Major Emiline Ann “Duce” Bourgeois, a native of Thibodaux referred to by the National World War II Museum as the oldest living female WWII veteran in Louisiana, whose service also included the Korean and Vietnam wars, died Oct. 30, 2015. She was 103.
In February 1945, near what would eventually be the end of World War II, Bourgeois, then 33, joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Her first assignment saw her serving in the Philippines, nursing wounded soldiers. A second assignment, also in the Philippines, saw her serving in combat hospitals.
In a recent interview with the Houma-Thibodaux magazine & website Point of Vue, Bourgeois recalled how wounded GIs were happy to have an American nurse to talk to. She had many boyfriends, but chose to never marry.
“They were very young, and they didn’t know how old I was because I seemed to always look younger than I am,” she told WWL-TV’s Bill Capo in a 2011 interview where she was celebrated at a Veterans Day ceremony in Thibodaux.
Bourgeois, or “Duce” – the nickname was given to her by her grandfather, referencing the French word for “sweet” – also served in post-World War II occupied Germany. Her last assignment was as head nurse of obstetrics at the West Point Academy Hospital in New York.
Her wartime service was honored with many awards including the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Germany Occupational Medal, and a West Point Academy patch.
Born on Dec. 24, 1911 in the St. Charles community, south of Thibodaux, young “Duce” attended and graduated from St. Charles High School in 1929. She then headed to New Orleans, where she first found odd jobs, including working at S.H. Kress & Co. dime store on Canal Street. She then enrolled in the Hotel Dieu School of Nursing, from which she graduated in 1941. Her specialty was obstetrics.
As she progressed in her military career after WWII, Bourgeois was awarded the rank of 1st Lieutenant and then Captain. During the Vietnam War, she was assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, where she served as the charge nurse of the obstetrical ward.
She retired in 1962 to care for her parents, who lived well into their 90s. She also returned to nursing, accepting a general nursing position at St. Joseph Hospital, where she would continue to work for 20 years.
We honor you, Emiline Bourgeois.