There have been numerous biographies written about those who served during WWII that give an idea of what it was like. Audie Murphy’s, To Hell and Back, gives a unique perspective of being an infantryman who saw the small objectives as something to deal with and large objectives as something for the Army to deal with.
No matter how well written, the biographies are always after the fact. The letters capture the moments as they happened with events still fresh in the minds of the writers.
Lt. Frances Sanger was a nurse attached to the US Army’s 45th Field Hospital who submitted a letter to Stars and Stripes on October 24, 1944. She was a short, scrappy Jewish woman with poor vision who fought to get the overseas assignment that made her one of four nurses to reach the beaches of Normandy.
The letter she submitted could have been written by any number of nurses in the European Theater to the soldiers they treated. With powerful prose, she captured more than just how they felt about the soldiers, but a moment frozen in time late at night of a nurse in Belgium in a brief lull.
Stars and Stripes, throughout the entire war, only published two articles under their editorial section by people who were not staff members, General Eisenhower and Lt Slanger.
When you read her letter below, take into account she never got to see her own words published. On the same day she sent her letter to Stars and Stripes, a German artillery shell ended her life in Belgium making her the only American nurse killed in combat in Europe.
Below is the letter in full from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Slanger:
It is 0200, and I have been lying awake for an hour listening to the steady breathing of the other three nurses in the tent, thinking about some of the things we had discussed during the day.
The fire was burning low, and just a few live coals are on the bottom. With the slow feeding of wood and finally coal, a roaring fire is started. I couldn’t help thinking how similar to a human being a fire is. If it is not allowed to run down too low, and if there is a spark of life left in it, it can be nursed back. So can a human being. It is slow. It is gradual. It is done all the time in these field hospitals and other hospitals at the ETO.
We had several articles in different magazines and papers sent in by grateful GIs praising the work of the nurses around the combat zones. Praising us – for what?
We wade ankle-deep in mud – you have to lie in it. We are restricted to our immediate area, a cow pasture or a hay field, but then who is not restricted?
We have a stove and coal. We even have a laundry line in the tent.
The wind is howling, the tent waving precariously, the rain beating down, the guns firing, and me with ta flashlight writing. It all adds up to a feeling of unrealness. Sure we rough it, but in comparison to the way you men are taking it, we can’t complain nor do we feel that bouquets are due us. But you – the men behind the guns, the men driving our tanks, flying our planes, sailing our ships, building bridges – it is to you we doff our helmets. To every GI wearing the American uniform, for you we have the greatest admiration and respect.
Yes, this time we are handing out the bouquets – but after taking care of some of your buddies, comforting them when they are brought in, bloody, dirty with the earth, mud and grime, and most of them so tired. Somebody’s brothers, somebody’s fathers, somebody’s sons, seeing them gradually brought back to life, to consciousness, and their lips separate into a grin when they first welcome you. Usually they say, “hiya babe, Holy Mackerel, an American woman” – or more indiscreetly “How about a kiss?”
These soldiers stay with us but a short time, from ten days to possibly two weeks. We have learned a great deal about our American boy and the stuff he is made of. The wounded do not cry. Their buddies come first. The patience and determination they show, the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold. It is we who are proud of you, a great distinction to see you open your eyes and with that swell American grin, say “Hiya, Babe.”