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A Friend's Letter

Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

SALLYLOU BONZER, an 82-year-old Eugene woman, was stunned to read the name "Frances Slanger" in my column last Thursday.

Slanger was a World War II nurse who, while in a field-hospital tent, had written a touching letter about American soldiers—then had been killed only an hour later.

"My gosh, it's her. This is Frances, my close friend, Frances...."

Bonzer had been with Slanger in the 45th Field Hospital Unit. Had trained with her. Had scrapbook photos of her. And what's more, had a husband who, as a doctor, had watched Slanger as she lay dying on the night of Oct. 21, 1944.

"How could I forget Frances?" says Bonzer, as the wind whips the firs surrounding her hillside home. "She had a tremendous sense of humor - a Boston girl, one of the shortest girls in the unit. Maybe 4-foot-10. When we came ashore at Normandy, she almost drowned because she couldn't touch bottom."

"An interesting person," remembers Dr. John Bonzer, also 82. "Very outspoken. Real Jewish. A hard worker."

Sallylou Bonzer grew up in Kenosha, Wis., and was on the same ship with Slanger as they came to England to prepare for the Normandy landing. "I'd met her stateside and we wound up living together in a castle with no water or heat. I remember Frances taking a bath out of her helmet."

They were in the same landing craft on the third day of Allied troops beaching at Normandy. "Chaos," remembers Sallylou.

As Allied troops swept across France toward Germany, tent-based field hospitals continuously popped up and packed up—on-the-go surgical units.

Sallylou, 26 at the time, was in the 45th's 1st Platoon, a few days ahead of the 2nd Platoon, which included John and Frances. John, who had graduated from Temple University's medical school, knew Sallylou at the time but the two weren't "an item."

One October night, the 2nd Platoon was in Elsenborn, Belgium, about 20 miles from the German border. John, a general medical officer, saw Frances in the mess hall at dinner. He then joined some fellow officers for poker.

Slanger was not killed by a sniper, as the "Women in the Military" book said. She was killed during 45 minutes of German artillery shelling, The Stars and Stripes reported—and John Bonzer confirms.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "A Friend's Letter." (Viewed on September 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/infocus/military/nurses/bonzer>.

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