Wilma was born to William L. and Alberta Green on October 5, 1923, in Minglewood, TN. She moved as an infant to New Orleans where she spent most of her childhood. She and her sister Dorothy were instructed in sewing and embroidery and in “all things proper.” She and her family enjoyed listening to Bob Hope on the radio and to Fibber Magee and Molly. Her grandmother would take them to church.
Wilma attended the Sophie B. Wright School for girls and her favorite subjects were English, Literature and History. She had several fictional stories published in the school paper and she graduated in 1941.
Wilma had an uncle who was a “Soldier of Fortune” and who fought in several different countries.
She went to Memphis State and Washington University and later studied medicine in St. Louis after she enlisted in the Navy in 1943, being sworn in on her 20th birthday. She states that her family was very supportive and that the choice of branch was an easy selection for her since New Orleans was a Navy town and she was immersed in the culture.
Basic training and education took place in New York and then she spent 6 months at the Brooklyn Navy Hospital. Long Beach, Long Island, had converted one wing of a summer resort into a sick bay and there she honed her skills on “light cases” including “Cat Fever” symptoms. She said that was a short name for catarrhal fever and was easily treated, much like flu.
During her time in service she also served in Hawaii, where the war finally ended. Wilma remembers her hospital that was located on a mountain top as being called “Happy Building” since the view overlooking the harbor, open-air ventilation, long wings with windows on both sides providing natural lighting, and lifted the spirits of the patients and staff alike. She recalls one time when she had to work a night shift alone, tending to around 30 patients by candlelight in a hurricane as a very memorable event. She was later commended for her level-headed service to the nervous patients and how she handled the situation bravely and efficiently. She recalls one young Marine patient who was suffering from a bullet wound crying out frantically, “Why did this happen to me? Why am I here?” She visited with him and found out that his panic derived because he had no idea what was happening in the war and truly had no concept of history. She said she was horrified for him and the experience solidified her views that teaching history and geography in schools should be more complete in order to mentally educate and prepare future generations.
While in medical school she married John (Tom) Coon in 1948, and they had one son, John Jr. They were married 66 years. Working with dogs was a joy to her and her husband and she started dog obedience training at South Plains Kennel Club. In the 60’s Wilma helped start the Lubbock Police Department’s Canine Corps.
Wilma went on the 2014 Honor Flight to Washington D.C. with her guardian, Betty, who had been her caregiver for two years previously. Camera crews from KCBD followed her and the other Veterans around Washington and she was interviewed in the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and spoke of her time as a Navy Nurse. Looking back, she states she especially enjoyed helping to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and spoke of it tearfully, stating what a “great honor” it was to experience.
Wilma Coon, Navy Nurse 1943-1945 WWII
by Katherine McLamore