Nurses of Normandy

Who hasn’t heard of the terrible battle that occurred on the shores of Normandy, June 6, 1944 – D-Day. I’ve seen newsreels and movies depicting the violent scene of carnage. My heart grieved for the young men struggling up an impenetrable beach. So many men wounded, so many dying.

What I never thought of was the women who followed these men. Most just as young, just as innocent. These women were the nurses. Women who loved America and the American servicemen enough to follow them into war.

nurses(from Gale US History)

Nurses from the 42d and 45th field hospitals and from the 91st and 128th evacuation hospitals arrived at Normandy on June 10, 1944, just four days after the assault. They waded ashore with heavy backpacks to set up care units. They dealt with a steady flow of wounded men, seeing over a hundred a day. They often worked eighteen hour days. One nurse reported, her bathtub was a helmet and the latrine a dugout ditch with a screen around it. Another reported that they had no time for laundry and ended up wearing the same undergarments for a month.

Hospitals close to the front were a relatively new idea but because of the care given less than 4% of US soldiers in WWII died from wounds or disease if they got to a medical facility.

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(Picture from Liz Richardson in National Archives)

The nurses were invaluable, not only did they tend the wounded and the sick, assist doctors, set up facilities, they were also trained to listen to the soldiers stories of loss, fear and loneliness. Soldiers felt, if women could put up with everything they were doing, then they could go on a little more, too.

The government realized the importance of the women in uniform and to boast enlistment, all nurses were commissioned officers entitled to retirement and equal pay. Between the years of 1943 to 1948 the government paid the cost for all student nurses.

There were between 60,000 to 75,000 women enlisted during World War II in the army and navy. Sixty-seven of them served time as prisoners of war.

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(from histomil.com)

These brave nurses dealt with hardship, pain, loss, emotional turmoil and bone numbing exhaustion. But they kept on, hour after hour, day after day, month after month.

Lieutenant Frances Slanger, of the 45th field hospital, said it best in a letter she wrote to Stars and Stripes:

“You GIs say we nurses rough it. We wade ankle deep in mud. You have to lie in it. We have a stove and coal… In comparison to the way you men are taking it, we can’t complain, nor do we feel bouquets are due us. It is to you we doff our helmets. It is a privilege to receive you and a great distinction to see you open your eyes and with that swell American grin, say, “Hi ya, babe!”

Lieutenant Frances Slanger died the day after she sent this letter. Killed by a German artillery shell.

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Sgt. Stubby – Dog Hero of WWI

Born in 1916 he was an average mixed breed with signs of Boston Bull Terrier. Just a homeless mutt who attached himself to a training unit at Yale University in Connecticut. Little did the troop realize, when they befriended him, how beneficial this little dog would be to the troop.

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He became the most decorated war dog of the first World War. He was the only dog issued a rank and became a sergeant due to combat. He became the mascot of the 102nd infantry division, assigned to the  26th Yankee division. He served for eighteen months and was in seventeen battles.

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Though the regiment befriended him, he had one special friend, Corporal Robert Conroy. Conroy hid Stubby on the troop ship when they were deployed and smuggled him into France. When he was discovered by the commanding officer, he was given a salute and permission to stay.

Stubby entered combat February 5, 1918. He was under constant fire, day  and night, for over a month. In April, he was wound in the leg by a grenade. He was sent to the rear to recover. While there he raised the troops morale. When he recovered, he went back to the front.

That year, he was also injured by mustard gas and issued his own gas mask. With his sensitive nose, he learned to warn the troops at the slightest detection of mustard gas. His dog hearing also allowed him the ability to warn the troops of incoming artillery. He also would find injured soldiers in the trenches and signal for help, while staying with the soldier.

He was once approached by a soldier, who he attacked and held till troops came and found him to be a German spy.

Then he was once more injured in the chest and leg by a grenade.

After the eighteen months, Conroy smuggled Sgt. Stubby home. Sgt. Stubby had been in many newspapers and came home a hero. He marched in parades and actually met Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding.

In his retirement, he went to Georgetown University Law Center with Robert Conroy and became the school mascot.

Sgt. Stubby died in his sleep in 1926. His obituary was printed in the New York Times.

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Original caption: Washington, DC: Meet up with Stubby, a 9-year-old veteran of the canine species. He has been through the World War as mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division. Stubby visited the White House to call on President Coolidge. November 1924