Native Women in the Army Nurse Corps

Rather than serving in mechanical, transportation, or clerical roles, some Native women opted to join the Army or Navy Nursing Corps. The women had to have a background in medical care and nursing, usually in the form of nursing school experience.

Rose Blue Thunder

Photo by Jeffery A. Mitchell.Photograph of Sicangu Lakota woman Rose Blue Thunder in the early 2000s.

Rose Blue Thunder

One such woman was First Lieutenant Rose Blue Thunder. She was raised by her grandparents on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota during the Great Depression. She attended St. Francis Mission School and went on to nursing school after her graduation. By 1943, both of her grandparents had passed, and her two closest relatives, her brother and uncle, had both joined the armed services. Thus, she joined the Army Nurse Corps.

Blue Thunder trained at Fort Riley, Kansas and was then sent overseas to help treat the mass D-Day casulaties. She also treated prisoners of war. She was stationed both in England and France before her honorable discharge after the end of World War II.

First Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau

From Marcella Ryan LeBeau's private collecction. 1st Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau, 1944.

Marcella Ryan LeBeau, 2016

Photo by Larry Miller.
Marcella Ryan LeBeau on July 17, 2016.

Marcella Ryan LeBeau

First Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau lived with her parents on the Cheyenne River Reservation until she was eleven. When she was ten, her mother died, and her father sent her and her siblings to boarding school at the Old Cheyenne River Agency, which LeBeau described as "psychological trauma." When she graduated from St. Elizabeth Mission School, LeBeau decided to pursue a career in nursing and attended St. Mary's School of Nursing. While in school, LeBeau heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She and a friend had accepted a position in Pontiac, Michigan when they heard a call for army nurses on the radio.

LeBeau entered the Army Nurse Corps in 1943. She served on the European front in Belgium, Wales, France, and was stationed in England to take care of D-Day casualties.

Despite being a non-combat participant in the war, LeBeau and the Army Nursing Corps faced violence and combat. While stationed in Belgium, "we had buzz bombs coming over night and day. On June 8, 1945, a buzz bomb hit the tent where the night shift of military police were preparing for bed," LeBeau commented in her short bio on the Lakota Women Warriors webpage.

LeBeau treated casualties of three campaigns: Battle of the Bulge, African-Middle East, and Rhineland. She received three battle stars, one for each campaign, as well as a medal of honor from the Belgian government. In 2004, LeBeau was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

After her wartime service, LeBeau went on to serve in the Indian Health Service, the Cheyenne River District 5 Tribal Council, and is a respected tribal elder within her community. As of July 2016, LeBeau lives in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Lt. Julia (Nashanany) Reeves receiving Ward 53rd Evac Hospital, New Caledonia, with destroyed Japanese flag

Lt. Julia (Nashanany) Reeves (center), receiving Ward 53rd Evac Hospital, New Caledonia, with a destroyed Japanese flag. 1942

Julia Nashanany Reeves

Wisconsin-born Lieutenant Julia Reeves, neé Nashanany was a Forest County Potawatomi woman who joined the Army Nursing Corps in 1942 and was a member of the 52nd Evacuation Hospital Unit stationed in the Pacific. Her first station was in French New Caledonia.

In 1943, Reeves, was transferred to Norwich, England, where she was stationed during the D-Day invasion of Normandy and remained through V-J Day in 1945. She would later go on to serve in the Korean War as well.

Other Branches of Military Service
Native Women in the Army Nurse Corps