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We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese Paperback – May 1, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 329 customer reviews

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"Found worms in my oatmeal this morning. I shouldn't have objected because they had been sterilized in the cooking and I was getting fresh meat with my breakfast.... I'm still losing weight and so are most of us..."

Ruth Marie Straub, an Army nurse, wrote those words in her diary on March 15, 1942, just over three months after the Japanese first bombed the U.S. military base in Manila. She and her colleagues had evacuated the city and established, in the Philippine jungle, hospitals for the skyrocketing numbers of casualties. In the face of the advancing Japanese Army, the nurses and other military personnel continued to retreat, first to the Bataan Peninsula, and then to Corregidor, a rocky island in Manila Bay. Straub was one of the lucky ones; she was evacuated with a handful of other nurses in April 1942. Her remaining colleagues, meanwhile, surrendered with the rest of the U.S. forces in May and were taken to STIC--Santo Tomas Internment Camp, where they were to spend nearly three years in captivity.

We Band of Angels tells the stories of these courageous women, tagged by the American media as "The Angels of Bataan and Corregidor." Utilizing a wide range of sources, including diaries, letters, and personal interviews with surviving "Angels," Elizabeth M. Norman has compiled a harrowing narrative about the experiences of these women--from the country-club atmosphere of prewar Manila; to the jungle hospitals where patients slept on bamboo cots in the open air; to the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor, where they choked on dust and worked while the bombs rained down above them; to the STIC, where per-person rations were cut to 900 calories a day and the women resorted to frying weeds in cold cream for food. The story Nelson tells is compelling but slightly flawed: like many biographers, Nelson has a deep affection and respect for her subjects, which causes her to soften rough edges. At the same time, however, Nelson argues that these women were not heroes--nor were they angels (in the acknowledgments, Nelson notes that she didn't want the word angels in the title, but the publishers had their way). Perhaps because Nelson is a nurse herself, she is trying to stress that her profession is noble and that these women were, in a sense, just fulfilling their duties.

Nursing is noble, of course, but it is clear that these women were something special. Amazingly, all of the Angels of Bataan, some 99 in number, survived their ordeal--and clearly helped hundreds of the other sufferers survive. We Band of Angels deserves a space on the bookshelves of anyone interested in World War II. --C.B. Delaney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Later Printing edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671787187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671787189
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Just read a new book "We Band of Angels" and it is quite high on my recommended reading list for any of you interested in military women's stories. It is heartwarming and at the same time heartbreaking. Told in a style that puts the reader directly into the lives of these valiant nurses - it takes you on a journey through the horrors of World War Two in the Pacific - as if you were there. The author draws you into the Malinta Tunnel underground hospital on Corregidor and describes the almost superhuman endurance of the military nurses working there to save their patients - and she does it with balanced style. She reveals their triumphs and their humor, along with the dreary and miserable conditions under which they worked. When the Japanese capture the nurses and send them to Santo Tomas internment camp you journey with them through their three years as prisoners and their ultimate liberation. The author, Dr Elizabeth Norman, has done a remarkable job - using interviews, diaries, letters, and a wealth of research - in telling this story that has been hidden by history. America seems to forget that women are veterans too - Dr Norman has helped remind them.
Barbara A. Wilson, Capt. USAF (Ret)
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Format: Hardcover
I, too, read Elizabeth Norman's book, We Band of Angels, The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese, over the Memorial Day weekend. She did a masterful job in her research and writing to retell this unique story about this group of America's military nurses and their dedication to duty. This story is unique in American military history, in that in no other instance in our history has this number of military women, been taken captive, held as POWs for almost three years, and all survive. However, it is not unique in its demonstration of military nurses' dedication to honor and duty.
The facts in the book speaks loudly to many of today's societal debates, but to Norman's credit, she chose not to get into what many of us euphemistically term "pissing battles of bias". She tells the story of this historical event and its impact on the women who experienced it. She let the story stand on its own merits for anyone who reads it.
Am I biased in undertaking this review of her book? To an extent, yes. I am a retired Army Nurse Corps officer, who worked with, or served under some of the women about whom Norman has written, and who we both tremendously admire. I have also had opportunity to know perhaps more about the blueprint of her story than most of the public-at-large. She has done a masterful job. Had she not, I would not have given her the time of day. Norman's research and interviews led her to more details about this historical event than many of us were aware and has interwoven them into the story in a manner that cleared up some of its mysteries.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic book that tells the heroism of our troops abondoned in the Phillipines and how they held out for 5 months under austeure conditions. All this is told through the eyes of the 80-90 Army and Navy nurses who worked under battlefield conditions to minister to the sick and wounded. There were no front and rear areas on Bataan and Corregidor and these nurses performed supurlative feats with all manner of bombs dropping around them constantly, snipers, friendly fire and the ever present threat of capture and mis-treatment from the Japanese Army. This needs to be made into a "Saving Private Ryan" quality movie to further celebrate their outstanding accomplishments and to tell a story that our government may not want told.
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Format: Paperback
I couldn't put this book down. What a great story, and I am so glad someone wrote it. Well researched, and written. It's expecially meaningful to me as my brother was killed on February 3rd, 1945 while liberating Santo Tomas POW Camp. He was part of the 1st Cav Division "flying column", that were ordered to "go around the Nips","Free the internees and Santo Tomas." As a young kid at the time I was proud of what he did, I'm even prouder now. This book brings home the point that his death server a higher purpose. I'd like to thank the author for personalizing this for me. Some of our men died to take a "hill", "objective", all worthwhile objectives, but in this case it was human. "Greater love hath no man.......
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Format: Hardcover
Wherever war strikes there are women who sacrificially rise to the needs of the moment to help others survive. The nurses in We Band of Angels are exemplary. Based in the idyllic Philippines, they found themselves very quickly in the throes of hardship. From evacuation to jungle survival, field hospital trauma and starvation, things went from bad to worse. Finally the harsh reality of prison camp under unsympathetic captors. This is their story of survival. I like this book because it describes part of American history mostly neglected in history books. If you like this book I also recommend In the Shadow of the Rising Sun, an even more harrowing true story telling it from an American POW's view.
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