SEARSPORT, Maine — This week, Charlene Farris and others from the Searsport Historical Society will unveil with a flourish a new edition of an old memorial — the town’s restored World War II honor roll.
The shiny bronze plaque lists the names of each of the 174 men and women from this small Waldo County community who served in the war, and at least three of the veterans will be on hand Wednesday to be introduced to the audience for the unveiling.
But the World War II veteran who actually will do the unveiling isn’t listed on the monument at all. She’s Ellen Fuller, an 89-year-old who served in the Army Nurse Corps in a hospital for convalescing soldiers on Cape Cod. Her mother was from Searsport, the daughter of a sea captain, but Fuller grew up near Providence, R.I., and enlisted in April 1945 for a reason she called “quite naive.”
“My boyfriend got drafted, and I wanted to be a nurse so I could see him and take care of him if he got wounded,” she said.
That’s not quite how things went. That boyfriend was sent to Hawaii while Fuller, then 21, went to Camp Edwards in Massachusetts. The couple broke up before too much time had passed. She kept busy at the camp hospital, where she helped care for the “boys” who were returning from the European theater.
“There was a lot of camaraderie on the wards,” she said. “They were young boys. They didn’t take their injuries all that seriously at the time. They were still in that Army environment with their colleagues, who were all injured too … in your early 20s, you seem invincible.”
She was working in the allergy clinic there when she met a patient with a nice way about him. Capt. Tom Fuller had been wounded in a Jeep accident while his engineering company was helping to liberate Allied soldiers in Germany. In the accident, he fractured his pelvis, damaging the bone very badly and severing some of the nerves in his leg.
“He was interesting to talk to,” she remembered.
The feeling was mutual, although the first few times that the captain asked her out on a date, she refused him.
“Simply because my commanding officer was in earshot,” she recalled.
But the last time he asked, no one was listening, and she said yes. They hit it off, married, had four children in six years, and remained together until his death at 89. Over the years, the family lived first near Atlanta, close to his work at Coca-Cola, and then moved to Pennsylvania. Ellen Fuller’s own life as a nurse and educator also was accomplished — she taught at Emory University in Atlanta and ran a research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.
But the family always kept close ties with Searsport, where Ellen Fuller had attended a year of high school and where some of her relatives remained. She lives there now and is looking forward to her part in the memorial ceremony, which will take place during the annual Searsport Historical Society Variety Show. During last year’s show, the diminutive octogenarian tap danced in a Shirley Temple costume, but this year she’ll don her uniform, which still fits, for the ceremony.
“Just don’t ask me to take a deep breath,” Fuller said.
The Searsport Historical Society Variety Show will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, at Union Hall in Searsport.