From Rochester to Capri and beyond, Patricia Pattison saw the world
Joining the Red Cross during World War II made the Rochester High School grad a bit of a celebrity in her war travels.
Patricia A. Pattison had a typical journey through the early years of her life. Then came World War II, and her life, like that of so many other young men and women, changed dramatically.
She was born in 1918 Fargo, North Dakota, but grew up in Rochester where her father, George, was a dentist. When Patricia graduated from Rochester High School, the school yearbook described her as “Exceeding wise, fair spoken and persuading.” She attended Rochester Junior College and the University of Minnesota, and worked as a desk clerk at Mayo Clinic.
But in early 1943, with her older brother in the Navy medical corps, Patrica decided to join the American Red Cross “for the duration” of the war. She was assigned to Europe, and sailed on July 14, 1943, for her first station: Casablanca, Morocco.
There were limited facilities for women at the air base there, so the men improvised and built a “commodious tent” for Pattison and another Red Cross worker. It even featured a shower, “a perforated lard can which drained torrents of water from an old gas tank,” the Post-Bulletin later reported.
Eventually, Pattison was sent to Italy to work alongside the Army Air Force. “Those boys were really wonderful,” she said in a 1945 interview with the Post-Bulletin. “We worked with them every day and we shared their hardships and minor gripes.”
However, Pattison was unable to fulfill one of her primary duties: making doughnuts. The shipment of doughnut mix had not arrived. “Here we were with a great big doughnut machine and nothing to make them with,” she said.
Like so many other Americans at war, Pattison improvised. “Luckily, the army was good enough to give us some flour and we started baking cookies,” she said. “We made an average of 3,000 a day for nearly two weeks. After that, the boys were happy.”
Then, in December of 1943, Pattison was stricken with appendicitis. She underwent an emergency appendectomy, and was sent to the Italian island of Capri to recuperate. It was there that Minneapolis Tribune correspondent Gordon Gammack interviewed the young woman he called the “Belle of Capri.” Gammack said the servicemen on Capri were lining up to invite Pattison to dinner.
Back on duty, Pattison spent 1944 in Italy, attached to the 15th Army Air Force, where she expanded her skills beyond baking cookies.
“Some of the boys had gotten together a lot of spare equipment and managed to set up a small radio station,” she said. “They had plenty of records and thought it would be a great idea if a girl could act as an announcer on one of their swing programs. I’d never done anything like it in my life, but before I knew it, I was chosen.”
When the war in Europe ended in May 1945. Pattison managed to get passage back to America on a returning troop transport, and made her first visit home to Rochester after nearly two years overseas.
The Red Cross soon dispatched her to India, and then to China.
The war had taken Pattison around the world, just as it did for so many men and women of her generation. After the war, it was time to settle down.
On June 2, 1948, Pattison married Gilbert T. Joynt, a former Navy fighter pilot, in Anchorage, Alaska. The couple later resided in Seattle, where the former Rochester woman once known as the “Belle of Capri” died in 1996.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.