So excited to announce pub day for PURE GRIT. At times it seemed this day would never come. I started research the summer of 2007. The book proposal sold to Abrams in August 2010. February 25, 2013 the book is on store shelves and earns a terrific review from Book Kvetch! Could not have done it without the help of so many of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
"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....[It] might prompt interesting classroom inquiry and discussion of issues relevant to women in military service." Read full review here.
I'm starting to hear from people who've read review copies of PURE GRIT. It's amazing the connections people are making and I'm deeply touched by those who have shared their stories. One woman wrote that her mother's twin brother was reported missing after those last days on Corregidor, and throughout the war they never knew what had happened to him.
Much later in the war, her brother was wounded fighting in Okinawa. While recovering in a military hospital stateside, his uncle's name happened to come up in conversation and it turned out another patient had known him. In fact, the man had been on a life raft in the Pacific with him!
The two soldiers had been taken POW by the Japanese in the Philippines and put on a boat to Japan, where many prisoners were forced into slave labor. But this ship didn't make it. The Japanese transported the prisoners on unmarked ships and many of them were bombed by the United States.
The War Department had never notified the family officially that the uncle had died, but this man in the hospital relayed the story of how the man perished on the life raft in the Pacific and his body had been slipped into the sea.
This story is not unique. It could be told about thousands of young men POWs, but the pain of it is singular this woman who wrote me. Her father served in WWI, and her two brothers in WWII. The man who lost his leg in Okinawa, also lost his lively good cheer. It's hard not to ponder what might have been, had war not interrupted their lives. Click here for the story of a hell ship survivor.
We must ponder as well, the men and women coming home from war today. Not only what might have been, but what we as a community, as a culture, as a country, are doing to help them heal from the anguish of war. Has your family been touched by war? Have you seen healing happen?
I'd love to hear from you.
When I started research for PURE GRIT—I wanted to know one thing. How did these women survive combat and prison camp? What kept them going for three long years never knowing if they would see their loved ones again? How did they keep hope alive?
I discovered the different nurses had various ways of keeping their spirits up and coping with the challenges that came on almost a daily basis. But one thing they all had in common was a greater purpose.
They were strong, independent, adventurous women, but they were also caregivers. Their mission was to treat the wounded and sick, to save lives if they could and to bestow comfort on the dying. When they were captured POW and separated from the wounded soldiers in their care, they set up a hospital and cared for civilians in the prison camp who needed medical attention.
This purpose helped sustain the women. Though weak from hunger and diseased from malnutrition, they got up each morning and reported for duty.
Army Nurse Eunice Young wrote in her diary, “Our chief concern is food. People are actually dying of starvation….Haven’t the energy to write much for days…but we have to keep going to take care of the others.”
In November 1944, Navy Nurse Edwina Todd wrote that the hospital staff worried because they no long had strength to push the gurney used to move patients. “…carpenters were no longer able to make coffins, the grave-diggers to dig graves, the nurses literally pulled themselves up the stairs…When you bent to rub a patient’s back you wondered if you could straighten up again. You fell down a couple of times en-route to and from work.”
Navy Nurse Margaret Nash said, “We kept busy all the time and we didn’t have time to think about ourselves.”
I’m not a caregiver type and I doubt I will face the hardship duty these women did. But I have learned from them. They’ve inspired me to give thought to my own purpose. Not just broad overarching ideals like “make the world a better place” or “be loving and kind.” These nurses got down to the nitty-gritty of their mission, dealing with bodily fluids, sores that wouldn’t heal, children that cried and begged for food, and at one point, rats chewing on the dead bodies no one was strong enough to bury.
Working on a tough revision pales in comparison. On the other hand, writing well means cultivating difficult habits, like confronting what others shy from. Being still in a world of cacophony. Seeing the brokenness in a human life and letting it touch me.
It’s no good comparing another’s purpose. Each of ours will bring enough challenge to last a lifetime. But knowing your particular purpose and believing it is meant for you, will help keep hope alive in the tough times.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
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