We Band of Angels

The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped by the Japanese.

Elizabeth M. Norman.  Random House, 1999.


To understand the author is to understand the style of this book. Elizabeth Norman is an Associate Professor of Nursing who has a special interest in ‘nursing history.’ Her “Reader’s Digest” narrative style draws liberally from anecdotal materials she acquired while interviewing living ‘survivors’ of the infamous POW camps of the Philippines. It speaks volumes about how even women nurses were left to fend for themselves in the face of an ill-fated, sexist, and arrogant war campaign initiated in Corregidor and Bataan.


Overall, the book fails to rise above the superficial narrative of basic POW internment stories. Whereas one would have wanted to understand better how the women coped with the ethics of imprisonment and war, it glosses past such understanding by shrouding most profiles as women “doing their jobs” in the face of Herculean adversity. The only unique revelation was her unveiling of how these nurses became ripe fodder for media iconoclasts intent on capitalizing their heroics for movies, war bonds and wartime propaganda. Once exploited, their presence was allowed to fade into obscurity.


The value of this book is precisely in how it resuscitates this special group of ‘survivors’ from historical oblivion. It presents one facet of a war campaign that has been already overburdened with male testosterone and Rambo-charged exploitatives. I recommend it for those who are seeking special interest perspectives on WWII. It is general enough that it will be of interest to teenage and adult readers alike.

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