The abyss hissed. The emperor ignored it. For now.

Michinomiya Hirohito remembered the day his father died at age forty-nine, in 1926. Hirohito was barely a man, only twenty-five years old. His father, Emperor Taisho, had not been well most of his life. When he was three weeks old, he suffered an attack of spinal meningitis, which affected his ability to walk, and his mental capacity. His speech was affected, as well as his ability to think critically and make good decisions. He became reclusive and acted oddly for a member of the Japanese dynasty. These limitations plagued Taisho all his life, requiring much supervision and grooming from the royal court to render him suitable for his role as emperor. The grooming was not successful. Finally, he went into full retirement in 1919.

At the age of eighteen, Hirohito was made Prince Regent, not fully a head of state, but able to lead the government because his father could not. Conflict, always conflict! When his father left this world, Hirohito became emperor, whether he liked it or not. He had been the first Japanese crown prince to study abroad, pursuing his interest in marine biology—not exactly a skill he could use in leading an Indo-Chinese nation. Hirohito had seen Western culture, and his return to the rigors of Japanese royalty was difficult.

Now here Hirohito was, no longer the reluctant heir to the throne, but supposedly solidly in the role of emperor for life. He wondered, from time to time, if he had somehow inherited his father’s difficulties, like the inability to lead a nation sensibly or to fend off the emotional tole the role would take on him. He was not of a military mindset, but he was required to watch the reviews of all the men in uniform, marching in goosestep, heads turned toward the young man who was now their leader. Hirohito had dark moments when he felt unworthy of his post, surreptitiously thrust upon him. There was no escaping his place now, and he wished his father had been more of a mentor to him. But the prince knew his father was not going to have any deep connections to him or his three brothers. Hirohito feared his own dark side and didn’t understand his deep feelings.

The abyss hissed again. That unseen, unexpected cavern of pure evil that taunted young Hirohito until he feared he might tumble right down into the void. He could collide with his darker self someday, like the icebergs he had heard about in faraway waters, where colossal frozen chunks showed just their tips, but underneath the water line, a deadly mass was lurking.

Hirohito did not know, when his father died and he became emperor, that fifteen years later, he would try unsuccessfully to be marginally involved with his military leaders. But they would persuade him that diplomacy was not the way mighty Japanese emperors were to approach things. Japan was to become part of the Axis, they told him: Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. Eventually he would approve his nation’s plans for December 7, 1941, when just before eight o’clock in the morning, 350 Japanese planes supported by submarines, battleships, and destroyers, would attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 2,403 people would die in that attack, in which Japan would destroy nineteen American ships. That would include the USS Arizona, which would lie quietly at the bottom of the harbor, cradling 900 souls for eternity.

And Hirohito would also approve the “Other Pearl Harbor,” just hours later when the Japanese forces would bomb Clark Air Base on Luzon Island in the Philippines, forty miles north of the capitol of Manila. Clark would be one of many targets that day. There, a young nurse in the barracks would stoop to tie her shoe, suddenly feeling the percussion of the bombs. She would look out the window and see the flash of light, and then she would hear the great booming and strafing of the motionless American aircraft as each in turn was obliterated. The young nurse and the emperor were both to be remembered after that terrible day, for very different things.

Now, Hirohito wished the darkness would depart from him. He turned away from the abyss and tried to tell himself it wasn’t there at all.

But he could still hear it hissing as he walked away. “Axis!” it whispered. “Axis!”


In November of 1940 when twenty-five-year-old

Ethel reported for her first duty as an Army Nurse at Letterman Hospital near San Francisco, most of the soldiers seen were going to or from active duty around the globe. Ethel noticed a sign-up sheet asking for nurses interested in going to the Philippines. A pencil on a string could be used to leave a name.

“I put my name on that list three times,” she told a fellow nurse. “And each time, the list goes down and they don’t get ahold of me.”

The next time a new sign-up sheet was posted, Ethel used a pen on the signup sheet, hoping she’d get noticed. Within a couple of days, Ethel was called into her supervisor’s office.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like in the Philippines?” Ms. Near asked. Ms. Near had been to the Philippines more than once herself.

“Well, no, I don’t really know,” she answered quietly.

“Honey, you’re going to have to work very hard if you go there.”

Ethel’s answer was swift. “Well,” she said, “has anyone ever told you that I’m lazy?”

“Oh, no,” Ms. Near replied. “But I just want to assure you it’s not going to be easy if you go over there.”

