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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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France honors Lakota woman


by Jomay Steen, Rapid City (SD) Journal Staff Writer

editor's note: We enjoy spreading good news, in the hope that someone will find inspiration ... It is especially pleasing when the subject of that good news is a friend.

Marcella LeBeauEAGLE BUTTE -- An Eagle Butte woman who was an Army nurse during World War II will be one of 100 former military personnel to receive France's most prestigious civilian honor at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

On June 5, the Republic of France will bestow the prestigious Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur - Knight of the Legion of Honor - on Marcella LeBeau, 84, in a ceremony in Paris.

She and 99 other World War II veterans will travel to France as guests of that country to receive medals for their military service and their efforts to liberate France during World War II.

An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, LeBeau, then 24 years old, was stationed in Minster, England, 60 years ago. She was in the Army Nurse Corps, working at the 76th General Hospital.

The Allied invasion of Europe began early June 6, 1944, and LeBeau and other medical personnel received the first battle casualties from the beaches of Normandy at 2:30 a.m. June 7.

"I would never want to take away from what our soldiers did," LeBeau said in a telephone interview Friday, downplaying her role in the Normandy invasion. "It was one of my greatest privileges and honor to have cared for those soldiers."

LeBeau also worked at hospitals in Belgium and France in 1944 and 1945 as the Allies gained ground on the German defenders. She received three service stars for her work during battles and campaigns in Northern France, the Ardennes and the Rhineland. She also treated wounded from the Battle of the Bulge in early 1945.

LeBeau said the closest she came to working near the front lines was in Belgium. Under day and night attack from German bombs, LeBeau said she could feel the concussions as she worked in the hospital in Liege, Belgium. She said bombs fell close by on the motor pool, and she was close to attacks that killed 21 military people and one civilian.

"They took a chance putting us in Liege," she said. "We were a few miles from the battlefield."

Now, LeBeau will receive the highest civilian award of the French Republic, which is awarded for outstanding service to France, regardless of the nationality or gender of the recipient. Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Legion of Honor in February 1802.

In an invitation LeBeau received May 13, French ambassador Jean David LeVitte invited her to an embassy reception in her honor on June 3 in Washington, D.C.

Later that night, she and her oldest daughter, Diane Booth, will fly to Paris for the first of two ceremonies honoring LeBeau and fellow World War II veterans.

On June 6, LeBeau will travel by train to attend another ceremony in Normandy.

She said her father served in the Spanish-American War and that his service became a tradition she followed.

"I guess it kind of runs in our family," she said.

When LeBeau retired, she had been a nurse 31 years.

"I think it's one of the most rewarding careers," she said. "It's gratifying to be able to help other people."

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