At 5:30am on the morning of Dec. 16, 1944, a massive German artillery barrage along an 80 mile front in the Ardenne Forest opened the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest conflict of WWII. The battle, which raged until late January, cost 89,000 American casualties, including 19,000 killed.
Some of the fiercest fighting took place in the Belgian town of Bastogne, at a crossroads the Germans needed to capture in order to split the Allied armies in half. Bastogne was the town where American general, Anthony McAuliffe, famously answered, “Nuts!” when ordered to surrender. The town sustained a massive barrage, but never fell, and many stories of heroism later emerged. This week a forgotten hero was honored – Augusta Chiwy, a Congolese nurse, now 93 years old, who saved hundreds of lives.
Chiwy’s story came to light, in great part, because of Martin King, a Scottish military historian. King has lived in Belgium for 30 years, interviewed countless veterans of the Bulge, and co-authored a book on the battle. He explained how Chiwy, just 4’8″ tall, repeatedly braved artillery and machine gun fire, in freezing weather, to drag wounded soldiers to safety. “What I did was very normal,” Chiwy said. “I would have done it for anyone. We are all children of God.”
On Christmas Eve, 1944, an Allied aid station where Chiwy was sipping champagne with the only doctor in town was hit by a German shell. She was blown through a wall, but afterwards, got up and began helping the doctor, who also survived, tend to the wounded. Several history books said Chiwy died in the blast, but King did not believe it. He finally found her living in a retirement home in Brussels. It took some time before she would speak of her experiences. King noted that nowadays she would likely be diagnosed with PTSD.
The more he listened to her, the more convinced King became that Augusta Chiwy should be honored for her service. He began to write the King of Belgium and the US Military. At last it paid off. Chiwy was knighted by the Belgian king in June. General David Petraeus, who once commanded the 101st Airborne, which defended Bastogne, wrote her a letter of appreciation, and earlier this week, she was awarded the US Army’s Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service.
Col. JP McGee, who commands the “Bastogne Brigade” of the 101st Airborne Division, gave her the award and said:
“M’aam, you embody what is best and most kind in all of us…It is an honor to share the stage with you and to be able to say on behalf of US veterans everywhere — thank you. The number of lives that you touched is incalculable. There are men and women in America who would never have a father or grandfather if you hadn’t been there to provide them basic medical care.”
After the ceremony, Chiwy said, “I’ve had a good life. I’ve got my children, and my grandchildren. And,” she added, pointing to her head with a smile, “I’ve still got my marbles.”
You can listen to the story, here: http://www.theworld.org/2011/12/nurse-honored-augusta-chiwy/