"Situation here is fast becoming desperate," General Jonathon Wainwright cabled General Douglas MacArthur May 3, 1942.
The next night the Navy risked a daring mission, as Submarine Spearfish glided past a Japanese minesweeper and destroyer, to surface. A small boat motored out to meet it carrying 25-passengers, including eleven nurses. Read more about Spearfish rescue...
What would turn out to be the last U.S. mail shipment to leave Corregidor was also taken aboard, including some hastily scrawled letters to family. Army Nurse Hattie Brantley didn't bother. "I couldn't write a letter to my family. What was I going to say?"
The Spearfish dived 200 feet below the sea, stealing away toward Australia, leaving fifty-four army nurses and twenty-six Filipina nurses behind.
In the next 24-hours over May 4 and 5, the Japanese hammered Corregidor with some 16,000 shells, then as the first landing force took the beaches, nurses on duty in Corregidor's underground hospital destroyed records, keeping their gas masks handy.
Army Nurses Alice Zwicker confided in her diary, "Even all the rumors of what the Japanese may do to all of us and especially the women mean little or nothing to me at the present. Just end this awful destruction and find help for these patients who need the barest essentials so badly."
Another nurse ventured into the main tunnel just before the surrender. Dirty, hungry and exhausted men filled the passageway. "Some asked for water, some for food, and the pity was that we had very little of either. Some were swearing, some staring into space. She hurried back to the nurses' lateral, where her off-duty colleagues huddled, starved for food and for news.The next wave of Japanese rolled tanks onto Corregidor's beaches and Wainwright imagined the wholesale slaughter that would befall his men, and "...I thought of the havoc that even one tank could wreak if it nosed into the tunnel, where lay our helpless wounded and their brave nurses."
He sent men out with white flags at 10A.M.
Most nurses heard the news over the tunnel radio. Surrender would come at noon May 6. "Now our facial expressions were stony, and we avoided letting our eyes meet," said Army Nurse Denny Williams. "Not only our own hopeless fear, but collective fear, with it's power to panic, passed from person to person like a current, lurching and jolting on-off on-off, but always more intense until I had visions of our soldiers fighting until all were dead outside and the enemy came inside, screaming and brandishing swords and bayonets. I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave."
The women had arrived in the Philippines unprepared for war, but learned quickly when driven to the limits of endurance nursing wounded and dying American soldiers. Now they would face the horrors of prison camp for three years before General MacArthur would reclaim the Philippines and liberate them.
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