MUSCATINE — Hanging above Virginia Guck's bed at Sunnybrook in Muscatine is a one-of-a-kind photograph from the early 1940s.
The sepia-toned photo shows the U.S. Army nurse and her brother Charles McBride posing together, both in full uniform, capturing one of Guck's favorite memories from her time serving overseas in World War II.
Guck, now 97, was stationed at the 186th General Hospital in Fairford, England. Her brother was serving with the Air Force in northern Europe. Before the war reached an end in 1945, the siblings traveled by train to meet in London.
"We met in London and saw the Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London," Guck said. "We were walking down the street and saw a photographer, so decided to have our picture taken."
Because of their different ranks in the military, Guck said they were not supposed to be communicating and had to be careful of anyone seeing them together. After the trip, she returned to Fairford.
Before enlisting as an Army nurse, Guck went to nursing school for three years, which she said was common for young women her age. She said the government was "pleading for nurses to join the war."
After trying to enlist three times, Guck was finally accepted.
"To me, it was just a job and I was glad I could go after three attempts," she said. "I never used to think about this, but in the past couple years, I wonder who the man was who said I finally could enlist."
Stationed in southern Europe, Guck lived in stone buildings with the other female nurses, and worked in the operating room during the day.
"We did a lot of blood transfusions and the walking wounded were the donors," Guck said. "One day, we did 28 pints of blood. I've always remembered that. They say you remember the things that impressed you at the time."
Despite being in the midst of World War II, Guck said she mostly focused on her work. But she does remember D-Day vividly.
"The sky over Fairford was just black with planes going to the invasion," she said.
After her trip to London to meet her brother, Guck began to worry, having not heard from McBride in a long time. She started calling around, trying to locate him.
"I called and the man said he wasn't here, then I called back that evening and they said he might come back in five days, but he didn't," she said. "He was a gunner on a B-17 and I guess his parachute saved his life. He landed in a tree, then a 16-year-old boy approached with a machine gun and he was a prisoner of war."
Guck waited until her brother's imprisonment was confirmed before notifying her parents. She traveled north by train, staying overnight in Ipswich and collected some of his possessions.
"My parents used to call us Bud and Sis," she said. "They never used our real names."
After serving overseas for more than two years, Guck returned home to Muscatine. She then moved to Davenport, where she earned her degree at St. Ambrose University, through the GI Bill.
"I always said I got more out of (serving) than I put in," she said.
In an Ethics class, she met her future husband, Henry Guck. The couple married in Davenport, then moved to Minneapolis, where they had four children within two years and three months.
"I only knew for 10 days before I had twins," she said. "When I had the first four kids, I washed nine-dozen diapers three times a week. Those were the days before the disposable ones. But I'm so frugal, I probably wouldn't have used them anyway."
The couple had two more children after moving back to Muscatine. Guck continued working as a nurse, on the surgical floor and then in the OB unit, helping to deliver babies and assist new parents.
Today, Guck is awaiting the birth of her eighth great-grandchild, and is proud to say six people in her family have served in the military, including her father in World War I, her husband, daughter and son.
"I'm glad I was able to go and I wanted to; I figured it was an honor to serve my country," Guck said. "And if you've been to any foreign country you know this is the best in the world, even with all the faults."
Now living at Sunnybrook, Guck said she has learned to simply focus on what matters in life.
"I've always been in it for us, not for them," she said. "I never cared what people thought of what I was wearing or anything like that. I always do it for me."