03 December, 2011

03 December 1944

438th AAA AW BN

APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
3 December, 1944        1015

My dearest Sweetheart –

There’s a short lull in activities at the present moment and I’ll get a letter started to you, dear. Church services are being held next door by our Chaplain and it’s comparatively quiet right now. It looks like another fine day and we’re all surprised. We’ve had 4 or 5 fairly decent days in a row and that is most unusual – It’s really a treat – because one of the pleasures of this war has been in seeing a clear sky above and our fighter-bombers overhead having a field day. And don’t think out Infantry doesn’t love it, either. I was talking with an infantry officer the other day and that was one of the things he mentioned. He said that although they had to duck very often, it was very comforting nevertheless to hear the sound of strafing planes – friendly planes – just ahead of them.

Last night, after a quiet day, we sat around and listened to the Army and Navy game direct from Baltimore. The reception was good and it sure was like old times. I lost 5 marks – my bet with the Colonel. The game went on the air at 1900 and was over at 2115. After that – we played 3 rubbers of Bridge and finished up just short of midnight.

Today there’s a rumor around that Marlene Dietrich is to give another show right here in this town at 1300. We don’t know how true that is – but we’ll probably go down to see. It’s supposed to be given in a theater near our C.P.

Do I play ping pong? I have in the past, darling, but haven’t for some time. I don’t like to play unless I can have a shower immediately following the game because surprisingly that game can really give you a workout.

Your remarks about sex etc. – in a letter of yours – I read very carefully. We never did get much of an opportunity to discuss that subject; and it’s more complex than most people realize. Sexual incompatibility is the basis of more unhappy marriages than most people realize. I sometimes think that free love before marriage is a good idea. The only drawback in my estimation is its impracticability. I agree with you dear that it is a very personal subject and I can’t understand how married people can discuss their own sex problems or situations openly in front of others, no matter how close people may be to them. We’ve had several officers married in our outfit since the early days and the way some of them described things – disgusted me. I could never do it. As for your desire to remain a virgin pro tem – I think that’s a perfectly natural desire and that’s the way I want you. We’ll take our chances on sex –as so many people before us have done. I rather think we’ll make a go of it –

With interruptions and an occasional patient – it is now 1150. I sometimes don’t re-read my letters now before mailing them because they sound so disconnected, but I know you understand. It’s rare that I can start a thought and follow it thru without some sort of interruption. But the fact that I love you, sweetheart, and want you – can never be interrupted in my mind – and that is the most important thought of all. Love to the folks, darling and

My sincerest love,


about Frances Y. Slanger, U.S. Army Nurse

Lieutenant Frances Y. Slanger, R.N.
A Time magazine article titled “World Battlefronts: The Wounded Do Not Cry,” from the week of 3 December 1944 (dated 4 December), told some of the story of Army Nurse Lieutenant Frances Slanger. Here is a more complete version of her story:

In 1913 Freidel Yachet Schlanger was born in Lødz, Poland three months after her father left for America. In 1920, seven-year-old Frances, mother Eva, and sister Sally boarded a steamship to escape the persecution of Jews in Poland. They arrived at a U.S. Immigration Station where Frances met her father for the first time. It was here that her name was changed by immigration officials to Frances Y. Slanger. In Roxbury, a part of Boston, Massachusetts, Frances helped her father peddle fruit every day. She remembered her family’s suffering in Eastern Europe and longed to help others as a nurse. Her parents instead hoped that she would marry. Much to her parents’ dismay, Frances followed her dreams, graduating from Boston City Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1937.

Frances Slanger in 1930

At home in Roxbury, 29-year-old Frances Slanger heard news from her relatives in Poland. The invading Nazi forces had torched synagogues and were imprisoning Jews in ghettos. She knew Jews in Lódz were being shipped to Auschwitz and Chelmno. Her Polish relatives (of whom only one survived the Holocaust) were being forced to make German uniforms. Frances longed to help fight for democracy overseas, so in August 1943 she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. With bad eyesight, she had to talk her way overseas. It was said that she wrote poetry and short stories, valued life, took risks and wanted to make a difference, including helping to resist Hitler's forces.

Army Nurse Recruitment Poster

Just 4 days after the D-Day invasion, Frances waded onshore at Normandy, France, to find 17 truckloads of injured soldiers. Two hours later Lieutenant Frances Slanger and other Army nurses were at work. They slept on the ground and wore the same clothes four days running. In five weeks of rugged going they helped handle 3,000 casualties. Assigned to the 45th Field Hospital, she worked as part of a surgical team on the front lines. Even through these hard times, Slanger knew that she had found her calling. She cared for each and every patient of hers as if they were a long lost brother or friend that she had met again. Here she was free to help her patients as much as she wanted and in any way that she wanted. If the patient was having trouble lifting his head to drink water, she put an IV bottle and rubber tubing together to create a water bottle. If they wanted the bullet or a piece of shrapnel that wounded them as a souvenir, she gave them what would make them happy. And if she wanted to sing to a wide-eyed soldier to remind him of home, then she did just that. Slanger quickly realized that many times the soldiers needed more than just IVs and surgery to heal. These shell-shocked boys needed love and care, as was evident from their frequent moans for their mother. What stood Slanger apart from other nurses was that while most nurses only tended to the soldier’s physical needs, she tended to their psychological needs as well. She often gave them the will to continue fighting to live. To these boys, the nurses in mud-stained dresses and unkempt hair were angels.

By October, the 45th Field Hospital Unit was stationed in Elsenborn, Belgium, where it tended soldiers from the Battle of Aachen. In early October the girls were touched when a news article praised them for sharing the G.I.s' mud and discomfort without a whimper. The night of October 20, Slanger couldn’t sleep. She and her tent mates had been discussing the heroism of the men who put their lives on the line every day, and she felt the need to set her thoughts to paper. The next day, she sent her letter to the Stars and Stripes editors, who ran it in the November 7th edition under the heading, “Nurse Writes Editorial." Here is that letter:

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."
Nurse Slanger never got to see her letter in print. The same day she mailed it, 21 October 1944, the rain fell hard in Elsenborn, Belgium, a town not far from the German border. The area had been quiet for days and dinner was a normal affair. Quite unexpectedly, the 45th Field Hospital came under attack by German artillery. Foxholes had not been dug on the assumption that Elsenborn was in a safe area, and as a result, there was little cover from the barrage of German shells. Days before Frances would get to live her dream as a published writer, a German shell ripped into her tent and slashed through her stomach. She died a half hour later.

Two weeks after her letter was published, the editors of Stars and Stripes printed an article, notifying readers of her death. Hundreds who had been touched by her letter wrote in requesting she be honored for her service to her country. Frances had been the first American nurse to die in Europe. On February 13, 1945, a U.S. Army hospital ship, Lt. Frances Y. Slanger, was named in her memory. 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. Representing all Jewish women veterans, this post was committed to community service, women’s rights, and programs that helped Jewish communities, such as combating anti-Semitism globally. One of the post’s immediate plans was to create recreational facilities for veterans of all religious denominations.

The Grave of Frances Slanger

Frances was buried in the U.S. cemetery in Belgium. In November 1947 her remains were returned home for a memorial service with more than 1,500 in attendance, including friends, relatives and the Mayor of Boston.

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