Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Brigadier General Madelyn N. Parks
15th Chief, Army Nurse Corps

© Mary T. Sarnecky

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Madelyn Norvell Parks and her twin sister Margaret were born in Jordan, Oklahoma, in August 1923 to farmer and carpenter William and his wife Ilela Norvell, both deaf mutes. Three months after giving birth to the twins, Ilela fell ill and soon perished from blood poisoning. Unable to cope with newborn twins and two older siblings, William yielded custody of the infants to their aunt, Elly Parks, who raised them in Corpus Christi, Texas. The duo attended Corpus Christi School of Nursing, a three-year diploma program, graduating in 1943.1

In 1944 when the United States was immersed in war, the pair entered the Army Nurse Corps. They joined units located overseas in India, Iran, and Italy, where Parks served as an operating room nurse in an evacuation hospital in Italy’s Po Valley. Doubtless, her heightened interest in field nursing and the combat role dated to these seminal assignments. After World War II concluded, the Army released the twosome from active duty in 1946 and both settled into civilian positions.

The sisters re-applied for active duty at the onset of the Korean War. They were briefly assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, then directed to Tripler General Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Madelyn worked in the Eye Clinic. While there, Margaret married and at this point, their paths diverged.

In 1954, Parks became a staff nurse in the Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat ward at Brooke General Hospital, Texas. Orders subsequently led her to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for an 18-month assignment as educational coordinator after which she returned to Brooke. There in 1956, Parks participated in the Head Nurse Course, taught at the Medical Training Center, and studied at San Antonio’s Incarnate Word College for a baccalaureate in nursing, earning that degree in 1961. Her next assignment was to Würzburg, Germany, as chief nurse of the 2nd Evacuation Hospital and senior nurse coordinator of the 62nd Medical Group consisting of five hospitals and several clearing companies. She regularly participated in field exercises such as the Tri-Color Team that involved collaborating with German and French forces. The multi-national partnership assembled an evacuation hospital in caves under Luxembourg City. Parks derived immense satisfaction from this assignment, dealing with a populace who were profoundly grateful for America’s intervention during the war. Following Parks’ European assignment, she matriculated in 1963 in the Army Medical Department’s (AMEDD’s) Hospital Administration Course affiliated with Baylor University. The program involved a year of didactic instruction at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and a second year of residency that Parks completed at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California. In 1965, Baylor conferred a masters degree in hospital administration upon Parks after which she served as director of the Letterman Clinical Specialist Course, one of the Army’s practical nurse programs. Parks returned to the combat theater in 1967 as chief nurse of the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, Vietnam. There, the seasoned combat veteran instituted many reforms, such as rehabilitating the dilapidated, unkempt, prisoner of war unit. She also worked with the local PX officer to curtail the black-marketing of feminine products, appropriately making them available for the nurses’ purchase. Throughout her career, Parks typically appraised situations with a keen eye and boldly forged ahead with apt solutions.

In 1968 Parks reported into the Medical Field Service School at Fort Sam Houston, where she served for almost four years as assistant chief of the Nursing Science Division. She next became chief nurse of the Continental Army Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, in 1972. In this post-Vietnam era, conditions in the Army’s field hospital units were troubling. Operational readiness levels were poor. Army nurses assigned to these units were used inappropriately in roles such as motor pool, training, or supply officer, leaving them no time to tackle nursing concerns. Parks again perceived the conspicuous need for reform and instituted measures to make things right. After the assignment to Continental Army Command, Parks became the chief nurse at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1973.2

