Tuesday, April 21, 2015

US Army nurse veteran of the Ardennes Campaign recalls VE Day and beyond

Muriel Phillips Engleman, US Army nurse, next to a pillbox in Liege, Belgium, October, 1944, while waiting for the construction of her unit's tent hospital.
She and her unit would soon nurse Battle of the Bulge casualties.
I asked Muriel for her memories of VE Day and this is what she sent me:
"One word sums it up--we were euphoric. We knew it was coming but when the final realization of the signing of Germany's surrender set in, we couldn't contain our relief, at last the killings were over! The local Belgians swarmed around our hospital yelling "Fini la guerre!" (the war is over).

And amidst my memories of that day are also feelings of guilt because of an  unkept date I had made with a recently released American POW officer, a patient in our hospital, who asked to see me that night in our officer's club tent and I agreed. However that afternoon the colonel of our hospital offered the use of a truck to take the nurses to the large officer's club in Liège to celebrate and I dearly wanted to be with my buddies, the women I had worked with through thick and thin the past three years, to celebrate with them. I never had a chance to contact the officer who wanted to date me that night and hopped on the truck along with the other nurses. Of course I felt guilty for "standing him up," especially after him being a POW of the Germans for several months and he was so happy to be free and dating an American woman.

Then, a few days later, when  reality of the war being over settled in, came the haunting thoughts that the war with Japan was still going on and instead of heading for home, we'd end  up getting shipped to the CBI (China, Burma, India Theatre of Operations)...

The months between May and August: in June we received orders to move back to Chalons-sur-Marne in France and run a hospital there in an old French riding caserne, and I was working with 600 Kraut POW's. They figured that because i was Jewish I could speak Yiddish, similar to German but of course, I couldn't speak a word. I did learn how to say "haben zie schmertzen?" (have you pain? and" Vo is die schmertzen"--where is the pain. The patients were between the ages of 14 and 67, and the big blonde arrogant SS Troopers weren't so arrogant at this point. Chalons was a horrible dust bowl  town, nothing to do on our days off unless we took an overnight and hitched a ride on a truck to Rheims , the champagne center and there was a nurses R & R building there, and shopping and sights to see.

In Sept. they sent us on a week's leave just to kill time and I went to Switzerland and then they moved us to a staging area to get ready for the trip back to the U.S. and the waiting was horrible, nothing to do in these staging areas, usually out in the boondocks, read, stay in bed, nothing much to explore or transportation for exploring and the  rumors flew thick and fast.
Our luggage was sent to Marseille but we finally left from le Havre (and our luggage arrived there eventually also) and we sailed out about mid Nov. for the  U.S. Slowly passing the Statue of Liberty about  6;30+ a.m. was the most beautiful sight in the world and there wasn't a dry eye aboard that ship of thousands of returning servicemen and women."

Muriel has written a memoir, which includes eleven chapters regarding her wartime experience, called Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock. Her story is also included in the young adult collective biography, Women Heroes of World War II.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Noor Inayat Khan: The Gestapo Closes in

The Gestapo knew there was a radio operator in Paris, but for months Noor successfully eluded them. They failed to track her down because Noor was careful to transmit from many different locations and because she transmitted very quickly. She also possessed a keen intuition that alerted her to the dangers of being followed or the overtures of too-friendly strangers.
Noor's fellow agents knew that the Gestapo was closing in on her and urged her return to London. But she refused to leave until they could send a replacement. Once she was assured that this would happen, she would make plans to return...
Excerpt from "Noor Inayat Khan: Royal Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A very special History Day project

Cinthia, Mariah, and Victor

Janet Kelly’s email took me by surprise. Kelly is a middle school teacher who coached a three-student team through an impressive History Day project, using my book as the foundation. Of the 26 women featured in Women Heroes of WWII, Ms. Kelly's students decided to focus on Josephine Baker, Irene Gut, Nancy Wake, and Sophie Scholl. “They have cut out four women's silhouettes out of wood, and put them together like a jigsaw puzzle” Kelly told me. “The pieces stand up when they are put together, but fall down if they are apart. They wanted to demonstrate that these women, and all the others like them, had accomplished much as individuals, yet the real power is what they did together as a collective whole.” She went on to explain that the kids knew nothing about WWII before beginning the project. “One of them told me that WWII was fought so girls could wear Levis to school” Kelly said. The following questions they sent to me via their teacher proved that they’d learned something during the project:

“How important were the resistance groups to the war effort?”

“Why would the Nazis have treated Sophie so badly?”

“What do you think would have happened if the Nazis would have won the war?”

