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Veterans Day: Calla Lillian Saunden

Veterans Day: Calla Lillian Saunden
Calla (Dean) Saunden was in
France serving as a nurse when
World War I ended.
Courtesy photo.

World War I veteran

Most years the veterans that we honor are men. This year, we are profiling a woman who served during World War I as a nurse. Many thanks to the Cedar Springs Historical Society for providing us with this information.

Calla Lillian (Dean) Saunden was born on March 21, 1895 in Tustin, Michigan, the fourth child of Arthur and Burtie Sauders Dean. Prior to the turn of the century, the Dean family returned to the family homestead, at the corner of the old Federal Road (Northland Drive) and 16 Mile Rd, in Cedar Springs, where Calla attended school. During high school, Calla developed an interest in the medical profession and was taken under the wing of Cedar Springs’ Dr. Annis. She worked in his office and accompanied him on his rounds. Dr. Annis encouraged Calla to test out of high school before graduation and he sponsored her admission to Ferris College and the Grand Rapids Butterworth School of Nursing, from which Calla graduated in 1916.

In early 1918, while working in Alma, Michigan at the Carney Hospital and with her older brother Alba serving in France, Calla felt called to join the Army Corps of Nurses and volunteered to serve overseas during what was to be the end of the war. By April, she found herself in San Francisco, California, immersed in additional medical training and language classes. After four months Calla’s unit was traveling to New York to await sailing to France. By mid-September, the unit had arrived in France and was assigned to Base Hospital Unit #54. During the trip to France, many people, including Calla, were stricken with the Spanish influenza, and Calla’s first assignment in France was caring for her still ill comrades and the many soldiers who were also down with that deadly flu.

Calla’s many letters home talked of the weather, living conditions at the hospital, and general conditions for the soldiers in the field. The “inspected” letters offered no specifics about the war, until a letter dated November 10, 1918, in which she wrote, “Today our glorious nemesis, the Kaiser, abdicated and socialists are asking for peace at any price. Oh it seems too good to be true that peace may be declared soon. Oh how we all shouted and hollered when the bulletin was read in the hall this noon.” At 10:00 that same night she added, “Peace has been signed tonight.”

Her unit remained in France after the official end of the war, caring for the wounded and ill, getting them well enough to return to the states. After her return to the states and discharge from the Nurses Corp, Calla continued her nursing career until her retirement in the early 1960s. Her retirement years were spent in the Cedar Springs area among family.

Calla passed away at the age of 83, on November 19, 1978 at the Veterans Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1998, the Cedar Springs Historical Society honored Calla Dean Saunden by sponsoring her as a Cedar Springs representative for the American Women in Military Service Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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