By Major Van Harl USAF Ret
My wife the Colonel, the Air Force nurse, had a group of local women over for an evening of Bunko.
I was in the basement trying to keep the dogs quiet and keep myself from crying as I read this book about an Army nurse who served in WWII. Frances Slanger was Jewish. She was born in Lodz, Poland, after her father left his pregnant wife and older daughter to go to America.
The plan was to earn enough money to bring the three family members to Boston, but WW I broke out and Frances spent her first five years in German occupied Poland. Frances, her mother and sister arrived in New York in September 1920.
The following year the immigration laws got extremely more restrictive. Most likely she would have never immigrated to the US and would have died in the Nazi death camps that took the lives of her extended family. She was a small little Jewish girl who was not expected to make anything of herself, just find a good man who could provide for her. She worked with her father, the fruit peddler, in the early morning before school. Her personal callings were to write and to be a nurse.
Jewish boys became doctors, but Jewish girls did not become nurses, especially immigrant ones from the old country with their old country ways. She struggled during nursing training at Boston City Hospital.
The overbearing pressure of the nursing instructors and her lack of preparation in high school followed her throughout her training. She had studied home economics, not hard sciences in high school, because good Jewish girls needed to know how to take care of their family, not find skills they could use in the work world. Caring for the injured and the ill became her life’s passion.
By the time the US entered WWII, Frances knew what was happening to her relatives in once again German occupied Poland. She wanted to join the Army and even started the process, but because of family health issues and the continuing belief that nice Jewish girls did not join the Army, she put off entering the military until 1943.
After training at multiple Army camps in the States, at the age of 31, Frances, shipped out for England with the Forty-Fifth Field Hospital. Her unit landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, on 10 June 1944, only four days after the first combat troops went ashore. Frances almost drowned after jumping off the end of her landing craft and stepping down into a hole in the sand, under the surf that had been made by an artillery round exploding. They set their field hospital up and in two weeks the combined nursing experience of the eighteen nurses, saw more dead and dying than in their total nursing careers back in the States.
Moving with the fighting the Forty-Fifth established their field hospital in Elsenborof, Belgium on 7 Oct 1944, so close to Germany they could see Hitler’s Siegfried Line in their field glasses.
There had been articles in the Stars & Stripes newspaper the troops read, that had talked about the tireless work and sacrifice of the Army field nurses. Frances Slanger did not see it that way. She felt it was her duty and an honor to serve and help save those who were wounded on the field of battle. As an immigrant who had already survived the First World War, she understood how great her new country was and the freedoms it gave her.
In a letter to the editor of the Stars & Stripes she expressed her devotion and thanks to the wounded patients who passed through her field hospital. On 21 October 1944, 2Lt Frances Y. Slanger became the first US Army nurse killed in the European Theater of Operations by a German artillery round. She died in the arms of a fellow Army nurse in the same way she had held many of her fellow dying soldiers. Her letter to the editor of Stars & Stripes was published as a featured column without anyone at the paper knowing Frances was dead.
She became the sweetheart of the American soldiers for her professed devotion to their wounded and dying, and now she was gone. I finished the book and went upstairs and hugged my wife the military nurse. Army, Navy and Air Forces nurses, the American Nightingales.
Read “American Nightingale” by Bob Welch on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1tKIX2T
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]