A WWII Native American Nurse in the ETO – Intermission Story (15)

Lt. Ryan

The short, soft-spoken former Army nurse was asked how she coped with the harsh realities of working in an Army hospital in war-torn Europe during World War II.

You could hear a pin drop as this 96-year-old veteran nurse stood under the shade of a small tent outside the Fort Meade Museum at Sturgis, South Dakota on 7/17/16.    Without hesitation, Marcella LeBeau responded, “I didn’t have time to worry. I had work to do. There were patients to care for, transfusions to be done, and there were buzz bombs overhead. I just didn’t have time.”

She shared stories of her experiences during World War II, from the D-Day landings at Normandy to the historic “Battle of the Bulge” that helped change the direction of the war.

Marcella Ryan LeBeau’s story began on the Cheyenne River Reservation at Promise, South Dakota, where she was one of five children born to Joseph and Florence Ryan. Her old hometown of Promise – nestled along the banks of the Moreau River – is gone now, inundated by the massive waters of Lake Oahe.

Lt. Ryan and a friend.

Her name belies the rich Lakota heritage of which she is so proud. Her mother was a member of the Two Kettle Band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a descendant of Rain in the Face, who fought at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Her great grandfather, Joseph Four Bear, was a reluctant signatory to the infamous Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Her father, a rancher, was Irish.

Marcella’s Lakota name is Wigmunke Waste Win, which in English means “Pretty Rainbow Woman.”

I was working in the surgical ward in Pontiac, and we kept hearing radio announcements about the need for Army nurses.”

While undergoing no real military training, Lt. Ryan was issued her uniforms and was temporarily assigned to work in the  psychiatric wards.  She among the 104,000 young nurses who were recruited by the American Red Cross to become Army nurses and serve at Army hospitals at home and overseas.  She enlisted in April 1943.

She was assigned to the 76th General Hospital and boarded the USS  George Washington headed for England.

Lt. Ryan LeBeau’s uniform.

Then came June 6, 1944 – D Day.

We were called to our duty stations at 2:30 in the morning, and we began getting soldiers from D-Day. We were pretty busy after that.”

The work continued at a hectic pace for days on end.   By mid-August, the Allies had secured Normandy and were on the march toward Nazi-occupied Paris. Lieutenant LeBeau and her unit were ordered to Southampton to embark aboard boats headed for Normandy.

LeBeau was temporarily assigned to the 108th General Hospital in Paris, where they treated Allied casualties as well as German prisoners of war.

A few weeks later, Allied forces regained the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Liege. LeBeau’s 76th General Hospital was ordered northward to the 1,000-bed hospital at Liege, where they would handle casualties from France and other war zones along front.  The came the Battle of the Bulge!

With more than 600,000 Americans engaged in the fighting, casualties were high – more than 89,000, including 19,000 deaths. Many of the wounded were sent to Liege for surgery and hospitalization.

Army reports indicated the city was blasted with as many as 1,500 such devices. Hardest hit among the medical facilities was Lt. LeBeau’s 76th General Hospital unit on January 8, 1944. The Army reported 24 patients and staff killed, another 20 injured, plus buildings and equipment that were damaged.“We had a wooden building that had been built for surgery. I worked closely with two corpsmen and one nurse,” LeBeau recalled. The city remained a target of intense aerial bombardment by German V1 and V2 “buzz bombs.”

Marcella Ryan LeBeau

Additional documents revealed that the 76th General Hospital staff “cared for their own casualties, cleared away rubble, and kept on working.

There were body limbs all over,” LeBeau remembered. “The buzz bombs continued night and day, but our work did not stop, as we cared for wounded troops and gave blood transfusions. We were blessed with plenty of blood and penicillin, which was relatively new at the time and had to be administered every four hours.

I remember one of our hospital corpsmen, named Coffee, was deathly afraid of the buzz bombs and his situation became increasingly apparent, as he was going without sleep. As we ate lunch together one day, I gave him a sleeping pill and had another corpsman put him to bed. He was finally able to get some sleep. I think if I hadn’t done that, he would have gone berserk.”

For Lt. LeBeau, one incident remains vivid in her memory.

Marcella in France receiving the Legion of Honor

It was an American soldier who had been a prisoner of war and was rescued. He was so gaunt.   Skin stretched over his bones. He was so emaciated. Your first inclination was to feed him, but of course, we couldn’t immediately do that. His eyes. A vacant stare. I can’t forget that look.”

Lieutenant LeBeau completed about one year at the hospital in Liege and then was on her way home.  She was discharged at Des Moines, Iowa in February 1946.