Bunks on Troop Ships


The morning fog was lifting across the San Francisco Bay as the troop ship left the marina and headed west towards the open Pacific Ocean. Ethel stood outdoors at the railing on the port side, not able to identify her mood, or moods. She was simultaneously feeling excited, scared, teary-eyed, slightly panicked, and a little bit crazy. It seemed like only yesterday she had graduated from her nursing program, and although she had confidence in her clinical training and experience, she still had a bit of that farm girl in her. She thought of her mother now, how hard her mother cried when her sisters helped her load her baggage onto the train in Missouri. How far from home California had seemed, and now…now she was taking a seventeen-day voyage to Manila, nearly seven thousand miles from San Francisco. Remembering Ms. Near’s inquisition of her— “You are going to have to work very hard if you go over there”— Ethel thought, Can it be harder than farm work? What if I can’t hold up?

The Presidio’s fortress stood sentinel, as it had since 1776, as if saluting the young Army nurse as she passed. The Golden Gate Bridge, built just eleven years before, shone in the morning sun like a steel rainbow in a sky of misty blue. The fog was almost gone by the time the ship passed under the bridge. A crew member used the massive horns to play a short tune, just showing off for the tourists driving over the bridge. And soon, the bridge, the Presidio, the Bay, and California were just a distant recollection.

Ethel soon met other nurses who were heading for Manila. She wondered if any of them had been grilled by Ms. Near, and if so, why they thought they were suited for the tough job ahead.

The troop ship stopped in Honolulu, and the nurses had a chance to try out their land legs again. People told them that the Philippines looked much like Hawaii: a group of islands with white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, abundant flowers, and lush, green forests. It was hard to get back on the ship after their brief stay in Honolulu, but they had more of an idea how beautiful the Philippine Islands would be.

And they would not be disappointed…



I have “gone down a rabbit hole” today. What this means is that I started out sincerely doing research for Aunt Sally’s book, but I got lost reading about things I don’t intend to use, but they are interesting, nonetheless. Today’s “rabbit hole” is about the history of the military nursing staff in the United States. So here goes…

The thirteen original colonies which became the United States of America organized the Continental Army to fight the Revolutionary War of 1776. “Nurses” were needed to care for the sick and wounded soldiers. They were mothers, wives, and sisters of the troops. Their medical training was scant, and some were more acquainted with assisting their neighbors in labor and delivery. They cared for military casualties in tent hospitals and requisitioned private homes. They also cleaned the makeshift dispensaries, did laundry, made the meals, and managed the inventory of needed supplies.

Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, military nurses were not needed. But when war broke out between our own citizens, the battles were widespread in the North and the South, and casualties required nurses again. More than 3000 female and about 500 male volunteers worked dressing wounds, feeding, and bathing patients, and attending the dying. Many nurses fell ill themselves since they seldom got enough rest and were exposed to contagious diseases. In 1898, when the Spanish American War commenced, fifteen hundred contract nurses were mobilized, working to quell yellow fever, malaria, and other tropical diseases. These professional nurses’ efforts ushered in a permanent female nurse corps in the Army.

After the Spanish American War, the number of Army nurse corps members shrank to 220. The number rose to 450 during the Mexican border uprising in 1916. World War I saw nursing numbers swelling to 21,460 officers with 10,000 serving oversees in 1918. African American nurses were also admitted to the Nursing Corps for the first time. But segregation policies prevented them from rising in the military ranks until the War was over. By that time, it was estimated that one-third of all American nurses had served in the Army.

US military nurses continued working in hospitals and mobile units, displaying flexibility and focus on a variety of assignments from hospital trains in France to transport ships carrying wounded soldiers across the Atlantic. They were stationed at permanent facilities in the continental US, France, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. In 1920, Army nurses were allowed to progress from second Lieutenant to Major, although their pay remained half that of men of the same rank. From patients to active generals, the nurses’ outstanding performance was celebrated. This support, along with organized nurses lobbying for better treatment and higher pay, led to improving opportunities for these women. Their diligence began to pay off, but still lagged behind the men in service.

Onto this scene emerged our heroine, Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett.


