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Nursing: A War in Itself
It was finally time, time for Elsie Green to fulfill her dream of joining the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She had the opportunity to volunteer and joining with no prior military experience at all. Just committing to a year for now, she was ready to jump into work. She was just 20 years old and full of life. She had a passion for saving people's lives and had dreamed of becoming a nurse ever since her mother began telling her stories of her grandmother being a nurse. Her beautiful red ringlets flowed with the wind as she stood at the rail of USS U.S. Grant as it sailed into Manila Bay after a 32 day voyage across the sea. Filled with excitement, Elsie ran to her best friend Liza and yelled, “I AM SO HAPPY I GET TO FINALLY LIVE MY DREAM!”
Liza giggled back and simply replied with, “I’m just happy we are together.”
Most of the time, nurses were sent to wherever the army needed extra hands. Elsie and Liza were one of the few pairs that got to stay together.
Elsie and Liza were best friends since childhood. They had always done everything together. Whenever you saw one of the two, the other was sure to be close. Many people could have confused them to be sisters. They both loved the same music, had the same taste in men, same shoe size, as well as the same goals in life. They both wanted to be nurses for a long time and even made a promise to each other that they would always try to stick together.
Once they were ashore, Elsie, Liza, and the four other women on the boatload of soldiers went on a tour of their work stations. Elsie got to work at the local hospital there; a small, one story building with three different halls to work on. With little to no training beforehand, she was basically thrown into work. She started out performing basic care to officers’ wives and children. Being a new nurse, Elsie was in ranking of a “second lieutenant.” By the second day, she was in deep love with the work. She loved the uniform she wore: a white cotton dress with brown stripes on the sleeves and a brown collar, closing at the waistline with a tie; a brown and white cotton cap that laces up the back and forms easily to the head; as well as a brown and white lined jacket with two pockets, that could be worn over the dress. She fell in love with the people she worked with and the friends that she had gained. The best thing is that she got to work alongside her best friend, Liza. She couldn’t imagine how things could ever be bad while serving as a nurse; until the Japanese army came and took all of that away.
It was May 10, 1941, just about the ninth month of working in the Philippine Islands. It was a beautiful sunny day with the wind blowing and the birds chirping. Elsie was busy doing her rounds at the hospital, checking on all of her patients that she had for that day. Always having a smile on her face when she walked into a room to ask the patient how they were feeling. The day was going great and all of her patients were doing well. So, Elsie decided to go ahead and take a quick rest at the nurses’ station at the end of her hall while she had the time.
She took a seat at the desk and lounged back, stretching out her feet and crossing her arms over her chest. She fell asleep in the chair for about ten minutes before she was woken by a sudden rush of gunfire that came out of nowhere. She flung out of her chair, ran to a window to see what was happening. Just as she reached the window, a huge blast came from not too far away in the town about a quarter-mile from the hospital. The ground shook from the blast making Elsie fall to the floor, hitting her head on the way down.
Struggling to get back up she saw Liza running through the door down the hall screaming, “ELSIE WE HAVE TO EVACUATE! THE JAPS’ ARE HERE! HURRY!”
Fear struck through Elsie's body as she heard her best friend tell her what was happening. “Where do we take the patients?” Elsie quickly asked Liza in a panic, only thinking about their lives.
Just then the doors flew open with about ten Japanese soldiers rushing into the hall. Shoving the other four nurses down the hall along with them; holding all of them at gunpoint. Elsie and Liza were surrounded, with nowhere to turn. One soldier came forward, in a thick Japanese accident commanded them, “You two, you coming with us!”
“Over my dead body.” said Liza.
Right after those words came out of her mouth the Japanese soldier that had just spoke laughed, pointed his gun at Liza's head and pulled the trigger. Her body fell straight to the floor with blood flooding all around. Elsie was overcome with heartbreak and shock due to just witnessing her best friend be murdered. She fell to her knees screaming, “LIZA, NO! YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME! I, I, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!” With tears streaming down her face and barely able to breath, Elsie picked up her best friend’s head in her hands, taking one last look at her beautiful walnut colored face with bright red lipstick. Within ten seconds or so, the soldier, who had just killed Liza, walked over and picked Elsie up off the floor trying to force her to go with them. Of course she tried to fight back, but they were too strong. One soldier got tired of the struggle and smacked her head with the bottom of his gun, knocking her out cold.
