Cover image for We band of angels : the untold story of American nurses trapped on Bataan by the Japanese
We band of angels : the untold story of American nurses trapped on Bataan by the Japanese
Norman, Elizabeth M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 327 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D807.U6 N58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D807.U6 N58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D807.U6 N58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"This is a gripping book. Elizabeth Norman presents a war story in which the main characters never kill one of the enemy, or even shoot at him, but are nevertheless heroes. . . . First on Bataan, then moved to Corregidor, they were under almost constant shell fire, were always hungry, close to starvation, had horrendous diseases to deal with despite a shortage or even a complete lack of proper medicines, getting little or no sleep, nothing in the way of recreation--yet they were a true band of angels, inspiring all the men whom they were there to help. In a squalid prison camp, they remained giants, despite their small size. . . . They were the bravest of the brave, who endured unspeakable pain and torture. Americans today should thank God we had such women."     --Stephen E. Ambrose We Band of Angelsis the story of women searching for adventure, caught up in the drama and danger of war.          On the same day the Japanese Imperial Navy launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, it also struck American bases in the Far East, chief among them the Philippines. That raid led to the first major land battle for America in World War II and, in the end, to the largest defeat and surrender of American forces. Caught up in all of this were ninety-nine Army and Navy nurses--the first unit of American women ever sent into the middle of a battle.          The "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor"--as the newspapers called them--became the only group of American women captured and imprisoned by an enemy. And the story of their trials on a bloody battlefield, their desperate flight to avoid capture and their ultimate surrender, imprisonment, liberation and homecoming is a story of endurance, professionalism and raw pluck.          Along the way, they helped build and staff hospitals in the middle of a malaria-infested jungle on the peninsula of Bataan. Then, short of supplies and medicine, they worked around the clock in the operating rooms and open-air wards, dealing with gaping wounds and gangrenous limbs, ministering to the wounded, the sick, the dying.          A few fell in love, only to lose their men to the enemy. Finally, on the tiny island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, the Japanese took them prisoner. For three long years in an internment camp--years marked by loneliness and starvation--they kept to their mission and stuck together. In the end, it was this loyalty, this sense of purpose, womanhood and honor, that both challenged and saved them.          Through interviews with survivors and through unpublished letters, diaries and journals, Elizabeth M. Norman vividly re-creates that time, telling the story in richly drawn portraits and in a dramatic narrative delivered in the voices of the women who were there.

Author Notes

Dr. Elizabeth M. Norman 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. The recipient of many honors and awards, she has written Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam and numerous articles. She is married and lives with her husband, Michael, and their two sons, Joshua and Benjamin, in New Jersey.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The best and worst in human behavior unite these books. Belton's subject may be the least familiar. Helen Bamber heads the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. Her organization's remarkable work is a fitting culmination for the career of Bamber--the child of a father who saw, more than many British Jews, fascism's threat; the young woman who joined the Jewish Relief Unit at Belsen after the war, first realizing there the importance of listening to those who have lived through hell, then worked with refugees and teenaged concentration camp survivors in England; the wife and mother who worked with physicians and medical researchers while serving as one of the most active volunteers at Britain's Amnesty International chapter; and, finally, the founder of the organization that offers medical and psychological support (including listening) while agitating for an end to torture around the world. Torture is one of our global society's dirty little secrets; the narratives of individuals Bamber has worked with, which Belton, a Granta editor, included here will convince readers of the need to take action against this scourge. British columnist Moorehead's fine track record (e.g., Bertrand Russell, 1993), plus the fact that she was the first researcher granted broad access to the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from the 1870s through the end of World War II, suggest Dunant's Dream will circulate. (Expect more interest if the planned BBC documentary series appears on PBS or A&E!) The 1859 Battle of Solferino led Swiss entrepreneur Dunant to dream of an international humanitarian group to set limits on warfare and care for combat casualties. Moorehead's narrative follows that dream, sketching the achievements and failures of this private corporation, still run by a small group of well-off Swiss citizens. Moorehead opens with ICRC's most visible lapse--its 1942 decision not to reveal what Nazi Germany was doing--but she devotes much attention to the organization's development and to the special challenges it has faced in recent decades (Biafra, Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya). A fascinating, compelling narrative. With Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation high on best-seller lists, We Band of Angels should appeal. Norman, a New York University nursing professor, ran into references to women in "combat" in World War II when she was researching a previous book on military nurses in Vietnam (Women at War, 1990). She confirmed the story and then tracked down as many of the survivors as she could. There were 99 army and navy nurses in the Philippines when it was attacked on 8 December 1941. As the troops retreated from Bataan to Corregidor, some two dozen nurses escaped, but 77 women were captured, held for three years in prison camps, and then repatriated to the U.S. Norman interviewed 20 of them (nearly 30 had died by 1990; nearly 60 by 1998) and vividly recreates their experiences. The "Battling Belles of Bataan" were portrayed (in highly fictionalized form, Norman points out) in the 1943 film So Proudly We Hail. Norman tells the story straight, following her interviewees from farm, town, or city to war and back. Involving oral history. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