She was awarded three bronze stars – for the Rhineland, Northern France, and the Battle of the Bulge. The government of Belgium also presented her and others of their unit with special medals.  Those, however, would not be the end of many special awards for the girl from Promise, South Dakota.

As she contemplated returning to South Dakota, there was little to attract her. Her father had fallen ill and was living in the “Old Soldiers Home” in Hot Springs. So she went to Chicago and moved in with her younger sister, Johanna, who was in the Army Nurse Cadet Corps at St. Luke’s Hospital.   Marcella took a job as a private duty nurse. But in the next year or so, went to work for a hospital in Rapid City.

The following year, on September 4, 1947, Marcella Ryan married Navy veteran Gilbert LeBeau at Moreau, South Dakota. Both hailed from the Promise area.   “Gib” was a Gunner’s Mate Petty Officer and served at Pearl Harbor  and later aboard two ships during the war.

The LeBeau’s had eight children. After they returned to the Cheyenne River Reservation, Marcella was active in her children’s school activities and as a leader in 4-H. She also continued her nursing work with the Indian Health Service at Eagle Butte, South Dakota, retiring as Director of Nursing after 31 years of service.

She became a member of the tribal council – one of just two women elected to the body, and she also served as secretary for the Wounded Knee Survivor’s Organization.

Her many friends and colleagues from the 76th General Hospital at Liege, Belgium, held reunions numerous times over the years to recall their experiences and renew friendships.  The gatherings took place in Des Moines, Iowa, and were, she said “great therapy.”   Mrs. LeBeau and her friend Esther Westvelt Pierce made the trip every summer they were held.  Alas, the once robust group of Army medical personnel has dwindled and the reunions are no more.

The French remembered First Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau.  She was among 100 World War II American veterans flown to Washington, D.C. in 2004 and awarded France’s highest civilian award, the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur) at the French Embassy. It was the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and the honored veterans were then flown to France to visit Paris – and later to tour the beaches of Normandy.

Marcella Ryan LeBeau last year.

More than 60 years after her service in the Army, Marcella told a researcher from the University of Arizona that she was never subjected to any discrimination or harassment while in the military. But that was not the case after the war when she returned to South Dakota.   She remembered seeing signs in Rapid City that said, “No Indians or dogs allowed.”

Of her many experiences during World War II and in her long nursing career that followed, Marcella particularly remembers and often shares one story – about Eugene Roubideaux from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

I was working one night in a Shock Ward – like an Intensive Care Unit – and was asked to see this patient. He had lost both legs, and they were afraid that he might try to commit suicide. So I went to see him. His name was Eugene Roubideaux. I took him newspapers from home, visited with him, and offered to write letters home for him, but he didn’t want to contact anyone.

I went over to see him often…and then, one day, he was gone.

After the war, I came back to the United States. For 40 years I looked for him. Every place I’d go to a nurse’s meeting, I’d ask if anyone knew Eugene Roubideaux, but I could never find him.

Then one day I met a young lady who came to our hospital to introduce us to a new form to be used at the hospital.

The next morning I got this call, and she said ‘This is Ann Lafferty. Do you known Eugene Roubideaux?

I said ‘yes, I do.’”

’He was my father,’ she said.”

It was an emotional moment for Marcella, who was overcome by the news.

Mrs. Rafferty gave Marcella her father’s address and phone number and told her that he had divorced, remarried, and raised a large family. He was living in Yankton.

I couldn’t call him right away, but eventually I did.

I asked if he remembered the nurse who stood at his bed in Liege, Belgium?”

I’ll never forget,” he responded.

For Marcella, who shared the story with the Veteran’s History Project, it was an emotional moment.

Some time later,” said Marcella, “we were able to invite him and his family to Eagle Butte for an honor dinner.”

It is not surprising that Marcella Ryan LeBeau wanted to honor another veteran. Nor that she continues to be active in community and tribal activities. That she remains a steadfast advocate for her family and her people.

More than 16 million men and women served in the military during World War II. They are dying at a rate of about 492 veterans each day. That means our nation will likely loose almost all of them within the next decade.

How fortunate we were to have had this “Greatest Generation” as our elders, our family, our friends, and members of our community – defending and nurturing us during one of the most difficult times in American history.

Information was located from the “Dawes County Journal”.

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Military Medical Humor – 

On the job training?