While Elsie was waking up, she was hearing all kinds of things. She was hearing people screaming, people speaking in Japanese, and so many footsteps. Feeling very uncomfortable from whatever she was laying on, she started to stir around. She began seeing a bright light outside of her eyelids, struggling to open them, noticing that everything was blurry. Nothing would focus, and she had a stabbing pain in the back of her head, and her back. “Where am I?” she thought to herself, starting to get scared due to the unfamiliar atmosphere. She was lying on top of what seemed to be a few wooden slats covered with a thin towel. She tried sitting up as her eyes focused, placing a hand on her forehead, and looked around realizing that she was not in American protection anymore. But, she couldn’t remember anything that had happened, or how she had gotten there. All of a sudden she heard a voice behind her say, “Elsie?”
She turned around quickly, thinking she would see Liza’s face in front of her. But she was surprised to find that it was one of the four women that were taken from the same base. Elsie was so confused; all that she could mutter out of her mouth was “Mary?” Mary then rushed up and hugged Elsie, not letting go for a solid 2 minutes.
“Where, where is Liza? Where are we? What day is it? Where are our patients?” Elsie began to frantically ask. Mary sat in silence for a moment, knowing that Elsie didn’t remember what had happened just two days before. Breaking the silence, she then said;
“Elsie, we were taken from home by the Japs’. Just two days ago, they knocked you out
because you were fighting them too much. We are prisoners now, at a Japanese filled
hospital. It is May 12, 1941 on a Monday morning. All of our patients are now Japanese
soldiers, we are being forced to work for them. And Liza, she, she was killed. She refused
to cooperate with the Japs’ when they came to take us away.”
When Elsie heard all this, it was as if her heart had been torn out of her chest and shot a billion times. She started to cry and said “I will not stand for this.”
Elsie, worked for about 4 years at the prison camp, but just couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t take the disgusting smell of unclean sheets, unwashed bodies, and not having the proper medical supplies to do anything right. The officers treated her and the other nurses with somewhat respect because the Nurses worked all the time. But Elsie missed her home and safety so much. The nurses couldn’t even change their clothes without the fear that an officer would try something, and they would never go into a patient's room alone. None of the American prisoners were provided with new underwear, or shoes. They had to use sheets at new underwear and use Bakis for shoes. Elsie was so tired of living off of nothing, and having to fight to keep her very few items that she had working. On January 30, 1945 she decided that she would escape from this awful place of die trying. And, so she did.
Two days later, Elsie decided that it was now or never. She planned that that night; she would pack up necessary items in a bag and will sneak out of the door that is used for the shipments of new prisoners, as well as the dead. She only told her closest friend, Mary, about her plan. They both were stocking linens in the linen closet, which was their only moment alone.
“I’m planning on making an escape tonight. I can’t handle this any longer. Once I get in American safety, I plan to tell the generals all about this place. I hope to save you and every other American prisoner in here.” Elsie whispered to Mary.
Mary gasped, “Are you crazy?! You’ll never get out alive. They have constant surveillance all around this place. They’ll catch you the moment you walk outside!”
“I don’t care. I have to try, someone must. We have to take a chance to be free again. We’ve lived here for what, four years? And nothing good had happened. Someone needs to take the chance and put their life on the line for everyone else here. We won’t last much longer.” Elsie replied.
Beginning to tear up, Mary said, “Then you do what you feel you have to. Just be careful.”
They hugged and got back to work stocking the linens. Dinner came and went not much food as usual, but Elsie didn’t eat hardly any of it. She wrapped up the slice of bread and an apple in her napkin and stuffed it in the one pocket of her dress. Before Elsie knew it, it was time for her plan to come into play. She had to make sure that everyone in her ward was asleep before she could sneak out, carefully she tiptoed the entire time; not making any noise at all. She snuck around the beds, finding Mary’s on the way out the door and left a note inside her shoe saying:
I just want to tell you thank you for everything that you have done for me and so many others over the years. You are truly one of the best people I’ve ever met. You have been there for me ever since I lost Liza. I will keep you close to my heart, always. I promise I WILL get you out. Stay safe.
