Friday, December 16, 2016

Ted Turpin – longtime newspaperman – dies at 84

By Con Marshall 
A former Chadron resident, T.C. (Ted) Turpin, who began what evolved into an exceptional career in the newspaper and publishing fields, among others, while attending Chadron State College in the early 1950s, died on Dec. 5 in Tucson, Ariz., where he had lived since the mid-1960s.               

Ted Turpin in 2011
Turpin, 84, was often in the spotlight as a youth in Chadron.  He was a 130-pound starting guard on the Chadron Prep football team, a distance runner and a Golden Gloves boxer and was often involved in fine arts activities.  He graduated from Prep in 1950 and from Chadron State in 1954.
While in college, Turpin was the editor of “The Eagle” newspaper three semesters, set the school record in the two-mile run, was a football and basketball cheerleader, sang in the choir and select vocal groups, received the Sigma Delta Nu key for scholarship, belonged to Blue Key National Honor Fraternity and was the Ivy Day orator.
Also during this era, Turpin was a sportswriter for the Chadron Record and was a sportscaster for KCSR Radio briefly after it went on the air in May 1954.
After teaching and coaching for one year each at Brule and Big Springs High Schools in the Ogallala area, Turpin switched to journalism and was a news reporter and later the editor of the North Platte Telegraph. While serving in the latter position, he was elected president of the Nebraska Associated Press Managing Editors Association and was chosen North Platte’s “Outstanding Young Man.”  In addition, he was co-founder and first president of the Lincoln County Historical Society.
In 1961, Turpin went to Washington, D.C., and was an administrative assistant to newly-elected U.S. Rep. Dave Martin for a year.  The next three years, he lived in Chicago and Cleveland while working as the Midwest agricultural reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Turpin in his newspapering years
He moved to Arizona in 1964 and was a political writer and later the business and financial editor for the Tucson Daily Citizen. He resigned in 1967 to launch two business ventures.  One was a weekly newspaper, the Green Valley News, and the other “Homes Illustrated,” that grew into a real estate magazine that was published in at least five states. According to his obituary printed in a Tucson newspaper, these ventures “were his bread and butter the past 40 years.”

When Turpin returned to Chadron State in 1983 to speak at commencement and receive the college’s Distinguished Service Award, he was serving his sixth term as the Arizona chairman for the National Newspaper Association and was in his seventh year as a board member for an agency that worked with citizens in poor rural communities to help them improve their lives.
One of Turpin’s acquaintances when both were growing up in Chadron remained in touch with Turpin through the years is Mike Smith, once the sports editor and Sunday supplement editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and now of Isanti, Minn.
Everything Ted ever did turned out great,” Smith said.  “He always worked hard and knew how to make things click. He was one of the most interesting persons I have ever known.”
While Turpin was attending Chadron State, he met and married Kathleen Gunn of Lusk.  Although they divorced in the 1990s and both remarried, they remained friends.  He is survived by two children and three grandchildren.  

Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story with Dawes County Journal.  The 2011 photo of Ted Turpin is courtesy of Mike Smith, taken during a Chadron Area Reunion in Phoenix, Arizona.  Here is a link to Ted Turpin's obituary. Ted's mother, Bernice Turpin, according to the 1954 Chadron City Directory, was a rural school teacher.  Ted had a brother, Mike, who was about five or six years younger.  Neither was mentioned in his obituary, and both may have pre-deceased him. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

World War II bolstered Chadron Airport & College

By Con Marshall
The Chadron Airport, long an invaluable asset to the community, wasn’t something that magically appeared. Through the years, it has grown a lot like Topsy:  One step at a time, certainly without a master plan or a big-time government grant, at least initially.

The threat of war, then World War II, were major inspirations.  The desire of numerous adventurous men and several women who wanted to learn to be pilots was another mainspring in its early development.  The fact that Chadron had a college with dormitory space and food services also was a plus in the whole scenario.

