Military nurses

veteran’s corner

Tom Krabbenhoft

It’s my girlfriend Shannon’s birthday this week. This column is for her. She joined the National Guard and became a combat medic. It was a great step towards her becoming a fantastic nurse. Her sister Michelle and her daughters are all nurses. What a dedicated family that’s devoted to help people.

When it comes to nurses we all know the names Barton and Nightingale. I found a group of nurses whose sacrifice, gritty determination and toughness matches any tale.

Barton founder of the Red Cross is still providing comfort around the World.

Japanese success in early WW2 had them sweeping across the Philippines which was occupied by Americans. They captured 27,000 military and civilian POWs. Among these were 77 military nurses. The largest capture of US women ever. They became known as the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.” They were held captive from 1942-1945 and incredibly not a single one of them died. The Japanese and Americans both used them as propaganda. The Japanese to hail their victories and the US to inspire revenge and recruiting.

The nurses were placed in Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila. Japanese camps were horrendous as was this one. It was a cesspool of 6,000 POWs in overcrowded conditions.  The nurses established the Santa Catalina hospital in the camp. They stemmed epidemics and launched public health campaigns while treating sickness, accidents and malnourished people with virtually no supplies. The weight loss due to starvation averaged 32 percent. The nurses fought to not only save others but themselves.

The nurse’s leadership was credited with the survival of so many.

Chief Nurse Captain Maude C. Davison was 57 years old at the time of her capture. She had decades of nursing under her belt including service in WW1.

2nd in command was Lt.  Josie Nesbit, 47 years old at the time of her capture.

Under the leadership of these two, they established a routine for the nurses. They scheduled daily routines setting up four hour shifts. Mind you they performed these shifts while they were POWs.

This gave the nurses purpose and a reason to survive. Their heroic actions saved countless thousands. They no doubt provided comfort for thousands more.

In 2001 Maude Davison was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Asked about her time as POW helping others Lt. Col. Madeline Ullom replied:

“I don’t consider myself a hero. None of us do.”

Typical nurse reply.

Why these brave nurses have remained largely unheralded is a shame. Their actions are as courageous as any other tale of wartime adversity.

Check out Elizabeth Normans book “We band of Angels” for more on this.

Happy birthday Shannon.

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