Folks, I have made a mistake.  

Not too long ago, I published a blog post about Private Benjamin Feeney, an Ossining casualty of World War I, and stated that Feeney Road in the Town of Ossining was named in his honor.

Feeney Road is actually named after Ensign Mary Elizabeth Feeney, a U.S. Navy nurse who died in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on April 14, 1943. I learned of my error when I saw a 1963 letter from the Ossining Town Board confirming that two new streets would be named after veterans Mary Feeney and Nathan Bayden.

So, as a prelude to Memorial Day, let’s right that wrong and learn about Ensign Mary Feeney.

Ensign Mary Elizabeth Feeney. Source: Ossining Historical Society pamphlet “A Memorial 1775 – 1983”

Mary Feeney was born in Ossining on September 11, 1916 to John and Ida Mae (Farren) Feeney.  Her father was a desk clerk for the Ossining Police. She was also the niece of our Private Benjamin Feeney — Mary’s father John was Benjamin’s older brother. What a tragedy for him to lose a brother and a daughter in the World Wars!

They first rented a house at 72 South Highland Avenue and then moved to 31 Hamilton Avenue.

Both houses still stand today:

72 Highland Avenue. Photo source: Google Streetview
31 Hamilton Avenue. Photo source: Google Streetview

Mary, I believe, went to Ossining High School, likely graduating in 1935.  (Alas, I’ve been unable to hunt out the OHS yearbook from 1935. I hear the Ossining Historical Society has it, but it is difficult to access.  Someday I shall find it and confirm this assertion.)  

She went on to study nursing at the Cochran School of Nursing at St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Yonkers, graduating in 1937.  

According to the 1940 census, she was listed as being a nurse in “private practice.”[1] (I imagine her taking care of a wealthy but crotchety Victorian invalid who lived in an elegant, but airless and dark home who imperiously ordered Mary about and was perhaps even addicted to morphine.) No wonder Nurse Feeney joined the U.S. Navy Nurses Corps as soon as she saw this poster, signing up as an Ensign in August of 1941.

Navy Nurse Recruiting Poster.  Photo source: National Archives

I haven’t been able to find out anything about where she trained or was posted at first, but I did learn that in May of 1942 she married Bernard Joseph Gordenstein in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.  He was also in the Navy, a pharmacist in fact, but I can’t pinpoint where they might have met.

Less than two months after they wed, Gordenstein shipped out on the USS Cub One Project, sailing from San Francisco.  (This apparently was a code name for Advanced Base Aviation Training Units (ABATU) that were sent to the Pacific to train with and serve the forces fighting there.)[2]

In February 1943, Gordenstein was evacuated from Naval Base Hospital No. 3 in Espiritu Santo by the USS Solace.  From there, he was transferred to US Naval Mobile Hospital No. 4 which may or may not have been based in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Names and numbers of hospitals, especially the mobile ones, got shifted around in the heat of the Pacific battles.) He’s listed as a patient on the manifest of the USS Solace, but no other details are given.

Nice, you say, but what of Mary Feeney (at this point, Mary E.F. Gordenstein)?  

I just don’t know.  I went down the rabbit hole of her husband’s service record because I thought I’d find her lurking in the shadows of the internet, but no such luck.  I see no listing for her on any muster rolls or ship manifests that I have been able to find.

But at some point, Ensign Mary Feeney was posted to Hawaii and served at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital.  I think it’s unlikely that she was there for the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, because the Navy put its nurses through rigorous training before they were sent out into the field.  However, I don’t know exactly what that entailed or how long it took.  And, as mentioned before, Ensign Feeney signed up in August 1941, so theoretically she could have been in Pearl Harbor that fateful December morning.  But until more documents regarding Navy nurses are digitized over at the National Archives, this is all I know right now.

I did find more information and some photos of Navy Nurses in general on this excellent website if you want a deeper dive:

It’s strange that there is so little information available online about the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. Well, at least in terms of official service records.  Via the above-referenced website and Wikipedia (I know, I know), I’ve learned that over 11,000 nurses, both active and reserve, served in the Navy during WWII.  When our Mary Feeney joined up, there were only about 1,700 Navy nurses. Throughout WWII, Navy nurses were right there at the battle sites in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, going out onto the beaches to gather the wounded of Guadalcanal, Guam, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa (just name-checking some of the more well-known battles, but know that Navy nurses were all over.) Some were even captured and held as POWs (google “Angels of Bataan” for more.)

About 230 US Navy nurses died during WWII.

Here’s a 1942 photo from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery:

Administrative group including Navy nurses and Red Cross workers at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, 1942. Photo source: U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

What do you think?  Is that nurse third from the left Mary Feeney? I can see a resemblance to the one photo I’ve found of her.

And how about this pic?  Do you think that first nurse on the left could be Mary Feeney?  This actually does seem like a possibility. (I do so want there to be one photo of her in uniform.) If it is, it would have been taken just four months before her death.

U.S. Navy Nurses pose for a group portrait at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, December 16, 1942.  Photo source: National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Post your thoughts in the comments (and of course, if you see anything I’ve gotten wrong, or if you have any further information, please let me know!)

Sadly, the last thing I have been able to uncover about Ensign Mary Feeney is that she died of pneumonia on April 14, 1943 while stationed at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital and that she was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star medal.[3]

Mary Elizabeth Feeney Gordenstein is buried in the Halawa Naval Cemetery in Oahu, Hawaii, Section C, Grave 330.

Interestingly, her obituary in the Peekskill Star does not mention her marriage, her husband, or even refer to her by her married name.

I know that if I ever go to Oahu, I will be visiting her gravesite.

[1] 1940 US Federal Census


[3] Peekskill Star, 4/20/1943 Mary Feeney obituary

5 thoughts on “Ossining War Casualty – U.S. Navy Nurse, Ensign Mary Feeney

  1. Thank you so much for this incredible information. My father, Fred Feeney, told us that his cousin Mary Feeney had been a Navy nurse who died in Hawaii of a “staph infection,” and that she grew up on Hamilton Avenue in Ossining. That’s all we knew about her, certainly not that she had been married. She was never referred to by any other name than Mary Feeney, although my late Aunt Margaret Lockwood, told me she was sure she remembered attending Mary’s wedding “in a big white house” but she thought it was in Ossining. Mary’s parents and brother are buried in St. Augustine’s cemetery, I know, because we see their graves when we visit for Feeney family members. The information on Benjamin Feeney, my great uncle, was also very interesting and most welcome. My brother’s confirmation name is Benjamin, but we had absolutely no information about him growing up, other than he died in a German POW camp in WW I. I assumed, and told everybody, that Feeney Road was named after both Mary Feeney and Benjamin Feeney. Thank you for setting the record straight on that, too! Is there any further information available about what became of Mary’s husband? Thank you again for filling in these precious pieces of our family history! Jim Feeney


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