“NURSE ADAMS, PLEASE REPORT TO ROOMS 13 THROUGH 100…YOU HAVE PATIENTS WHO REQUIRE YOUR ASSISTANCE!”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Mary Jean Coffield – Morgantown, WV; Nurse at US Army posts, WWII

Cleo Dyer – Stamford, CT; US Army Nursing Corps, WWII

Julia Fairchild – Luray, VA; US Navy Nursing Corps, WWII

C

Frieda Green – Eugene, OR; US Army Nursing Corps

Jean Jones Hawkins – Hopewell, VA; US Army Kenner Hospital (Ret. 30 yrs.)

Betty Kutchmire – Tampa, FL; US Army Nursing Corps

Gladys Renoe – Taunton, MA; US Navy Nursing Corps

Lillian Ritt – San Diego, CA; US Army Nursing Corps

Virginia Seledyn – New Britain, CT; US Navy Nursing Corps, Commander (Ret.)

Vicki Woldt – Colby, KS; US Army Nursing Corps, Vietnam, 7th Surgical Hospital, Lt. Col. (Ret.)

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 4, 2017, in First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 173 Comments.

  1. What an inspirational life! Thank you for sharing her amazing story. Still helping others and being a role model to the younger generations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, this is quite the story, GP!! Thank you for spotlighting so well her journey and going into detail about some of the situations. This woman inspires! Reblog coming up ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lovely story. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a beautifully written story–straight from the heart. Ms. LeBeau’s post-WWII experiences dovetails with what my Dad told me was going on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you found her story interesting. That generation gave us some outstanding role models! I hate the thought of how quickly we’re losing them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know. Now WE are the world leaders and role models. It’s hard to accept the passage of time.

        Liked by 1 person

        • And how are our children behaving?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Not good, I’m sorry to say. I don’t have any children but the ones I see do not understand sacrifice, compromise or knowing when to give ground with grace.

            I’m not pessimistic, though, sometimes hardship will hit later in their 20s or early 30s. That is when they will be made or broken. I think if positive values have been instilled, along with a clear sense of conscience and morality, the seeds will bear fruit.

            I was still really naïve at 24 and gave my parents a hard time. Once I started working and got out of the college environment the real education began. I think it will happen for these young people, too.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. G.P., a wonderful story of Marcella. I love to read personal accounts of our service men and women. When I read this, it made me proud to be in the nursing field. Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wat een pracht verhaal over deze vrouw die zo heel veel gedaan heeft voor mensn die toen gekwetst warenZe heeft zich blijven inzetten voormensenook na die harde oorlog.Respect voor deze verpleegster die toch voor veel gewonden zoveel was gaan betekenen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ik voelde dat ze zeker een prachtig rolmodel was voor jong en oud. Op 97 jaar denkt ze nog steeds aan anderen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just realized you’re fluent in German! My grandfather came to the US from Germany at age 24. There’s a huge focus on his life in Germany that I’m including in my book. Months of research to get it accurate. He was in the German Imperial Army and part of the Boxer Rebellion. Extremely interesting history. Christine

        Like

  7. “Pretty Rainbow Woman.” Perfectly named! She was quite pretty. But, as the old Southern saying goes, “Pretty is as pretty does.”
    She certainly lived up to that standard!
    She could have easily relied on her looks alone but she was about the very serious business of services and lifesaving.
    Awesome story GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Our dear friend
    we hope you are safe and don’t get blown away. We keep our fingers crossed that the hurricae Irma will spare you.
    With lots of love
    The Fab Four of Cley

    Like

  9. This was a really fascinating and touching story! She sounds like an amazing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You don’t have to carry a gun to be heroic. One amazing woman.

    The people of Rapid City must feel proud of the way they treated this woman, they should hang their heads in shame forever!

    Thanks for bringing this to us GP; one of your very best posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks GP. Is it just me or is it because I am getting old or does everyone who reads a story like this get all choked up and tears in the eyes?

    Liked by 1 person

    • My personal theory is, we miss those days of people doing their part, a simpler time of family and hope for the future. I know they didn’t wake up every morning to hear the news of police being ambushed, freedom of speech being destroyed because it just may possible annoy someone someplace. No it is not you, Paol – there are quite a few of us who miss meeting and knowing people such as this!!

      Like

      • We are very lucky here in Australia. No police being ambushed and no innocent people being senselessly killed by police. And we have freedom of speech but I still cannot get an American company to tale a LGBTI rainbow off my Australian blog in what amounts to American interference in an Australian voting process.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Whoa, I’d have a long message going to wordpress Support about that interference – not right!!

          Like

          • I have tried but WordPress Support just sends me to FAQs. A search on Google just has pages of people saying how wonderful the rainbow is. I really really object to being ignored and I object to American interference in Australian affairs as I have already said.

