Max Gurney was 21 years old and living in New York. It was 1942, a year after the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Gurney told his parents he was going to enlist in the US Army. “I had the desire, patriotism, and also a sense of our being attacked,” he said.
He was sent to North Africa for his training. “Patton and I arrived in North Africa at the same time!” Gurney said.
He was assigned to the Signal Intelligence Service, and was one of 10 men whose job it was to gather information and intercept enemy codes.
On D-Day, Gurney and his regiment landed in Sicily. “We were totally unprepared for war,” he said. “Particularly when we entered combat.”
He was on the front lines, 100 miles north of Naples, when they were attacked by the Germans. Gurney was injured but wasn’t aware of it until he woke up in a hospital in Naples. It was Christmas day, 1943.
“I was unconscious, then woke up. I didn’t feel any pain.” When he opened his eyes, there were three women beside him. Two were nurses, and the third was a Red Cross representative: “She had a different uniform, gray, with a hat. They were the three graces,” Gurney said. That woman in the “different” uniform – she was Gurney’s “Red Cross angel.”
“I was coming back to life. Being alive and seeing girls was a momentous occasion! I was rejuvenated.” He was discharged from the hospital four days later.
After the war, he married a woman from Scotland: Kay. They had a son and and were married for 52 years. “She was my angel. She helped me a great deal. She’d tell me, ‘You’re not the only pebble on the beach.’”
Gurney has had a long, full life. “I feel like I had my good life, I enjoyed it, I learned from it. I also became more conscious of the misery of this world.”
Even at 94 years old, he remembers his wartime encounter with the Red Cross.
“The Red Cross, to me, represents a very important humanitarian organization. They’ve been so effective, whether peacetime or wartime, a major entity. I remember the value of the three women, and the Red Cross, to the spirit of a soldier.”