World War II nurse treated wounded soldiers at decisive battles

May 22, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

In the distance, not far from beaches along Sainte-Maxime, a city along the Mediterranean Sea, a battle raged to liberate France from Nazi occupation.

Lucille Lundstrom

Offshore, a ship painted a radiant white girded for the inevitable casualties — incoming soldiers suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The crew aboard spent the months beforehand preparing for service in a combat zone.

The complement of nurses aboard the ship, U.S. Army Hospital Ship Marigold, included 21-year-old Lucille Lennart, a compassionate young woman from tiny Everson, near the border between Washington and British Columbia.

Nowadays, Lucille Lennart is Lucille Lundstrom, a retired nurse and resident at Providence Point in Issaquah. Like other World War II veterans — a group dubbed “The Greatest Generation” by journalist Tom Brokaw — Lundstrom is humble about the years she served aboard the Marigold.

“I thought I should,” she said in a recent interview. “There was a war on.”

Lundstrom served as a nurse aboard the Marigold — a cruise liner converted for wartime use — as the ship sailed around the globe and joined more than 350,000 American women in military service amid World War II.

In the years after the war, she returned to the United States, married George Lundstrom and started a family. Lundstrom’s daughter is Dr. Rosemary Warren, a dentist in Issaquah.

The tasks at Sainte-Maxime included tending to wounded Ghoums, or soldiers from France’s colonial territories in Africa. Some soldiers carried a small pouch holding ears sliced from German soldiers, but before the ship transferred the patients to a hospital onshore, Lundstrom and another nurse needed to confiscate the pouches for disposal.

“It was harrowing work, not knowing the dialect, to try calming fighters reluctant to give up their spoils,” author Michael Skalley chronicled in “A Medal for Marigold” — a 1982 account about the ship. “The girls said that, unconsciously, whenever they were near the beds of the Ghoums, both hands went up to their ears.”

The odyssey begins

Lundstrom started training as a nurse at 18, at college and at a Bellingham hospital. Then, as World War II roiled, she enlisted in the U.S. Army on Dec. 31, 1943, and entered the military as a second lieutenant. Lundstrom, then 22, was the youngest nurse aboard the ship.

The odyssey for Lundstrom started in basic training at Camp White, near Medford, Ore. Though she worried about a post in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska — site of fierce fighting between the United States and Japan in 1942-43 — she instead reached the Marigold.

In June 1944, the ship departed Seattle for points unknown. Battles raged across islands in the Pacific Ocean and in ancient cities in Europe.

“We had orders to go overseas, but we didn’t know where,” Lundstrom recalled.

The ship passed through the Panama Canal and reached Charleston, S.C., in July 1944.

Memories of sticky humidity linger in Lundstrom’s mind 68 years later. Segregation in Jim Crow-era South Carolina stunned and disturbed the young nurse from rural Washington.

In late July, the ship set sail for Europe. It steamed through the Strait of Gibraltar and deep into the Mediterranean, en route to Naples, Italy. Anchored in the Gulf of Naples alongside other Allied ships, crew members aboard the Marigold readied for Operation Dragoon, a push by Allied forces into the French Riviera.

Commanders planned for the Marigold to take aboard wounded soldiers from the beachheads and then rush them to Naples for additional treatment.

German planes buzzed over the harbor each night, as crew members aboard the ships observed a strict blackout to obscure the vessels from enemy pilots. Meanwhile, Allied anti-aircraft guns blazed to knock the planes from the sky. Shrapnel landed on the Marigold’s steel deck.

Operation Dragoon commenced Aug. 15, 1944, and only a few days later, the Marigold awaited wounded soldiers off Sainte-Maxime. The ship collected the casualties and then departed to Naples to offload the wounded personnel to facilities on shore.

Operation Dragoon launches

In late August, the ship steamed to Saint-Tropez, another jewel along the French Riviera. German planes attacked a landing ship transporting soldiers to the beach. The crew aboard the Marigold scrambled to treat the wounded men.

The doctors and nurses aboard the Marigold also tended to German prisoners of war captured amid the fighting.

“They were very quiet. They didn’t say very much,” Lundstrom recalled. “But they had excellent food.”

The experience in World War II deepened Lundstrom’s compassion, especially for other veterans and military personnel serving in later conflicts.

“I know the pilots went through hell,” she said, recalling World War II.

In early September, after another stop in Naples, the Marigold sailed again for Charleston. The ship remained in South Carolina for about a week, and then traversed the Panama Canal again en route to New Guinea in the South Pacific.

Lundstrom and the Marigold crew reached the Philippines on Christmas 1944. In letters home, Lundstrom could not reveal the ship’s location, due to wartime censorship and concerns about enemy spying.

The ship arrived amid the Battle of Leyte, a hard-fought battle in the long struggle by Allied forces to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control. The crew loaded aboard the full capacity for the hospital — 765 patients — because the Marigold was the only hospital ship in the area.

Lundstrom shuttled between the Philippines and New Guinea aboard the Marigold from January to April. In March, the Marigold was the initial hospital ship to reach Manila Bay as the campaign to wrest the Philippines from the Japanese concluded.

But the cacophony from shell explosions, nighttime blackouts and the constant stream of wounded left indelible impressions on the young nurses.

“Of course, there was a war on,” Lundstrom said. “There was a lot of apprehension.”

Lundstrom also remembers the anxiety and boredom present on the long sea voyages.

“I really thought I was going to go bananas,” she said. “I read every book that I could.”

The ship returned to the United States, to San Pedro, Calif., for a short respite from May to July 1945. In mid-July, the Marigold steamed for Honolulu, Hawaii.

From Europe to the Pacific

The ship then returned to the Philippines in early August, as Allied commanders prepared to deploy the atomic bomb and bring a quick conclusion to the war.

In Manila, crew members heard about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II only lasted for days more. (The fighting in Europe had stopped in May 1945.)

The ship reached Yokohama, a port city near Tokyo, before Japanese officials signed surrender documents on the USS Missouri’s deck on Sept. 2, 1945.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Marigold acted as a hospital for released Allied prisoners of war. Military ambulances and Jeeps deposited the malnourished soldiers at the ship. Military brass also arrived for health care needs.

Rumors churned aboard the Marigold about infamous passengers.

Some said the deposed prime minister, Hideki Tojo, received treatment aboard the ship after a failed suicide attempt. (In 1948, military authorities executed Tojo after a war crimes trial.)

Others said a Tokyo Rose — a name used for female Japanese broadcasters behind wartime propaganda — came aboard for treatment.

Allied bombing reduced more than 50 percent of Tokyo to rubble during World War II. Despite the destruction, crew members from the Marigold toured the city, including the Imperial Palace and the famed Ginza commercial district.

Then, after a stop in the Philippines to unload and load patients, the ship then returned to the United States for a final time. Following the war, military officials sent the ship to San Francisco to act as a reserve vessel and in 1948, sold the ship for scrap.

The experience in Japan marked the last chapter of military life for most crew members aboard the Marigold. Lundstrom remained in the Army until Feb. 1, 1946, less than six months after the war concluded.

Despite the proximity to major fighting, the Marigold did not come under attack in World War II.

“We were fortunate,” Lundstrom said.

 

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