Friday, March 15, 2013

We Band of Angels - by Elizabeth M. Norman

During World War II a group of Army and Navy nurses were imprisoned in Bataan by the Japanese. The women were subjected to a starvation diet, tropical diseases, and humiliation by their captors while continuing their work as nurses. They were hailed as heroes after their rescue three years later, but found that  once the celebrations ended the military refused to give them the same honors that their male counterparts were due. Many of the women suffered long-lasting effects from the years of illness and malnutrition, which in some cases forced them to give up their military careers. This book is based on interviews, diaries and other firsthand accounts with the women who were there. The author named Helen "Cassie" Cassiani as the one she knew "best".

Growing up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts Cassie "often used [farm] work as an excuse to ignore her studies....Then one day two friends from the neighborhood sat her down in the library and showed her how to study. Soon she acquired the habit of reading-history, science stories." And from this seed grew her desire to become a nurse. Exciting to think that the library she used must be the very one for which this blogger now serves as a trustee!

Cassiani's fellow internee Eleanor Garen also found a love of the library as a child in Elkhart, Indiana. "She learned to read early and became such a bookworm that she would fill up her own library card, then take out books on her brothers' accounts."

The importance of libraries is additionally highlighted in this book by the fact that those imprisoned established their own lending libraries within the confines of the camp. The closing the library was one of the methods used by their captors to harass and demonstrate who was in charge.

This is a captivating read, especially in light of the recent decision to "allow" women in combat units. Women  serving on the front lines, in combat conditions is nothing new, as is evident in this work.

This book is the One Book One Community selection for Bridgewater in the fall of 2013.

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