In 1975, the Army nominated Parks as the 15th chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Two Army nurses served consecutively as assistant Corps chief in this four-year span—Colonels Edith M. Nuttall and Virginia L. Brown. Existing circumstances during Park’s tenure included an extensive reorganization of the Army and pervasive role and doctrinal difficulties. She took a resolute stance on these matters, most notably dealing with issues of equity in gender and marital status, evenhandedness in educational opportunities, fairness in assignments, adequacy of personnel authorizations, and suitability of uniforms for Army Nurse Corps officers. Parks also vigilantly guided the 1976 passage of the requirement for all Army nurses accessed to active duty to have an earned bachelor’s degree in nursing. She staunchly defended that important regulation against those who did not favor its enactment. Moreover, Parks initiated a planning group to set up an organization to disseminate information and promote social contact among retired Army Nurse Corps officers. From this concept came the Retired Army Nurse Corps Association (now known as the Army Nurse Corps Association). Additionally, Parks championed the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps Foundation that led to the actualization of a vastly improved, modern AMEDD Museum. Lastly, she mounted a persuasive campaign to have the newly constructed hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, named in honor of the World War II Army Nurse Corps superintendent. That facility became known as the Colonel Florence A. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. Always forthright, candid, and to the point, Parks numbered an array of major achievements during her lengthy Army career.3

Parks retired in 1979 and spent her remaining years in San Antonio, Texas. She served as honorary director and chair of the Building and Grounds Committee for Phase I construction of the contemporary AMEDD Museum. From 1982 to 1984, she joined in the efforts of a planning and feasibility committee, which successfully advocated the establishment of a continuing care community for military retirees and spouses in San Antonio. That institution evolved into the Army Residence Community. Afflicted with cancer, Parks passed away on 24 November 2002. Her burial took place at Arlington National Cemetery on a bleak winter day on 3 January 2003.4

  1. Madelyn N. Parks, Interview by Lieutenant Colonel Theresa Washburn, 27 July 1992, transcript; Madelyn Norvell Parks, "201 File"; Brigadier General Madelyn N. Parks, "Curriculum Vitae," 26 June 1973; Brigadier General Madelyn N. Parks, "Curriculum Vitae," September 1975; Madelyn N. Parks, "Questionnaire, Assignments and Experiences, Army Nurse Corps," no date (nd); Major Jennifer Petersen, "A Salute to One of Our Own, BG (Retired) Madelyn N. Parks: 15th Chief, Army Nurse Corps," Army Nurse Corps Newsletter, 3 (December 2002): 2-3; Carmina Danini, "Parks Led Army Nurse Corps, Served across Globe," San Antonio Express-News obituary, nd, no page (np); All in U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. Colonel Nancy Molter, "Madelyn N. Parks," in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 90-95.
  2. Ibid. Dick McCracken and Jay Sanchez, "Media Memo," Incarnate Word College News Service, nd; "Congress Approves Corps Chiefs," HSC Mercury, nd, 3; "Army Nurses Light 75th Candle, Chief Takes Corps’ Pulse," Spotlight, U.S. Army Command Information, No. 142, 29 April 1976; "New Army Nurse Corps Chief Named," News Release, 16 July 1975; All in U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History.
  3. Ibid. "Nurse Corps Chief Sees Bright Horizon," Stripe, n.d., 12, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. Mary T. Sarnecky, A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 370-371. Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute), 14, 25-26, 27, 29, 43, 60-61, 91, 95, 112. Carolyn M. Feller and Debora R. Cox, eds., Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2000), 49; Colonel Eily Gorman, telephone conversation with author, 13 April 2013; Mary T. Sarnecky, From RANCA to ANCA, Thirty Years of Camaraderie and Service (San Antonio: ANCA, 2010), 1-14.
  4. "Memorial Service for Brigadier General (Retired) Madelyn N. Parks," ceremony program, 2 December 2002; "Parks, Madelyn N.," Washington Post, 1 December 2002, np, obituary; "Taps," Walter Reed Society Newsletter, April 2003, 3. All in U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. From RANCA to ANCA, Thirty Years of Camaraderie and Service (San Antonio: ANCA, 2010), 1-14. Colonel Beverly Greenlee-Davis, Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Canfield, and Colonel Nickey McCasland, conversation documented in an e mail message, 20 April 2013. "Madelyn N. Parks," in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 95.