“Little Did I Dream It Would Be So Long. . . .” :
Major Birdie Daigle
Enemy action still raged on Saipan when 10 American Army nurses landed there on July 9, 1944. Major (then Captain) Birdie Daigle was in command of the group, who found an utterly destroyed landscape and 900 wounded civilians. The nurses immediately set to work establishing a hospital for the wounded, with mud-floored tents for their living quarters. The women kept at their enormous task even though so much care was needed with limited supplies and a small staff.
Major Birdie Daigle and her group of nurses on Saipan, Gift of the Aline Daigle David Family, 2001.162.006
Daigle was from the tiny town of Iota, Louisiana, the sixth of nine children born to Etienne and Cora Daigle. She was raised in nearby Opelousas, Louisiana, where her father was a rice farmer and the family also ran the DeLuxe Café, a downtown breakfast spot. Daigle was called to nursing at a young age, having tended her father’s hand after an accident on the farm. She attended St. Joseph’s Infirmary in Houston, Texas, for her training, then went to work at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she studied anesthetics. She returned closer to home and worked in Lafayette, Louisiana, as an anesthetist for three and a half years, also pitching in at the DeLuxe Café. On January 25, 1941, Daigle enlisted as a nurse in the Army and entered a course that would take her far from her native Cajun Country.
Daigle served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1941–1946, first in Hawaii, where she spent nearly three years and contracted malaria, becoming quite ill. In 1944, though, she made national news back on the Home Front when she and her nurses landed on Saipan. The headlines read, “First American Nurses on Saipan” and “Opelousas Nurse in Saipan Group.” According to the Saipan Post Dispatch published by the Army Garrison Force on Saipan on August 6, 1944, the arrival of the nurses marked the changeover from “foxhole operations to permanent hospital facilities.” The nurses treated both military and civilian casualties.
Order awarding the Bronze Star to Birdie Daigle. Gift of the Aline Daigle David Family, 2001.162.001
Major Birdie Daigle was awarded the Bronze Star by Major General Sanderford Jarman in an “impressive ceremony” at the newly established Army hospital on Saipan on August 10, 1944. Her Bronze Star citation noted, “She has at all times freely and cheerfully devoted whole-hearted efforts to the cause.”
Birdie Daigle on Saipan. Gift of the Aline Daigle David Family, 2002.377.086
Despite the cheerful devotion, one hears in her personal letters the loneliness caused by years away from home and the distance from her family. In December 1943, she wrote, “By the time this letter reaches you the anniversary of our two years apart will have rolled around. Little did I dream that it would be so long. But if I had to do it all again I would still take it in the same way, for it’s a job that has to be done.”
Birdie Daigle’s Bronze Star, Insignia, and ID bracelet are featured in the Museum’s Road to Tokyo exhibit in the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion. Major Birdie Daigle is one of the many heroes you will come to know through her own words in Expressions of America.