Elsie snuck out of the ward and down the hall, stopping at every corner to clear the area. Her heart was pounding a million miles a minute. Almost turning back, she fought the thought of everything that could go wrong with what could happen if she would get to safety. Moving swiftly through the halls, she could hear guards talking at their stations and joking with each other. After what must have felt like years, she made it to the back door and prepared herself to run as fast as she could through the field, to the woods just across the dirt road where so many truck loads of people had been transferred before. She put her hands on the door to push it open, but something inside her told her to stop and pray. She closed her eyes while taking deep breaths, in her nose and out her mouth, and prayed to herself: “Lord, please help me get out of here. I need to save everyone here. I couldn’t live with myself if I failed. Just help me get to safety. Amen.” Opening her eyes, taking one last deep breath she shoved the door open and ran to the tree line as fast as she possibly could. Within five seconds or running, a spotlight was over her. Japanese Guards yelled at her to stop, but to her, that was not an option. She just kept running as fast as her legs would take her until the stepped into a ditch and she twisted her ankle. She fell to all fours but refused to stop, starting to crawl as fast as she could. Trying the make herself stand back up but falling back to the ground each time. The spotlight still on her and guards still yelling at her to stop. Her breathing started to get fast and short, and panic kicked in. She began to pray more and more;
“God, help me! Help me! I must make it.” and telling herself, “Don’t stop! You fight to keep going! DO NOT GIVE UP!”
Gunshots began to fire towards her. Elsie crawled even faster but wasn’t fast enough. Just as she got to the tree line, a bullet shot through her torso right between her rib cage and her hip bone. She screamed and fell to the ground and felt a severe burning pain rush through her body. She began to cry and hold her side with as much pressure as she could, knowing that she would bleed out. She laid there for a solid 10 minutes just waiting for the Japs’ to come and drag her back, but they never came. “Maybe they think I’m dead.” Elsie thought to herself. “I have to keep pushing forward. If I die, I need to know I did everything I possibly could to get help.” So, she pushed herself through the gut wrenching pain in her side and her ankle to stand to her feet. She ripped off a chunk of fabric from her dress to wrap around her waist to keep pressure on her wound, and started on through the woods. Struggling to keep walking, every once in awhile having to lean against a tree or sit down for a break, she traveled until dawn.
Just as the sun rose she couldn’t walk any longer. Sinking to all fours, Elsie found herself just about fifty yards away from the edge of the woods. She was so close. But she couldn't make herself move any longer. She had lost so much blood, her vision was beginning to fade and her breathing was getting shallow. Elsie had lost all hope. She started to cry and scream, out in anger and pain... She closed her eyes and prayed again as she prepared herself for her last breaths, “Lord, please keep everyone at the prison safe. And…. send our troops in to save them. I don’t think they can take that life any longer.” She sat there in silent cries for a minute and began to hear American voices in the distance, just outside of the tree line, and they were getting closer. Hope filler her up inside and she had the strength scream for help.
She raised her head and screamed at the top of her lungs: “H-H-H-HELP...OVER HERE! P-PL-PL-PLEASE!” that is all she could muster out of her mouth before everything got blurry again.
She heard some voices say “Did you hear that? Over there! I see someone!”
Elsie’s vision began to fade in and out, clear to blurry to black, over and over. Her hearing became muffled, she was about to let go. When she felt a hand shake her, she opened her eyes to see a very handsome man in a U.S. uniform. He pulled Elsie to him and held her head in his lap while brushing her knotted hair away from her face. Elsie then took this moment to tell him about the prison and all of the Americans in there being held as prisoners. She asked for one thing and one thing only: that the whole prison would be saved. The soldier got tears in his eyes and was astonished by Elsie’s love for others and wanting to save them. He smiled and told her “I promise.”
In an instant, Elsie smiled back said “Thank you,” closed her eyes and took her last breath right there in his arms. Knowing that she had accomplished what she had wanted to do just a day before.
About three hours later, on the afternoon of February 3, 1945; an entire group of tanks and soldiers rolled into the prisons territory and took over the place. Every single prisoner was saved and liberated that day. Elsie Green went down in history as a hero, earning a medal of honor for saving an entire prison of U.S. citizens.