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Resident reflects on service as nurse in WWII

Urcil Commons, an original Rossmoor resident, turns 104 on Veterans Day

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Tuesday, Nov. 9): Urcil Commons has a treasure trove of crisp black-and-white photos taken during the 2½ years she served as an Army nurse during World War II, on Adak Island, Alaska, which during the war was a strategic point from which the U.S. military was fighting Japanese forces in the northern Pacific.

Some images show Commons with her colleagues, in action or posed for the camera. Many of them depict a bleak landscape that was often covered with wind-swept snow and was cold “almost all the time.”

Commons was one of 28 Army nurses working at the military hospital in this remote outpost – along with some 55,000 men working both military and civilian positions at the military base there.

Ready to celebrate her 104th birthday on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Commons was modest about her work at Adak, but proud.

“I was just a service person doing what I was supposed to do,” Commons said. “We were serving our country; sure, we were proud of that.”

Penny Nemoede, Commons’ daughter, added that her mom “was an early example of how women can do it all.”

Commons said her original goal was to be a stewardess. At that time, she said, and through the war, stewardesses also had to be nurses.

But the diminutive Commons was too short to be a stewardess; most airlines required them to be at least 5 feet 3 to manipulate baggage into overhead compartments. So she became an Army nurse, starting in 1942 and ending in 1945 when she became pregnant with the first of her three children.

Commons met her husband in Adak. Enos Larrance Commons was an Air Force careerist, eventually becoming the commander of Cape Canaveral in Florida and retiring in the 1960s as a lieutenant colonel. The Commonses were a military family, living in Korea, Oregon and Colorado as well as Florida.

“We got to see a lot of the country,” Nemoede said.

Enos and Urcil Commons bought their home in Rossmoor in the 1960s before it was built. Urcil is an original Rossmoor resident, and with her husband (who died in 2009) the only owners of the Saklan Indian Drive home in which she still lives.

After her military service, the native of rural Sewal, Iowa, worked as a schoolteacher and as a Realtor – one of the first Realtors working in Rossmoor.

In 2018, Urcil Commons was one of the passengers on an “Honor Flight” to Washington, D.C., as part of a program by a network of nonprofits that brings U.S. military veterans to see memorials dedicated to the wars they fought in. She was one of only a few women in that group.

Commons said she never returned to remote Adak, which was shut down as a military base in 1997. The city of Adak, Alaska’s southernmost town, is now home to 300 to 400 people. She said she stayed in touch with some of her Army colleagues from her nursing days for years afterward.

Nowadays, she doesn’t generally do anything specific to commemorate Veterans Day but acknowledges it as she celebrates her birthday on the same day.

“We always put a flag out, and we always celebrate the two (events) together,” Commons said.