Inside Books: Elizabeth Norman Chronicles Fate of American Nurses Captured in Battle of Bataan

The first American land battle of WWII was also one of the worst military defeats in the nation’s history—the 1942 Battle of Bataan in the Philippines—and included the capture of 77 American military nurses.

We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan (Random House) by Elizabeth Norman, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sceinces, chronicles how the “story-book lives” of these women came to an end with the invasion by the Japanese military shortly after Pearl Harbor.

They’d originally been drawn to the U.S. military outpost looking for adventure and eager to serve as models for women’s changing role in the American workforce. But in early 1942, they found themselves in the middle of a battlefield, setting up hospitals in the jungle, working with dwindling supplies and starving along with their patients and the other 76,000 men on the peninsula of Bataan. They were eventually captured by Japanese forces and imprisoned for three years, the largest group of female POWs in our country’s history.

Norman, a registered nurse, draws on letters, diaries, and first-hand accounts to create this war-time narrative. First published in 1999, the 2013 edition includes a new final chapter, which centers the last surviving Angel, “the last woman standing,” Mildred Dalton Manning.

Norman’s previous works include Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam, and, co-authored with Michael Norman, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.