75 years ago, she served as a nurse in a field hospital in Normandy just after the D-day landings. Former U.S. Army nurse Ellan Levitsky, 99, says hearing the wounded American “boys” being cared for at the 164th General Hospital on France’s Atlantic coast was traumatic.
“They were just kids, 18 or 19 years old. They were hurt and scared and they wanted to go home,” she said during an interview this week about her World War II military experiences.
Levitsky visited Normandy from the U.S. for the 75th anniversary of D-day. The LA Times reported that she recalled being so cold in the winter of 1944-45 that she lighted a fire in the wood stove of the nurses’ tent using gin and set the canvas alight -- twice.
Another time, she was so fed up with tinned Army rations she visited a local farm and swapped her uniform shirt for a chicken; she opens a small jewel box and shows a wishbone from said fowl.
Levitsky spoke to The LA Times during a trip from her home in Milford, Del., for the commemoration of the D-day landings on June 6, 1944, the Allied operation that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. It was the first time she had returned to France without her sister, who died in December 2015.
“I’m happy to be here, but it’s bittersweet. My sister should be with me,” she said.
In Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the Levitsky sisters are held in great esteem by locals grateful for their war work. In 2012, François Hollande awarded them the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor.
“Ellan is incredible," says Francine Duchemin Noyon, who organizes exchange visits for World War II veterans of the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy on D-day.
“She is now part of my family,” Duchemin Noyon said. “For many years she came back with her sister. Now it’s just her. We thought it would be too difficult for her to be here this year, so it was a wonderful surprise when she called to say she just had to come. Normandy is her second home.”
Levitsky was the youngest of three sisters born in the U.S. after their Jewish parents fled Russia and settled in Salem, N.J. Their father died when Ellan was a baby, and she and Dorothy, who was 2 years older, became inseparable.
Both trained as nurses and as the war in Europe raged, both volunteered to join the Army. When the call came for nurses to serve in France, Ellan agreed to go if her sister went too.
“Dorothy was mad with me about that. Boy was she mad when I signed up and she had to come too because she didn’t want us to be separated,” she said.
"The war was on, they needed nurses badly and I just felt I had to do something,” she said. “I loved the Army, loved everything about it, but Dorothy hated every minute. She didn’t want to be in the Army and she didn’t want to go to France."
The Levitsky sisters arrived in Normandy in August 1944 and worked at the makeshift hospital until it closed in May 1945. Dorothy was a ward nurse and Ellan trained as an anesthetist.
“We would see these kids who’d lost an arm, a leg. We had to give them hope, that was the only way to deal with it,” Dorothy Levitsky told French journalists in 2012.
Levitsky’s eyes twinkled as she remembered the mischief she and her sister got into.
“Oh I do hope I’m not boring you,” she said. “Perhaps you’d like to hear a little song my sister and I used to sing to each other. It’s called: ‘Please, Mister Truman, Why Can’t We Go Home?’ ”
And with that, she burst into song.
Oh Mister Truman, we have got a point
We’re tired of living in this foreign joint
We don’t want the CBI [China-Burma-India theater]
Save that for another guy,
Please, Mister Truman, why can’t we go home?
We have met the Russians
And we have crossed the Rhine,
We are tired of vodka
And drinking Moselle wine
We would like to fraternize
But I said that’s not very wise
So please, Mister Truman, why can’t we go home?
We have conquered Berlin
And we have conquered Rome
We have destroyed the master race
So why is there no shipping space?
So please, Mister Truman, why can’t we go home?
Click here to read the article in its entirety. Share your thoughts on this incredible nurse in the comments section below.
Dear Ms. Levitsky:
You are obviously a remarkable woman and I would love to look at your medal in a heartbeat. I had entertained the idea of joining the military but during Viet Nam I was too young and not a nurse yet. During the first Gulf war I had 2 little boys to care for and by the time of the Iraq war, I was too old! A few years later they increased the maximum age but, of course, my age had increased too and I was again too old. I am retired from nursing now so I know how hard it is under normal circumstances. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for you and your sister. With as many lives as you touched and in such a profound way, you two have certainly made much more than a ripple in this world’s history.
What a touching and amazing adventurous story!! So grateful you continue to be recognized for your achievements and sacrifices in Normandy. Its wonderful the way you continue to keep your history alive. May God richly bless you!
Truly, they are the ‘greatest generation’; sad to see so many making that final trip. Thank you / Merci beaucoup for what you did there and what you did for America afterwards.
L.A. Nelson MS RN
Thank you brave nurse for serving our country in WWII. You are a national treasure.
I do not have all the words to express my thanks,love and gratitude. I want you to know that here in the United States of America you are not forgotten you are loved. You are an inspiration to all women and nurses throughout the country and the world. I want to thank you and your sister for my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and with each tear drop from my eyes and with each breath that I take with each sweet dream I dream at night. I love you both and Thank You.
Beautiful story! Thank you for your service!
May we never forget your sacrifice and love and service. Thank you ! God bless .
God Bless You!
Thank you for your service and CARING!
Thank you for your service! Your story is inspirational!
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