We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese

Elizabeth M. Norman, Author Random House (NY) $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-50245-3
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)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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