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Waking Up to War

American Nurses in the Philippines

Converted for the Web from "We Band Of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese" by Elizabeth M. Norman

In the fall of 1941, while the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy secretly stockpiled tons of materiel and readied regiments of troops to attack American and European bases in the Pacific, the officers of General Douglas MacArthur's Far East Command in the Philippines pampered themselves with the sweet pleasures of colonial life.

For most, war was only a rumor, an argument around the bar at the officers club, an opinion offered at poolside or on the putting green: let the bellicose Japanese rattle their swords -- just so much sound and fury; the little island nation would never challenge the United States, never risk arousing such a prodigious foe.

The Americans had their war plans, of course -- MacArthur had stockpiled supplies and intended to train more Filipino troops to fight alongside his doughboys -- but most of the officers in the Far East Command looked on the danger with desultory eyes. They were much too preoccupied with their diversions, their off-duty pastimes and pursuits, to dwell on such unpleasant business. To be sure, there were realists in the islands, plenty of them, but for the most part their alarms were lost in the roar of the surf or the late-afternoon rallies on the tennis court.

Worry about war? Not with Filipino houseboys, maids, chefs, gardeners and tailors looking after every need. And not in a place that had the look and sweet fragrance of paradise, a place of palm groves, white gardenias and purple bougainvillea, frangipani and orchids -- orchids everywhere, even growing out of coconut husks. At the five army posts and one navy base there were badminton and tennis courts, bowling alleys and playing fields. At Fort Stotsenberg, where the cavalry was based, the officers held weekly polo matches. It was a halcyon life, cocktails and bridge at sunset, white jackets and long gowns at dinner, good gin and Gershwin under the stars.

Copyright © 1999 by Elizabeth Norman. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

Click to Amazon to purchase "We Band Of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese."

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