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Geneviève de Galard, French ‘Angel’ of Dien Bien Phu, Dies at 99

WorldGeneviève de Galard, French ‘Angel’ of Dien Bien Phu, Dies at 99

For almost two months, in the hell of the besieged French military base at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, Geneviève de Galard, a military nurse, tended to the wounded in a dark, filthy underground infirmary — men with holes in their backs, abdomens shot out, shrapnel wounds everywhere.

When the fight was over, on May 7, 1954, after more than 10,000 soldiers had been taken prisoner by the communist Viet Minh insurgents in one of the greatest military disasters in French history, Ms. de Galard continued to change the bandages of the wounded, refusing to leave their side. By then the legend of the “Angel of Dien Bien Phu,” as the American press later baptized her, had been born.

Ms. de Galard died on May 30 in Paris at 99. Her death was confirmed by the French Defense Ministry. No other details were given.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu ended nearly seven decades of French colonial rule, and for 70 years afterward, Ms. de Galard, a modest aristocrat, asserted, whenever asked — and the questions became less and less frequent as France sought to put that inglorious episode behind it — that she had simply “done my duty.”

But the French had turned to her gratefully. She was “a legend to wipe out the traumatism of the failure, the horror of a sacrifice,” as Le Monde put it in a profile of Ms. de Galard in 2005. In 1954, after a cover story in Paris Match magazine, a hero’s welcome in France and numerous medals and decorations, Americans welcomed her with a standing ovation in Congress, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.

The French ambassador to the United States, Henri Bonnet, was “ecstatic” over this rare bit of good publicity for a France in disarray, as the journalist Ted Morgan wrote in “Valley of Death” (2010), his history of Dien Bien Phu.


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