MERIDEN — City native Muriel Engelman has been awarded the highest honor in France for her work during World War II as an Army nurse.
Engelman, 97, was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the National Order of the Legion of Honor from the Republic of France. She said along with the title, she received a medal in a ceremony in Torrance, California in late September.
“After 75 years I thought it was unusual but I was happy and excited,” Engelman said by phone this week.
Richard Robbins, Engelman’s nephew, said the family was shocked but proud when they heard that Engelman had received the honor.
Engelman, who now lives in California, said she entered the service after graduating high school. After completing her nursing studies, she was sent to Fort Adams in Rhode Island, and was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
“It was a beautiful Army post, it was like a country club,” Engelman said. “I didn’t join the Army to do that kind of nursing.”
After a few months working as a nurse at the post, she requested overseas duties and arrived in Liverpool, England on Jan. 8, 1944.
Engelman was then sent to treat battle casualties in Normandy following D-Day and later established a tent hospital in Belgium. She said the hospital tents she worked at were the closest to the battle lines.
Engelman said she experienced snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures during the Battle of the Bulge. While stationed, another nurse informed her of an injured solider in a neighboring tent that was from Meriden.
“When I heard that, I knew I had to go see him.” Engelman said.
Engelman said she would spend a few minutes before her shift to visit him and they would talk about Meriden.
“We just had a lovely time and we were able to forget the war,” Engelman said.
On Christmas Eve in 1944, Engelman said a German plane bombed the area near the hospital tents.
“My aunt dove under a bed and I guess that’s what saved her, but a lot of soldiers died,” Robbins said.
The Meriden soldier was one of the casualties.
Robbins said his grandmother discovered that she knew the soldier’s mother and made the connection. He said the Meriden soldier’s mother was a customer of her dress shop on West Main Street.
“The war department sent out condolences but I was told that my grandmother had to tell the boy’s mother...that her son died,” Robbins said.
When she returned to Meriden, Engelman also found his family and told them of the memories she shared with him.
Engelman said it was one of many stories she shares in a book that was published in 2008 titled “Mission Accomplished: Stop the Clock.” She said she continues to share her story in various talks that she gives about the war.
“She did it,” Robbins said. “She was lucky she came out in one piece.”