Nurse recalled horrors of Normandy beachhead
SEATTLE – Rosalou Freeland Etue, a World War II combat nurse who waded past soldiers’ bodies on the beach at Normandy, survived capture by the Nazis and received a Bronze Star in the field from Gen. George Patton, has died.
She was 85.
Etue, a former Army captain, died of natural causes Jan. 30, surrounded by family members.
Born in New Orleans, Etue graduated from New Orleans Charity Hospital nursing school in early December 1941, and celebrated by visiting her father, then a lawyer with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
While driving past the White House, they saw blackout curtains and learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A day later, at 21, she joined the Army Nurse Corps.
Eventually, soldiers regarded military nurses as “living angels,” but at first some did not believe women could survive the stresses of war.
Yet the nurses made huge contributions, said one of her sons, James Etue of Los Angeles.
“These women like our mother invented, on the fly, triage and the concept of mobile army surgical hospitals,” he said.
While humble about her military service, Etue did talk about it.
“There was one thing she remembered most often, and that was wading ashore from the landing boats in Normandy,” daughter Mary Auld said, noting that it happened several days after the initial invasion. “She waded through all the dead bodies floating in the water, up to the beach. That was one of her most vivid memories that she talked about up to the end of her life.”
Nazi SS troops captured Etue’s unit as it followed Patton’s 3rd Army pushing into Germany. Etue thought she and the other women would either be raped, killed or both, then saw the SS troops lead away black U.S. soldiers who were serving as litter bearers, and heard the sound of gunfire echoing from the hills.
At one point, a Nazi officer accused her of being Jewish. After reading her dog tags, he forced her unit to treat German wounded, until Patton’s army approached and the Germans suddenly fled.
Though relieved of duty in the closing days of the war, she took time to visit a liberated concentration camp.
Etue came to Seattle about 1952 after meeting and marrying a Seattle native, James Etue, when both were students at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. They had 10 children together. He died at 62.
Rosalou Etue was buried Thursday with military honors at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline after a memorial service at St. Anne Catholic Church.
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