Source: American Nurse Corps Association

Feisty From The Start

Sally wasn’t always called Sally. That nickname came later. She was born Ethel Lenore Blaine, in February of 1915, on her parents’ farm outside the tiny town of Bible Grove in northeast Missouri. Ethel was the tenth of thirteen children. Their farm house had a porch all across the front side of the house. The flat roof of that porch had a low railing made with real two by fours, and the top of that railing was four inches wide. Ethel’s brothers used to drag their bedding through an upstairs window and out onto that porch in the summer and sleep where they had a chance of feeling a summer breeze now and then, unlike the still, dead air inside the hot upstairs bedrooms. The girls weren’t allowed to sleep out there because, well, they were girls.

One night, when Ethel was about eight years old, she came out on that roof in her nighty while she was sleep walking, which she was known to do. Young Millard woke up and poked his brother Mayhue.

“Hey, look!” he whispered. “Ethel just climbed out the window in her sleep!”

Mayhue put one elbow under himself. “What’s she doing?”

Ethel walked across the roof, avoiding the boys lying on their bedding, and she hopped right up onto that railing.

“Look!” Millard whispered. “She’s getting up on the railing! She’s gonna walk around the railing!”

And the boys watched, spellbound and silent, as Ethel proceeded to walk all the way around that porch railing, balancing with her arms, not missing a step. Then she hopped down, climbed back through the window, and went back to bed.

“Did that really happen?” asked Mayhue.

Older brother Carl was now awake too. “Well, you’ve gotta say one thing about our sister Ethel: she is brave enough to try anything—even in her sleep!”

Next week: Go West, Young Gal, Go West!


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The Story of an Angel (Aunt Sally’s Book)

Greetings to all my blog followers! It’s been almost a year since I last posted. A lot has happened in that time, and I am definitely starting a new chapter in my life. To date, I have four titles published and on the market (two of which are compilations of the posts I wrote for this Christian devotional blog). I am now embarking on a new book project which doesn’t even have a name yet! The contest to select the book name ended at midnight on September 30th, and some friends and I will be choosing the winner soon. Since we don’t have a name yet, I will call the book, The Story of an Angel (Aunt Sally’s Book) for now.

So just who is this Aunt Sally I speak of? She was my dad’s younger sister who became a decorated military hero at the end of World War II. I am writing a book about her life, and I will be posting weekly, every Monday morning, letting you in on what I’m writing about. I will share some of the amazing research I’ll be doing, and maybe information about a few stray rabbit holes I go down which might be of interest to my readers. You will be part of this journey, and I will welcome comments and information you may have about this segment of history. (Come on, Blaine Cousins! It’s your chance to get involved!) If you don’t want to continue with my blog, please see the unsubscribe feature at the bottom of this page. But I would love it if you will at least read the first couple of blogs, and I hope you stick with me on this whole journey!

Here is a very short version of Aunt Sally’s story:

Adapted from the Pacific War Museum Oral History recorded by Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett: Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett grew up in northeast Missouri and went to nurses training in San Diego, California. She volunteered to go to the Philippines and arrived there in June of 1941. Life was a paradise of normal shifts at the hospital and plenty of social life in this flower-filled paradise in the Pacific. On December 8, 1941, just hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sally witnessed the bombing at Clark Field and rushed to the still-intact hospital. The nurses took care of the soldiers wounded by Japanese strafing. Because of continued Japanese bombing all over the Philippines, about 100 nurses and 50 doctors, along with thousands of patients, had to keep moving as the hospitals became threatened or destroyed. Soon, medical staff and patients were retreating to the jungles of the Bataan Peninsula. The patients were “hidden” from view to the Japanese because of the dense jungle growth. The “hospitals” were open-air; the only things covered were the medical records. For the first time in history, the all-female nurse corps were allowed to wear fatigues on duty in the open jungle, instead of their regulation white starched dresses and caps. Sally described having malaria and then having to evacuate from Bataan to the island of Corregidor. Sally was among several nurses who were being moved because they were so ill. Their sea plane bottomed out landing at Mindanao to refuel. Here they were captured by the Japanese and eventually moved to Santo Tomas, a POW camp the Japanese had created on the campus of a Jesuit university in Manila. Sally described losing her possessions, and the difficulties in the internment camp: the food, the work required, the sanitary conditions, the self-government, the birthrate, and the entertainment. She also described executions. Sally had to undergo surgery while at Santo Tomas. Finally, the American soldiers arrived, and she took a plane home in February 1945. Her brother met her in San Francisco. She and others who served in the Bataan and Corregidor campaigns were welcomed home as war heroes and were eventually awarded medals of commendation for their service in the Philippines.

NEXT WEEK: A humble beginning for our war hero!

Grace and Peace,

Meg Blaine Corrigan