French nurse dubbed 'Angel of Dien Bien Phu' dies aged 99

By AFP   June 1, 2024 | 04:00 am PT
French nurse dubbed 'Angel of Dien Bien Phu' dies aged 99
French nurse Genevieve de Galard (R) upon returning from Dien Bien Phu. Archived photo via VNA
Genevieve de Galard, a nurse dubbed the "Angel of Dien Bien Phu" for treating wounded during a defining 1954 battle in then French Indochina, has died aged 99, with President Emmanuel Macron on Friday hailing her "exemplary devotion."

Galard was the only French woman on the ground during the clash at Dien Bien Phu, which led to French troops' defeat by forces in Vietnam and marked the country's last stand in colonial Indochina. She passed away on Thursday.

The blue-eyed nurse, who hailed from a family of aristocrats, applied field dressings, administered injections and comforted the wounded. Some died in her arms.

Galard volunteered to go to French Indochina in 1953 and helped evacuate casualties.

One of the evacuation planes she traveled in was destroyed by gunfire when she was about to leave Dien Bien Phu.

She remained on the ground for two months, "the only nurse in this tropical trap, where 15,000 men were fighting and dying", the president's office said.

"When this is over, Genevieve, I will take you dancing," a soldier, who had lost both arms and a leg, told her, Galard would later recall.

French daily Le Figaro said that Galard "was certainly one of the last witnesses to one of the worst tragedies suffered by the French army."

"The angel of Dien Bien Phu has left us," Macron said on X.

"As a military nurse, Genevieve de Galard showed exemplary devotion to the courage and suffering of 15,000 French soldiers during the worst hours of the Indochina war."

Galard told AFP in 2014: "The noise of the bombings was infernal and, when there was a lull in the morning, we knew that other stretchers were going to arrive."

When the French-held garrison fell in May 1954, the 12,000 surviving French soldiers were taken prisoner.

Galard herself was held prisoner for 17 days and was repatriated to France after being granted freedom by president Ho Chi Minh.

'Supreme fortitude'

On her return she was celebrated as a star and French magazine Paris Match featured the 29-year-old on its cover.

"I had never wanted or sought it," she said of her fame. "I had only done my duty."

In July 1954, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower invited her to the United States where she was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom and received a standing ovation from the House of Representatives.

"Her supreme fortitude in hours of peril, her unfaltering dedication to her mission reflected the greatness of spirit manifested on many fields, in many centuries, by the soldiers of France," Eisenhower said.

Throughout her life, Galard continued to care for the disabled, in particular at the Invalides rehabilitation center, Macron's office said.

The English translation of her memoir, The Angel of Dien Bien Phu, was published in 2010.

In 2014, Galard received France's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.

Eric Ciotti, head of the right-wing Republicans party, took to X to hail a "French heroine."

"In inhuman sanitary conditions and a deluge of bombs, she saved so many French soldiers," he wrote.

This year, France has for the first time been invited by Vietnam to commemorate the battle. Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu represented Paris at commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu in May.

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