Liberation of the Angels of Bataan from Santo Tomas
US Army photo 1945
On February 11, 1945, 3,785 internees were liberated and finally evacuated from Santo Tomas in the Philippines. Among them were 77 Army and Navy nurses, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor. This was the largest number of American woman to ever be held captive. But they weren’t just women, they weren’t just POWs, they were nurses, and they didn’t forget it.
They never neglected their duty or obligation. For more than three years under harsh conditions they aided the thousands of American and British POWs interned in the camp. Even when their food was rationed down to 700 calories a day, they each worked four-hour shifts, ensuring the safety and comfort of others as well as themselves.
Just hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the Philippines was also attacked. By December 26, Manila had fallen. The 20,000 American troops and 80,000 Filipinos began to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. Shortly thereafter, all foreigners were transported by the Japanese to Santo Tomas, a large university that was turned into an internment camp. These were mostly Americans and British, but there were a number of nationals from all over the world, including 400 children
They were basically told to fend for themselves. There was a nightly roll call and monitors, but not much else. However, they were not allowed to leave the compound, and those that attempted escape were severely punished. While at first the locals were able to pass food and letters through the fence, the Japanese soon cut them off completely from the outside world. There would be nothing, including food, to help them.
The Japanese selected an “executive committee” to run the camp. They essentially did what any city would do. They set up a police force and a hospital.
Captain Maude Davison of the US Army Nurse Corps was 57 years old with 20 years of service when she took command of the nurses in Santo Tomas. She and second in command Josephine Nesbit kept the nurses on schedule, even insisting they continue to wear a proper uniform while on shift. After liberation, many of the internees credited the nurses for saving their lives. The nurses credited their routine and those in command for saving theirs.
It’s said the nurses were most proud of that fact that 77 nurses went in to Santo Tomas and 77 came out.
I was unable to find a painting of the Angels of Bataan, but I think this is such a great photo of liberation day. It’s an official US Army photo. If you look to the far right with her back to the camera you see an older nurse, uniform cap in place. Such strong determination, perseverance, and sense of duty to their country and profession.
There’s so much to learn about Santo Tomas, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, the Bataan Death March and work camps, and the thousands of men and woman of all nationalities that endured World War II. I would encourage you to read more. I’ve added a few links below.