When the Japanese took the Philippines during WWII, 77 American women, navy and army nurses, were caught on Bataan and later imprisoned by the Japanese. The few who escaped were cast by the American press more as belles than as professionals who had held steady in their devotion to their patients and their country in the face of bombing, starvation and the gruesome injuries and diseases of their charges. A headline in the New York Times, for instance, announced that in Corregidor, Hairpin Shortage Causes Women to Cut Hair. The 77 women left behind never received as much attention, and Norman (Women at War) tries set the record straight about exactly what the Angels of Battaan and Corregidor did throughout the war. The book derives from interviews with 20 of the 77 nurses who were captured and is at its best when it stays closest to their words and stories. Norman makes excellent use of extensive quotations from diaries and interviews. Her writing lags at moments, particularly when it drifts away from the specific experiences of the nurses. But Norman also captures moments of great couragefor instance, when a nurse refused an evacuation order until her superiors agreed that not just American, but also Filipino, nurses should be moved to safety. In one amusing anecdote, the nurses force a Japanese guard to shoot a monkey that has been harassing them and disrupting the hospital. But the true highlights come in the evocation of tears and sweat that went into the nurses daily struggle to maintain their tight communityand their dedication to their patientsin the face of overwhelming adversity. BOMC and History Book Club selections. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When the Japanese began their assault against Allied troops in the Philippines, a group of American nurses were caught in the crossfire. These women entered the service to build careers and travel the world, and none of them ever imagined they would see battle, let alone be held as POWs. Yet this is precisely what happened in December 1941 and early 1942, when the Philippines fell to Japan. During the initial months of the attack, the nurses were instrumental in setting up makeshift hospitals, first in the jungles of Bataan and later in the caves beneath Corregidor. Eventually, they were captured by the Japanese and sent to civilian POW camps at Santo Tomas and Los Baos, where they remained for the next three years. Norman (nursing, New York Univ.) tells their harrowing story through survivor interviews as well as letters and journals kept by the nurses during this time. Her book is a well-written account of an obscure piece of World War II history. Recommended.Roseanne Castellino, Arthur D. Little, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
Mapsp. xvii
1. Waking Up to Warp. 3
2. Manila Cannot Holdp. 16
3. Jungle Hospital #1p. 30
4. The Sick, the Wounded, the Work of Warp. 39
5. Waiting for the Help That Never Camep. 50
6. "There Must Be No Thought of Surrender"p. 67
7. Bataan Falls: The Wounded Are Left in Their Bedsp. 83
8. Corregidor--the Last Standp. 96
9. A Handful Go Homep. 112
10. In Enemy Handsp. 130
11. Santo Tomasp. 142
12. STIC, the First Year, 1942p. 158
13. Los Banos, 1943p. 169
14. Eating Weeds Fried in Cold Cream, 1944p. 183
15. And the Gates Came Crashing Downp. 201
16. "Home. We're Really Home."p. 219
17. Aftermathp. 233
18. Across the Yearsp. 243
Afterwordp. 261
Epiloguep. 266
Acknowledgmentsp. 269
Appendix I Chronology of Military Nurses in the Philippine Islands, 1940-1945p. 273
Appendix II The Nurses and Their Hometownsp. 279
Bibliographyp. 283
Endnotesp. 293
Indexp. 319