WWII Army nurses interviewed today about their experience in France in 1944. Their commentary is illustrated with WWII archival footage, their own family albums, and on location filming in France. Eisenhower once said: “We wouldn’t have won the war without the nurses.” “Angels In Our Midst” features these courageous women who helped so many selflessly and were crucial in helping win the war.
These women–thoughtful, funny, courageous and moving–put a human face on war and offer a point of view not always captured in films about that time.
“Angels in Our Midst” is a film that gives voice to the memories of American WWII nurses of D-Day and beyond. What it took for these women to enlist in the Army, what they lived, and how they were changed by the experience are some of the questions explored in the film.
In these interviews, I came face to face, in the words of Tom Brokaw, with ‘the greatest generation.’ I am convinced that these stories should not be lost, that we must capture them while there is still time and, most important, that we must keep these memories alive.
In real time, with actual women who were there, this historical event is shown in a new light: It was cold, and they were in tents. It was scary, but they had a job to do. There were a lot of men. And they took care of them. It was sad “but, as we always say, it’s the good times we remember.”
Bobby Alexander from Jenrette, PA and Dorothy and Ellan Lewitsky, from Salem, NJ, two sisters who enlisted together and stayed together throughout the war, were tent-mates in Normandy. Marcella Ryan LeBeau is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and lives in Eagle Butte, SD. She served WWII G.I.s from Normandy and three military campaigns. Elsie Schultz Thomson from Northampton, MA served in Paris. Col. Julia Boland Paparella from Valley Forge, NJ, and Rachel Sweitzer from Chicago, IL, round out the cast of characters featured in the movie.
From their decision to enlist, to the trip away from home and into the unknown, “the adventure” in their words, to the reality of war as it hit them, and to the good times they were able to manufacture in spite of everything, we can envision their life. The profound effect this life-changing experience makes on these women and the friendships they developed with the French people are unmistakable. And finally, the honor the French government shows these nurses by awarding them the Legion of Honor, the highest French medal of recognition, is heart-warming.
Every day spent making this film, I laughed and cried, moved by the heart-wrenching experiences these women faced and the strength they showed. These Army nurses share a compelling and vital story, some seventy years after the fact.
These ‘angels’ stories are a testament to their compassion, pluck and resolve, qualities that, in good times and bad, renew our faith in mankind.
In today’s world, when our daughters (and sons), our sisters, our women friends, are going forward in an uncertain world–when Wonder Woman recently captured our imagination–it is heartening to listen to these women tell it like it was, with humor and candor. These gutsy and plainspoken women may well encourage us to don our own capes and go forward with confidence.
The “duty of memory” falls upon all of us. I hope to find a wider audience for these remarkable women’s stories.