“Do you think we are on the right track with how the exhibit is put together?”

“Were there reforms in Europe that happened because of the Allies winning the war?”

“Do you think the artifacts are a good idea?”

I won't take up space here with my answers because because the point of this post is to exhibit the impressive amount of thinking that was stirred in these students. I’ve had many inspiring moments since I commenced the writing of Women Heroes but I’d say that my correspondence with Janet Kellly will always be very close to the top. Here are her final comments: “You have had a major impact on these kids. I think your book is beyond inspiring...what a legacy to leave future generations. I think the way it is written and illustrated make the information easily accessible and memorable. I plan to keep it in my library, and will eventually donate it to the school library. Thanks again for your willingness to help us.”

There was a spot for "artifacts": food representing Irene Gut . . .

A suitcase representing Sophie Scholl . . .

And tap shoes representing Josephine Baker.

I had to include this -- I've never been quoted in a school project before. :)

Great job, kids!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Marlene Dietrich: Tireless German entertainer for the American troops in Europe

Marlene Dietrich behind enemy lines.
Courtesy of Marlene, Inc., from the Marlene Dietrich Collection, Berlin.

Marlene was frequently in serious personal danger. Gunfire and the sound of exploding bombs often provided the backdrop to her songs. More than once, her shows had to be stopped either because the soldiers received orders to "move out" or enemy fire had come too close to the stage. But Marlene didn't care; she was a tireles and determined entertainer.  She would often urge her fellow USO entertainers to drive as close as possible to the front lines of battle, do a short show for the servicemen there -- just a few songs and jokes -- and then drive back as quickly as possible.

The most dangerous event that Marlene experienced during the war occurred when she was traveling with a division of U.S. soldiers into the Ardennes Forest and entered a crucial battle of World War II: the Battle of the Bulge . . .

Excerpt from "Marlene Dietrich: The Only Important Thing" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stranger at the door: Magda Trocmé

Magda Trocmé with her family in the late 1930's
Trocmé family collection

Magda Trocmé, the wife of the Protestant pastor André Trocmé, lived with her family in the small French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. She was cooking dinner one evening when she heard a knock at the door. Who could it be at that time of day? When she opened the door, she saw a woman covered with snow, shivering with fear and cold. The woman asked if she could come in. Magda guessed that the woman must be a Jew. She also knew that it was illegal to hide Jews.

Opening paragraph from "Magda Trocmé: Wife, Mother, Teacher, Rescuer" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

US Army Nurse Corps booklet cover

Courtesy of Muriel P. Engelman, WWII U.S. Army Nurse, retired R.N.

Muriel, who eventually nursed men wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, has this to say about the different uniforms they were issued:

"When we first were commissioned, we wore navy blue dress uniforms and the navy cape but then sometime in '43, they changed to olive drab before we went overseas and the summer dress uniform was beige--but I was overseas for about 9 months before that arrived.  In the winter months we wore the olive drab combat pants but come Easter Sunday we were allowed to wear the brown and white seersucker wrap around uniforms that looked like maternity dresses but the effect on the G.I.'s , both in England and in Belgium on those Easter Sundays was the same. The patients hooted and whistled and yelled, "They've got legs!" So, it was good for their morale and our egos."

"We did not wear our white army uniforms once we went overseas but wore drab fatigues or coveralls, that we called "zoot suits." Then just before we went to France we were issued our "combat pants" with liners that provided more warmth than the fatigues, and wore long underwear under the liners once winter set in for good in Belgium. And our helmet liners were the head gear we wore all the time, replacing the nurses' caps. During periods of bombings, then we wore the three pound steel helmets over the helmet liners, when we'd try to worm as much of ourselves as possible into those helemets."

Muriel's wartime activities are included in her memoir, Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock and in the U.S. section of Women Heroes of WWII  (she is the leader of the nurses marching across the cover of the book)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Muriel Phillips: A Nursing Student on December 7th, 1941

Muriel Phillips during the Battle of the Bulge.  Photo courtesy of Muriel P. Engeelman

When Muriel Phillips heard the news, on December 7, 1941, that the United States Navy had been bombed by the Empire of Japan, she was in her final year of nurse's training at Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The following day, all the nurses on her floor gathered around the radio in the doctor's office to hear President Roosevelt give his "Date of Infamy" speech, which informed the American people that the United States had declared war on Japan.

There was no question in Muriel's mind what she would do: right after she finished her nuse's training, she would enlist in the armed services as an army nurse.

Opening paragraphs of "Muriel Phillips: US Army Nurse" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Muriel's memoir: Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock.