Why a World War II ship was named after a West Rockhill nurse

After World War II concluded in August 1945, the Perkasie News-Herald listed the names of 40 local men who died or were missing in active service – and one woman. This is her story.

Major Emily H. Weder (far right)

Major Emily Helen Weder was preparing in 1943 to leave her post as assistant chief nurse at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington for duty off the south of France to support the expected Allied invasion whenever it took place. She was in charge of all operating rooms at Walter Reed and highly respected. But Major Weder was diagnosed with cancer and died at the age of 49 in September 1943.

Weder’s father and mother came to the United States in 1892 from Germany to live in Philadelphia. Emil Weder made surgical instruments and his two daughters, Emily and Julia, became nurses. In the early 1920s, the Weders moved to a property on Ridge Road in West Rockhill Township in Bucks County. However, at the point Emily Weder had been in the United States Army Nurse Corps for more than two years.

In his book Hospital Ships of World War II, Emory Massman told part of Major Weder’s story, also citing Weder’s friend, Edith Aynes (who wrote her own book about her military nursing career). Massman said Weder joined the Army Nurses Corps after graduating from the Jewish Hospital in Philadelphia. In late 1919, the Army sent Weder to serve in Siberia with 15 other nurses supporting the American force sent to contain Communist revolutionaries. After six months of difficult duty in the Siberian winter, the Army sent Weder to the Philippines.

Nurse Weder shipped out to Siberia in December 1919

Over the next 20 years, Weder gained more responsibility in San Francisco and Louisiana supervising nurses and operating rooms.  The News-Herald said Weder would return home regularly to see her family in Pennsylvania and that she co-owned the family home with her sister Julia. By 1940, Major Weder was put in charge of all nurses in the 9th Corps region based in Utah. “This was a big job for a small wiry nurse, but she was a model of professional efficiency and unswerving devotion to the nursing profession and the Army,” Massman said. Major Weder’s next promotion took her to the surgeon-general’s office. However, six months before her death, doctors told Weder she had terminal cancer. Her sister Julia took leave from her position as chief nurse at the U.S. Gauge facility in Sellersville to take care of her sister. Just before Major Weder died, she refused blood transfusions, telling doctors to “save it for the boys.”

Major Weder was buried with military honors at Arlington on September 15, 1943, near a monument dedicated to women who died in the military during World War I. Weder’s friend, Edith Aynes, was the surgeon-general’s public information officer and Ayners convinced the military in 1944 to name two ships for nurses who had died in service: Weder and Blanche Sigman (who had died at Anzio in Italy).

In July 1944 the former transport ship President Buchanan was now the Emily H. M. Weder and it appeared off Naples, Italy. One month later, it was supporting Operation Dragoon, at the beachhead of the Allied invasion of southern France. The Emily H. M. Weder also served in the Pacific Theater until the end of 1945, when it reverted to the name of  President Buchanan.

After the military named a ship for Major Weder in 1944, the News-Herald said that Weder may have had other plans after the war. “In all of her army papers for the last quarter of a century, her home address was always Sellersville,” the newspaper said. While on leave, Major Weder was back in West Rockhill, and “often desired to remain there permanently, but her duties took her to the four corners of the world.”

Weder’s grave at Site 156 at Arlington National Cemetery

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