There apparently were two primary instigators in getting the airport “off the ground.”  One was Arden Hixson, a native of Crookston and a Chadron State College student who later became the “poster child” for the program that was the inspiration for the airport. The other was Frank Snook, one of the area’s first pilots who was using his small plane primarily to hunt coyotes while flying out of an “airport” he had developed at Crawford.
Early Dawes County pilot Frank Snook
Maybe Snook was unintentionally involved in the airport project first.  In a story printed in the Chadron Record in September 1990, he told Goldie Dawkins that in 1938 “a government official” hunted him down in Crawford and asked him to move to Lawrence, Kansas, to become an instructor for a pilot training program that the University of Kansas was planning.  The official explained that if the United States became involved in the war that seemed imminent many pilots would be needed.
I told him I didn’t want to move and suggested that Chadron had a college,” Snook is quoted as saying in the story.  “He reminded me that Chadron didn’t have an airport, but I told him I knew the mayor and some of the council members, and perhaps something could be done about that.”
At the time, planes flying into Chadron landed at what was later known as “the Ormesher airport” east of the Dawes County Fairgrounds.  Maybe it could be expanded, but the owner of the land wanted $6 an acre for it and that was deemed to be too much, Snook told Dawkins.
Before long, Snook said the city rented or bought a quarter section west of Chadron where the airport developed.  The land met one requirement.  It was flat. But it was covered with cactuses and getting it shaped up took some doing.
Hixson entered the picture about the same time.  According to a letter he wrote for his 50-year reunion of the Class of 1940 at Chadron State, in the summer of 1939 he learned about a government plan to teach college students to fly. Hixson said he “had always” wanted to become a pilot and approached Robert Elliott, president of the college, and E.L. Rouse, director of instruction, about the possibilities of CSC becoming involved.
According to Hixson’s letter, published in Chadron’s Golden Age Courier in December 1970 along with a story written by Belle Lecher, the college officials initially weren’t very encouraging, but said they would consider it.  They noted Chadron didn’t have an airport and they didn’t know anything about aviation.  
Arden Hixson - Chadron Normal 1940
Hixson’s letter says he mentioned to Elliott and Rouse that Snook was hunting coyotes with his plane at Crawford and the college had capable faculty members who could be trained to help with the program. 
Lecher’s story states Heman Carmean, the Chadron mayor in 1939, was supportive of the airport notion and when Hixson went to the city council it agreed to help.
Things moved fast.  By October 1939, Chadron State was on the list of 55 colleges in the nation that had been approved by the Civilian Aeronautics Authority for participation in a civilian pilot training program. The initial quota of students to take the training was 10, one of which could be a woman.  That would be Hope Brooker Anderson.  Hixson was one of the men.
The stories by both Dawkins and Lecher discuss the problem of removing the cactuses so a runway could be developed. The would-be aviators initially used hoes, rakes, shovels, etc., to cut them off or dig them up.  Before long, a county commissioner, probably Ward Diehl, came to their rescue and saw to it that a county road grader was made available.
Snook initially taught both the “ground school” and flight instruction, but before long Chadron State physics professor E.T. (Tripp) Michael went to Minnesota for special training offered by the Navy and he took over the ground school training.  Other CSC faculty members such as Lyle Andrews, who taught weather, and Ross Armstrong, who taught physical fitness and code, became involved.
About the time Hixson was graduating from Chadron State in May 1940, he was a winner of ground school competition sponsored by Shell Oil Co., involving 10,000 flight school students. He became Nebraska’s representative for seven-state competition in St. Louis. 
The contest involved flight maneuvers needed to complete the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) course and earn a private pilot license. Hixson also won that and went on to Washington, D.C., for more competition against the winners from the remaining six regions.
Hixson, in his letter in the Golden Age Courier, said he received a solid gold wrist watch as the regional winner and was a guest of honor at a banquet attended by more than 200 aviation notables. By the end of 1940, Hixson also had both instructor and commercial licenses and was being paid $5 a hour to teach flight in Wichita. He eventually was the flight commander at Homestead Flight Center in Florida, a pilot for Delta Airlines, an inspector for the CAA and spent the remainder of his career monitoring and evaluating flight programs, including those in a half dozen South American countries.
Altogether he had 31 years of federal service relating to flight.

