Forty-five days after the invasion of Normandy, dozens of U.S. Army nurses landed on Utah Beach to care for the wounded and dying in the fight to win World War II.
They set up tents for a hospital in a field a few miles from the shore and a shorter distance from the din of war, where bombs and gunfire forced them to wear helmets to surgery. And in all that fear, death and combat, Lille Magette, a nurse older than most of the others, kept everyone’s spirits lifted, recalled 91-year-old Rose Anne Ott of Lakewood.
“We worked hard, but we tried to have a good time,” said Ott at her close friend’s 100th birthday party Sunday at the Johnson Center retirement home in Centennial.
“She was a real character,” Ott said, patting Magette on the shoulder near her American flag scarf.
“I still am,” Magette said, cupping both hands around her mouth and whispering loudly as if pretending to tell a secret.
It was no secret, judging by the smiles and stories told by about 100 well-wishers who gathered for the event. They told of Magette’s magnificent kindness, her love of jokes, her dedication to physical fitness and her passion for travel and knowledge.
But what does Magette attribute her long, full life to? “A little Scotch,” she said with another whisper and an exaggerated wink.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Mo., Magette went to nursing school to support herself after she was widowed at 25 years old.
Her patriotism caught fire after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and once she learned nurses were being allowed closer to the battle front than ever before, she joined the Army Nurse Corps in April 1943. A year later, she was one of the brave nurses who rode to shore on the same fleet of Higgins boats that had taken 200 men to their deaths there on D-Day.
“My husband had died and I didn’t really have any family to live for,” Magette explained. “I was very patriotic, and I wanted to do something for my country, and that’s what I did.”
She left the service after the war but cared for soldiers as a Department of Veterans Affairs nurse for another 18 years. It was in a VA hospital in Lincoln, Neb., where she met her second husband, Florent “Red” Magette.
Their daughter, Mary Sixta, is her “angel,” Magette said. Sixta, a nurse at the Johnson Center, called her mother an inspiration.
Sixta’s daughter, Katie Sixta, 32, is a nurse at University of Colorado Hospital.
Before the cake was cut Sunday, Magette took the microphone to sum up her long life.
“I’m a hundred years old,” she said, then paused as if waiting for a response. “I’ve seen the world and I’ve traveled extensively.
“I’ve had a beautiful life, and I love everyone.”