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Houston WWII veteran recalls experiences as nurse for German POWs

With a little more than one million World War II veterans left in the United States, Veteran’s Day celebrations have become more and more significant. Claire Dauphin, 92, a resident at Parkway Place, a Buckner senior living community in Houston, is one of those veterans.

Dauphin served as a naval psychiatric nurse during World War II at the base in Corpus Christi. She spent the first 17 years of her life in Baden, a tiny village outside Vienna, Austria. Her parents were both American and her dad worked in the foreign oil industry. Dauphin and her four siblings lived all over Europe and had lavish vacations to places like royal palaces in Egypt.

But when Jewish school teachers started disappearing and Hitler started advancing into Austria, her parents knew they had to get out. Much like the scene in “The Sound of Music,” Dauphin, her mother and siblings escaped their tiny village in the middle of the night.

Her father dropped them off at the train station. They took a train to the border of Italy, waited about a week, and then flew to the United States. Dauphin later found out that after her dad dropped the family at the train station, he let the car run into the Danube river to get rid of evidence. He later joined them on their journey back to the U.S.

Once Dauphin and her family settled in New Jersey, she decided to become a nurse and join the Navy. Because she was fluent in German, she was sent to Corpus Christi to serve as a psychiatric nurse and translator when 150 German prisoners of war were brought to the base.

“It was amazing because they were all 19 and 20 years old,” she said. “They were all just scared and wanted their mothers. It was heart-wrenching.”

Dauphin met her husband at the base and they eloped after the war ended. He decided to retire from the Navy so she left, too. They had three children, lived all over the U.S. and ultimately retired in Houston.

About 15 years ago, Dauphin took her entire family – children and grandchildren – back to Baden to see where she grew up. Dauphin’s daughter, Melanie Brown, said it hadn’t changed one bit since her mother left in the 1930s.

“She was so happy to be back there,” Brown said. “I have the sweetest photo of her sitting on a park bench, just taking it all in. She wrote a piece for the Baden newspaper and after that, letters just flooded in. So many of the townspeople remembered her and wanted to hear what had happened to her.”

Dauphin is one of 53 veterans living at Parkway Place. She plans to attend the Veteran’s Day celebrations Tuesday at 3 p.m. to honor those who fought for their country’s freedom.

“I love my life,” Dauphin said. “I have lived a great life, and loved the Navy. I may have been raised in Europe but I am proud to be an American.”

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