March 20, 2013
Women's History Month made extra special for a woman who made history
Brigadier General Tom L. Daniels, U.S. Air Force (Retired), paid a surprise visit to a patient at Dallas VA Medical Center. The patient, Mary E. Walton, RN, is a 93-year-old World War II Veteran and the first black nurse from Dallas to enlist in the U.S. Army.
When Pete Dancy, associate director, VA North Texas Health Care System, learned of Walton's service to our country, he asked Brig. Gen. Daniels if he could come pay tribute to her. Daniels, a highly decorated Vietnam Veteran with 34 years of military service, was recently appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs to serve a two-year term as a member of the Secretary's Advisory Committee for Minority Veterans. Daniels gladly accepted and upon arrival, declared Ms. Walton "General for a Day." Daniels was excited to hear of Walton's service and said he would not miss an opportunity to come face to face with history.
When Walton was admitted at Dallas VA Medical Center, she immediately made an impression. Despite her condition, her personable demeanor shines through. She openly shares her life story which includes her plight from a young neighborhood nurse to a highly skilled and educated professional one.
"My interest in health care began when I was around eight years old," said Walton. "I used to pull sticker bugs out of my friend's feet and administer first aid on family and friends." Walton also recalls assisting doctors deliver babies in black people's homes. "I didn’t know what a midwife was back then, but I guess that's what I was doing," she said with a giggle.
Walton was born and raised in Dallas. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1936. From there, her education continued. While working as a candy striper at Baylor Hospital, Walton met a white nurse who Walton said, took her under her wing. The nurse helped Walton get enrolled at Brewster Methodist Hospital-School of Nursing in Jacksonville, Florida, which at the time was affiliated with Florida A&M University (FAMU) and was also one of the few schools in the country available for black nurses. Walton graduated from Brewster and FAMU and continued her studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1944, Walton enlisted in the Army as a first lieutenant.
According to Walton, she was the first black nurse from Dallas in the Army. "Dallas was much smaller back then," she said. "Everybody knew everybody."
Upon returning to Dallas after World War II, Walton's first assignment was with the city as a public health nurse at Parkland Hospital. She was the second black nurse to be hired at Parkland. Her entire career included work in public health, labor and delivery and home health care.
Walton's first experience with VA was in the late 1950s when she came seeking a job, but blacks weren't allowed in at the time. She returned to VA in 1978 as a caregiver when she accompanied her late husband, also a World War II Veteran. Walton has been a patient at VA for more than 30 years.
So, how does VA health care rate to an award-winning nurse who practiced for more than 70 years? "It's as perfect as perfect can be," Walton said. "The only problem I have is I sometimes get cold, but I understand they can't heat up the whole building just for me."
When she looks back over time, Walton considers her life as one lived with purpose. "I believe being a nurse is exactly what God intended for my life," she said. "I love serving and hope when people mention my name, they recall my service and dedication."
It's delightful to hear stories from Veterans and add them to the ones told year after year around celebrations like Black History Month and Women's History Month. Walton's story thrives at VA North Texas. Her life, her legacy will be remembered.
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VA North Texas Health Care System serves more than 113,000 patients each year, delivering more than 1.4 million outpatient visits to Veterans in 38 North Texas counties and two counties in southern Oklahoma.