As Another June Is Forgotten, Some Notes on Nurses and Normandy

July 3, 2014

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

A pause before the 4th of July: Nurses were at D-Day too.


Nurses coming ashore at Normandy/AJN archive

Last month, there were a number of D-Day remembrances in the media—June 6 was the 70th anniversary of the 1944 Allied forces landing along the beaches of Normandy and what many believe to have been the single largest tactical maneuver ever launched.

I was especially interested in the D-Day events—I’ll be visiting the Normandy beaches in October. My father was a World War II army veteran and landed at Normandy, though not in the first wave. He arrived days later with Patton’s 9th Armored Division after the beaches had been secured. (His unit would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and finally into Germany after securing the Bridge at Remagen, the only bridge across the Rhine River into Germany not destroyed during the German retreat.)


AJN archive

One thing I was surprised to learn is that nurses landed at Normandy and other invasion beaches within only a few days of the first wave. The photos here are from the AJN archives—the above photo shows nurses landing at Normandy. And the one to the right predates Normandy and shows nurses disembarking in April, 1944, in the harbor at Naples, Italy. (According to this article from the AJN archives, which describes nurses coming under fire while treating wounded troops at the Anzio Beachhead, nurses arrived shortly after troops landed on Italy’s shores in the fall of 1943. For the best version, click the link to the PDF in the upper- right corner of the article page.)

And Navy nurses were at Normandy, too, receiving casualties aboard hospital ships. Here’s an account from Navy nurse Mary Virginia Desmarais, who describes in great detail how they managed the mass casualties aboard ships located off Southampton, England. The injured were brought from the French coast across the English Channel in the very same LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank—a class of ships that can bring troops and equipment onto shore) that had landed them on the beaches.

I’m always amazed and humbled when I read about what so many nurses accomplished, and without a lot of fanfare. Though it’s almost the July 4th holiday weekend, I couldn’t let June slip away this year without remembering them.

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  1. One of these nurses is a mirror image of me!
    How can I find out their names and what happened to them?
    The nurse smiling while walking through the ocean is the one I d like to find info about.


  2. Teena, didn’t know that. What’s the title of her biog?


  3. Let’s not forget Hilda Peplau who was just over the English Channel from Normandy in England caring for soldiers with PTSD (known as shell shock and battle fatigue during that period). Peplau’s biography described huge, makeshift hospitals for that purpose.


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