Belle was nine-months pregnant when the Japanese Army took her husband prisoner. She was a military wife in the Philippines in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
At the time Americans feared the Japanese would invade the west coast of their homeland. That didn't happen in Washington, Oregon, California or Alaska. But the Japanese did invade the Philippines where American forces were woefully unprepared.
The story of the American surrender to the Japanese and the U.S. military nurses taken POW is told in my book Pure Grit.
But today's story focuses on one young woman, expecting her fourth child, who got horrible news. Her husband was one of 75-thousand starving and disease-stricken soldiers, U.S. and Filipino, forced to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army.
I cannot imagine what went through Belle Valentine's mind. On the one hand, her husband was alive. But could he stay alive while a prisoner of an army known for its brutality? The Japanese had utter contempt for soldiers who would surrender rather than fight to the death. I know one thing. Belle was determined to do everything in her power to save him.
This week's feature story could be filed under tragic love stories. But I'm not focusing on the couple. This story is about the woman who is often stuck in a forgotten corner of history, hidden by the long shadow cast by her famous lover.
Gerda Taro believed photographs could change the world. In the mid-1930s, she served as a midwife of sorts, helping birth the powerful force of modern photo journalism.
Taro captured some of the most memorable images of the Spanish civil war, and was the first woman in history to take pictures in battle. Unfortunately, she was also the first to lose her life reporting in a war zone.
Tragedy and mystery conspired to shroud Gerda Taro and her work, leaving photojournalism to move on without her. Below: Gerda Taro at work.
The daring activism that carried Gerda to the battlefields of Spain ignited in Germany.
Gerda Pohorylle was born in 1910 to a Jewish family in Stuttgart. She came of age with the rising fascist National Socialists German Workers Party, (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei abbreviated Nazi) and joined the opposition.
In 1933, while passing out pamphlets at an anti-Nazi protest, Gerda was arrested and detained. Hitler became chancellor shortly after, and 23-year-old Gerda fled to Paris for safety.
Amid a a flood of refugees fleeing fascism, Gerda struggled to find work in Paris, but eventually got a job at Alliance Photo Agency. Hanging out with other young newcomers to Paris, she met Endré Friedmann, a Hungarian refugee trying to make a living as a photographer.
The two fell in love and developed a remarkable working relationship. Gerda advised
Endré on aspects of business and wrote captions for his pictures. He taught her the fundamentals of photography.
Wanda Traczyk-Stawska was 12-years-old when the German army invaded Poland in 1939, and a bomb hit a house across the street from where she lived in Warsaw.
"I ran out with this dog in my arms to see where this bomb hit, to possibly cry out for people's help," Wanda said. "I saw a woman running out of the rubble of a building with an infant...I saw the Germans shooting this woman, aiming at this infant. I saw this child fall apart."
"And I was also at that time, first witnessing them throwing out of the house where we lived, my friend a Jew, I saw how they yanked her grandfather, how they pushed him, because he did not know what was going on, did not understand anything, cried, a terrible scene. Then my attitude towards the Germans was unequivocal."
Not much later the Germans came and booted Wanda's family out of their apartment. She has spunk even at 12. "He pushed me, this officer, because I wasn't very polite," Wanda said.
Have women always been warriors? And why does it matter anyway? That's the question we take up today with the help of a "brilliant storyteller."
That's what reviews say about Pamela D. Toler, PhD and her recent book Women Warriors: An Unexpected History.
From the time she was young, Pamela sought out stories of "smart/courageous/quirky/energetic girl protagonists and the few biographies of women that reached [her]
elementary school library."
Today the author has a PhD in history, and is praised for her rigorous research and accessible writing. Her books are for nerdy or inquisitive teens and thinking adults. (That's you, right?)
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.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.