Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Marian Rebecca Sebring Elcano, who served as a nurse in France, Belgium and Germany during World War II.
Marian Rebecca Sebring Elcano’s family served in the military since the Revolutionary War. Elcano’s great-great grandfather served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Her grandfather also served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Her brother Harold C. Sebring also served during WWII in the U.S. Army Air Force as an airplane mechanic.
After graduating from nursing school, Elcano joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1943 and completed basic training in Pennsylvania. She went to Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, where she joined the 45th Evacuation Hospital, which served the soldiers of the First Army. After the First Army went to Europe, the 45th prepared for deployment at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. They left New York in a convoy bound for England in November.
Upon landing in Greenock, Scotland, the 45th immediately boarded trains to Gloucestershire, England. A week after the D-Day landings in France, the 45th deployed to France and landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Once in France, Elcano and her teammates joined the First Evacuation Hospital on the bluff above Omaha Beach to assist with ongoing medical work.
As the Allies advanced through western France and into the Ardennes, the 45th and other evacuation hospitals followed to treat the wounded and ill. Elcano said they treated not only battle-injured soldiers, but people suffering from malaria, respiratory infections and pernicious anemia. They also had to use deserted school buildings and abandoned hotels as makeshift hospitals when they moved from place to place.
During the most intense fighting of the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 and spring of 1945, the 45th hospital was close to the front in a school building in Eupen, Belgium. But due to the repeated threat from enemy aircraft, the hospital staff moved to Malmedy. Elcano said the weather conditions were so bad the hospital initially used sled dogs to transport the patients to Malmedy. The 45th eventually returned to Eupen after repairs to the hospital building and remained there until March 1945.
Elcano and the 45th were on the border of western Germany following a German retreat on March 5. During the several German attempts to destroy a bridge during the Battle of Remagen, Elcano and her comrades treated the wounded from the front lines.
Following the battle, the Allied forces crossed the Rhine River into Germany. Following them was the 45th, which was the first American evacuation hospital in Germany. In April 1945, when the Sixth Armored Division liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, doctors from the 45th accompanied them and set up an evacuation hospital in renovated buildings. Elcano was among the nurses who visited Buchenwald and witnessed the inhumane conditions of the camp surroundings.
Following Germany’s surrender, Elcano prepared for deployment to the Pacific. However, with the Japanese surrender in August, Elcano returned to France, serving in Mourmelon. In November, she returned to the U.S. on board the Thomas H. Barry and honorably discharged from the Army as a captain at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
The 45th Evacuation Hospital received five Campaign and Service Medals and a Meritorious Service Unit Plaque. After leaving the Army, Elcano married Michael Elcano in March 1946. The Elcanos went on to raise five children. They have nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
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Editor: Claire Pei
Fact checker: Brett Raffish
Graphic artist: Deanna Cannon