The 1941 Chadron State yearbook said since the inception of the Civilian Pilot Training program 70 students had received private pilot certification, 20 of whom had continued their training with the Army, Navy, U.S. Aviation Meteorology or airline training schools.  It also reported that the Chadron Municipal Airport had expanded rapidly to include 450 acres, an intermediate airline field that was government lighted and marked, hangar and shop space and a “modern fireproof Administration Building.” 
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, turned Chadron’s Civilian Pilot Training Program into something much larger.  It soon became a part of the military effort with officers coming to help fine tune the operation.
A photo in the Omaha World-Herald in June 1942 shows about 90 men standing on the front steps of Crites Hall. The caption says, “Commanded by Lt. Commander William E. Johnson, former lieutenant governor of Nebraska, a full quota of cadets are now training at the aviation station at Chadron State Teachers’ College.”  All 90 were then identified.  
Snook remained in charge of the flight program.  He told Dawkins the government purchased private planes for the training.  He checked them out and accepted 34, but rejected others. He also had 40 employees. Among them was Donald Putnam, a native of the Edgemont area and later an Oelrichs rancher.  He was the program’s chief pilot in charge of the training.
Long-time Chadron resident Gus Yeradi was among the mechanics.
Before long, cadets from all over the U.S. were arriving for three months of what was called pre-flight training. They arrived, usually 30 at a time, via the Chicago and North Western Railroad, were greeted by townspeople and marched up Main Street to the college, where they ate, slept and took the ground school training. After their stay in Chadron, they went on for what was sometimes called “combat training.”
Armstrong related years later that, because the fledgling pilots needed as much daylight as possible for their training in the air, he rousted them out of bed at 4 a.m.  for physical fitness and taught them code in the evenings.
The program is often credited with keeping the college open.  The enrollment in the fall of 1943 was just 95.  By then, nearly all the able-bodied men in the nation were wearing a military uniform.
Thankfully, there were never any major accidents or injuries during the nearly four years that the Chadron program existed.  It ended in 1944 when the Navy built larger facilities to train pilots at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and the programs on numerous college campuses were shut down.
At least four men who received their preflight training through the Chadron program lost their lives while serving as pilots during World War II.  They were Melvin Butler, Lee Coleman, Earl Finkey and Francis Wertz.
Not all of those trained locally became military pilots, but were aviators the rest of their lives. An example is Clayton Feldhausen, a 1938 graduate of Chadron High School. While he was attending Chadron State, he was among the early enrollees in the pilot’s program, went on for advanced instruction and instrument rating
According to Betty Reading of Chadron, Feldhausen’s sister, he did not weigh enough to serve as a military pilot, but he returned to help with the pilot training here. He later became an air traffic controller, a corporate pilot and an FAA inspector in Denver and for the entire state of South Dakota.

Reading says her brother took his job seriously. While visiting her in Chadron, he observed a small plane flying below the altitude limit over a congested area.  When the plane landed, he met it and cited the pilot for his actions. 


Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story.  To see these and more photographs relating to local history, visit our Early Chadron Photo Gallery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's World series time..... let's talks Baseball!

First, a disclaimer.  These cheery guys aren't from Dawes County.  Well, some of them may have lived in Dawes County around the turn of the 20th century, but these fellows played baseball for the team from Beaver Valley east of Chadron.  Yep, in Sheridan County.  But the Chadron team just had to be a favorite opponent!

We're told that this team routinely whopped the Chadron dudes.  Suppose we could do some fact-checking on that, but we like the idea that they beat the city slickers.  You'd think that Chadron would have consistently triumphed over these fellows.   But I'll bet they didn't beat Whitney!

If you're curious to know who this group of ballplayers from yesteryear were, check 'em out in our Baseball Gallery.  A larger resolution photo and name key can be found there, along with a few other old baseball photos.  Thanks to Lawrence Denton for sharing this bit of history.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"History in Action" celebrates 20 Years!

The latest edition of Chadron's Golden Age Courier, edited by Ron Wineteer, shares details about the forthcoming History In Action celebration on Sunday, September 25, at the Dawes County Museum three miles south of Chadron.

An early but beautiful September morning at the Dawes County Museum
"History In Action Day began in 1996," writes museum Executive Director Phyllis Carlson, "in order to provide Dawes County historical attention to our county and give a welcoming Thank You to our visiting public."

Admission to the event is free, but donations to the society, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, are tax deductible and go a long way in helping grow and maintain the museum.

Among the new additions to the museum:  the Marcus Cain Collection of Farm Implements, which is housed in a new building on the property.

There'll be a wide range of activities at the 2016 History in Action.  They include corn shelling, carriage and antique cars, butter making, leather work, apple cider making, horse shoe tossing, a hymn sing, and much more.

