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Geneviève de Galard, French ‘Angel’ of Dien Bien Phu, Dies at 99

Geneviève de Galard, French ‘Angel’ of Dien Bien Phu, Dies at 99


For virtually two months, within the hell of the besieged French army base at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, Geneviève de Galard, a army nurse, tended to the wounded in a darkish, filthy underground infirmary — males with holes of their backs, abdomens shot out, shrapnel wounds in every single place.

When the battle was over, on May 7, 1954, after greater than 10,000 troopers had been taken prisoner by the communist Viet Minh insurgents in one of many biggest army disasters in French historical past, Ms. de Galard continued to alter the bandages of the wounded, refusing to depart their aspect. By then the legend of the “Angel of Dien Bien Phu,” because the American press later baptized her, had been born.

Ms. de Galard died on May 30 in Paris at 99. Her demise was confirmed by the French Defense Ministry. No different particulars got.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu ended practically seven many years of French colonial rule, and for 70 years afterward, Ms. de Galard, a modest aristocrat, asserted, each time requested — and the questions turned much less and fewer frequent as France sought to place that inglorious episode behind it — that she had merely “carried out my responsibility.”

But the French had turned to her gratefully. She was “a legend to wipe out the traumatism of the failure, the horror of a sacrifice,” as Le Monde put it in a profile of Ms. de Galard in 2005. In 1954, after a canopy story in Paris Match journal, a hero’s welcome in France and quite a few medals and decorations, Americans welcomed her with a standing ovation in Congress, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.

The French ambassador to the United States, Henri Bonnet, was “ecstatic” over this uncommon bit of fine publicity for a France in disarray, because the journalist Ted Morgan wrote in “Valley of Death” (2010), his historical past of Dien Bien Phu.

That spirit remained even after her demise. In a tribute to Ms. de Galard, President Emmanuel Macron wrote: “For two months, the one nurse in that tropical hellhole the place 15,000 males fought and died, she defied, day and night time, the grotesque precariousness of the sanitary situations, working, consoling, accompanying the dying. She did extra than simply heal our bodies, she healed souls.”

Those phrases although — like a contemporaneous dispatch in The New York Times on May 17, 1954, during which Ms. de Galard was described as “the one lady” at Dien Bien Phu — perpetuate a fantasy. Ms. de Galard was neither the “solely nurse” nor “the one lady” on the base, as some digging by the Le Monde journalist Benoît Hopquin demonstrated final 12 months.

Dien Bien Phu, like different French army bases, housed not one however two “army subject brothels” — army-maintained bordellos that on this case sheltered dozens of Vietnamese and North African ladies. During the siege, with artillery raining down, the ladies “transformed themselves into nurse-assistants,” a army physician, Jean-Marie Madelaine, wrote in a letter unearthed by Le Monde, “volunteering for harmful water transport, eliminating the rubbish, the vomit, the excrement, the bandages dripping with blood and pus, giving water to those that not may use their arms, giving their hand to the dying. They had been admirable.”

Traces of the ladies have been effaced by historical past and a French army institution not keen to recollect them; the ladies don’t seem in a memoir by Ms. Galard.

In a matter-of-fact tone, the memoir, translated into English as “The Angel of Dien Bien Phu,” recounts her being trapped with the others on the base, remoted 280 miles from Hanoi. In his personal memoirs, Eisenhower considered the institution of the bottom as a strategic blunder by the French, leaving him “horror-stricken.”

“I simply mentioned, ‘My goodness, you don’t pen up troops in a fortress, and all historical past reveals that they’re simply going to be minimize to items,’” he wrote.

That is exactly what occurred. The Americans had largely financed the French conflict effort in Indochina, however they didn’t step in to avoid wasting Dien Bien Phu.

In the months main as much as that remaining battle, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s Viet Minh forces had packed the encircling hills with artillery. By March 30, 1954, with the bottom surrounded, the airstrip out of fee and the airplane that had introduced Ms. de Galard there broken, there was no escape.

Ms. de Galard, who was 29, was put “answerable for emergency care of essentially the most critically wounded,” she wrote.

“I labored below the sunshine of an electrical lamp within the hall, one knee on the bottom, the opposite on the sting of the stretcher,” she continued. “In this underground of struggling, day-after-day I attended to the wounded, giving photographs, altering bandages and distributing medication.”

The physician in cost, Major Paul-Henri Grauwin, wrote in a memoir: “While the shells had been falling, I watched her and was astonished by her calm. She went from wounded man to wounded man, considering nothing of it. She had the gestures that had been wanted, the sweetness, the precision.”

One of the wounded’s face and fingers “had been wrapped like a mummy’s,” Ms. de Galard recalled. “Soon the blinded youth, whose morale remained glorious, began spreading a little bit laughter round him” by attempting to play the harmonica.

On April 29, with the Viet Minh closing in, she was summoned to the underground bunker of the commanding officer, Gen. Christian de la Croix de Castries, who pinned on Ms. de Galard the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian ornament, as shells exploded exterior.

“She will all the time be, for the combatants at Dien Bien Phu,” the quotation learn, “the purest incarnation of the heroic virtues of the French nurse.”

Geneviève Marie Anne Marthe de Galard Terraube was born on April 13, 1925, within the ninth arrondissement of Paris to Henri Marie Oger de Galard Terraube, a reserve military officer and aristocrat from an outdated household in France’s southwest, and Germaine Suzanne Louise Marie de Roussel de Préville. Her father died when she was 9.

Geneviève attended faculties in Paris and, throughout the first years of World War II, close to her household’s ancestral properties round Toulouse.

After learning English on the Sorbonne throughout and after the conflict, Ms. de Galard acquired her nursing diploma in 1950. And, after a retreat at a Benedictine convent, she was admitted to the French armed forces’ corps of flight nurses, charged with tending to the wounded who had been evacuated from battlegrounds by airplane.

With the conflict in French Indochina raging since late 1946, she went there for the primary time in 1953, hooked up to Hanoi’s Lanessan hospital. By the time of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, she had already undertaken quite a few rescue missions there and elsewhere.

“I so wished it to finish otherwise,” she instructed Le Figaro in 2014.

The Viet Minh freed her on May 21, 1954, and she or he left Dien Bien Phu on the twenty fourth, not like hundreds of different French prisoners, lots of whom died on demise marches to prisoner of conflict camps. Later that 12 months, France gave up North Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh’s communists, enabling the fateful partition of the nation that led the U.S. right into a conflict that it had vowed to remain out of.

Ms. de Galard left the military in 1955 and the subsequent 12 months married Capt. Jean de Heaulme de Boutsocq, a paratrooper who had been one of many first to greet her on her liberation.

Ms. de Galard — her full married identify was Geneviève de Heaulme de Boutsocq — is survived by her husband, who turned a colonel; her sons, François and Christophe; her daughter, Véronique de Heaulme de Boutsocq; and three grandchildren.

Ms. de Galard adopted her husband’s army postings, in Madagascar and elsewhere. Back in Paris, she turned a municipal councilor for the seventeenth arrondissement, the place she continued to reside within the residence she had inhabited as a toddler. She held that publish for 18 years.

She instructed interviewers that her life had been profoundly marked by her expertise at Dien Bien Phu.

“My mere presence, as a result of I used to be a lady, appeared to render this hell rather less inhuman,” she wrote. “In Dien Bien Phu, I used to be in a method a mom, a sister, a buddy.”

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