Monday, October 8, 2018

A story about Marcella LeBeau

(NOTE:  After driving along the outskirts of Liege, Belgium just three weeks ago, I was reminded of that city's history – and of South Dakotan Marcella LeBeau.  A World War II Army nurse who served in a military hospital at Liege after the Allies liberated the city 74 years ago this month.  The following was written in 2016 for the Black Hills Journal.  I hope you find Marcella LeBeau's story as inspirational as I did.  -- LM)

by Larry Miller 

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.

Marcella LeBeau - July 17, 2016
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.”

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 last weekend (7/17/16).
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.

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.”

Growing up we had no electricity and had to haul water in.  I remember my father had a big garden, and geese, horses, and other animals.

My mother died when I was 10, and I was sent to the boarding school at the Old Cheyenne River Agency.  It was a horrible experience.  If you didn’t speak English, it was terrible.  Students would be beaten – whipped – and there were instances of rape and attempted rape.  It was very traumatic.”

She convinced her father that she and her siblings weren’t getting a proper education, and they transferred to the St. Elizabeth Mission School at nearby Wakpala.  After getting her diploma from St. Elizabeth’s, Marcella enrolled at St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Pierre.  She completed her studies there in three years, graduating in 1942.

About 50 persons attended Marcella LeBeau's presentation outside the Museum
I sewed clothing for my friend Marie Weaver, and pajamas for my brothers and sisters.  We had come through a tough drought, and I had the same pair of shoes for three years, binding them with tape to hold the soles on.”

When I graduated from St. Mary’s, I had no uniform or shoes for the ceremony.  I was fortunate that my father was able to buy them for me.”

After working for a time at the Public Health Hospital at Fort Thompson, Marcella took her first out-of-state job in Pontiac, Michigan.

It paid $140 a month, plus room and board.  It seemed like a lot of money.”

World events, however, were deteriorating, and the United States was in the clutches of World War II.

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

Lieutenant Marcella Ryan - 1944
Shortly thereafter, Marcella and her friend Marie Weaver decided to “see the world.”
  They were 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.  They enlisted in April 1943, hoping they’d be able to serve together as brand new 2nd Lieutenants.

But Marie was assigned to go to Colorado, and Marcella was sent to Torney General Hospital in Palm Springs, California for "training."  It was the old El Mirador Hotel, which the Army had bought at the outbreak of the war and converted into a 1,600-bed general hospital.  While undergoing no real military training, Lt. Ryan was issued her uniforms and was temporarily assigned to work in the  psychiatric wards.

She then received orders to join the 76th General Hospital unit in Boston and was soon on a troop train headed for Chicago and then Boston, where she and others awaited their overseas assignments.  Shortly thereafter, she found herself aboard the troop transport USS George Washington for the 14-day voyage to Liverpool, England.  The United States was making preparations for an invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

After arriving at Liverpool, nurses of the 76th General Hospital were transported to the coastal community of Llandudno, Wales, where the new arrivals underwent orientation to the European Theatre Operations and preliminary professional evaluation.  While there, medical personnel lived in hutted camps or were billeted with families.   After about a month, Lt. LeBeau, who had lived with a family in a private home, was assigned to the medical facility at Leominister, England, about 100 miles northwest of London.

There she worked in the psychiatric ward – but soon submitted a request to be transferred to surgery.

In May 1944, their first patients began arriving in the surgical ward.  The work schedule was somewhat routine.

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.

Channel storms kept the vessels carrying the Army nurses and other troops at bay for three days on their crossing to the continent.  As they finally approached the shore, they wrestled their way down a rope ladder to a landing barge for the final leg of the journey to the beach.
LeBeau had been suffering from a severe toothache and immediately went to a field hospital – literally in a cow pasture – for a root canal.  Nurse LeBeau became patient LeBeau, but not for long.   She was soon back on the job.

Although much of Normandy had been secured, it was definitely a war zone.

There were still land mines and many German tanks that had been knocked out in the invasion,” she remembered.

On August 25th, the Allies liberated Paris from German control, and Lt. LeBeau and her colleagues were on their way the French capital.  The tide was turning for the Allies as they began pushing German troops back toward their homeland. 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.

