1. Carlson, Elizabeth A.

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In a past Resource Center column (January/February 2020 issue, pp 64-65), I reviewed books about nurses during the Civil War. This led me to seek out a book about nurses who served in World War II (WWII). There are many books both autobiographical and historical. I selected And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2003 (reissued in 2007). $30.00 hardcover, $18.00 paperback, and 13.00 e-book. 514 pages. This book has an Introduction by the authors, a prologue, five parts, notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, and index. Numerous photographs are included.


I found this book to be more engrossing and interesting than I had expected it to be. Both authors served as military nurses: Monahan served in the Women's Army Corps and Neidel-Greenlee served in the Navy Nurse Corps on active duty. They are coauthors (with Agnes Jensen Mangerich) of two other books about military nurses serving in combat. I plan to read these two books and expect them to be just as interesting and engaging as And If I Perish.


This book describes the role played by U.S. Army nurses during World War II (WWII) during the invasion of North Africa to the Italian campaign to the decisive battles in France and the Rhineland. The entire book is replete with stories of the day-to-day actions of the nurses caring for the injured and the personal hardships and friendships that developed.


The book's prologue begins with a letter from Lt. Frances L. Nash, who took the oath of service in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in November 1935 joining fewer than 600 U.S. Army nurses on active duty. When Lt. Nash was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines in May 1942, the number of women army nurses on active duty had increased to more than 12,000. By the end of WWII, 59,000 nurses would volunteer to serve.


In the 1930s, nursing was not considered a vocation for women of "good character" due to its demeaning physical labor and "unwholesome" mingling of the sexes. However, jobs were hard to obtain in the 1930s and with the possibility of an approaching war, nursing journals carried advertisements for the U.S. Army and Navy Nurse Corps. The requirements were stringent and the preparation of the nurses to serve in a combat zone seemingly nonexistent. But the nation needed nurses to care for the troops and nurses volunteered.


Part 1 chronicles the North Africa Campaign. It describes how 57 female nurses of the 48th Surgical Hospital landed with D-Day forces in North Africa.


[D-Day North Africa] was the first [and last] time in the nations' history that women nurses would land with assault troops on the initial day of an invasion. These army nurses would share all the danger of the combat zone without the benefits of full military rank, with little military training, and with only half the salary paid to male officers. (p. 20)


These nurses, "unarmed and without the benefit of rigorous military training, climbed down ropes and ladders into to land craft that took them, alongside the fighting men, onto the beaches of French North Africa" (p. 23)


The four chapters in Part 1 detail how the nurses cared for the injured during and after battles. The nurses' stories are based on interviews with and letters from the nurses who served. The reader learns how underprepared the military was for the casualties and how the nurses, doctors, and corpsmen adapted and jerry-rigged missing supplies and facilities. In Chapter 4, preparations for the invasion of Italy are described. By then, 50,000 more army nurses were needed. The recruitment role of the Red Cross and nursing organizations is described.


Part 2 is the Italian Campaign. There were three invasions: onto the island of Sicily, the shores of Salerno, and the beaches of Anzio. You get a flavor of what the nurses encountered, endured, and the toughness and resiliency they demonstrated by the title of Chapter 5: "Nurses in the Sicilian Campaign: Tough Enough for Patton's Army." The deliberate sinking of a hospital ship by the Germans is in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 recounts the battles from Salerno to Gustav Line and begins with a quote about how hard nurses work and how willing the nurses were to get to the front lines to care for casualties and that once they were on the front lines, they refused to leave.


Chapter 8 is about the invasion of Anzio. The battles of Anzio were some of the bloodiest battles in WWII and are commemorated at the U.S. Naval Academy due to the sacrifices made. The Commander of the Fifth Army, Italy, 1944, stated,


The nurses were tremendous builders of morale at a time when it badly needed building. They went about their work wearing helmets and facing danger as great as anyone else on the beachhead. They worked with the doctors and in the operating rooms through bombardment of all kinds, day and night. It seemed to me that they were among the real heroes of Anzio. (p. 238)


Chapters 9 and 10 describe the stalemate on Anzio Beach and the final breakthrough and movement to Rome.


Part 3 is the Liberation of France and continues to describe the heroics and hard work of the army nurses. In Part 4, the Conquest of Germany, Chapter 14, "the Battle of the Bulge," describes the nurses who volunteered to remain behind with the nontransportable patients when the Army withdrew to regroup, knowing what could result if they were captured by the Germans. Chapter 15 is about the Battle of the Rhineland. Unfortunately, during this time period, miscommunication led public opinion in the United States to believe that American nurses were shirking their duty and not volunteering for war service. Chapter 16 discusses the surrender of Germany, including the liberation of the concentration camps at Dachau and Nordhausen. Nurses, doctors, and corpsmen tried to help the victims and the stories are heartbreaking.


The book concludes with an "Epilogue: Forgetting and Remembering" containing personal remembrances and thoughts by the authors. They discuss how WWII changed the trajectory of women's lives forever. They detail the inequities for veteran nurses compared with soldiers despite the fact that many nurses served in combat zones and won the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Purple Heart. Veteran benefits were not available to nurses and veterans hospitals did not provide gynecologists. The fight for recognition and change continued until 1982. The epilogue ends with a summary of what happened to the nurses chronicled in this book after the war.


I really enjoyed reading this book. It gave me an appreciation for the actions nurses took to ensure freedom and how their actions influenced my opportunities as a nurse. I highly recommend this book.


As I looked for another book to review, I learned that the same authors had written about nurses in the Pacific, specifically those captured by the Japanese. This reminded me of a nurse I worked with more than 40 years ago who told me her father had been a prisoner of war taken by the Japanese. His internment was so horrific that he forbade anyone in his family to purchase anything made in Japan. I wondered whether the nurses and doctors had received similar treatment.


Unfortunately, based on what I read, it was as bad. All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese, by Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee. Copyright 2000. The University of Kentucky Press. 530 pages. This book has a preface, 11 chapters, eight appendices notes, bibliography, and index. Numerous photographs are included. Audiobook from $11.36 and book from $3.99 used.


The first two chapters recount the life in the military in the Pacific prewar. Once the war with Japan begins, you learn of how ill-prepared the military was to care for the wounded. Chapters 3-10 recount the mistreatment of anyone captured including nurses and doctors. The use of starvation and lack of basic living conditions were used as a weapon and as the war progressed the situations became increasingly desperate. The commitment to the wounded and sick people by the nurses and doctors is awe-inspiring. They cared for all included wounded Japanese. The last two chapters recount the liberation and the terror inflicted on the internees by the Japanese as American forces approached is sickening. Once liberated, the nurses were lauded as heroes but also told that they needed to become womanly again and not to speak of what they encountered. Only in late 1982 and early 1983 did the recognition deserved by these women as former prisoner of wars come to light.


I am glad I read this book as well. Ironically, this review was developed while COVID-19 restrictions were in place. At 2 weeks of sheltering at home, I was feeling sorry for myself. Then I read this book and realized that these nurses were in hell for 3 years. That put the current situation in perspective for me.


I highly recommend both of these books. The nurses showed their grit as are the nurses in today's pandemic. We should be proud to be part of this profession.