            Like

            • I have been ignored before, but I found a sneaky way to get to them. I go on the forum and put my complaint in on someone else’s thread. WP hates when you do that! It got their attention though when I did it and I replied to them that were ignoring my original complaint and how rude that was.

              Like

  12. A moving and inspiring post. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This was such a beautiful read. The stories of First Lieutenant Ryan of the beautiful Lakota name made me tear up.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I just love how you bring to light the stories of unsung heroes. What a courageous woman!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post! Both of my parents served our country during World War II.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks so much for sharing Marcella’s story! 🙂 Tweeting it out so others can be inspired by it too.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My Uncle Fred (a fine man) was a Conscientious Objector during WWII. He then served with the Ambulance Corp in London during the Blitz. I figure he probably saw more gore than your average soldier. My Mum was a nurse.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. An incredible story. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A wonderful story of a wonderful human being. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was thrilled to find one of our Greatest Generation that is still with us and still remains a wonderful role model for all who know her. Thank you for coming by, John.

      Like

  20. Great Thanks for the topic of nurses!
    Her work is worth respecting.:D

    I think that nobody who are free of physical defects should be injured, lose limbs, or hurt their heart.
    It is not the development of medical care to hurt a healthy human being and save them.
    I think that it is The “medical” to save a ppl who are ill or injured Unwillingly.
    The Voices of patient screaming “painful, painful, helping” can not bear to me.
    So,I can not become a nurse on the battlefield.(T^T)

    I went to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake disaster area.
    There was hardly anything I could do.

    I hope that a healthy ppl will stay healthy ,and the hospital will disappear from this world…someday.

    The Oath of the nightingale is not talked by herself.
    Later, It was made by someone in the United States.
    Nightingale had a Cool judgment idea, I like her calm way of thinking.
    Mother Theresa is a Catholic nun,but I respect Her Guts (willpower)who ran around like a beggar to collect patient’s foods.

    I do not want to see the ppl suffering, so I will not to get a Nurse ,if I will reborn .
    I want to be a researcher, surrounded by book mountain… 😛
    …Hehehe… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It shows what good character you have by even trying to help those affected by the 2011 earthquake. I know even reading about pain and injury is very distasteful to you, which is why I so appreciate you bearing up while reading my posts. I appreciate having met you and enjoy our talks and exchange of information.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. A beautiful story of a beautiful lady. She certainly gave her all to help those in need throughout her life.Could we clone her? Thanks for sharing her story and some of her special moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I was deeply touched by your story of a great native American woman who excelled in the caring for human beings during and after the war. I was shocked to read about the sign: No Indians or dogs allowed here. Of course, this was 1945. We hope there was some improvement in the meantime.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Extraordinary person !

    Liked by 1 person

  24. What an awesome story. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. What an inspiration and wonderful story of her lifelong dedication as a nurse. My mother was one, also, and tried to join during WWII but, having been born in Canada with a birth certificate lost in a fire, she was not accepted. It makes me wonder how her life may have been altered if she had. Thank you, GP, for another great example of our remarkable veterans from WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least your mom had the will and as a nurse, I’m certain she did her part right here as the boys came home – sometimes fate does actually work out for the best. Thank you for taking so much time to read this article.

      Like

  26. Great story. Thank God she was there for our boys.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Beautiful story! Humbling indeed to read – a lifetime spent giving of herself to others. Thank you for bringing us this one!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Reblogged this on Writers Envy and commented:
    What a beautiful story. I’m waiting for the movie!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. What a wonderful woman and wonderful story. If any of your readers have the contacts, Marcella’s story should be a movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. War brings out the best in some people. Thank for sharing Marcella Ryan LeBeau’s story.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. This was a very moving post, GP. Her story of bravery and persistence and commitment is so inspirational. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Truly wonderful. Telling these stories of the most heroic people is so important. I am truly humbled by this lady.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  34. An incredible woman with an incredible story. “I didn’t have time to worry, I had work to do” shows her character.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. What a wonderful story! I loved reading this. I also really liked today’s cartoons.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Such a redoubtable lady; dignified, and courageous.
    Nice tribute, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. This is a marvellous read! This nurse is a gem!! She is a living, walking example!👍☺

    Liked by 2 people

  38. I am humbled by this amazing, steadfast woman, part of a dwindling, amazing, steadfast generation.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Reblogged this on Lest We Forget II and commented:
    Such a touching story

    Liked by 1 person

  40. So touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Yet another marvellous life, GP

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Thank you, Christy. She is a woman whose story is well worth sharing!!

    Like

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on WWII Nurse Marcella LeBeau – Reblog from Pacific Paratrooper | When Women Inspire

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