A laudatory account of the plucky American women—nearly 60,000 of them—who served in and near combat zones in the Mediterranean and European theaters of war from 1942 to 1945.
Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee (All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese, not reviewed) spent a dozen years tracking down and interviewing scores of former frontline army nurses. Their personal recollections are interwoven with historical records to form a narrative that places their experiences into the larger story of the war itself. The authors have divided the war into four stages: the North African campaign beginning in November 1942, which was the only time nurses accompanied invading troops on their initial landing; the Italian campaign that began the following July; the liberation of France, beginning in June 1944; and the conquest of Germany, from December 1944 to the war’s end in the spring of 1945. They describe Roosevelt and Churchill’s strategies and how these were carried out by various generals over the course of the war. The nurses’ eyewitness accounts look at the war from the underside, revealing that their lives were made difficult not just by working under harsh conditions, sometimes under enemy fire, but by absurd army regulations, incomprehensible shortages, and demanding doctors. Twice hospital ships were sunk, hospitals were often bombed or hit by shrapnel, and while only 16 nurses were killed by enemy fire, over 200 more died from accidents or illnesses. As might be expected, the account is replete with stories of the horrific wounds suffered by the GIs the nurses were there to help save, but American soldiers were not their only patients; they gave medical care to French civilians, German POWs, and concentration-camp survivors as well. For some lucky nurses, breaks in duty saw them touring in Shakespeare country, shopping in Paris, and sightseeing on the isle of Capri, and there were dinners with officers, parties, even an occasional wedding. Mostly, though, the life of army nurses was grueling, dangerous, and dirty, and the pay shamefully low.
A nice tribute to the women involved, but rather spoiled for the general reader by the apparent desire to exclude any nurse’s personal recollections. (60 b&w photos, seen; 6 maps, not seen)