Dorothy Still Danner
Nurse Corp, U.S. Navy
Recollections of LT Dorothy Still Danner, NC, USN,
captured by the Japanese in Manila and imprisoned at Santo
Thomas and Los Banos in the Philippines.
Adapted from: "Dorothy Still Danner:
Reminiscences of a Nurse POW." Navy Medicine 83,
no. 3 (May-June 1992): 36-40
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I never had any childhood dreams of being a nurse. I thought
I wanted to be a dress designer, but along came the depression.
I became a nurse because my mother liked nursing and the
LA County General Hospital paid the nurses a little stipend.
She took me there and the next thing I knew I was a student
nurse. I really loved nursing and found it a very satisfying
profession. That was in 1932 and I was 18 years old.
After graduating from nursing school I worked in two hospitals
before joining the Navy in 1937. At that time, there were
only 400 nurses in the Navy. I really didn't expect to
be hired so I was really surprised when I got my orders
to go to the San Diego Naval Hospital for a physical.
The next thing I knew I was in the Navy.
My first assignment was at Balboa Hospital in San Diego.
Oh, it was beautiful! From the pink building sitting up
on the hill, you could look down over the harbor and see
all those Navy ships out there and feel very important
as part of Uncle Sam's Navy. I spent 1938 and 1939 in
In 1939 I was sent to the Canacao Naval Hospital in the
Philippines. I traveled across the Pacific on the [transport
USS] Henderson [AP-1]. It was a festive trip. We first
stopped at Honolulu. I can still see the people on the
dock there with their lais and the hula dancers. Then
we spent 2 or 3 days going around the islands.
Although the Philippines was not quite as spectacular
as Hawaii I became very fond of the base there anyway.
The Navy Yard was just across Manila Bay about a half
mile away. It was a very active social life. There were
always parties and, of course, the nurses got involved
along with everybody else.
Our social concerns were put on the back burner when the
dependents were sent home around the first of 1941. While
we heard about the rape of Nanking, nobody thought the
Japs would be silly enough to try and do anything to Uncle
Pearl Harbor shocked me as it did everyone else. I and
the other nurses were awakened in the middle of the night
and told that Pearl Harbor had been hit. We were sent
to the hospital as soon as we got dressed. Since the hospital
was right in the target zone, we sent all the ambulatory
patients back to duty and the rest to Manila. Arrangements
were made to admit the patients to what had been a dependents
ward at the Sternberg Army Hospital.
On Wednesday the 10th, the Navy Yard was bombed. It was
wiped out. This raid lasted about an hour. After the raid,
we rushed to the hospital, and patients were all over
the place. There were Filipino women, children, and men
and our own people from the Navy Yard. It was really a
shocking scene. The power to the hospital was knocked
out. It was a pretty hectic afternoon. Triage was impossible.
You just tried to find out which were the worst ones to
go to surgery and so on.
Sternberg Hospital too was quickly swamped. The only place
that was available was Estado Mayor, an old Army base;
we used the barracks as a temporary hospital. In the meantime,
they decided to set up joint surgical teams (with Army
and Navy Medical Corps) throughout the city. I was with
the group assigned to the Jai Alai Club. Our purpose was
to care for anyone that was hit - civilian or military
- that would come into these emergency centers. We set
up a little receiving station near the front of the building,
but didn't get any patients.
After spending a few weeks there, we were told to move
to the Santa Scholastica school, also in Manila. The Army
had already converted it into a hospital. Actually, we
had more hospital personnel than patients. On December
31, the Army evacuated al the Army patients on a hospital
ship and took them to Australia.
Meanwhile, the Army was retreating toward Bataan to make
a stand there. The military declared Manila an open city
and retreated, but the medical personnel remained.
On 2 January, the Japanese came into Manila, but didn't
come to Santa Scholastica until a few days later. At first
the Japanese were not hostile and mostly left us alone.
But then they started taking quinine from us. Then they
took our beds and mattresses. They also began to slap
around and beat up the men. But they ignored us - the
When the Japanese came they rounded up all the Allied
civilians and sent them to the University of Santo Tomas.
Although there were some 66 classrooms in the main building,
there were still too many people. It was just a mess.
The toilet facilities were overwhelmed and sickness began
almost overnight. With Japanese permission, the civilians
formed an administration committee and appointed a leader.
Soon the civilians set up a school for the children, entertainment,
and a newsletter, among other things. Santo Tomas was
used as a model by the Japanese. They allowed the Swiss
delegates to see Santo Tomas, not the POW camps or the
other civilian camps.
I was sent to Santo Tomas on March 8, 1942. However, the
medical facilities there were still lacking. There was
a little hospital set up in what had been a mechanical
engineering building. The doctors brought in medicine
from their offices. A lot of lab technicians and pharmacists
apparently had their own means of bringing drugs in then
through Red Cross funds. By the time we got there, they
had revamped the rest rooms and had put in showers.
Soon Santo Tomas became too crowded as the Japanese kept
bringing people in. They decided to move part of the camp
out of Manila. Therefore. they selected a site near the
town of Los Banos to house some of the overflow.
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