NM Times
Military Experience
Pacific Theater
Lieutenant 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 San Diego.

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 Sam.

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 nurses.

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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