“What I did was very normal. I would have done it for anyone.”
~ Augusta Chiwy
Augusta Chiwy died on August 23rd. Never heard of her? She was one of the many unsung heroes of World War II. Ms. Chiwy was mentioned only in passing in Stephen Ambrose’s bestselling book Band of Brothers as a black nurse from the Congo. Yet hers is a story of remarkable courage.
After reading Ambrose’s book, another historian, Martin King, dug deeper into the facts about Ms. Chiwy and wrote The Forgotten Nurse. Ms. Chiwy, who was born in the Congo and studied nursing in Belgium, was visiting her father in Bastogne, Belgium in December, 1944. Americans had control of the city, while the German front was several miles away. Then the Germans advanced, and the town of Bastogne became in the middle of what would become the longest and bloodiest battle of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge.
Running after bodies
Dr. John Prior came to her father’s house, asking for help retrieving wounded men from the front lines. With his ambulance driver killed, Dr. Prior said, and he had no one left to ask. She volunteered to work at the first-aid station and when her clothing became bloody, she traded them for an Army uniform. Wearing the uniform meant that if she was captured, she would have been put to death.
The front line of the battle was just outside her town. Along with Dr. Prior and two other litter-bearers, she took an Army truck to the field where the Germans were shelling the field. Under heavy fire, Ms. Chiwy ran out on the field, trying to retrieve bodies.
On Christmas Eve of the year at the aid station, Dr. Prior was about to make a champagne toast when a German bomber dropped a 500-pound shell that landed next door. Two dozen U.S. soldiers were killed as well as a Ms. Chiwy’s friend. She herself was blown through the wall. Nevertheless, she got up and helped the wounded.
After Mr. King wrote his book, Ms. Chiwy was awarded the Army’s Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service. She was also knighted by the king of Belgium. According to the New York Times article, Ms. Chiwy said at the Brussels award ceremony. “What I did was very normal. I would have done if for anyone. We are all children of God.”
We’re lucky that Ms. Chiwy’s story was not overlooked and forgotten. How many others have shown similar courage, but no one knows their name?