By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
January 17, 2012
Eleanor A. Laun, a combat nurse who served with the Army in North Africa and Europe during World War II, died Jan. 10 of complications from a stroke at the Charlestown retirement community.
The longtime Ten Hills resident was 94.
Eleanor A. McNelis was born in Philadelphia and raised in Germantown, Pa. Her father died nine months after her birth during the influenza epidemic of 1918.
Her mother remarried, and she was adopted by Walter J. Tyson, whose name she took.
After graduating from John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls' High School in Philadelphia, she earned her nursing degree in 1939 from Memorial Hospital in Abington, Pa.
In early 1943, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 78th Station Hospital.
She departed New York in a convoy aboard the Army transport Edmund P. Alexander. Three days later, the ship lost a boiler, which forced it to drop out of the convoy. It limped into Oran in North Africa in early March.
"For the first two nights, they slept on the Ground at Goat Hill, a barren hill where they set up tents," Mrs. Laun told a daughter, E. Louise Laun Duncan, of Columbia, who wrote an unpublished account of her wartime experiences.
They remained at Goat Hill for three weeks.
The 78th Station Hospital established its first hospital in April in Bizerte, northeast of Tunis.
"The hospital facilities were set up in tents, similar to the tent hospital depicted in the Korean War-era TV series 'M*A*S*H,'" Mrs. Laun said.
"When they first set up their tent hospital, they had not gotten the white crosses on top of the tents to identify them as a hospital, and they were bombed by mistake," she said. "Fortunately, the bombers missed the motor pool, almost hit the nurses' area and were chased off by our anti-aircraft units nearby. Then the white crosses went up fast."
Mrs. Laun said the unit treated both American wounded as well as German and Italian prisoners of war. "Penicillin had just been discovered, and they were testing it on our wounded prisoners," she said.
After the Allied victory in North Africa, the unit moved to Madalone, Italy, near Naples, where it treated wounded American, Australian, Canadian, Czech and French-Arab soldiers who had fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino.
The bloody siege of the historic abbey, which had been founded in 524 by St. Benedict and sat some 1,500 feet above Cassino, raged from Jan. 17 to May 19, 1944. There were an estimated 55,000 Allied casualties with some 20,000 Germans either killed or wounded.
"The nurses saw soldiers who were in extremely bad condition," she said.
After the Allied victory in Italy, the 78th Station Hospital moved to a former hotel in Saint-Raphael, near Cannes, where conditions significantly improved.
"The setting was better than working in tents, but the war here was a new challenge for the station hospital medical staff. In other battlefields, a mobile or evacuation hospital was the first medical unit to receive the wounded," recounted Mrs. Laun.
"Highly mobile, these 'evac' hospitals stabilized the patients before they were sent to the station hospitals for additional treatment and recuperation," she said. "But in France, the 78th Station Hospital was closer to the battle front and thus received casualties directly."
Despite the seriousness of the casualties, the hospital unit was commended for a low mortality rate, she said.
The hospital moved again to a former tuberculosis hospital, where it remained until the war ended in Europe in May 1945.
Mrs. Laun, who had attained the rank of lieutenant, was shipped home and mustered out at Fort Dix, N.J.
She returned to Philadelphia and resumed her nursing career as a company nurse at Philco Radio in Philadelphia, and later did private-duty nursing.
While attending the wedding of an Army nurse friend in Baltimore, she met and fell in love with Joseph P. Laun Sr., whom she married in 1948.
The couple settled in Ten Hills, where they raised their nine children and lived for more than 50 years. Mr. Laun, who was the owner of Laun Brothers Lumber Co., died in 2001.
Mrs. Laun had been an active volunteer and a member of the Baltimore Civic League. She was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 219 at Charlestown and was a founding member of the Women in Military Services for America, and had been a member of the World War II Memorial in Washington.
A Charlestown resident since 2004, Mrs. Laun enjoyed crocheting and traveling.
She was a communicant of St. William of York Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore.
Services were held Jan. 14 at Sterling-Ashton-Schwab-Witzke Funeral Home of Catonsville.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Laun is survived by seven sons, Joseph P. Laun Jr. of Catonsville, James A. Laun and John W. Laun, both of Ellicott City, Paul G. Laun of Kent Island, Timothy A. Laun of Ocean Pines, Walter Laun of Finksburg and Albert J. Laun of York, Pa.; another daughter, Mary T. Doyle of Ellicott City; two brothers, Walter J. Tyson Jr. and Harry Tyson, both of Philadelphia; a sister, Marianne Vetto of Portland, Ore.; 18 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
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