Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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

Synopsis: In the fall of 1941, the Philippines was a gardenia-scented paradise for the American Army and Navy nurses stationed there. War was a distant rumor, life a routine of easy shifts and dinners under the stars. On December 8 all that changed, as Japanese bombs began raining down on American bases in Luzon, and this paradise became a fiery hell. Caught in the raging battle, the nurses set up field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan and the tunnels of Corregidor, where they tended to the most devastating injuries of war, and suffered the terrors of shells and shrapnel.
But the worst was yet to come. After Bataan and Corregidor fell, the nurses were herded into internment camps where they would endure three years of fear, brutality, and starvation. Once liberated, they returned to an America that at first celebrated them, but later refused to honor their leaders with the medals they clearly deserved. Here, in letters, diaries, and riveting firsthand accounts, is the story of what really happened during those dark days, woven together in a deeply affecting saga of women in war. (from the back of the book)

Review: Why isn’t this book required reading for all students in school? Seriously. Not only does is cover a vital portion of history, one often over-looked (like the history of the Japanese expansion that lead to the war in the Pacific), but it covers the attitude towards women during the World War and the origins of the Feminist Movement that would sweep America in the 1960s and 70s. It also covers the tactics that decided the fate of so many during the early days of the war in the Pacific, the reason we fought, the reason it cost us so much in blood to win, and the price we paid for it.
These women deserved more than just the lip-service recognition they received. Many were simply looking for adventure, romance, and an easy job in the tropics. What they got was nearly four years of hell, tending wounded with no supplies, interned under the harshest conditions, suffering for debilitating injuries and disease exasperated by starvation and neglect – and yet, thru all of their suffering, they thought first of their patients and last of themselves.  
After their rescue, they were paraded around, used as propaganda until the end of the war, then forgotten and shoved aside. Many suffered life-long ailments from the injuries and starvation they went through during their incarceration. These women paved the way for their daughters and sisters to stand up and demanded the recognition, the opportunities, the fair treatment that many of us enjoy today. Without their demonstration of the courage, strength, and intelligence, many of us would not have the life we have today. They are heroines many times over and worth remembering and honoring.
This ought to be required reading for all high school students. Not only does Norman explain the politics and events that lead to the American involvement in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, but she puts names and faces to the women who served under the most horrendous conditions.  This book brings together so many aspects vital to understanding this time on American History, and can start a dozen conversations in a dozen directions.
Norman’s prose is lively, concise, full of facts, but never dull. She is a thorough and reliable historian, with the sources for her assertions listed diligently in the back. Full of first-hand testimony, rigorous culling of historical documents, and personal papers of the very women who served, this is an excellent book in both scholarship and subject. Vital reading for all of us. 

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: Lavinia Dock Award for Historical Scholarship, American Academy of Nursing National Media Award, Agnes Dillion Randolph Award

ISBN: 0-671-78718-7
Year Published: 1999
Date Finished: 3-1-2017
Pages: 327

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