PURE GRIT: A Story of Friendship and Courage
The holiday season is when I miss my family the most. It’s when I really notice the long distance between the States and Europe, where they all live. It is also the time of year when I am forever grateful of my friends and how much support and encouragement I gain from them. They have become my family and I lean heavily on them, especially my women friends.
And so it seems fitting that as we enter the frenzied holiday season, we take a small break and talk about PURE GRIT. An amazing book by author Mary Cronk Farrell that tells the story of how American World War II nurses survived battle and prison camp in the pacific. The courage of these women will astonish you and the strength of their friendship humble you.
I am very happy to welcome Mary to See Jane Publish for an interview about her thrilling and well researched book. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of PURE GRIT, but first, here’s a blurb from Mary’s website:
Nine hours after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they attacked American bases in the Philippines. One hundred American military nurses stationed at those bases were hit with an on-onslaught of wounded and dying men–but the women had never been trained in combat medicine!
They had deployed to the Philippine Islands to enjoy a life of ease in a tropical paradise. But now, Army and Navy nurses rose to the occasion and learned combat nursing while bombs exploded around them.
When American forces retreated into the jungle, the women went ahead and set up combat hospitals. They were the first large group of American women ordered into combat. When American forces eventually surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor–the women were captured by the Japanese and 77 of them spent three years in prison camps before being liberated by General MacArthur’s men in 1945….PURE GRIT tells the story of these brave women’s survival through diaries, documents and rare historical photos. This little known story of courage and sacrifice will renew your faith in the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.
And now, my interview with Mary:
1) Tell us a little about the events that lead up to you deciding to write this book.
I was trying to write fiction when I first heard about the WWII POW nurses. I’d been struggling after my first novel came out, having all sorts of doubts about whether I was real writer, and whether I should keep plugging away at it.
I knew instantly that these women’s story deserved to be told. I had never learned about women prisoners-of-war in school and I thought today’s kids should not suffer the same deficit. But writing the story would be the hugest research project I’d ever contemplated, so that kind of scared me and I put it on the back burner while I finished my novel. It was when my agent had no luck selling my novel that I found the courage to jump in and tackle this story. I didn’t know if my writing career would survive and I figured it might help to learn how these women survived their ordeals, which were much worse than anything in my life–months of nursing on the front battle lines, three years imprisonment, starvation, disease, homesickness and isolation
2) One of the nurses you wrote about was still alive when you started the book, but how did you go about finding sources to do the rest of the research?
I started by reading everything I could find that had been written about, or by, these women, which included a number of excellent books written for adults. After that I focused on trying to find family members of the nurses, which took a lot of tedious detective work, but luckily found that two of the nurses had daughters that lived right here in Washington State. I was thrilled to be able to visit with them in person and hear the story from their perspectives. I was also busy trying to dig up records of oral interviews with some of the nurses that had been conducted by the Department of Defense and the Army Nurse Corp. The U.S. Military History Department happened to be in the middle of moving their archives, so that slowed the process.
For me gathering photographs was one of the most exciting parts of pulling together PURE GRIT. From the beginning I wanted the book to be accessible to many different types of readers and the photos were an important part of making that happen. It was thrilling when Army Nurse Ethel Thor’s daughters showed me photos their mother had taken during her time in the Philippines before the war, and then an action shot of her assisting in surgery at a field hospital during the Battle of Bataan. I also had a pretty big smile on my face when I visited the National Archives and dug through files of photos taken by the Army Signal Corp in those last desperate days before the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor.
3) What was the most surprising thing you found about these amazing women’s stories?
As I mentioned, the fact the Japanese captured 79 American women and held them POW for three years was a complete surprise to me, and then to find out that every single one of them survived—that just blew me away. As for their experiences in battle and prison camp—I need stronger words to describe my feelings—horrified, heartsick, and yet amazed and inspired. Maybe what surprised me the most in the end is how real these women became to me. Pouring over their words, pictures, the events they lived through, meeting family members, all of that served to bring them alive to me, and I’ve become really grateful for that.
4) Do you see echos of what the nurses experienced back then and what women in the middle of combat today deal with?
One thing that came up when I was speaking about PURE GRIT to some retired and active-duty military nurses was how the ability to improvise is an important skill in combat nursing. Medical supplies, technology and procedures have advanced exponentially since the start of WWII, but in crisis on the battlefield, nurses still have to be thinking on their feet, making do with what they have and figuring out how to do their job with compassion.
Unfortunately, another similarity is the difficulty veterans have returning to civilian life and coping with physical and emotional ramifications of military service. In 1945, these women did not get the help they needed. Today we understand so much more about Post Traumatic Stress, and still veterans may not be getting the help they need.
5) What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on final edits for a biography of Labor Organizer Fannie Sellins. In some ways her courage and compassion remind me of the POW nurses. She had that same ability to see a larger picture in the midst of suffering and choose to help others rather than focusing on herself.
When immigrant women earning poverty wages in St. Louis sweatshops voted to strike, Fannie was there. When destitute coal mining families dared to unionize in West Virginia—and got evicted from their homes—Fannie was there. When gunmen hired by mine owners threatened, beat and shot miners walking the picket line in Pennsylvania, Fannie was there. She stayed until she was killed in a hail of bullets, witnessed by some 60-people, the shooters were never brought to justice.
Thank you, Mary, for stopping by See Jane Publish. It was a pleasure to learn more about the writing process behind the book and more details about the amazing women featured in PURE GRIT.
Readers, for a chance to win a signed copy of PURE GRIT, tell us about an act of courage that you have witnessed or heard about. We’ll pick a winner through Random.org on at 7 PM PST on Sunday 12/21/14.
Posted on December 15, 2014, in Auth: Asa Maria Bradley and tagged Army Nurses, inspiration, Mary Cronk Farrell, Navy Nurses, Pure Grit, Women Courage, Women Friendship, Women Survival, World War II. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.