A Nurse at Normandy
● By Robert Frey
By Lisa Hanchey
Woman on a MissionIn the throes of World War II, Philadelphia native Julia Harvey went to nursing school. At the time, both of her brothers were active military -- Ed in the Air Force and John in the Navy. As she was earning her degree, the military was actively recruiting more volunteers – particularly nurses – for the U.S. effort. So, as soon as she finished nursing school, Julia decided to make a difference herself. “I had just become an RN, and I was so excited and so proud,” she recalls. “So, I thought, ‘I’m gonna go.’”
In November of 1944, Julia was sworn into the U.S. Army Nurse Corps at her father’s office. After basic training in Fort Meade, MD., she went on active duty. “You didn’t have to volunteer for overseas duty, but I volunteered for it,” she says. “I did want to go overseas.”
On Jan. 2, 1945, the 305th Contingent of 90 nurses shipped out of New York Harbor destined for France. Ironically, Julia, who was born in Hoboken NJ, landed in her birthplace before leaving the U.S. “We went by train to get onto the boats to ship out, but I landed in Hoboken, right across from New York,” she recalls fondly. “That meant a lot to me.”
At about midnight, the vessels shipped out. As the nurses watched the harbor vanishing in the horizon, they looked back forlornly. “We thought, ‘Well, we may never see it again. We hope we will,’” Julia says.
Normandy Beach – And Places In France
After landing at Normandy beach in France, the American nurses were sent to a staging area where they were assigned to field hospitals. “You’d go in and do whatever you were told to do,” Julia relates. “There were soldiers that had been terribly injured and amputees. A lot of them had stomach problems and just all kinds of different things. It opened our eyes to what we were getting into. It scared a bunch of us – me, too. You don’t see those kinds of things too often.”
Next, the nurses were transported by train to Metz, France, near Alsace-Lorraine. There, the nurses transformed a large building formerly used by the German Air Force into the 305th General Hospital. “We scrubbed, we cleaned on our hands and feet,” she recalls. “It was terrific.”
One night in Metz, Julia went out to a restaurant with a group of American doctors and nurses. “One of the doctors said, ‘I speak German. Get the Hell out of here!’’’ she remembers. “So, real fast, we departed and went back to the hospital and got ready to ship out.”
Afterwards, the 305th left for a long trip to Marseilles in a cramped train car with no bathroom facilities. “The nurses were officers, so we didn’t have to do that,” Julia says. “But we were so tired of being in the staging area. There was nothing much to do. So we voted, and we went. It was very unpleasant.”
Along the way, they stopped in Paris for two days. “We looked like a bunch of poor people,” she says with a laugh. “We didn’t have the facilities to freshen up. So, we grabbed showers.”
After Paris, the nurses completed the trip to Marseilles. While there, the German surrendered to the Allies, marking the end of World War II in Europe (Victory In Europe Day). “V-E Day was a happy day, but we had a sad experience with two of our young men in our outfit,” Harvey recalls. “They had decided to pick up a few things to bring home, but they got blown up. And that was V-E Day for us, because we were all so sad.”
Down The Panama Canal – And On To The Philippines
Orders then came sending the 305th to the Pacific Theater. Harvey’s unit, along with another regiment of hospital nurses, embarked on an arduous voyage through the Panama Canal. Upon arrival, she saw the remains of a U.S. warship which had been bombed recently. “There were bodies everywhere – it was horrible,” she recalls somberly.
While in the Philippines, Julia was asked on a date by a fellow soldier. Being the lady that she was, she told him that she would go only if she could bring a friend. Her escort set her friend up with Lafayette native Lt. Jerome E. “Jerry” Domengeaux. But, Julia and Jerry felt a spark between them instead.
Jerry Domengeaux dropped out of Georgetown Law School to enlist in the Army the day after Pearl Harbor. He requested assignment to an Infantry Division, and was ultimately assigned to the 38th Infantry Division. His battalion first went into battle on Dec. 7, 1944, after landing on Leyte Beach in the Philippines. The mission’s objective was to secure a heavily-defended major air strip. After battling for five days and nights, the U.S. soldiers prevailed, securing the airstrip.
In February 1945, regiments of the 38th Infantry Division took part in military operations to clear Zig-Zag Pass, a major roadway in the mountains leading to Manila. After many weeks of fierce battle resulting in numerous casualties, Domengeaux’s battalion succeeded. Later on, he took part in major battles around Manila. For most of the War, he served as a Lieutenant, later receiving a battle field promotion to the rank of Captain.
On August 15, 1945, the Americans finally defeated the Japanese once and for all in the Philippine Islands. But, even after Victory Over Japan Day, the Japanese in the Philippines refused to surrender. Following V-J Day, Domengeaux was assigned to interface with Japanese units in the caves and mountains of Luzon to encourage them to surrender. After receiving the surrender of a major Japanese General, Domengeaux was awarded his battle sword (which Julia still has).
General Douglas MacArthur nicknamed the 38th Infantry Division "The Avengers Of Batan.” For his service and actions in combat, Domengeaux received a Bronze Star.
A Love Connection
After meeting in the Philippines on that fateful date, Jerry and Julia had a whirlwind courtship. A few weeks later, on October 5, 1945, they married in Manila. Julia’s parents found out about the wedding two weeks later when her dad received a letter from her friend.
Though the two avoided deployment to Japan, their homecoming was delayed. Julia put Jerry on a boat to go home, not knowing when she would see him again. Because all married nurses were allowed to leave, she got a permit to return to the U.S.
But, it took her two months to get back. The ship carrying the new bride and her comrades broke down four times. By the time she got to Philadelphia, Jerry was already there – waiting with her parents.
Home At Last
After leaving Philly, Julia made her inaugural trip to Louisiana to see her new home. The big-city girl’s first impression of Lafayette was a small town with dirt roads. But, she fell in love with Acadiana after her first taste of gumbo. “My mother-in-law was a wonderful cook,” she raves.
Married 54 years, the Domengeauxs had five children – Janie Domengeaux Bayard, Joan Marie Domengeaux Autin, Julia “Jebbye” Domengeaux Moroux, Jerome Domengeaux, Jr. and James H. Domengeaux. They have 16 grandchildren and now have five great-grandchildren (with one on the way). Their marital union lasted until Jerry’s death at age 80 in 1999.
Today, Julia, age 92, still lives in Lafayette and maintains a close bond with her family and community.
We thank Julia for her service and salute our “Normandy Nurse!” Our love, prayers and heartfelt appreciation goes out to all the brave men and women who give so unselfishly to protect our country.