Among the demonstrations will be a Civil War cannon, ferrier, quilting, tatting, live music, wheat ground into flour, a primitive camp, spinning and weaving. 

Exhibits include bee 'n honey, rural school, log cabin and barn, church, tractors (both old and new), military history items, chuck wagon, barber shop, antique machinery, and more.

It'll be fun for folks of all ages and -- of course -- lots of homemade pies, lunch on the grounds, and bottled water available at a price.

"All other refreshments such as ice cream, cookies, iced tea and coffee, and popcorn are by freewill donation," writes Carlson.  "We hope to see you there!"


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jack Carnahan, 96, remembers 25th birthday best

By Con Marshall
At age 96, Jack Carnahan has had lots of birthdays.
There’s a good reason why he remembers one of his birthdays more than the others.  He turned 25 on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, helping end World War II.
Carnahan was aboard the USS Stormes, a Navy destroyer with radar capabilities that was anchored in the Pacific only a hundred miles or so south of the Japan.
“Sure I remember it,” said Jack, a Chadron resident who has spent his entire life in Sioux or Dawes counties except for the two years he was in the Navy.
“We were in a radar picket line; that’s that they called it,” he said. “There were probably at least a dozen other ships there, too.  Our home base was Okinawa. We were on Japan’s door step. We’d been there for 77 days and they (the Japanese) bombed us every night. It was wicked.
Sailor Jack Carnahan during World War II
“Harry (President Harry Truman) dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, my birthday, but they didn’t surrender,” Jack continued.  “So he dropped another one on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 and that did it.  If he hadn’t done that, me and a lot more Americans wouldn’t have gotten to come home.  The way it turned out, we were headed back home in just a few weeks.”
In reflecting on his Navy days, Jack knows he and most of his mates were extremely fortunate.  The entire destroyer, a 376-foot-long vessel which contained 360 men, could have been blown apart.  He recalls that on May 25, 1945, a Japanese airplane fired a 500-pound bomb “right into one of our torpedo tubes.”
“It hit the ammunition magazine, so a lot of our stuff exploded, too.  But it blew down instead of blowing up, like you’d expect. It blew a hole in the bottom of the destroyer that you could have driven a semi through.  It also caught fire. We lost 23 men, all of them who were in the ammunition area.
“It was terrible, but it could have been a whole lot worse.  Our ship didn’t sink and we were able to patch it up.
These 71 years later, Carnahan believes the loss of lives and damage to the destroyer could have been prevented.  He said the Japanese plane had been spotted in the clouds and the report was sent to the commanding officers.  But instead of taking immediate action, they hesitated and didn’t try to knock the craft out of the skies before it delivered its payload.
While Jack’s Navy days are memorable, he also has many other memories and stories to tell.  He’s a part of America’s “greatest generation” the one which grew up during the Great Depression, preserved America’s freedom by winning WW II and then helped make America the greatest nation in history.
Although Jack’s parents, John and Mabel, were living in Orella, located in Sioux County on the edge of what became Toadstool Park, in 1920 when he was born, his arrival occurred in nearby Ardmore, a village just across the state line into South Dakota.  That’s because Ardmore had a doctor.
Jack was third third child in a family of seven. 
He said his mother had an 80-acre homestead near Orella and his father had purchased two sections of adjoining pastureland.  His dad was the section foreman for the Burlington Railroad that ran through Orella.  The berg is still on some maps, but is now a ghost town with a few dilapidated buildings. 
“They say it was about a tossup whether Harrison or Orella would be the Sioux County seat,” Jack said. “We had the school, the  post office, a hotel, a grocery store and a dance hall, but I don’t think there was ever a church or a bar there.”
Jack said every day two passenger trains ran each way through Orella.  His two older brothers, Ansel and Kenny, rode them to Crawford to attend high school.  But after completing grade school, Jack and his brother Bob, along with their cousin Cecil Wasserburger, remained at the Orella school, which had a capable teacher, and took courses supplied by both Harrison High and the University of Nebraska to earn their diplomas. 
Since their dad was a full-time railroader, the Carnahan boys were kept busy ranching.  Jack recalls that in 1932 his dad bought a flock of sheep and the following summer when he was 13, he was designated as the primary herder in the shadow of Sugar Loaf, the area’s most prominent landmark, as the woolies grazed.
“There were so many coyotes that even if you took time away from the sheep just to eat dinner you might lose four or five lambs,” he said. “We finally got some 1080 poison from the government to help control the coyotes. But one year we lost more than 100 lambs and had to quit raising sheep.”
The family’s holdings expanded briefly during the mid-1930s when his dad bought 1,300 acres next to Toadstool Park for a dollar an acre.
“We really didn’t have the money to buy it and it was mostly badlands with not much grass, but the depot agent, a guy named J.B. Jolly, owned it and wanted to sell it. He convinced dad to take it off his hands,” Jack related.  “The next year, the government started buying land in the area and dad sold it for $2.25 an acre. It seemed like we made a lot of money then, but we realized afterwards we should have hung onto it.”
Similar land in that region sold for $1,095 an acre in March 2016 to a Floridian who intends to hunt fossils on it.
“When I was a kid, you could find petrified turtles and turtle eggs every day of the week in the area that became Toadstool Park,” Jack recalled.
The Carnahans expanded their operation in 1942 when they bought 480 acres near Whitney. It included 120 irrigated acres where they raised hay to feed their cattle in the winters.
This time Jack was in charge of the irrigation. He says it was harder than herding sheep. “I had a shovel in my hand day and night. It was the hardest work in the world.”
But irrigating prepared him well for his next venture.  When his brother Dick graduated from Crawford High School in 1944, Jack’s deferment expired and he was about to be drafted. That’s when he joined the Navy.  Boot camp at the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho was a snap because he had been working so hard.
“I’d take two laps around the camp while holding my rifle over my head in the mornings before the other guys got there,” he said.  “It felt good.”
When the war ended a few days after the atomic bombs had been dropped, Jack had been a sailor only 15 months and didn’t have enough points to be discharged immediately.  So he remained on the destroyer as it went through the Panama Canal to Cuba and then along the Atlantic Seaboard to New York City, where he and his mates were based for several months.
The trip back to the U.S. was an extra long one.  The Japanese bomb had left the USS Stormes with only one of its two propellers and its top speed from then on was just nine knots, or about 10 miles an hour.  It would normally go 50 miles an hour.
After the destroyer was fully repaired in East Coast shipyards, Jack was aboard when it was taken on a test run to Greenland.  He received his discharge early in the summer of 1946 and returned to the home place to farm and ranch. He eventually purchased the property. 
Jack Carnahan a few years ago holding the photograph of "Riding the Ridge" ago
when it went through the badlands in the Orella, SD area where he was born and raised.

