Maria Dolores Hernandez’s family fled the Mexican Revolution and arrived in Fullerton during the year 1913 when she was 6. Fifteen years later, she entered Orange County General Hospital’s Nursing School and became a registered nurse in 1930. Within a few years, she became Orange County Hospital’s supervisor of communicable diseases.
In 1940, during World War II, she became the first Red Cross nurse from Orange County to be called into active duty as a second lieutenant. After the war, she transferred to the Air Force and was stationed at bases throughout the United States, the Far East and Europe. She acquired small properties wherever she was stationed, while rising in the rank to major, and retiring after 20 years of service.
Returning to live in Fullerton, she joined Cal State Fullerton’s Continuing Learning Experience (now Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), and upon her death in 1997, she gave nearly $ 1 million to the university’s Nursing Department to establish an endowment for scholarships.
I learned about this incredible story from a volunteer at the Santa Ana Senior Center, Alice Rodriguez, who was wearing her staff shirt while standing in line at a local department store. I mentioned that I had worked there for a program called Project P.R.I.D.E., a premiere at-risk teen program in the 1990’s.
Before we walked out the door, we were conversing as though we were old friends and she told me about an event in Fullerton called the 15th Annual Veterans Day Celebration, hosted by the Latino Advocates for Education based out of the City of Orange.
The November Veteran’s Day event honored World War II veterans, including actor-producer-musician and Army veteran Desi Arnaz; civil rights activist and Navy veteran César E. Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union; Guy Gabaldon, the Marine who was credited for capturing — or persuading to surrender — about 1,500 Japanese soldiers and civilians during the Battle of Saipan in 1944; José Limón, Army veteran and founder of the José Limón Dance Group and Institute; Marine aviator and Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams; Boxing Hall of Famer and Army veteran Manuel Ortiz; and military nurse Maria Dolores Hernandez, who left Cal State Fullerton’s nursing program an endowment for scholarships for nurses committed to working with impoverished populations.
“This year is the 70th anniversary of World War II, and we must recognize ‘the Greatest Generation,’ our World War II veterans and their families, and highlight the patriotic contributions of Latinos to our country’s defense through these seven famous Americans,” said Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Aguirre, president of Latino Advocates for Education.
We remember and honor all the brave men and women who served and sacrificed in World War II, and recognize the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
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