Elly Peterson served in Europe during World War II, as part of a three-woman American Red Cross complement assigned to the U.S. Army’s 280th Field Station Hospital. She was stationed first in England, and then followed the D-Day invasion to France. She was busily organizing a Christmas Eve party for the troops in December 1944, when the Germans bombed the S.S. Leopoldville outside Cherbourg Harbor, throwing the night into chaos. Some 800 American lives were lost when the ship was sunk.
The one character trait that Peterson attributed to her wartime service was her sense of patriotism. Late in her life, she recalled how her commanding officer would ask the Red Cross staff members to join him on the reviewing stand. The patients, she wrote home at the time, “were wheeled out to the flag pole and the entire complement stood to attention. How beautiful and how thrilling to see the American flag lowered against the English sky with everyone at attention and every eye on the flag.”
“It was a great thing to be an American in those days,” she remembered years later. “You were proud of it then and proud of the way men were doing. . . .Some of [the men] seemed so young and of course there were lots of tragedies. But there were a lot of wonderful moments, too. When you saw people rise above. And when you were over there that long you weren’t homesick anymore.”