American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy

Article excerpt

American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy By Bob Welch (New York: Atria Press, 2004) (308 pages; $22.00 paper)

Just after the Normandy invasion in 1944, an American Army nurse, second lieutenant Frances Slanger, penned a poignant letter to the editor of the Stars ana Stripes, the newspaper that informed millions of GIs around the globe as they waged one of the world's most miserable wars. In her missive, that Army nurse wrote a moving tribute to the war-weary American boys serving by her side in the muddy fields of France. Scores of GIs earnestly responded to lieutenant S !anger's touching letter. Tragically, however, fate denied her the opportunity to appreciate their accolades. The day after writing her letter, German shells hit lieutenant Slanger's field hospital, and she became the first Army nurse to be killed in action in the wake of the Normandy landings. Bob Welch's book derives from lieutenant Slanger's evocative letter and serves to illuminate her background, character, and personality, all of which encapsulate the essence of the World War II Army nurse.

This volume traces the life story of Freidel Yachet Slanger, born to a poor Jewish family in 1913 in Poland, a country shadowed by the encroaching horrors of World War I. Having miraculously survived the cataclysm of the Great War in Eastern Europe, she immigrated to the United States with her mother and sister in 1920, joined her fruit peddler father in early twentieth-century Boston, and took the name Frances Slanger. In a series of flashbacks, Welch vividly portrays Slanger's early life as she helped her father sell his wares from his horse-drawn fruit cart as she dutifully attended the local public school, and as against steep odds, she aspired to become a poet and writer. Although she always cherished the written word, Frances Slanger ultimately failed to achieve her goal to be a published author. Instead, following graduation from high school in the Great Depression, she settled for a $13-per-week job packing hosiery in a knitting factory to help support her aging parents. After several mind-numbing years working in the mills, however, she decided to pursue another long-held life ambition. Frances applied for entrance and was accepted by the Boston City Hospital School of Nursing to begin her three-year nurse's training. Following graduation and a short career as a private-duty nurse, the relentless demands of the World War II Army beckoned her, and she joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1943. Because of her defective eyesight, the Army at first barred lieutenant Slanger from overseas locations. Instead, they ordered her to several stateside postings. But finally, after she initiated a well-timed request to serve in the combat theater when there was an escalating need for more nurses on the battlefield, her opportunity for overseas service materialized. It proved to be a momentous decision. In June 1944, lieutenant Slanger disembarked on the shores of Utah Beach along with her compatriots in the 45th Field Hospital. The author describes in vibrant detail the sense of fulfillment, and the fleeting joys, unbelievable atrocities, shocking sights, cruel injuries, and stark conditions lieutenant Slanger and her fellow nurses encountered as they marched in support of the advancing Army. …