The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Marcella Ryan Le Beau

“I was young and I didn’t know what war was… I guess in a way that was a saving grace.” (Video Interview, 21:54)

   Marcella Ryan Le Beau
Collection image
Marcella Le Beau [2004]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Nurse Corps
Unit: 76th General Hospital
Service Location: United States; England; Wales; France; Belgium
Rank: First Lieutenant
View Full Description

In 1943 Marcella Le Beau had just finished her nurse’s training in her native South Dakota and was working at a hospital in Pontiac, Michigan, when she heard about the Army’s need for nurses. A year later, she was camped out in a cow pasture in Normandy, in the wake of the D-Day invasion, on her way to Paris. That December she was in Liege, Belgium, where she and her comrades were told to open their Christmas presents ten days early, as the Battle of the Bulge had just begun and they might have to evacuate. She never encountered discrimination because of her background; in fact, when colleagues learned that her great-grandfather was a chief, they assumed she must be an Indian princess.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (37 min.)
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
More like this
»Willing to Serve: American Indians
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
Heard on the radio call for nurses to serve in World War II; did not go through basic training; worked as a nurse in Palm Springs before she shipped out to Liverpool, then Wales, where they were billeted in private homes; blackout conditions; on to Leominster, England, preparing a hospital for D-Day; called in at 2:30am to receive casualties from the invasion; crossed the Channel in a Dutch ship in August, camped out in a cow pasture near Omaha Beach, then on to Paris. (08:52) In their Paris hospital, they treated German POWs; watched a German plane strafing near the hospital; it did hit the nurses’ area, where a friend was taking a bath; friend vowed that even if the war lasted another ten years, she would not take a bath until it was over; heard that the plane had been shot down and the pilot was a patient in their hospital. (01:41) Did not experience any discrimination; colleagues assumed that because her great-grandfather was a chief, that she was a princess; after training in South Dakota, encouraged by a doctor to get out and see the world; she and friend accepted an attractive offer in Pontiac, Michigan; still in touch with her friend, Marie, who served in the Pacific Theater; worked in surgical ward in Belgium; penicillin was new and had to administered every four hours; the most serious injuries were stabilized and sent back to the U.S. (05:03)
Her hospital received a medal from the Belgian government; when German offensive began, their hospital was in its path, so they were told they might have to evacuate and to open their Christmas presents ten days early; her naivete was to her advantage. (01:23) More on the Battle of the Bulge; Germans sending up flares at night, reportedly to be able to take pictures of the area and look for troop movements; buzz bombs a threat; one hit her hospital and killed 25 men; treating casualties from the attack. (02:39) Was asked to see an Indian patient from Rosebud, South Dakota; he had lost both legs and it was feared he was suicidal; she visited with him, brought him newspapers from home; she offered to write letters for him; one day he was gone; she looked for him for 40 years; one day a woman came to her hospital to introduce a new form; she called Le Beau the next day to say that the amputee patient was her father; they got in touch, and she invited him to Eagle Butte and had an honor dinner for him; he was the only American Indian she recalls treating. (03:42)

Home » Marcella Ryan Le Beau
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us