea touched down in the US. The male soldiers on the flight with her, dropped down to the tarmac, kissing the ground. “I wanted to…but wearing a skirt…!”

“I was grateful to serve in Vietnam using the talents that God had given me. But I was also hoping that nothing that bad would ever happen to me again.”

“As I walked through the airport, I had a young “flowerchild” girl come up to me and handed me a red carnation. Then she recognized my uniform, grabbed the flower back and spit at me!”

Captain Lea was next ordered to the (47th) General Hospital located on the grounds of Fitzsimmons Army Hospital at Aurora Colorado where she became the Chief Nurse. In September of 1971 Captain Lea left the Army returning home to Port Clinton. She accepted a job at Bellevue Hospital initially as the Operating Room Nursing supervisor. After six months the Chief of Surgery offered Lea the position Director of Nursing over the 100-bed facility. 

“This was a rough transition from military medical life to civilian life in a hospital. The work ethic, disrespect of doctors towards nurses, and quality of care was troubling.”

In 1974 Lea took a maternity sabbatical to become a mom to daughter Jessica. Thirteen months later twin daughters Amy and Beth joined the family. When they were about six weeks old the family moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania due to her husband’s employment.

“The move was miserable as the twins cried constantly. At one point I called the doctor who had delivered them and said, “I am bringing them back!” He replied, “Sorry the warranty has expired!”

Once settled in Pennsylvania, Lea enrolled at the Middleton campus of Penn State with the goal of becoming a lawyer. Going to school at night, after her girls were asleep, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Science/Pre-Law in 1979. During her last year of college, she welcomed her daughter Julie.

In 1979 the family returned to Port Clinton and Lea was immediately recruited as Director of Nursing again at Bellevue. In 1984 Fremont Hospital lured Lea away to become its Vice President of Nursing. It was a bigger hospital with new challenges. This her work home until 1987.

A friend introduced Lea to a home health care company in Toledo in 1987 called Visiting Nurses Association. After shadowing nurses caring for patients in their own homes, Lea fell in love “with a whole new world” of nursing. “The nurses were so different, a different breed, so responsible and professional. It was a breath of fresh air!” Lea was offered and accepted the CEO position with VNA.

Lea married to Jim Ball, a General Practitioner she had met at Bellevue. “My first memory of Jim was of him as a doctor yelling at me in the OR!” He was a very smart and delightful man.” When he retired in 1990, the family, including the four teenage girls, moved south to Florida, first to Jacksonville and then in 1996 to Orlando. Jim’s health deteriorated over a few years and on March 11th of 2017 he passed away due to leukemia

In Jacksonville, Florida Lea accepted a position as an area manager of a Home Healthcare agency. In 1993, she gave up management, and decided to make home visits, which she did even after moving to Orlando. Finally, she accepted a position of Director of Nursing at a home care agency. She did that until her retirement in December of 2011.

This was not the end of her career in nursing because in January of 2012, Lea and her daughter Amy opened their own home health care company called “Family Homecare Group” with Lea having the title of owner and Amy being the Office Manager. They currently take care of on average 125 patients with thirty employees on the payroll. 

Lea is a young 73 years old, healthy and mentally sharp, but feels it is time to hang up her nursing “badge” at the end of 2020 leaving her company in the capable hands of her daughter Amy. 

Lea is very proud of each of her daughters. Her oldest Jessica is an RN working in Labor/Delivery in Cleveland. She is also the mother of five children. Amy works in the family business. Beth lives in Florida and is a 1st grade teacher. Julie is a licensed RN as well but currently is a mortgage broker in Florida.

Aside from being a grandma to eleven grandchildren and working, Lea meets regularly with a group of Vietnam vets to just laugh and talk about life, watch Netflix television and plans to volunteer at the local VA hospital when she retires. 

Thank you and bless you Nurse/Captain Lea, for 50 plus years of serving your country, caring for our wounded soldiers, and your patients in hospitals and their homes! As the Vietnam veterans always say, “The nurses were our Angels!”