Jean Marie Faircloth had always been accustomed to “creature comforts” beyond most people’s imaginations. She understood from early on that both sides of her family hailed from aristocratic Southern roots, had access to great wealth and all its trappings, and could boast of generations of military service, back to the Confederate Army and before. Jean loved all things military. It seemed that her meeting and falling in love with a man eighteen years her senior, General Douglas MacArthur, was a match made in heaven. She was just the kind of woman MacArthur would have chosen, if such an opportunity had presented itself.
Although she was a petite woman, she was fearless and confident enough in herself to be traveling alone to Shanghai in 1937. On the ship was another notable passenger, General MacArthur, bound for the Philippines. The General had retired from a distinguished career in the United States Army in 1937, to become a Philippine Army field marshal advising the Philippine government in preparing them for their upcoming 1946 independence from the United States. Making a conscious decision, Jean skipped her trip to Shanghai and got off at Manila, where MacArthur also disembarked. She and the General maintained an exclusive relationship until their marriage two years later in New York, during MacArthur’s trip home to build support for the defense of the Philippines that never came.
Macarthur’s new wife hit the ground running with her vast knowledge of and love for the military. Jean was an asset to her husband’s position in the Philippines. She was a tireless ambassador of goodwill for the Allies in the South Pacific. And she loved every minute of her role. Quiet and composed, serving as a backdrop and constant support for her husband, Jean Evenings were spent at home in the penthouse built for the General at the posh Manila Hotel. Predictable, regimented, the couple lived their days in service to the people of the Philippines and the United States. When their only child was born, Arthur MacArthur IV, named after his paternal grandfather, the parents doted on him and raised him in a loving—and of course—structured environment.
When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, things changed rapidly. Within a matter of weeks, General MacArthur ordered his troops, including all staff from several hospitals, to move to the densely covered jungle where they would be hidden from the Japanese. The plan was to wait for more American troops to arrive to help vanquish the Japanese army and to destroy their aircraft. No one knew the troops would never arrive. Jean set about closing out the penthouse and preparing for the unknown.
How could this be, now, that this family, emergent from money and privilege, found themselves moving to an underground bunker on the Philippine Island of Corregidor, or “The Rock,” as it was called? How could they decide what to reasonably take along—or more importantly, leave behind—of their seemingly limitless possessions? China and silver? What use would they be? Fine glassware and linens? The Japanese bombing broke tougher glass products than theirs, and the Malinta Tunnel’s ceiling shed fine particles of concrete dust each time the enemy fired mortars at the ground above. And what of little four-year-old Arthur’s toys (mostly military trucks and ships and flying machines)? How can he play with them on a cold concrete floor in whichever portion of “the third lateral tunnel from the east entrance” that would be set up for the MacArthur family to live in? But Jean Macarthur squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and resolved not to complain one bit about their new accommodations. Her husband was the high command of this crazy mission. He was determined to keep the American and Filipino hospital staff and patients, as well as the soldiers fighting on the front line, as safe as possible until American troops came. The sooner the better, she thought. But she was determined to do her part, no matter the cost, to support her husband and keep her son occupied.
Sometimes she and the other nurses would talk about how they got here, to this unimaginable situation of creating a “hospital”—if one could call it that—in the middle of this senseless war. But all any of them could do was put one foot in front of the other and do the job they were assigned.
The dark black night descended on Hospital #2 in the Bataan jungle. The canopy of foliage had a few open spots—they all knew where those open spaces were and hoped the Japanese knew nothing about them. The stars shone so brightly through those holes some nights that their beauty made Sally want to cry. Her fear had long since been replaced by a profound sadness and a longing for the meager possessions she left behind in Manila. Sally was now a charge nurse, responsible for the day-to-day treatment and care of over a thousand patients at a time. A few months into the outdoor adventure that was Bataan, Sally contracted malaria Refusing to receive any special treatment, she lay on her cot in the middle of the open-air med-surg ward and gave orders.
Meg Blaine Corrigan is the author of four books: Then I Am Strong: Moving From My Mother’s Daughter to God’s Child, a memoir about growing up in an alcoholic home; Saints With Slingshots: Daily Devotions For The Slightly Tarnished But Perpetually Forgiven Christian, Books One and Two; and Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist, a novel depicting Meg’s time playing drums in a Hawaiian Road Show. Her latest project is to tell the story of her Aunt Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett, who was an American Army nurse in the Philippines when WWII began. “Sally” joined about a hundred other nurses and 50-some doctors in transporting about two thousand patients from Statsenburg Hospital north of Manila (with more arriving every day) to the jungle on the Bataan Peninsula. They hid the patients from the Japanese for about four months until they were all captured and placed in POW camps for over three years before being liberated by American forces. This blog contains excerpts from the book in real time as Meg is writing and posting a blog once weekly. The book’s title is MERCY MORE THAN LIFE: Sally Blaine Millett, WWII Army Nurse. The anticipated date of publication is spring 2023.Meg’s website is www.MegCorrigan.com . She lives in a tiny apartment in Little Canada, Minnesota with her species-confused tropical plants and her rescue Carousel Horse, Mr. Ed.