de Galard, Geneviève (1925—)
de Galard, Geneviève (1925—)
French nurse and hero of the Indo-Chinese war, known as the Angel of Dien Bien Phu. Born Geneviève de Galard-Terraube, on April 13, 1925, in Paris, France; youngest of two daughters of Vicomte Oger de Galard-Terraube (an army officer); attended the Louise de Bettignies private school; received a baccalaureate degree from a Dominican convent in Toulouse; studied fine arts at the École du Louvre, Paris; studied English at the Sorbonne; received state nursing diploma from nurses training school as well as a diploma from the Paris School of Social Work; married paratrooper Captain Jean de Heaulme, on May 21, 1957; children: two.
Geneviève de Galard-Terraube was born in Paris and taken by her mother to Toulouse after the death of her father in 1940. At age 24, she entered nursing school, hoping to be of service to her nation. After training, she joined the Infirmières Pilotes et Secouristes de L'Air (IPSA), a specially trained corps of airborne pilot-nurses and first-aid workers. The detachment was officially established in 1946, under the French Military Air Transport Service, at the start of the French war in Indochina. One of only 35 young nurses to meet the stiff IPSA requirements—including tests in nursing, aviation, tropical medicine, geography, and English—in April 1953 de Galard began duty in Indochina as a nurse on a plane that flew into battle zones and brought back wounded French soldiers to Saigon.
In January 1954, as part of a second tour of duty, she began flying to Dien Bien Phu, in North Vietnam, to evacuate severely wounded soldiers to Hanoi. Built as an underground fortress by the French in 1953 to give mobile units a base from which to launch guerrilla attacks behind Vietminh lines, Dien Bien Phu was subsequently surrounded by two divisions of Vietminh guerrilla fighters, making it vulnerable to attack. On March 28, during a routine flight to airlift wounded from the base, the plane in which de Galard was flying was destroyed by enemy artillery during repairs, forcing her to remain at the base until it was once again safe enough to fly out.
For the next two months, she joined the all-male, 30-member medical staff, living and working in extreme conditions and surviving a steady barrage of enemy attacks. Trading her navy-blue uniform for a pair of boots and coveralls, she asked for no special favors, often sleeping on a stretcher on the floor among the wounded. As French outposts continued to fall to the Vietminh, casualties mounted daily causing the hospital, built to house 45 patients, to accommodate up to 250. Through the horrors of war and a rainy season that brought mud, rot, and an outbreak of maggots to the underground facility, de Galard worked tirelessly, risking her life to go out into the fields to attend the
long line of wounded. To the men she treated, who were often in critical condition, she became a life-line. On April 29, the commander of Dien Bien Phu visited the hospital to award de Galard a Croix de Guerre and the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor. The next night, in a special ceremony, she was made an honorary Legionnaire, first class, amid the cheers of her patients.
On May 6, Dien Bien Phu was captured by the Vietminh soldiers, although its medical team was given special permission to return to the patients. On May 16, Ho Chi Minh, president of Vietnam, liberated 735 French wounded prisoners and soon after notified de Galard that she too would be freed. Although she postponed taking leave to stay with her "children," she was finally instructed by the French commander of aviation to proceed to Hanoi and left on May 25.
De Galard was greeted in Hanoi as a celebrity (one of the paratroopers who met her plane would later become her husband), and foreign publishers bid large sums for her memoirs. From Hanoi, she flew to Paris, where she was presented with the Air Medal and the Air Medical Service Silver Medal.
On July 26, 1954, de Galard was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City and received by Mayor Robert Wagner, who called her "the heroine of the entire world." Following the parade, she received awards from the American Nurses Association and the National League for Nursing and was later honored at a charity ball at the Waldorf-Astoria. A cross-country tour followed, with a stop in Washington, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented her with the Medal of Freedom. She then returned to France to resume work as a flight nurse, making an additional one-year trip to the United States in 1955 for in-service training at the Rusk Institute for rehabilitation. In 1957, de Galard married Captain Jean de Heaulme, and during the first year of her marriage worked as a rehabilitation nurse at Les Invalides, a veteran's hospital in Paris. She later had two children and disappeared from public life.
Mckown, Robin. Heroic Nurses. NY: Putnam, 1966.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts