Nina Silver was born 2 August 1920 to Fred Edwin and Edna Mae Jarrett Turbyfill in the Bandana Community of Mitchell County. She attended the Bandana Elementary School and graduated from Bowman High School, entered Lee’s McRae College, and graduated from the
in 1942. In October of that year she joined the Army, taking a train from Bandana to Spartanburg, a bus to Fayetteville, and began her training as an Army Nurse at the Fort Bragg hospital which was to become the Womack Army Medical Center.
A bout of TB, likely contracted as a student nurse, delayed her deployment for nearly a year. Her assignment for the duration of her four-year career was in the China Burma India Theater. She served in the 18th Field Hospital, Myitkyina, Burma; 181st General Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan; and the 172nd General Hospital, Shanghai, China.
Nurses stationed in isolated jungle hospitals in the Burma-India theater worked under primitive conditions in an extremely trying climate. Many served in the theater longer than the traditional two-year assignment and suffered from low morale. They performed a necessary task but often received little recognition in this demanding but forgotten theater of war.
At the 181st General Hospital, in addition to American sick and wounded, she treated British, Chinese, and native troops. Sleeping under mosquito nets and living in native huts, or bashas, the personnel fought off the ants, sand, mice, rats, flying roaches, and snakes on a daily basis. She had to deal with cultural differences as well. One example was getting accustomed to the Chinese patients insisting on cooking their own meals and keeping chickens and fresh vegetables under their beds.
For every Allied soldier wounded in the struggle for Burma in 1943, 120 fell sick. The malarial rate that year was a staggering 84 percent of total manpower. The Army sprayed DDT on mosquito-infested areas and ordered all personnel to wear protective clothing after dusk regardless of the temperature. Troops were issued daily medication to protect them against malaria. Scrub typhus, a disease spread by mites, posed another problem. This disease demanded an extremely high level of nursing care and had a 30 percent fatality rate.
Nina’s story includes at least one incident in which she took on an Army doctor for failing to treat one of the patients who was an American prisoner, “one of the boys with nothing to lose.” From then on, she had no problems with the “boys” or the doctors. This is a scene which repeats itself a bit later in her career back home in Spruce Pine.
Nina took advantage of travel opportunities which she said later she knew would never come her way again. Instead of flying from Calcutta to Karachi, she convinced her superiors to allow her to take the train to see the Taj Mahal. She also managed to see the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and walk the streets of Casablanca.
She returned home in 1946 with the rank of First Lieutenant and married Lewis Wilson Turbyfill the son of Charlie K. and Betty Wilson Turbyfill of Ledger.
Although Nina worked at the Charlotte Memorial Hospital at one time, she is best known for her outstanding service in Spruce Pine at the Williams Clinic which became the Spruce Pine Community Hospital.
On her first day at the Williams Clinic she found procedures not up to exacting army standards, which were also her own: no charts or written doctor’s orders; narcotics stored in the cash box; and instruments sterilized in a roasting pan in the kitchen. When she asked a nurse’s aide how she knew which medicines to administer, the aide said, “They tell me and I remember.”
“Okay, you do that, and I’ll give the baths and wash the floors,” she said. At the end of the day, she informed Dr. Williams and Dr. Belcher, a surgeon who had been in the military himself, that she would not be returning. A month or so went by before they called her back, having instituted the changes she said were necessary.
Another local person tells: “I started my healthcare career at the Spruce Pine Hospital and had lots of ‘interaction’ with her and Dr. Jack Horner. She could be fun and she could be tough as nails! I remember one time when she chased me down the hall with a needle in her hand threatening to ‘shoot’ me! She didn’t catch me. It was entertaining to watch her and Dr. Horner engage in LOUD disagreements. Nina was a force to be reckoned with as well as an excellent nurse.”
Nina retired after forty years of nursing as an R.N. Lewis died 26 June 2009 followed by Nina 10 October 2015. Both rest in the Snow Hill Cemetery.