War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

3 "You Have a Debt to Democracy"

Less than twenty-four years after the final shot was fired in the "war to end all wars," a fearful world was struck by a blockbuster. On September 1, 1939, German dictator Adolf Hitler, who had seized power seven years earlier, sent his war juggernaut plunging into nearly defenseless Poland. France and England rapidly declared war against Germany. Poland was conquered in only six weeks.

In the United States, a Roper poll disclosed that 67 percent of the populace was opposed to taking sides in the European war. "Keep out of other nations' quarrels!" became the slogan across the land. However, on the morning of December 7, 1941, America's hope for remaining neutral went up in the smoke of Pearl Harbor. The United States, woefully unprepared and militarily weak, declared war on Japan. Then Germany and its ally, Italy, declared war on the United States. World War II had begun.1

Nine thousand miles west of California in the Philippines in January 1942, the 70,000 GIs and Filipinos of General Douglas MacArthur's ill- equipped and outgunned army were trapped by Japanese forces on Bataan, a harsh, forbidding peninsula on the main island of Luzon, near Manila. In the old War Department Building in Washington, an obscure one-star general named Dwight D. Eisenhower had been given the task of getting reinforcements, weapons, and supplies to Bataan. But he had virtually nothing to send, nor any means for getting it to the beleaguered force.2

By February the Battling Bastards of Bataan--as the abandoned soldiers called themselves--were steadily growing weaker and dwindling in number. With no means for resupply, they ate monkeys, cats, dogs, horses, mice, lizards, and iguanas. Quinine was exhausted, but some 500 malaria cases entered the two Army tent hospitals each week.

At one of these hospitals, U.S. Army Lieutenant Hattie Brantley, a nurse, was working countless hours tending to the flood of sick and wounded. Clad in heavy boots and wearing oversized coveralls that draped her slender frame, face caked with perspiration and dust, body numbed by fatigue, she stood outside one day and squinted into the sun as a flight of Japanese bombers circled overhead.

-17-

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