“Gripping . . . a war story in which the main characters never kill one of the enemy, or even shoot at him, but are nevertheless heroes . . . Americans today should thank God we had such women.”—Stephen E. Ambrose
In We Band of Angels, Elizabeth Norman tells the untold story of the American nurses trapped on Bataan during World War II. The author tells us about her inspiration and interest in the story below and provides you with exclusive book club questions to get your discussions going.
A Letter from the Author
Women writing about women, especially in the modern age, more often than not have political themes, and there’s a reason for this. Look around the world, or around your own community, and you’ll see evidence everywhere that emancipation is still a work in progress.
With We Band of Angels, I wanted to work on a different kind of book, a story rather than a policy, how-to, or political volume, so I chased after seventy-seven military nurses captured by the Japanese in the first days of World War II. I wanted to get to know to a small group of women who went against the tide long before it was popular or politic.
To put it plainly, I was interested in risk. Women taking risks before it was socially acceptable. I wanted to know what moved them to break with convention, to set aside marriage and a family, and seek adventure in a tropical paradise, a part of the world that was already at war with itself. Different from the women of their time – that’s for sure.
I ultimately discovered how these women were ahead of their time, and that appealed to me most. They weren’t headstrong, stubborn, or a bunch of misfits. On the contrary, they were all too ordinary. But each one saw possibilities for herself, and they were determined to explore those possibilities no matter what the cost.
I could imagine myself in their white shoes or green U.S. Army Air Corps coveralls because I, too, was a nurse. They represented the kind of woman I hope I was and wanted to be. They were exemplars – bold, adventurous, professional, resourceful, and smart.
I hope you’ll like them as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Thank you for reading We Band of Angels.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The ninety-nine women who were serving in the Philippines in 1941 all volunteered for their overseas duty. One woman smiled and told the author, “I sure got more adventure than I ever bargained for.” Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and volunteered overseas or someplace exotic? If so, how did your family and friends react to this decision?
2. When the bombs fell on December 7th, the women were forced to spring into action. Have you ever had everything change in a slit second? If so, how did you deal with this change?
3. What were some of the changes these women had to make to their clothing, daily routines, and the way they treated each other?
4. On Bataan, right before General King surrendered the men, he ordered the women off the jungle peninsula to Corregidor. These nurses had to leave their work and walk past thousands of sick and wounded American men. Would you have done the same? How would you have felt about it?
5. On Corregidor, all the Americans knew they were going to surrender. General Wainwright found spots on airplanes and a submarine to evacuate some of the nurses. Would you have accepted a chance to leave? Why?
6. How important was camaraderie to the women when they were POWs? What role did their two leaders, Maude Davison and Laura Cobb, play in keeping their groups alive and well?
7. Would you encourage women today to join the military and seek combat roles?
8. Discuss why you think these women and their heroism were ignored for so long.
9. How do you think you would have survived the battles, the surrender, and the prison camp?
10. If you could, what is the one question you would like to ask these women?