Monday, January 14, 2013

American Nightingale:Frances Slanger





The following is a letter written by Frances Slanger, a nurse from World War II, on the 21st of October, 1944.   Frances Slanger was one of the nurses who had waded ashore on the Normandy D-Day landings.  Within hours after writing this, she was killed.  The letter was posted in the Stars and Stripes military magazine and the US GI's were overwhelmed by the beauty of this writing and the simple heartfelt message behind it.  Many of them wrote to her, not knowing that she had been killed...

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."

This letter perfectly captures the nature of the soldiers that she encountered...the brotherhood they felt with their buddies, their gentle teasing ways, and their courage.  The book, "American Nightingale: Frances Slanger, The Forgotten Heroine of Normandy" is by Bob Welch and is one that I highly recommend.  It goes into such great detail about not only the life of Frances Slanger, but also gives you insights about the war in France.  I promise it is a book that you will not forget. You may go to the website of Bob Welch.here. 

30 comments:

  1. Oh, this brought tears to my eyes. What a very touching excerpt and story. What beautiful dedication and courage she displays and writes about. Thanks for posting.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. I loved this letter and how she wrote.
      I was very glad to see that Bob Welch had written this book about her. I think this book should be one of those on the best-seller lists, and not some of this FICTION that is so popular these days.

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  2. My gosh- Doesn't that make you feel like crying? What an eloquent letter to the men she so admired...and gave her life to help. God graced her words and immortalized them by bringing them to print- xo Diana

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    1. Yes, Diana, absolutely. It brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. "God graced her words and immortalized them by bringing them to print"...yes, that is right, it is just a miracle that she got this posted before she died.
      Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Wow! This was hard to read, especially knowing she died just a few hours later. I would have read this to my third graders. We always studied "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, written by a Canadian field doctor in WWI. Thank you for sharing this, Kay!

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    1. Oh, yes, I know that poem, the first time I saw poppies blooming in a field in England, it reminded me of that poem.
      There are lots of stories from war that are a bit hard to read, but I think it is important to know and to remember them.

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  4. Wow, this would be beautiful and touching no matter what.....but to read that knowing she died not long after.....well, it's just crushing. Thanks for sharing and, if I'm able, I'll check out the book!

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    1. Dear Audrey,
      Put this book on your list! I have a lot of non-fiction books that I love. I don't waste time on fiction!

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  5. Hello Kay:
    This is obviously a most moving account of a somewhat unusual and seldom told aspect of the Second World War. Anyone who has visited the site of the D-day landings will identify with the poignancy of this story.

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    1. I have never been to Normandy but I truly would like to see it. My header photo is of the English Channel, the town is Eastbourne...as close as I have ever been.
      Thanks so much for your comment! xx

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  6. Dear Kay, a very touching letter.
    And how have things changed since - some for the good, some for the bad.
    There are now also women "...behind the guns, women driving our tanks, flying our planes, sailing our ships, building bridges".
    And the reputation of the American GI in general has suffered greatly from all the terrible things that have happened in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
    But, human nature being human nature, I trust there are still some out there who are like the ones Frances Slanger encountered.

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    1. There very much are American soldiers like Frances Slanger describes here, I see them and speak with them everyday. I can't answer for what went on in Abu Ghraib. I know that one of the very first casualties of the war in Iraq was from Conyers, Georgia...the 19 year old was killed by a bomb which was strapped to a woman who had asked for his help.
      Like Frances Slanger, I can only write about what I know.

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  7. Very poignant, Kay. I shall go and have a look at that website.

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    1. Bob Welch just had THREE books published at the end of 2012, and all three of them look very interesting to me.
      I feel another post coming on! :-)

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  8. Hello Kay,
    So, so sad and touching, thank you for tell us about it. I will see if I can get a copy.
    Ivan

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    1. It should make it very real for you, living in Normandy...let me know if you read the book and what you think.
      Thanks for your comment!

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  9. Thanks for sharing this about Frances. I was not familiar with her story. I'll have to look the book up.

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    1. I think that you would also find it fascinating. I think that journalists write the best books, and they are usually underrated!

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  10. To see so much death and it at your door....how brave . Thank you for this post. xoxo,Susie

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    1. And thank you for your comment! xx

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  11. I found a copy (HB) for one penny on amazon! I'm so sorry this woman did not get to enjoy the days of peace!

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    1. This pleases me so much that you will be getting this book. Whenever you read it, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it!

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  12. Thank you for the recommendation. My to-be-read list grows ever longer.

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    1. I know just what you mean, Mimi! :-)

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  13. Quite a beautiful and touching excerpt. She obviously cared very much for the soldiers she helped, and they in turn shared they cared.

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    1. I just love how she perfectly captured them in this letter. These same young men described are exactly the same men that I spoke with in my travel agent days, they were older, but they were still the same. Just great, I loved them all!

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  14. Frances Slanger was an amazing human being....dedicated to her profession. That generation was exceptional in my books....a different breed altogether and one that allowed us to be here today to talk about them. Thanks Kay for sharing this.

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    1. My Dad is part of the Greatest Generation, so I won'd argue with you one bit! I have the deepest respect for them.
      Thanks, Jim, for your comment!

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  15. Thanks for sharing this, Kay. I had no idea there were women on the beaches on D-Day. I'm going to look for this book for the library.

    Thanks, Dorothy

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    1. Oh Dorothy, you will treasure this book! You will love Frances, I am sure of it.
      Please let me know if you get this book for your library. It would make me so happy! xx

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