Agnes Shurr was born near Glenburn, North Dakota in 1915 and grew up on a farm. She followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a nurse after studying at St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Minot. Agnes worked at a hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, but in 1928 decided to join the Navy to see the world and earn more money.
In 1941 she was assigned to a new navy hospital ship, the USS Solace, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was well aware of the horrible war taking place, but didn’t think she had to worry about being attacked. On December 7th she woke with a start to the sound of airplanes, guns, and klaxon horns. Over the loudspeaker a voice proclaimed, “Man your duty stations. This is no drill. All hands. This is no drill.”
Agnes peered out a porthole and saw men running on the deck of the nearest ship, and knew something serious was happening. She reported to her station and spent the rest of the day caring for injured sailors who suffered burns, shrapnel wounds, and broken bones. Luckily, Agnes’ ship, which could hold 400 patients, was not hit during the attack, but she could feel the ship shake as bombs dropped nearby. Agnes spent the rest of the war in the South Pacific caring for wounded servicemen on the Solace.
She stayed in the Navy for 20 years, serving through the Korean War. During her career she earned a certificate from Baylor University and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia. She retired in 1958 with the rank of Commander in the Nurse Corps.
After retiring from the Navy, Agnes moved to Grand Forks to start a nurse anesthetists program at St. Michael’s Hospital. In 1963 she joined the World Health Organization and served for two years in Afghanistan, then earned a master’s degree from Columbia. In 1967 she returned to Grand Forks as a nursing professor at the University of North Dakota, retiring in 1977.
Agnes spent her final years volunteering at local hospitals. On this date in 1993, it was announced that Agnes had been added to Grand Forks’ United Hospital’s Nursing Hall of Fame. She died in 2015, a few months shy of her 100th birthday. She was the last surviving nurse of the 13 who served on the USS Solace on that fateful day in Pearl Harbor.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
Associated Press, “Nurse Served from Pearl Harbor to Afghanistan,” The Bismarck Tribune, May 13, 1993, pg. 4C.
Author Unknown, “Remembering Agnes Shurr,” University Letterhttp://blogs.und.edu/uletter/2015/01/remembering-agnes-shurr/, accessed April 14, 2022.
Author Unknown, “Remembering Pearl Harbor: Grand Forks Woman was Nurse aboard Hospital Ship,” Park Rapids Enterprise, December 7, 2011, https://www.parkrapidsenterprise.com/news/remembering-pearl-harbor-grand-forks-woman-was-nurse-aboard-hospital-ship, accessed April 14, 2022.
Briggs, Tracy, “North Dakota Nurse at Pearl Harbor Held onto Vivid Images of ‘Date which will Live in Infamy,” Fargo Forum, December 7, 2020, https://www.inforum.com/community/north-dakota-nurse-at-pearl-harbor-held-onto-vivid-images-of-date-which-will-live-in-infamy, accessed April 14, 2022.