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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And If I Perish...a remarkable story.

And If I Perish by Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee is the evocative story of trial and tribulation, courage and caring that takes us behind the scenes and behind the lines of WWII battlefields and hospitals. It is the story of the frontline U.S. Army nurses, their joys and triumphs, failures and heartaches.

More than 59,000 nurses volunteered to serve in the army nurses corp. Two hundred seventeen lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. This book is a tribute to each and every one of them. Through hundreds of hours of in-depth research and interviews, the authors introduce us to some women we should all get to know. We meet many of these women in a personal way. We learn why they volunteered, the discrimination they faced, and the unwavering care they gave. Most often without recognition of their efforts.

The young ladies who volunteered had no idea what they were in for. Many arrived at their first duty station with party clothes and giddiness. This was especially true of the very early arrivals in the Pacific Theater. They were not issued real nurses uniforms until much later, just insignia to wear on their collars.

The book begins with the story of a young Georgia farm girl who graduated from Grady Hospital Medical School in Atlanta, then joined the army nurses corp. Her mother was incensed. How could her daughter do that? Only fallen women, social outcasts, would volunteer for that service. How, the mother wondered, could she ever meet her friends in society knowing that they knew her daughter was an army nurse?  This attitude was the prevailing attitude of much of society at the time.

The young lady went on to become an outstanding nurse, a leader, and a POW. She spent two full years as a Japanese prisoner-or-war. He brother and sister joined the military and for the two years she was a POW knew nothing of her whereabouts or if she was even still alive. All three survived and were finally reunited in 1947.

One story tells of the situation when a nurse stationed in Italy visited a civilian hospital and learned that the Germans has destroyed all the civilian medical supplies before they evacuated northward. One three year old girl had to have her foot amputated by the local doctors...without anesthesia. When she learned of this, the army nurse was astounded and offered to do what she could to prevent such a tragedy again. The army often had little, the civilians had less.

Another nurse tells of the mini-hurricane that blew across their evacuation hospital during the middle of an abdominal surgery. The soldier was wrapped in sterile sheets, put in an ambulance and sent to another nearby evac hospital with his abdomen still open. Imagine the scene at the receiving hospital when they removed the sheets. The mini-hurricane completely destroyed the first hospital and camp.

Anurse from the 95th Evacuation Hospital remembers arriving at their new post near Capua, Italy and thinking she had seen the landscape before. Oh, yes. In her high school Latin book. They were setting up their new evac hospital alongside the Appian Way. The nurses set up their two living tents adjacent to the Way. Soon they needed to hang their "unmentionables" out to dry. There they were, women's undies, hanging by the ancient road as U.S. army troops were trucked by on their way north. The cacophony of blaring horns, wolf whistles, and calls of "Hubba-hubba" became so constant that the commanding officers had the tents moved to the rear of the camp.

The book is filled with stories, memories, thought provoking accounts. Some will make you laugh, other will make you cry, and still other will bring on anguished outrage at man's inhumanity to man.

From the early days in the Pacific Theater, through the European campaigns, and into Dachau immediately after it was liberated, American Army nurses were on hand. We need to know of their courage and sacrifice and honor them. This book goes a long way in getting us started. Thank you, Evelyn and Rosemary for this tribute.

I bought my book through Abebooks. It is available online and through your major book outlets.