Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee

Synopsis: A galvanizing narrative of the wartime role played by U.S. Army nurses—from the invasion of North Africa to the bloody Italian campaign to the decisive battles in France and the Rhineland. More than 59,000 nurses volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps alone: 217 lost their lives (16 by enemy action), and more than 1,600 were decorated for meritorious service and bravery under fire. But their stories have rarely been heard. Now, drawing on never-before-published eyewitness accounts—many heroic, some mundane and comic—Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee take us to the front lines, to the withering fire on the beaches of Anzio and Normandy, and to the field and evacuation hospitals, as well as bombed and burned hospital ships. We witness the nurses—and the doctors with whom they served—coping with the physical and psychological damage done to the soldiers in combat. We see them working—often with only meager supplies and overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties—to save the lives and limbs of thousands of wounded troops. With them we experience the almost constant packing up and moving on to keep up with advancing troops, foxholes dug under camp beds, endless mud, and treacherous minefields. The vividness and immediacy of their recollections provide us with a powerfully visceral, deeply affecting sense of their experiences—terrifying and triumphant, exhausting and exhilarating.
A reveling work that at last gives voice to the nurses who played such an essential role in World War II.

Review: After reading this, my foremost thought was why is this information not taught in elementary or middle school? Why is the contribution of these brave women not part of our basic history? I learned more about World War II reading this book than in any history course in my 16 years of formal education.
With clear and passionate prose, Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee take the reader through the history of American nurses in the North African and European theatre during World War II. It begins with D-Day in Northern Africa, when Allied troops (mostly British and American) landed in Algeria and French Morocco. It was the first and only time that nurses went ashore at the same time as the first wave of soldiers (with D-Day in Italy and France, the nurses were sent in two-three days behind the initial forces). The history ends with the surrender of Germany two years later, as the nurses emerged from the exhausted trek from the shores of Normandy to the dense forests of Germany.
It’s hard to explain what these nurses went through – cold that froze water in their cups in Africa, near constant shelling in Anzio, shifting battle lines in Germany, lack of food and sleep, working with low supplies, disrespectful colleges and commanders, and always, surrounded by suffering, pain, and death. Yet, they preserved. Even when they had ships sink under them, tents explode over then, beloved friends died from shrapnel, and had their husbands and boyfriends killed far from them, they preserved. Even when called upon to stay and face almost certain capture, they volunteered. Not one asked to go home, but always forward, always towards the danger, determined to support the men who fought.
Yet, they were not awarded Veteran status when they returned home, nor where they given Veteran benefits. They were often excluded, mocked, shunned, or treated as second-class despite their braver service. It wasn’t until the last twenty year that the US Government stepped up and recognized their sacrifice. Thankfully, Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee have preserved their story for future generations.
I highly recommend, particularly if you have young girls. It is a must for all women to know our heritage.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-375-41514-9
Year Published: 2003
Date Finished: 3-26-17
Pages: 514

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