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 Li├Ęge 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.