We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese by Elizabeth M. Norman
If you like history in general, or World War II tales, or stories of amazing women, do yourself a favor and check out this book. It’s an amazing account of American Army & Navy nurses who were serving in the Philippines when it was captured by the Japanese.
What had previously been a cushy duty station turned into a horrific test of endurance as they served under battle conditions to then end up imprisoned in Santo Tomas Internment Camp for almost three years.
The most engrossing parts of the book are the quotes from the diaries or interviews with the survivors – their tale is sobering yet inspiring. Norman brings to life the various personalities and the conditions in which they lived. This story should be better known, and I’m grateful to Norman for writing this book so that I could learn about it, and recommend it to others.
Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as a “grippingly told” story of “power and relevance,” here is the true, untold account of the first American women to prove their mettle under combat conditions. Later, during three years of brutal captivity at the hands of the Japanese, they also demonstrated their ability to survive. Filled with the thoughts and impressions of the women who lived it, “every page of this history is fascinating” (The Washington Post).
We Band of Angels
In the fall of 1941, the Philippines was a gardenia-scented paradise for the American Army and Navy nurses stationed there. War was a distant rumor, life a routine of easy shifts and evenings of dinner and dancing under the stars. On December 8 all that changed, as Japanese bombs rained on American bases in Luzon, and the women’s paradise became a fiery hell. Caught in the raging battle, the nurses set up field hospitals in the jungles of Bataan and the tunnels of Corregidor, where they saw the most devastating injuries of war, and suffered the terrors of shells and shrapnel.
But the worst was yet to come. As Bataan and Corregidor fell, a few nurses escaped, but most were herded into internment camps enduring three years of fear and starvation. Once liberated, they returned to an America that at first celebrated them, but later refused to honor their leaders with the medals they clearly deserved. Here, in letters, diaries, and firsthand accounts, is the story of what really happened during those dark days, woven together in a compelling saga of women in war.
If you like the whole nurses-at-war aspect of the story, Norman has also written Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam. Another account of nurses serving in World War II is Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II. If you want to know more about events on Bataan and it’s infamous Death March, Norman coauthored with her husband Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath. A disclaimer however: I haven’t read these three so I’m just listing them based on subject matter.
If you are interested in another tale of women interned by the Japanese, Song of Survival: Women Interned is a good choice, and The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother’s Wartime Courage is an amazing account of a mom and her children who were interned for nearly four years. It’s also written by the daughter who went through the events with her mom and brothers, so it’s especially powerful.
Finally, for an absolutely incredible narrative of faith under grueling circumstances, try Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II. Darlene Deibler Rose and her husband were missionaries in when they were captured by the Japanese. Deibler Rose survived over four years in an internment camp, enduring horrific conditions and a death sentence. Her faith is inspiring and life-changing.
And I have read all of those books, so I’m not just suggesting them from their descriptions. 🙂
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!