Because it’s Veteran’s Day and the Jessica Lynch story is front and center today, I’ve been thinking about my great aunt, Eleanor Garen, who retired as an Army major after being a POW in the Philippines during World War II. As an army nurse, her experiences included work on both Bataan and Corregidor under extreme conditions before the surrender of Corregidor and her capture. She spent several years as a POW in the Santo Tomas prison camp Manila with a group of army nurses who were known as the “Angels of Bataan.”
After Aunt Eleanor’s death, I ended up with her papers and materials, including items and documents from the prison camp, which are now displayed at Northwestern Hospital and the Michigan’s Finest military museum in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Some of those papers and a series of interviews with my great aunt were instrumental in the writing of Beth Norman’s highly-praised book, “We Band of Angels, which tells their compelling and little known story.
When I grew up, we really only knew that she had been a POW in World War II and not much else, other than that she didn’t have the highest opinion of McArthur, who was evacuated from the Philippines before the end stage. I did know that she had a fabulous sense of humor and a commitment to education. Her gift of $1,000 on my high school graduation, an immense amount to me at the time, came out of her belief in the value of education and because she wanted to recognize me for being the first in the family to go to college. Ironically, I later learned that she graduated from Northwestern Hosptial’s nursing school in the 1930s and attended a variety of college classes most of the rest of her life. I now think that I am the second person in my family to go to college.
I know that my Aunt Eleanor never really told anyone much about her story because, as she said, she didn’t see herself as having done anything special and she didn’t think people really wanted to hear about her experiences.
This book tells her story and it’s been gratifying to know how many people do care about her story. There are very few of the “Angels” still alive today, which is sad because they do have a special place in our history.
When I looked through the boxes I had after Aunt Eleanor’s death, I really wanted to make sure that her story didn’t stay locked in those in boxes in a basement. With the help of Susan Sacharski at Northwestern and others, we got some that material and more to Beth Norman. Beth Norman worked very hard and succeeded in telling the great story of these women. This book is compelling and will definitely touch you. I definitely recommend that you add it to your reading list.