Phyllis Gervais was born in May of 1921 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts to a Catholic family. She was inspired by both her mother and father to go into nursing. After graduating from high school in Portland, Maine, she attended Elizabeth Nursing School and Boston College. At the age of 22, Phyllis enlisted in the army along with most of her nursing class. After her basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, she earned the rank of first lieutenant.
At age 24, in May of 1945, Phyllis participated in the liberation of Dachau, a slave labor camp. She spent four days in the camp tending to the prisoners. Her first impression of the camp was the smells from the crematoria. There were bodies stacked up waiting to be burned. Phyllis saw fear in the eyes of the 3,000 survivors who resembled the “walking dead.” The survivors had little clothing and no blankets despite the cold. The nurses sprayed the inmates with DDT and treated them for typhus and dysentery.
After leaving Europe, she spent two and a half years in Korea. She left the army in 1955, and returned to the US where she helped raise her nieces and nephews. She then went to graduate school for an advanced degree in Hospital Administration. She moved back to Maine and eventually moved to Naples. Her experiences during the Holocaust have influenced her antipathy towards the Neo Nazi movement and Holocaust deniers.