1st Lt. Marcella Zaborac of Englewood, Fla. came ashore on Normandy beach in August 1944 with Gen. George Patton. She served as a nurse with the 110th Evacuation Hospital in “Ol’ Blood-N-Guts” 3rd Army that fought its way across France and into Germany during World War II.
Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, Zaborac graduated from nursing school at Lubbock General Hospital in Lubbock, Texas. She received her RN degree in 1941, just in time for the Second World War.
“An evacuation hospital, which is what I was in, is the first hospital behind the field hospital. There is the aid station, field hospital, evacuation hospital and general hospital in that order,” she explained. “I served as a floor nurse in an evacuation hospital which meant I did everything for the patient following surgery.”
The biggest challenge facing the members of the 110th Evacuation Hospital was keeping up with Gen. Patton and his troops.
“He was moving fast across France,” she said.
A small sheet of blue-green writing paper was neatly penned with the dates and places they went during the first six months the 3rd Army was in Europe: Arrived Normandy, France Aug. 25, 1944; Courtealin, France Aug. 25-Sept. 5; Chalous, France Sept 5-10; Rambicanet, France Sept. 10-30; Esch al Vet, Luxembourg Sept 31-Feb. 12.
“When we started across France with Gen. Patton the rainy season had started. By the time we reached Luxembourg it was raining almost every day. There was mud, mud, mud everywhere,” Zaborac said.
Our army took over an abandoned three story school building in Esch al Vet which was a big improvement over the tents we had been caring for our soldiers in,” she said. “It was much warmer and drier in the stone building than in the tents.
“The weather grew increasingly terrible. In addition to the rain and mud it started sleeting and then came the snow. By December we had a couple of feet of snow on the ground and the temperature was the coldest recorded for Western Europe in 50 years,” the 90-year-old retired nurse recalled.
Zaborac said the nurses found living quarters in what had been Gestapo headquarters in Esch al Vet.
“When the Battle of the Bulge began in mid December at Bastogne, Belgium, about 50 miles away, we were the only American hospital in the area,” she said. “We got all the patients from the Bulge.
“These young soldiers were coming into our hospital in terrible shape. We did what we could for them and if they were transferrable we sent them on to a general hospital further behind the lines. If they weren’t, we kept ‘em and nursed them until they were,” Zaborac added.
“Conditions at our hospital in Esch al Vet started getting out of hand when we became overloaded with patients around the 20th of December. From then until New Year’s it was work day and night,” she said. “I remember working 24-hour shifts for a short time during the Battle of the Bulge until we got more medical help in the hospital.”
How did Zaborac and the rest of the doctors and nurses handle the stress of treating one young soldier after another who was missing an arm, leg or was dying from a stomach wound or badly burned?
“Thank God we were young. I think that was the thing that saved us because we didn’t realize how bad it was,” she said. “Furthermore we didn’t have time to think about it. We had to take care of our patients. You knew you had come to do this and you did your work.
“As fast as we patched up a patient we tried to move him out in 24 hours or less. There would be another young soldier waiting to take his place in the surgery room or on one of our cots in the hospital.
“Thank God I was 24. I would have never made it,” Zaborac observed.
Following the Battle of the Bulge, she developed a serious cough. Doctors at her evacuation hospital decided that conditions were too primitive for her where they were headed. They were about ready to hit the road again and go back into tents. She was reassigned to the 202nd General Hospital in Paris.
“I was station there as a floor nurse until I went home,” she said. “I came home by way of New York City on a troop transport with thousands of other military people returning from the war. They put me on a train and shipped me back to Iowa where I was discharged in Nov. ’46—almost three years to the day from when I enlisted.
“My husband, John, was waiting for me. He had been a radio operator and gunner on a B-24 bomber. He was injured stateside and never went to war. John was also one of my patients. We got married in January 1944, before I was sent to France,” she recalled with a smile. “We were married for 61 years until his death in 2005. We had three children. Two years after his death I moved down here to stay with my daughter (Melissa Cripps) in Englewood.”
How does Zaborac feel about her service in World War II?
“I was happy I could serve my country and help my fellow man, my boys. I don’t think I was overly patriotic, but I am glad I did what I did,” she said with conviction.
Name: Marcella Zaborac
Hometown: Texas Panhandle
Address: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1941
Discharged Service: November 1946
Unit: 110th Evacuation Hospital, 3rd Army
Commendations: European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and two Overseas Service Bars.
Married: John Zaborac (deceased)
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 1, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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