Late last month, Augusta Chiwy passed away in Brussels at the age of 94. Chiwy saved numerous American soldiers’ lives as a volunteer during the Siege of Bastogne in World War II, according to the New York Times. An immigrant from Congo, Chiwy courageously braved the battlefield in order to provide life-saving care alongside the American Dr. John Prior. She even wore an Army uniform – which was not what volunteers wore – so that she could go retrieve the wounded from the field. At the time, black nurses were not supposed to treat white soldiers, and the NY Times quotes Mr. Prior as having said “you either let her treat you or you die.” Ms. Chiwy was just 23 at the time. She was working in a Belgian hospital when Dr. Prior beseeched her to come help him as the Battle of the Bulge closed in on Bastogne.
Ms. Chiwy was born in 1921, in a small village near Rwanda, to a Congolese mother and a Belgian father. Her father was a veterinarian. NY Times says she got married in 1950 to a Belgian soldier, and later had two children.
A characterization of Ms. Chiwy was depicted in the popular televisions series “Band of Brothers.” Biographer Martin King became interested in the character on the TV show and tracked down the real-life Augusta Chiwy in a Brussels retirement home.
After her story surfaced, Ms. Chiwy received the honor and recognition she deserved. In 2011, she was awarded the US Army’s Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service. She was also knighted in Belgium.