African Nurse Saved GIs at Battle of Bulge

BASTOGNE, Bel­gium — It was a bit­ter­ly cold win­ter morn­ing when Augus­ta Chiwy’s tram pulled into Brus­sels Cen­tral train sta­tion, Dec. 16, 1944.
On that very same day at 5:30 a.m., green troops of the 106th Gold­en Lion Divi­sion were rude­ly awak­ened from their win­ter sojourn by a hell­ish bar­rage of incom­ing artillery shells, “scream­ing meemies,” accom­pa­nied by the men­ac­ing rum­ble of Tiger and Pan­ther tanks on the move. Just over the German/Belgian bor­der, out in an area known as the Schnee Eifel, three Ger­man armies had assem­bled almost under the noses of the allies.

Rue Neaufchateau in Bastogne, Belgium
The aid sta­tion where Augus­ta Chi­wy vol­un­teered on the Rue Neaufchateau in Bas­togne, Bel­gium, was destroyed by Ger­man bombs on Christ­mas Eve 1944, killing 30 Amer­i­can sol­diers.
U.S. Army pho­to
Click to enlarge

Brus­sels was still alive with com­muters going about their dai­ly rou­tines when Chi­wy arrived at the train sta­tion. She had been work­ing at St. Eliz­a­beth Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal in the Flem­ish town of Lou­vain and was on her way to vis­it rel­a­tives in Bastogne. 

Above the din of col­lec­tive voic­es at the sta­tion, the pub­lic address sys­tem droned out monot­o­ne infor­ma­tion about trains, plat­forms and des­ti­na­tions, adding that, “There will be no depar­tures for Lux­em­bourg or Bas­togne. Pas­sen­gers wish­ing to reach these des­ti­na­tions should take the 7:50 to Namur.” 

Chi­wy noticed an inex­plic­a­ble sense of urgency in many of the assem­bled passenger’s demeanors as she board­ed the train for Namur about 30 miles south of Brus­sels. The train stopped there, and pas­sen­gers wish­ing to go to the next des­ti­na­tion were herd­ed into open cat­tle trucks and tak­en as far as Marche. From there, Chi­wy hitched a ride from a GI who took her to the cen­ter of Bastogne. 

She arrived in Bas­togne around 5 p.m. and noticed that it was a hive of activ­i­ty as news was begin­ning to fil­ter through of an all-out Ger­man attack to the north and east of the city. In antic­i­pa­tion of the approach­ing storm, Bas­togne civil­ians were leav­ing in droves and all roads west quick­ly became grid­locked with a seem­ing­ly end­less trail of human traffic. 

Bas­togne was an old mar­ket town and nat­ur­al junc­tion where sev­en roads con­verged. The Ger­man army’s high com­mand had decid­ed many months pre­vi­ous to the actu­al attack that it was going to be a prime strate­gic objec­tive, but no one there had expect­ed what was about to occur dur­ing the cold­est win­ter in liv­ing memory. 

Chi­wy had already decid­ed that it was best to go to her uncle’s house first to see if she could gath­er some more infor­ma­tion on the sit­u­a­tion. Her uncle, Dr. Chi­wy, had a prac­tice close to the main square and the young nurse want­ed to know if she could help out. By that time of night the civil­ians and mil­i­tary per­son­nel still there could audi­bly make out the boom­ing sounds of dis­tant artillery shells explod­ing a few miles away. 

With­in a few days of her arrival in Bas­togne, the U.S. Army had sent rein­force­ments to the city. The first to arrive were 2,800 men and 75 tanks of the 10th Armored Divi­sion. The fol­low­ing day on Dec. 18, the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion arrived around mid­night and almost imme­di­ate­ly began tak­ing up posi­tions at the allo­cat­ed road­blocks around Bas­togne in sup­port of the exist­ing teams. These groups proved to be a stub­born bar­ri­er that would allow the nec­es­sary time to build Bastogne’s defens­es and pre­pare for the Ger­man army’s main assault. 

Chi­wy set to work as a nurse by assist­ing both civil­ian and mil­i­tary wound­ed wher­ev­er she found them. These efforts did­n’t go unno­ticed. GIs from the 10th Armored Divi­sion were on the look­out for med­ical sup­plies and per­son­nel to assist with their Aid Sta­tion on the Rue Neufchateau. 