While the Allies seemed to be gaining the upper hand against the German army, things changed quickly.

76th General Hospital at Liege, Belgium - circa 1944  
On December 16, 1945, the Germans launched a massive surprise counter-offensive through the rugged Ardennes forest in an effort to reach Antwerp and disrupt Allied supply shipments.   The Allies had considered the Ardennes impenetrable and had left the area largely undefended.  Liege was between the front line and Antwerp.  For the U.S. Army, it would be bloodiest battle of World War II – the “Battle of the Bulge.”

At one point we were told to get packed and be ready for evacuation,” LeBeau remembered.

“It never happened.  I was young and didn’t know what war was.  It was probably a saving grace.”

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.
Marcella and friend Bette Rohay
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.” Some medical units and hospitals in the Liege area suffered casualties and damage not only from V-weapons, but also from conventional bombing and long-range artillery fire.
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. 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.”

There was little time to relax.  While there was an Officer’s Club in Liege, Marcella and many other nurses never went there, because they felt there was too much drinking.  They often found respite by visiting the home of a Belgian woman who worked at the hospital laundry.  She would invite them for tea and tarts, real treats in a time of severe food rationing.

The ravages of war leave behind many casualties.  For Lt. LeBeau, one incident remains vivid in her memory.

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.”
1st Lt. Marcella Ryan LeBeau's uniform
But even in the harshness of war, there were moments of humor, and Mrs. LeBeau reflected on an incident at the Army hospital in Liege when a red-headed Dutch patient approached the pretty young Army nurse.

American soldiers all have pin-up girls to help take their minds off the war,” he boldly proclaimed to LeBeau while handing her a photograph of himself.

Now I want to be your pin-up boy!

The photo was promptly tacked up on the bulletin board.

Within ten days of the German assault on the Ardennes, Adolf Hitler ordered his troops to halt their advance, stifled by dogged Allied resistance.  By early February 1945, the Allies had retaken all the territory they had lost.  The “Battle of the Bulge” was over, and the war was nearing its end.  Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and the Germans surrendered unconditionally a week later.  The war was over.

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.

The Old Fort Meade Museum is open seven days a week from June through October 
But “retired” may not be the best description of this much-honored Lakota elder.

She and a granddaughter established a sewing business, and Marcella also became involved in gardening, care giving, and continued to share her experiences from many years in nursing.  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.  As a long-time nurse, she was also instrumental in getting smoking banned from tribal offices.

Ties to her Lakota culture run deep for Marcella.  In 1999, after she and her son, Richard, had worked many years to recover a Lakota Ghost Dance shirt from a museum in Scotland, it was finally returned to South Dakota.  The shirt had been wore by a Lakota warrior who died at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.

As an Army officer and nurse, Marcella managed to rise above the cultural and economic barriers that faced her as a young Lakota woman in the mid-20th century.  She served her country honorably, and it was no ordinary “tour of duty.”

But sometimes, people forget.  Society forgets.  So it is good to remember. 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.

Marcella LeBeau in Washington, DC
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. When she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2006, Mrs. LeBeau was recognized not only for her Army achievements, but also for her 31 years of dedication to nursing.  A founding member of the North American Indian Women’s Association nearly a half century ago, Marcella remains a mentor and confidante for many young Lakota women – and her inspiring story reaches across generations and cultures.

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.”

I couldn’t buy vanilla extract in a grocery store, or rubbing alcohol in a drug store, because I was Native American.  Then in 1955, I think, the laws were changed, but to me, a law doesn’t change the hearts of men.”

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.

For many of these veterans, like Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau, the challenges they faced and their achievements, were particularly significant.
And a few of them, like Marcella, continue to make meaningful contributions to their families and communities.

We are blessed to have them in our midst.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A case of benign neglect...

by Larry Miller

...and perhaps it was not so benign.

As a kid running around Chadron in the 1950's, I remember when the Charles Hanson family moved to Chadron.  Not the exact date, but I remember playing sandlot football not far from the Hanson home on Chadron Avenue.   Later I learned that Charles Hanson had something to do with a museum that was being established a couple of miles east of Chadron.

As an East Ward elementary student in the early 1950s, our class took a field trip to the museum.  Their wasn't much there – at least in my young eyes – for several years.

After a year or so of college and a stint with Uncle Sam in the 1960s, my curiosity about other aspects of life began to unfold.  But day-to-day activities of finishing college and trying to eke out a living for a young family kept me oblivious to local history and the emerging Museum of the Fur Trade.

For a couple of years, my job in nearby Hay Springs even took me right by the museum almost every weekday.  It still didn't register, and I was a History major!  

Since leaving Chadron in 1969 – until retiring in 2005 –  I remained oblivious to the Museum of the Fur Trade.  Then, two years ago – in 2016 – my brother John was visiting from California and wanted to see the museum.  We did, and my awareness and views regarding the Museum of the Fur Trade changed considerably.  Unfortunately, my half century of "benign neglect" robbed me of many years of enjoyment and enlightenment regarding the rich history of our region.

If you're not familiar with the Museum of the Fur Trade, I hope you'll watch this video and examine their website.  Better yet, plan a visit to this wonderful treasure!


Thursday, September 27, 2018

After 60 years, Eagle gridders to reunite

CSC Homecoming pays tribute to undefeated 1958 football team

By Con Marshall

One of the highlights of Homecoming at Chadron State College this weekend (9/29/2018) will be a reunion of athletes coached by Bill Baker 60 or more years ago.
Now 90 and living in Tucson, Ariz., Baker and the CSC Alumni Association organized the reunion, which will primarily focus on Chadron State’s undefeated football team in the fall of 1958.
Coach Bill Baker (left) with All-Conference Lineman
Tom Blundell, an end on the 1958 Eagle squad.
The Eagles had to come from behind to defeat Southern State College of Springfield, S.D., 26-20 in the season-opener, but won all their remaining seven games by at least three touchdowns.

The remaining scores were CSC 35, Concordia 0;  CSC 34, Doane 13; CSC 27, Wayne 7; CSC 45, Dana 6; CSC 26, Midland 7; CSC 26, Peru 0; and CSC 32, Nebraska Wesleyan 13.

A logical question is, why didn’t the Eagles play arch-rival Kearney State that season?  It’s a good question, particularly since the Antelopes also were undefeated that year, but they were not on the schedule in either 1958 or ’59.

The Eagles rushed for 2,071 yards and passed for 881 in ’58.  They held their foes to 1,007 yards rushing and 619 passing, meaning they gave up only 203 yards per game.

While Baker, who was just 28 when he initially came to Chadron State to coach football and track and field in 1955, is still going strong and will serve as the grand marshal of the Homecoming parade Saturday morning, time has taken its toll on the ’58 team. 

To get a closer look at the 1958 CSC team – including names – visit our DCJ Photo Gallery
Seventeen of the 30 lettermen have passed away and only five of the remaining 13 have made reservations to attend this weekend’s gathering.

The five planning to attend are Rex Jones, John McLane, Jerry Rowe, Don Schmaderer and Jim White.

Several others had previous obligations this weekend or said they don’t travel much nowadays because of physical problems.

However, five other football players that Baker coached as well as two outstanding sprinters from his track teams and a couple of basketball players from that era are planning to attend, along with at least two widows of football players.

Baker says the ’58 team was made up of rugged, hard-nosed players who worked hard and got along well.  Several played more than one position and started on both sides of the ball. Fourteen of them received at least honorable mention when all-star selections were made at the end of the season.
Several of the standouts were from the Panhandle.

Tom Blundell, a native of Chadron, got the highest honors.  He was selected the outstanding senior lineman in the Nebraska College Conference and was named NAIA second-team All-American.

Dick Colerick of Alliance and Lonny Wickard of Minatare and later a long-time school administrator at Bayard, were the co-captains.  Both were all-conference linebackers.  Colerick also was the fullback and Wickard the quarterback, or blocking back, on the single-wing offense. 

Lonnie Wickard was quarterback for the '58 Eagles
Guido Santero of Lewellen was the tailback and played in the secondary on defense. He rushed 117 times for 807 yards and scored 13 touchdowns to spark the offense.

Wickard, who called the signals, completed 25 of 42 passes for 575 yards and seven touchdowns and had just two intercepted. He also handled the punting, but was needed for that only 23 times. His 42.8-yard average is still among the best in CSC annals.

