Nurses: Frances Slanger (WWII)
Lt. Frances Slanger of Roxbury, Massachusetts was one of four nurses who waded ashore at the Normandy beachhead on D-Day.
Assigned to the 45th Field Hospital to aid casualties from the allied invasion of France, Lt. Slanger penned the following letter on October 21, 1944. It was printed in Stars and Stripes:
It is 0200, and I have been lying awake for an hour listening to the steady even breathing of the other three nurses in the tent, thinking about some of the things we had discussed during the day.
The fire was burning low, and just a few live coals are on the bottom. With the slow feeding of wood and finally coal, a roaring fire is started. I couldn't help thinking how similar to a human being a fire is. If it is not allowed to run down too low, and if there is a spark of life left in it, it can be nursed back. So can a human being. It is slow. It is gradual. It is done all the time in these field hospitals and other hospitals in the ETO.
We had read several articles in different magazines and papers sent in by grateful GIs praising the work of the nurses around the combat zones. Praising us—for what?
We wade ankle-deep in mud—you have to lie in it. We are restricted to our immediate area, a cow pasture or a hay field, but then who is not restricted?
We have a stove and coal. We even have a laundry line in the tent.
The wind is howling, the tent waving precariously, the rain beating down, the guns firing, and me with a flashlight writing. It all adds up to a feeling of unrealness. Sure we rough it, but in comparison to the way you men are taking it, we can't complain nor do we feel that bouquets are due us. But you—the men behind the guns, the men driving our tanks, flying our planes, sailing our ships, building bridges—it is to you we doff our helmets. To every GI wearing the American uniform, for you we have the greatest admiration and respect.
Yes, this time we are handing out the bouquets—but after taking care of some of your buddies, comforting them when they are brought in, bloody, dirty with the earth, mud and grime, and most of them so tired. Somebody's brothers, somebody's fathers, somebody's sons, seeing them gradually brought back to life, to consciousness, and their lips separate into a grin when they first welcome you. Usually they say, "Hiya babe, Holy Mackerel, an American woman"—or more indiscreetly "How about a kiss?"
These soldiers stay with us but a short time, from ten days to possibly two weeks. We have learned a great deal about our American boy and the stuff he is made of. The wounded do not cry. Their buddies come first. The patience and determination they show, the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold. It is we who are proud of you, a great distinction to see you open your eyes and with that swell American grin, say "Hiya, Babe."
One hour after writing this letter, Lt. Slanger was killed by a German sniper.
In December of 2000, Bob Welch published Lt. Slanger's letter in The Register Guard. After reading Welch's article, Sallylou Bonzer wrote a letter detailing her memories of her close friend and comrade Frances Slanger.