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Peggy Loe WHALEN

1917 - 2014 Obituary Condolences
Peggy Loe WHALEN Obituary
WHALEN, Peggy Loe

Peggy Loe Whalen, a bona fide member of The Greatest Generation, serenely embarked on her next grand adventure on Sunday, April 27, 2014.

"Peggo" was born at home in the Moore's Chapel community, Llano County, Texas, on October 25, 1917, the first of seven children born to Oliver P. and Daisy Mae Smith. She grew up tending farm animals, picking cotton, conspiring in mischief with her sister Mary Click and working to help her family survive the Great Depression. "Mama" Daisy imbued her kids with the drive to get an education. Peggo graduated in the Llano High School Class of 1934; six years later she received her certification as a Registered Nurse, having graduated from the Seton School of Nursing in Austin. This was the era when an RN's duties included mopping floors, changing bed sheets, and cleaning bed pans before and after their patient care shifts.

Early November, 1942, Peggy Smith was commissioned as a 2nd Lt., US Army Nurse Corps, and after 4 months' training at Camp Swift, near New Braunfels, and Camp Kilmer, NJ, she sailed from New York City.

On March 4, 1943, she stepped off the gangplank into Casablanca, Morocco, a full-fledged member of the US Army 11th Evacuation Hospital. They moved by truck convoy through North Africa, tending patients until they celebrated the end of the No. African Campaign and closed the hospital.

This unit's nurses were the first to land at Sicily in August 1943. Peggy's unit went from Licata to Agrigento then on to Nicosia and finally Cefalu. Italy surrendered in September 1943, the Sicilian Campaign was over. The long, costly Allied assault finally landed the 11th Evac at Naples in January 1944. They set up their hospital tents behind the front lines of the Monte Cassino battle where the Americans were very vulnerable to German shells. By mid-April Peggy's unit had advanced to Anzio -once a beach resort town, now a miserable war zone and more flooded tents. Worse, in Peggy's view, hospital personnel were "confined to area"-as they were, in fact, surrounded by Axis troops whose 280mm (11 in.) "Anzio Express" railroad guns menaced the hospital encampment and the nearby ammo dumps. By now the business of avoiding stray shells, shrapnel, and flooded living quarters became a fact of Peggy's daily life. Her letters to family conveyed a deep compassion for her patients - at age 27 she called them "sweet kids" and "poor boys" while sharing the homemade fudge, cookies and Coca-Colas sent to her by her Aunt Beulah. She constantly praised the soldiers' courage, humor and resilience in spite of sometimes devastating injuries. (It was Aunt B. who faithfully typed, in triplicate, each of Peggy's letters home in order to share them with the extended family.)

On August 19, 1944, four days after D-Day, the 11th Evac nurses fulfilled their role in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France that liberated the towns of the "French Riviera". The nurses walked off of Higgins Assault crafts onto the beach at Le Muy and into the pyramid hospital tents again. The hospital moved every 15 days or so as it followed the 7th Army on its sweep through France, sometimes outpacing their own supply lines. In November, 1944, at Lorquin, France, the 11th Evac Hospital opened in buildings for the first time since leaving the U.S., completing the French Campaign. Peggy gleefully reported the nurses were housed in buildings "with running water, electric lights and windows!"

March 29, 1945, the 11th Evacuation Hospital crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge -the first evacuation hospital in the 7th Army to do so. Peggy had a front row seat as history occurred: FDR died 4/12/45, Mussolini was executed 4/30/45, Hitler was reported dead 5/1/45, and 5/8/45 was declared Victory in Europe Day. Her last hospital duty was in Weinheim, Germany, a member of the 11th Evacuation Hospital which had been designated to go to the China-Burma-India Theater via the U.S.A.

Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in 1st Lt. Peggy Smith sailing home from Marseilles in early October 1945, with 31 months of continuous overseas service on her record (ASR 99 points). Discharged in January, 1946, she received the EAME (European, African, Middle Eastern) Campaign Medal with an Arrowhead (Sicily landing) and seven Battle Stars, along with the standard "Ruptured Duck" lapel pin.

Peggo didn't let any grass grow, she enrolled at the University of Texas to study pharmacology; however, she had brought home an important souvenir -an engagement ring from Dean E. "Red" Whalen, a recently discharged 1st Lt. in the US Army Air Corps whom she met and agreed to marry in 1943. Her determination that they should "date under more normal circumstances for a while" caved under Red's need to return to his pre-enlistment job in Los Angeles. On August 27, 1948, they married in Las Vegas, and then settled in California where she hired on at the Los Angeles County Health Department. She worked as an RN at various San Fernando Valley health clinics for the next 27 years. Over the years, Dean and Peggo opened their homes and hearts to family and friends, giving encouragement, care and support with unfailing generosity. They attended reunions of the 11th Evac and Dean's flight group, vacationed at Lake Lundy in the Sierras above Yosemite and dreamed of traveling to Hawaii -not an option due to Dean's health. His ashes were strewn over Lake Lundy in 1978 and Peggo retired a year later.

Peggo reinvested in her wartime philosophy, "you can't count on tomorrow so live today to its fullest": she became a strawberry-blond after 20 years of silver gray, skinny-dipped in her pool, soared in a glider, snorkeled in Hawaii, was kissed by dolphins in Seattle, walked barefoot on the beach in Fiji with her boyfriend, cruised and sailed, meditated in Sedona vortexes, attended more 11th Evac reunions - all while continuing to provide a haven for family, friends and cats. She relished champagne cocktails, strawberries, avocados, Texas pecans and French perfumes. Peggo admired yellow roses, seahorses, butterflies, opals, elegant Hawaiian muumuus and boyfriends who "could fix things and drive at night."

This beautiful, vivacious, spiritual and infinitely courageous woman began to falter in 1994; though reluctant, she was imminently practical and moved to Georgetown, Texas, where she and her sister, Nickie, resumed their close ties.

Ultimately, they both were enveloped in the loving care of Lucy Montalvo and Armando Flores who devoted themselves to fostering Peggo's comfort, dignity and pleasure amid the utter devastation that is Alzheimer's disease. New Century Hospice (Angel Heart) staff played a valuable role in providing at-home nursing supervision as Peggo declined. When Nickie died last December it was clear that Peggo understood she had gone, which has led us to wonder if she lingered to make sure Nickie wouldn't have to be alone. Such was Peggo's abiding gift - her love for others.

Peggo is remembered and honored by her sister, Elaine Hack; her brother Hardy M. Smith (WWII Vet) (Elaine); sister-in-law Eleanor Smith; sister-in-law Lois Whalen Bueker (George); 21 nieces and nephews and their families; and many Smith and Williams cousins.

She has gone to a reunion with her parents, her beloved Dean, her brother Oliver J. Smith (WWII) with whom she searched for ice cream in Italy; her sisters Mary Click Lyda and Mada Beth West; infant sister Annie Alberta Smith; brother-in-law Richard Whalen; many of her 11th Evac comrades, extended family and dear friends.

In keeping with Peggy's intentions, there will not be a memorial service. At a future date, her cremains will be interred at the Lyda Family Cemetery, Florence, Texas, under a Bronze US Military Memorial Plaque that reflects her rank and WWII service. She will be surrounded by the Texas wildflowers she loved. Please commemorate her by finding or giving joy each day.

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:7

You may share a message or memory in the memorial guestbook at www.RamseyFuneral.com.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from May 4 to May 5, 2014
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