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‘Enthusiasm for America’: Generations apart, two women connect over their time in the military

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 11, 2020

Army veterans Ruth Williams, right, and Brusan Wells pose for a photo with an image of Ruth during her time in the Army and her husband Bill Williams during his time in the Army Air Corps on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Army veterans Ruth Williams, right, and Brusan Wells pose for a photo with an image of Ruth during her time in the Army and her husband Bill Williams during his time in the Army Air Corps on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

In 1942, Ruth Williams became a nurse cadet. Little did she know that decades later in her retirement home she would befriend Brusan Wells, a fellow veteran, and strike up a friendship full of laughs and reminiscing about their time in the service.

Williams, now 96, became a nurse cadet in Spokane after World War II derailed her plans to become a teacher in her home state of North Dakota.

She and her sister were in the same class and worked at St. Luke’s together. The army paid for nearly all of Williams’ schooling except for her nurse’s cape and pin, she recalled. When the war ended in 1945, Williams went on to get her bachelors of nursing from the University of Colorado before returning to Spokane to help manage the maternity ward back at St. Luke’s.

There she reconnected with a friend from the nurse corps who was married to Jerry Williams. The couple joined in the baby boom and Williams helped deliver their first child and announced to the expectant father and his brother William “Bill” Williams that it was a boy.

Little did Williams know that she had just met her future husband.

“I always kidded Bill, you don’t even remember me,” Williams said. “I had a mask on.”

Not long after Bill and Ruth met socially and soon after they became Mr. and Mrs. Williams. Bill had flown B24s in the Army Air Corps during WWII. After the war he attended Gonzaga University Law School eventually becoming a Spokane Superior Court Judge and Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The couple had four children and Williams became a stay at home mom. Their daughter, Margaret Williams, recalls her parents telling the kids stories of the war.

“We were brought up with stories of the war like your bedtime stories,” she said. “The whole depression and then the war starting and just the stories from that time. They repeated those stories over the years.”

Now a resident of Rockwood on the South Hill, Williams shares these memories with Wells. The women met when Wells was teaching a class on the Greatest Generations.

On a recent afternoon, the pair were giggling over Williams upside down name tag when she met Queen Elizabeth during her state visit in 1983.

The name tag had fallen off, Williams recalled, and when she stuck it back on her dress it was upside down. The snafu had her so frazzled she messed up her curtsy too. Wells, always the jokester, asked if Williams could curtsy now to which she replied, my knees can’t take it, which left the pair chuckling.

Wells, 69, joined the military in 1973 under quite different circumstances than her friend .

After graduating from Lewis and Clark High School at 17, Wells ended up becoming an unwed mother in 1970. She tried to keep her baby but eventually gave him up for adoption on October 25, 1972. The next day she walked into a recruiter’s office and joined the Womens’ Army Corp.

But signing up for Wells wasn’t quite as easy as it was for men at the time. Women were not allowed to join the military until they turned 18 and then required a parent’s signature until they were 21, Wells recalled. Men on the other hand could join before they turned 18 with a parent’s signature and after they turned 18 could join on their own accord.

Since Wells joined the military before Title 9 was passed, she said there were many gender “discrepancies.” In fact, Wells almost wasn’t allowed to join at all because she had a child out of wedlock.

“Oh my goodness, Uncle Sam did not want you if you were an unwed mother,” Wells said.

The recruiter told her, “We have to get a special waiver for immoral act,” Wells recalled. At the time, men had children out of wedlock frequently, Wells recalled.

Once in the military, Wells was extremely successful receiving six noncommissioned officer army commendation medals and becoming a Sergeant First Class and Sergeant Morales, which promotes integrity, professionalism and leadership for enlisted service members. As a Sergeant Morales, Wells took pride in being the person her fellow soldiers could come to and share their memories and emotions, something Wells still takes pride in at Rockwood.

When she received her commendation medal, Wells said she thought about that waiver which was still the first page of her military file.

“I kind of thought, you know, we have to look a bit deeper into people,” Wells said. “And that’s what we’re doing here at Rockwood.”

In 2007, Wells began working as the development director for the Rockwood Foundation. Three years later she started teaching greatest generation classes to residents. That’s when she met Williams who reminded Wells of both her grandmother, a nurse during the Spanish Flu, and her mother who was also a member of the nurse corps.

Now when Wells visits Rockwood she usually makes time to stop and reminisce with Williams. On Tuesday with the help of Wells, Williams was presented with a Quilt of Valor from Debbie Long, who also works at Rockwood and has made over 100 quilts for veterans.

When Long thanked Williams for her service, she replied “It was an honor.”

Wells asked if she would do it again and Williams replied, “Well, I can’t do it again,” gesturing to her wheelchair and sending the group of women into a fit of laughter.

While Wells likes to joke, she values not only the opportunity to serve her country but to encourage others to do the same. A young woman who works at Rockwood has been coming to Wells for advice before she goes to basic training in the Marine Corps in December.

Wells hopes to instill “pride in and enthusiasm for America,” which is what Wells also says Veteran’s Day means to her.

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