Going to War on Christmas Eve
Only five more days 'til Christmas! I hope you will be spending it with your loved ones near.
If you still have last minute shopping to do, may I suggest books?
Don't take up much space.
And they can be re-gifted next year.
And now for the main story
Christmas Eve, 1941...
The Japanese Army marched toward Manila, set to conquer the Philippines. American Army Nurse Hattie Brantley and two dozen other military nurses had been ordered to join the army convoy retreating from the city.
"Girls, pack your bags," the medical commander told them. "You're going to Bataan tomorrow."
"Some of us had never heard of Bataan," said Hattie. "On the morning of Christmas Eve, we loaded into buses and open trucks, dressed in our white duty uniforms, a World War I helmet on our heads, and a gas mask ear our sides and headed for the Bataan Peninsula."
Hattie was from Jefferson, Texas, and had only arrived in the Philippines that summer. The group headed for Bataan became the first group of American military women ordered into combat. The army trucks and yellow buses spaced themselves ten minutes apart, but still Japanese planes sighted the convoy. Drivers zig-zagged or lurched off road under the trees to avoid the falling bombs. Nurses jumped out, diving into ditches alongside the road.
Hattie had always craved adventure, saying she didn't want her mother's life as a farm wife with half a dozen kids pulling at her skirt while she washed and cleaned and hoed the garden. She had plenty of adventure now.Eventually, the buses got on their way jolting along the coast road. It was one of the hottest Decembers on record in the history of Bataan. In late afternoon, the convoy pulled into the sleepy fishing village of Limay, a bunch of tiny bamboo shacks set high on stilts. Round-eyed children stared as the line of trucks and buses crawling down the dirt road toward the beach and U.S. Army General Hospital #1. The nurses stared, too, in shock, at the primitive camp with long barracks constructed of bamboo with grass roofs. Windows consisted of flaps that could be lowered when it rained.
“To call it a hospital, is like calling a hut a hotel,” said Historian John Glusman, whose father was a navy doctor on Bataan.
Like Hattie, many of the nurses had grown up on farms. They were used to hard work and doing without. "Set up? Ready to go? In a pig's eye." Hattie told a reporter her memories of that day in 2003. They scrounged up metal cots, bedpans and other provisions that were stored in sheds. These relics of World War I were wrapped in newspapers dated 1918.
Later the nurses ate a quick supper of field pancakes and walked down to relax on the beach. Somebody remembered it was Christmas Eve. Across the bay explosions lit the night sky as the military dynamited ammunition dumps and burned petroleum at Cavite Naval Yard to keep it from the enemy.
“We wondered what was happening to us,” remembered Hattie, but she had faith, hope and trust in God, General MacArthur, F.D.R. and the U.S.A.
The hospital was ready for patients, but with a little luck, it wouldn’t be needed. Surely, help was on its way. “In fact, anytime anyone looked in the direction of the bay and did not see a convoy steaming in, it was with disbelief! Hattie was sure American ships filled with men, weapons and supplies would arrive to rescue them “…at least by tomorrow.”
American troops would not come to the rescue of Hattie and 67 other Army and Navy nurses for more than three years.
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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