Army nurse Frances Y. Slanger killed by German artillery
October 21, 1944
On October 21, 1944, Frances Y. Slanger, R.N. died in Elsenborn, Belgium, a victim of a German artillery attack. She was the first American nurse to die in Europe after the June 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy. She was 31 years old.
On the night before she died, Slanger had written a letter to the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, on behalf of military nurses, praising American G.I.'s and thanking the wounded for the privilege of easing their pain and sharing some of their hardships.
Featured on the newspaper's editorial page by editors who did not know of her death, Slanger's letter evoked a deep response. When the news of her death was published, Stars and Stripes received an unparalleled outpouring of letters from its moved readership. Charles Sawyer, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium speaking of Slanger, said, "if there is in heaven and in our hearts a special shrine for those who have given the most and the best, it is held sacred for the American nurse."
Born in Poland, Slanger came to Boston, Massachusetts when she was seven years old with her family. She helped her father, a fruit peddler, while she attended high school. She graduated from the Boston City Hospital School of Nursing in 1937 and entered hospital work. In 1943, she enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and attended the first nursing basic training program at Fort Devens. In Europe, she worked as part of a surgical team on the front lines.
In June 1945, a cruise ship, refurbished as a hospital ship to return wounded American soldiers from Europe, was commissioned as the Frances Y. Slanger. In November 1947, her body was returned to Boston for reburial. More than a thousand people, including the mayor of Boston, paid their respects.
Source: Bob Welch, American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy (New York, 2004).