By the time he arrived home, his brothers were on their way to other careers.
Ansel, who also served in the military during WW II, became a veterinarian and initially practiced in Chadron before moving to Vermont, his wife’s home state; Kenny was a Chicago and North Western Railroad engineer in Chadron and later at Belle Fourche, S.D.; Bob became a surgeon who practiced in Casper; Dick bought a machine and laid lots of asphalt in the area while living in Harrison; and Jim, the youngest, became a railroader in Sheridan, Wyo., where he still lives.
The only girl, Dorothy, a medical technologist, lives in Hilton Head, N.C.
In 1948, Jack married Peggy Mittan of Chadron and they raised five children—Sandy, Bruce, Bev, Brian and Brenda—while living on the Whitney place.  For the next 35-plus years, Jack and a few helpers, including the kids, trailed his 200-head cowherd by horseback the 23 miles to and from the Orella pastures each spring and fall,
Following a lingering illness, Peg died in 1979.  Jack retired and moved to Chadron in 1985, then sold the land a few years later, but he’s had other investments ever since.  He and former Chadron teacher Virginia Jones have been special friends for more than three decades.
Jack is hale and hardy and obviously enjoys living. His long and productive life is not a huge surprise.  His mother, Mabel, lived to be over 100 and amazed many by annually participating in the CROP Walk from Crawford to Whitney when she was in her 90s.

- End-

(Editor's Note:  Thanks once again to good friend Con Marshall for sharing yet another terrific story about the interesting people, places and history of northwest Nebraska.  For those of us who've known some of the Carnahan family members over the years, this was a great read!  Thank you, Con.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Remarkable story of WWII nurse Marcella LeBeau

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.

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.  

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. 

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 handful of them, like Marcella, continue to make meaningful contributions to their families and communities.

We are blessed to have them in our midst.