The Unstoppable Nursing Angels 1942-1945

The Unstoppable Nursing Angels 1942-1945

Date Posted:8 April 2024 

 Elizabeth M Collins, Soldiers Magazine. 

The "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor," a group of 77 American military nurses, became legendary for their lifesaving care of civilian POWs in the Santo Tomas and Los Baños Internment Camps from 1942-1945.

This heroic tale began on April 8, 1942, when Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the U.S. Army in the Philippines, ordered the evacuation of nurses to Corregidor. A month later, Corregidor fell, and these nurses were captured by the Japanese, making them the largest group of female prisoners of war.

General Douglas MacArthur had ordered a retreat to the jungles of the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, where they hoped to hold out for reinforcements that never came, as Elizabeth M. Collins detailed in Soldiers Magazine.

A makeshift hospital ship, staffed by an Army nurse, managed to escape, but the gravely wounded were left behind with 11 Navy nurses in Manila. Between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Army nurses braved heavy fire, becoming the first American military nurses on the battlefield, donning fatigues and combat boots for the first time in U.S. military history.

On Bataan, Hospital 1 consisted of 29 bamboo and grass sheds. Under relentless air raids and fierce combat, doctors and nurses performed 187 major surgeries in a single 24-hour period on January 16, 1942, as recounted by Elizabeth M. Norman, author of "We Band of Angels."

Hospital 2, located inland, offered no protection from mosquitoes, leading to widespread malaria and dengue fever among the wounded, soldiers, and nurses. Flies contaminated food and water, causing dysentery.

Food was scarce, and soldiers fought on just 1,000 calories a day. They resorted to eating cavalry horses, water buffalo, and even monkeys. Nurses, sick and exhausted, continued to work, with one senior nurse directing her staff from a cot despite being bedridden with malaria.

Despite being injured by shrapnel during a bombing, two nurses quickly returned to duty. Their bravery inspired the troops to keep fighting, but by April, the Japanese were closing in. On April 8, 1942, Lt. Gen. Wainwright ordered the nurses to Corregidor for their safety. They reluctantly left their 8,800 patients, escaping under sniper fire and explosions.

The Japanese used hospital patients as human shields and forced soldiers on the infamous Bataan Death March, where nearly 20,000 Americans and Filipinos perished. The nurses felt haunted by leaving their patients behind.

On Corregidor, they set up a hospital in the Malinta Tunnel, which shook continuously from bombs and artillery fire. Food and medical supplies ran low again.

Japanese soldiers were known for raping women they conquered, and Wainwright wanted the nurses off the island. He managed to evacuate 22 Army nurses and one Navy nurse to Australia, but the remaining 56 were stranded and eventually captured.

The Japanese assaulted Corregidor's beaches relentlessly. On May 6, Wainwright surrendered, fearing mass murder in the tunnels packed with wounded. Nurses, expecting to die, wrote their names on a bed sheet. The Japanese, shocked to find women in uniform, did not molest or kill them. Instead, they were moved to the Santo Tomas internment camp, joining 11 Navy nurses already there.

These resilient nurses, whom Lt. Ruby G. Bradley described in an article for the Army's Office of Medical History, made sutures from hemp and sterilized instruments in ovens. Interned chemists created a paste from rubber trees to hold bandages. The nurses saw everything from childbirth to heart attacks and even performed a mastectomy in camp.

As Japan began losing the war, food supplies dwindled. By early 1945, they were surviving on 700 calories a day. The nurses could do little but make their patients comfortable as they starved.

On the night of February 3, 1945, the 1st Cavalry Division and 44th Tank Battalion liberated the Santo Tomas camp, sparking wild celebrations. The Navy nurses at Los Baños were freed on February 22. Despite their own severe malnutrition and illness, the nurses immediately cared for wounded American soldiers until relieved by a fresh unit.

After liberation, they were celebrated as heroines, receiving promotions and the Bronze Star. Two nurses were awarded the Purple Heart. Their 100-percent survival rate remains unmatched.

Though many struggled with long-term health issues and post-traumatic stress, these women remained heroes. As Cantrell said, "These women are my heroes. They are our heroes as nurses. Some of the things we do today are because of women like them."



One of World War IIÕs heroic stories began on April 8, 1942 when Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, the commander of the U.S. Army in the Philippines, ordered the evacuation of military and civilian nurses to the island of Corregidor. A month later, Corregidor fell and 77 American nurses were captured by the Japanese, becoming the