On Dec. 20, Bas­togne became a city under siege. The ever-decreas­ing perime­ter had reduced a once-beau­ti­ful city to a blood-soaked and bat­tle-rav­aged col­lec­tion of skele­tal smol­der­ing ruins. The only safe places were the dank freez­ing cel­lars of ruined hous­es where remain­ing civil­ians and sol­diers hud­dled togeth­er for safe­ty and warmth. They sur­vived on basic rations and shared what­ev­er sup­plies they could find. Chi­wy had­n’t had a warm meal since she left Lou­vain and had also been reduced to this grim sub­ter­ranean existence. 

On the morn­ing of the Dec. 21, Chi­wy left the safe­ty of her uncle’s cel­lar and along with Nurse Renee Lemaire, she vol­un­teered to work for the 20th AIB, 10th Armored Divi­sion at the aid sta­tion on Rue Neufchateau where Dr. John Pri­or was in charge. The sit­u­a­tion there was des­per­ate. There were hard­ly any med­ical sup­plies, save for a few bags of sul­pha pow­der and a cou­ple of vials of morphine. 

While Lemaire helped make the wound­ed sol­diers as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble, Chi­wy dressed their wounds and nev­er once shied away from the gory trau­ma of bat­tle­field injuries.

On at least one occa­sion, Dr. Pri­or asked Chi­wy if she would accom­pa­ny him to a bat­tle site east of the Mar­das­son hill. She was wear­ing a U.S. Army uni­form at the time because her own clothes had become so dilap­i­dat­ed and blood stained. She was well aware that if she would have been cap­tured by Ger­man forces it would have meant instant death for col­lab­o­rat­ing with the “Amies,” the Ger­man name for the Amer­i­can soldiers. 

Dur­ing a rag­ing bliz­zard Chi­wy calm­ly loaded up onto a deuce-and-a-half and went to the out­skirts of Bas­togne. When they arrived there, she actu­al­ly went out onto the bat­tle­field with Dr. Pri­or and the two lit­ter-bear­ers to retrieve wound­ed soldiers. 

Mor­tar shells were falling close by and Ger­man heavy machine guns were rak­ing the ground around Chiwy’s small frame as she tend­ed the wound­ed, but despite this she focused on her duties undaunt­ed. Dr. Pri­or said the bul­lets missed Augus­ta because she was so small, to which Chi­wy retort­ed, “A black face in all that white snow was a pret­ty easy tar­get. Those Ger­mans must be ter­ri­ble marksmen.” 

The skies above Bas­togne had cleared on Dec. 23, and C‑47s had dropped des­per­ate­ly need­ed sup­plies, but the very next day on Christ­mas Eve, those clear skies gave the Ger­man Luft­waffe a chance to send out a few of their remain­ing bomber squadrons over the city to cause even fur­ther death and destruction. 

A 500-pound bomb fell direct­ly on the 20th AIB Aid Sta­tion, instant­ly killing 30 wound­ed U.S. sol­diers, along with nurse Renee Lemaire. Chi­wy was in the adja­cent house with Dr. Pri­or and a lieu­tenant when the bomb hit. She was blown clean through a wall, but mirac­u­lous­ly sur­vived unscathed. 

On the fol­low­ing day, the remain­ing wound­ed were tak­en to the 101st head­quar­ters at the Heintz Bar­racks where Chi­wy worked until they were all evac­u­at­ed when Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army arrived Dec. 26. 

Sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the 10th Armored Divi­sion recent­ly signed a let­ter of appre­ci­a­tion for her ser­vice to them dur­ing the bat­tle. Her efforts had nev­er been offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized until then. 

This month, a let­ter was also received from King Albert II of Bel­gium stat­ing that he acknowl­edges Augus­ta Chiwy’s ser­vice and will offi­cial­ly rec­og­nize her courage and sac­ri­fice dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge. 

(Editor’s Note: Mar­tin King is a British author who has spent 20 years in the Ardennes research­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge. He pro­vid­ed this arti­cle to Army News Ser­vice for the com­mem­o­ra­tion of Nation­al African-Amer­i­can His­to­ry Month.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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