Wickard, whose senior-season highlights also included an 80-yard punt and a 93-yard interception return, was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Other stalwarts included McLane and Rowe, two of the players who are expected at the reunion. Both played tackle on both offense and defense.  McLane was from Cambridge and Rowe is a  Valentine native.

The Chadron newspaper noted that the 1958 team was a “heavy one,” with the line averaging 193 pounds and the backs 180.

The line average included a 158-pount center, Chadron native Don Mathis, who, at Bakers’s insistence, was inducted into the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003 when the team had its 45-year reunion.  The entire team went into the Hall of Fame in 1998, on the 40th anniversary of that great season.

After coaching six years at Chadron State, Baker was an assistant football coach nine years at the University of Wyoming and two years at the University of Arizona.  He then was a pro football scout for 25 years.

(Editor’s Note:  Our thanks to Con Marshall for sharing a great Homecoming story and related photographs about Chadron State College football – and a great team from 60 years ago!  You'll find the above photos and others in our Dawes County Journal Schools Gallery.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Old or new....we love those class photos!

Whether they're old black and white class photos from the Depression years or color images taken last week (like the one above), we love to share old school photos with visitors to this Dawes County Journal website and to our linked School Gallery You'll find lots of group photos there, and the gallery allows you to see them in a larger format. 

We know we're flush with Chadron photos, so we hope that if you have some old school photos tucked away in a basement trunk or between the pages of an ancient scrapbook – no matter the year or the school – you'll consider sharing them with us.  Contact us by clicking on the e-mail link in the column to the left.  Thanks!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Andy Anderson provides a "Living Legacy" to CSC

Note:  With thanks to Chadron State College, we re-print the following story from CSC about Clyde "Andy" Anderson, a standout pitcher for the Chadron Elks in the 1950's.  We've also inserted a couple of additional photos. (Thanks to Con Marshall, Mike Smith and Bud Larsen!)

Andy Anderson remembers when he didn’t think college was for him. He was happy as long as he had a decent job and the time to hunt, fish and play baseball.

Andy grew up in Minatare and baseball was his sport. He was a tall, left-handed pitcher who played ball with Verne Lewellen and Bill Stephenson; both top-notch all-around athletes who enrolled at Chadron State and played football after they had served in the Army during World War II.

When the Elks needed a pitcher, “Lew and Steve” remembered their former teammate and encouraged him to join them in Chadron. The deal included a job at the Chadron Milling Co. which was managed by Paul Babue, who was a strong booster of CSC athletics.

After he’d worked at “The Mill” for a couple of years, Andy says Babue called him into his office. “He told me, ‘Andy I’m firing you. You can’t work here anymore. Now get yourself up to the college and earn your degree.’”

“Well, I took his advice and that was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Andy recalls. “I owe a lot to Verne Lewellen, Bill Stephenson and Paul Babue. It was their influence that brought me to Chadron and then got me to Chadron State.”

After Andy graduated from CSC, he taught and coached in area schools for five years before becoming a Bankers Life of Nebraska Insurance agent in Scottsbluff.

After school, Andy faithfully supported his alma mater. In 1989, he was among about a dozen individuals who formed the Foundation’s Living Legacy Club. Its members designate that their estate will include a gift to the college.

“I’m so happy that Chadron State is continuing to do well and attracts so many outstanding students,” Andy notes. “It’s rewarding to keep track of what’s going on at the college and I urge others to become involved. I know you’ll enjoy it.”

To learn more about joining the Living Legacy Club, or ways you can give to CSC, contact Ben Watson at or 308-432-7007.

Thanks to Mike Smith and Bud Larsen for sharing this photograph of the Chadron Elks baseball team in about 1950.  Kneeling (l-to-r) are:  Clayton Brown, Bob Staikoff, Curt Elwood, Bill Stephenson, Henry Meter, and Verne Lewellen.  Standing (l-to-r):  Umpire, Paul Larsen, Harold Tuma (behind Larsen), Ed Puck, Paul Rhoads (behind Puck), Clyde "Andy" Anderson, Bob Baker(?), Frank Braden, and Walt Hampton. We're not certain where this photo was taken, but we don't remember a press box in Chadron like this one.  Do you?