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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - Helping tell and preserve Sigman's story

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Sunday is Veteran's Day, a national holiday which originated to commemorate the signing of the armistice which ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. It was called Armistice Day way back "when I was a boy," but has been designated for several years as a day to honor all veterans. We still have Memorial Day, of course, to offer special honors for deceased veterans, especially those who died in the line of duty.

One veteran with local ties is probably completely forgotten now, but I intend to tell her story and (I hope) preserve it. During the Anzio Invasion in Italy during World War II, a hospital tent on the beach behind the invading Allied troops was bombed by the Germans on Feb. 6, 1944. The chief nurse and her assistant were among the casualties. One of the wounded was a surgeon. All of the dead were buried in a common grave in the new American Military Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.

The chief nurse who was killed was Army Nurse Corps Lt. Blanche F. Sigman, of Akron. Blanche had been orphaned as a tiny baby and was raised by her aunt, Quintella Sigman Cronk, the wife of Wayne Cronk. Blanch never lived in Norwalk, though her aunt and uncle lived here in later years until their passing. She did visit Cronk family relatives here before entering the Nurse Corps at Akron in June of 1942.

Lt. Sigman was a 1929 graduate of Bellevue Hospital in New York, having followed her aunt in the nursing field. Mrs. Cronk was a military nurse during World War I. In April of 1943 Lt. Sigman was assigned to overseas duty and escaped death in September of 1943 while onboard a hospital ship en route from North Africa to Salerno, Italy. Her entire unit escaped that sinking and then volunteered to return to Anzio where she met her death.

A few months later, Mrs. Cronk received the Purple Heart and a Presidential Citation for her niece, and soon after that the Italian government presented her with the Italian War Cross on behalf of Blanche, who gave "her young life for the ideals of civilization and for the liberation of Rome."

During the summer of 1944 Mrs. Cronk traveled to Charleston, S.C. to see the U.S. Hospital Ship Blanche Sigman and to present the ship with a portrait of her niece for the hospital ship named for her.

The Blanche Sigman actually had been christened earlier and sent Europe to bring back 559 men wounded in the Normandy Invasion in June.

Mrs. Quintella Cronk died in Norwalk in 1974, taking with her many memories of her niece whom she had raised from infancy. It was said that Blanche always referred to her aunt as "Mother," since she never knew her own mother.

Lt. Blanche Sigman's story is just one of thousands of tough stories one can find in researching World War II.

REMEMBER: My "Just Like Old Times" books are on sale at Colonial Flower & Gift Shoppe, 7 W. Main St., Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in a permanent, indexed book form. Do your Christmas shopping early!

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