Their names must be hallowed
By Donna Braun
Editor, White Sands Missile Range
Reprinted with permission from Las Cruces Sun News
Download this document as a PDF
Scared, malnourished, isolated and overworked, the Army
and Navy nurses who served in the Philippines during the
siege and fall of Bataan were true military heroes.
In her book, "We Band of Angels," Elizabeth
M. Norman shares the story of American nurses trapped
on Bataan and Corregidor by the Japanese during World
Through Norman's extensive research and numerous personal
interviews with the women who served, a gut-wrenching
picture of their struggles and the overall horror of the
surrender of American forces in the Philippines haunts
Norman spent eight years researching the book, which includes
maps, photos, time lines, extensive footnotes, and a bibliography.
Her writing is clear and crisp, and she often lets the
book's subjects tell the tale in their own words.
Norman's own nursing expertise lends credibility to the
book. She is an associate professor of nursing and the
director of the doctoral program at New York University's
Division of Nursing in the School of Education. Her specialty
is nursing history and she is the author of "Women
at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served
The book begins by describing prewar conditions for the
nurses serving in the Philippines. The nurses considered
the island a tropical paradise, an exotic location for
"It was a halcyon life, cocktails and bridge at sunset,
white jackets and long gowns at dinner, good gin, and
Gershwin under the stars," Norman writes.
That view would change overnight with the Japanese air
strikes on the Philippines that began December 8, 1941.
The majority of the nurses were in Manila at the start
of the war. After the fall of Manila, the nurses worked
out of two makeshift jungle hospitals. Thousands of patients,
were treated at these facilities where a ward's roof consisted
of overhead vegetation.
Like their war-fighting male counterparts, the nurses
kept working despite dwindling medical supplies, inadequate
facilities and lack of food. Many kept performing duties
while suffering from dysentery and malaria themselves.
Norman chronicles the heartache of broken promises of
support and reinforcements for the allies on Bataan and
the final decision to surrender the peninsula. The nurses
were immediately ordered to retreat to Corregidor.
They went hesitantly.
"Lucy Wilson was assisting in the operating room
when the orders reached her. 'Walking out in the middle
of an operation with hundreds lined up under the trees
waiting for surgery was devastating to me. This I have
to live with for the rest of my life."'
"The women said nothing to their patients, but lying
there in their bamboo beds or on the wet jungle floor,
the patients knew. Everyone knew. 'Those eyes,' said Minnie
Breese. 'Those eyes just followed us.'"
Norman goes on to relate the fall of Corregidor and the
fate of the nurses. A handful were able to escape by sea-plane,
but the rest were transported to camps were they remained
under harsh conditions -sickness, malnutrition, rape and
brutality - until the Philippines were liberated by Allied
Throughout the book Norman does more than simply chronicle
the nurse's experiences.
She provides examples of public perceptions of women serving
in a combat area. She offers journal entries and writings
from male soldiers giving their views on women so close
to the front lines. Norman relates some of the nurses'
objections to how Hollywood depicted them and points out
falsehoods reported about the Nurses by the media of the
Norman includes a fitting description of the nurses by
General Jonathan Wainwright, leader of the American troops
in the Philippines at the fall of Corregidor.
"You may talk all you want of the pioneer women who
went across the plains of early America and helped found
our great nation...but never forget the American girls
who fought on Bataan and later on Corregidor. Theirs had
been a life of conveniences and even luxury. But their
hearts were the same hearts as those of the women of early
America. Their names must always be hallowed when we speak
of American heroes. The memory of their coming ashore
on Corregidor that early morning of April 9, (1942) dirty,
disheveled, some of them wounded from the hospital bombings
- and every last one of them with her chin up in the air
- is a memory that can never be erased."
"We Band of Angels" is a must read for anyone
who wants to understand the hardships and sacrifices experienced
by American service members in the Philippines during
World War II. For her efforts in writing "We Band
of Angels," Norman received the Lavinia Dock Award
for historical scholarship, the American Academy of Nursing
National Media Award, and the Agnes Dillon Randolph Award.
"We Band of Angels" is available from Simon
and Shuster Publishing. For more information visit www.simonsays.com.