loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

cover photo

Introduction to War

In March 1944, 2nd Lt. Joy Lillie, who was assigned to the 51st Field hospital’s 1st Platoon of the First Army, shipped out. Six days after D-day, on June 12, 1944, they landed on Normandy Beach. They would forever be known as D+6. The 15 nurses and their supervisors were equipped in full combat fatigues, helmets, and gas masks as they descended the ship using a rope ladder.

They landed ashore to find blood-stained beaches and unclaimed dead bodies scattered about. Previously warned about German land mines, they were given strict orders to follow closely as they climbed the bluff to the temporary hospital. Immediately they witnessed the horrors of war—death, destruction, and the many wounded—while their own unit came under enemy attack.

Undeterred, Lillie and the other platoon nurses began tending wounded soldiers, often witnessing things people assume only men see in combat. As enemy planes flew overhead and guns were heard in the near distance, the farm girl from a small Michigan town began her personal eleven-month journey through the terrors of war.

The sounds of planes and bombs overhead became a common occurrence; surprisingly one became accustomed. They worked twelve-hour shifts, and had 50 men in their care. The platoon’s facilities were primitive, as expected, and everyone bathed using their metal helmets. Joy wrote home that she would go 30 days without a bath.

The medical team had to make do with what was available. As the winter months settled in, it became so cold that the blood and plasma would not flow. Engineers brought in pot-bellied stoves to warm it enough to start the flow. Twice during their time there, they were able to setup in real buildings; one was an abandoned schoolhouse and another a blown out public building. But it was a welcome change to have a real roof over their heads.

  • Source: The Nurse Who Went to War by Susan Harrison Wolffis, Muskegon Chronicle, March 31, 2002


Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC