Of the 350,000 American women in uniform during World War II, none instilled more hope in American GIs than Frances Slanger. In Army fatigues and helmet she splashed ashore with the first nurses to hit the Normandy beach in June 1944. Later, from a storm-whipped tent amid the thud of artillery shells, she wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes newspaper that would stir the souls of thousands of weary soldiers. Hundreds wrote heartfelt responses, praising Slanger and her fellow nurses and honoring her humility and patriotism. But Frances Slanger never got to read such praise. She was dead, killed the very next day when German troops shelled her field hospital, the first American nurse to die in Europe after the landing at Normandy.
Frances Slanger was a Jewish fruit-peddler's daughter who survived a chilling childhood in World War I-torn Poland and immigrated to America at age seven. Inspired by memories of her bitter past and a Nazi-threatened future, she defied her parents' wishes by becoming a nurse and joining the military. A woman of great integrity and courage, she was also a passionate writer and keeper of chapbooks. This is the story of her too brief life.
Former newspaper columnist Welch (The Things That Matter Most) presents a detailed biography of a World War II army nurse for whom death and fame came nearly simultaneously. Frances Slanger was a shy, bookish woman who worked tirelessly to care for wounded soldiers. In June 1944, she was one of the first nurses to wade ashore on Normandy beach. One night, she wrote a letter in praise of her American G.I. charges, which was published in the military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. Hundreds of soldiers wrote to thank her for the letter, not knowing that she had been killed by enemy fire within hours of posting it. Welch carefully traces the major events of Slanger's life: from her childhood in World War I Poland, where she suffered because she was Jewish, to her coming of age in Boston, where she decided, against her parents' wishes, to become a nurse so she could serve her adopted country and help stop the spread of Nazism in Europe. Thanks to her famous letter, Slanger received many posthumous honors, including having a warship named for her, but Welch's biography is the first extended account of her life. The book is at its best when describing the conditions of the army field hospital where Slanger worked. It is less assured when recounting Slanger's experiences before she entered the army, and the author's conceit of switching back and forth between the two time periods is needlessly confusing. Nonetheless, Slanger's life offers a stirring story of intense personal devotion and, despite its somewhat pedestrian prose, this book should be appreciated by WWII buffs, as well as those interested in women's history.