Frances Slanger, Purple Heart
“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.” —Frances Slanger
Lt. Frances Slanger of Roxbury, Massachusetts was one of four nurses who waded ashore at Normandy on D-Day. She was also the first American nurse to die in Europe in World War II.
Frances Slanger was born in Lódz, Poland, and came to America with her family in 1920 to escape persecution of the Jews. Much to the dismay of her immigrant parents, Frances was determined to become a nurse. Rejecting their pleas for her to marry, she graduated from nursing school in 1937. At home in Roxbury, 29-year-old Frances regularly heard news from her relatives in Poland: she knew Jews in Lódz were being shipped to Auschwitz and Chelmno. In 1943, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps, and fought to be deployed overseas despite her bad eyesight. If she was afraid, she didn’t show it.
Just 4 days after the D-Day invasion, Frances waded onshore at Normandy, France, to find truckloads of injured soldiers. Frances proved herself to be a compassionate and creative nurse, fashioning water bottles from IV bottles and rubber tubing for wounded men who couldn’t easily drink water.
On October 21, 1944, she wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes about her experiences as a nurse and her admiration for the servicemen she helped. Slanger didn’t live to see her words in print. She would be killed an hour after writing the letter, by a German artillery attack. She was 31 years old.
To me, the most affecting part of Frances Slanger’s story is what happened after her death: Hundreds of Americans who had read her letter in the newspaper wrote the paper demanding that she be honored for her service. It was these letters that led to the naming of a warship in her honor, her posthumous Purple Heart, and the creation of the first all-women’s veterans’ chapter in the country. The Lt. Frances Y. Slanger Post #313 of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S. was founded in February 1946 to represent Jewish women veterans. If her letter had never been published, the outcome of this story may have ended very differently: without it, there may have been no ship, no Purple Heart, and no veterans’ chapter. Frances wasn’t trying to secure her place in history with this letter, she was simply praising soldiers, eager to share their heroism with those at home in the U.S. What she couldn’t have realized at the time was how her own selfless heroism shone through in her words, touching so many and keeping her story alive.
How to cite this page
Metal, Tara. "Frances Slanger, Purple Heart." 23 May 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/frances-slanger>.