Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2/25/2014
A typical American history class might overlook 79 nurses captured by the Japanese and held prisoner in the Philippines during World War II. The collective history of these remarkable women only came to light for Mary Cronk Farrell in a paper her cousin had written in nursing school.
The award-winning journalist and author hoped to do justice to their story in Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, released by Abrams Books for Young Readers this week.
When Cronk Farrell started to write the book, Mildred Dalton Manning was the only surviving member of the group of combat nurses known as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor. A highlight of her research for Pure Grit was interviewing Dalton Manning and the sons and daughters of the other Army and Navy nurses.
Readers are drawn into the story as the new enlistees arrive in Manila with few concerns other than adventure and romance. Ethel Thor reports for duty as an operating room scrub nurse at the U.S. Army Sternberg General Hospital in Manila as Gen. Douglas MacArthur begins his newly formed command in the Philippines.
“Ethel didn’t know that MacArthur expected Japan to attack the Philippines. She didn’t know Japan was churning out Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes—faster, more maneuverable and with bigger guns than any planes Americans had ever seen.”
Cronk Farrell never sentimentalizes or sensationalizes what these women endured after the Japanese bombed the islands on December 8, 1941. She writes of the agony of witnessing war atrocities and about caring for soldiers and civilians in primitive conditions as medicine and supplies dwindled and bombs landed terrifyingly close by.
According to Cronk Farrell, their service would become an extraordinary test of grit even after their liberation and homecoming. She writes how the media, Army and Navy officials and even their own communities often silenced them when they tried to share the depth of their injuries, both physical and psychological.
“After four grim years of war, Americans wanted heroines to raise their spirits. But no framework existed in the 1940s for people to understand women who had acted with enduring courage and strength on the battlefield and as prisoners of war—women who had acted like men.”
YA readers will become familiar with areas of conflict in the Pacific like Manila, the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island. A list of U.S. military nurses serving in the Philippines and a timeline covering the events in the book accompany the endnotes as interesting reference tools. Photos of nurses under fire, in retreat or imprisoned by the enemy in Pure Grit are tinted blue and set off among striking red and white design elements.
Cronk Farrell’s informative and readable history might prompt interesting classroom inquiry and discussion of issues relevant to women in military service. How far have we come in treating PTSD where there is a lack of research about its effects on women veterans? Are disability compensation and healthcare benefits denied to some veterans groups who have admirably served our country? Why did it take so long to acknowledge and honor the contributions and sacrifices of these particular women?
Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell is a highly worthwhile read and a first-rate history for YA readers on the experiences of combat nurses serving valiantly in the Philippines during World War II.
Category: YA Nonfiction, Women's History