The man who said the boat left for Corregidor “a long time ago” followed Sally back to where the other nurses were standing. He knew the senior nurse in their group. They came from the United States on the same troop ship the year before.
“I’ve got a smaller boat that will hold five including me,” he said.
So the five nurses talked about it and decided which one would stay behind. The bags and the people all got on the small boat and began making their way across the channel. The waves were splashing into the little boat, but not enough to dump them all into the water. Sally remembered for years afterwards how beautiful that little island looked that morning.
“Everything was silvery gold, the island itself and the water and the sky,” She said. Corregidor was nicknamed “the Rock,” because of its rocky terrain. That morning, the Rock was clothed in a gilded robe. It was impossible to tell where the water ended, and the sky began. The Rock appeared to be floating somewhere in between. The nurses knew that they were being evacuated to Corregidor because it was very likely the Japanese infantry would invade the open-air hospitals in the southern area of the peninsula of Bataan soon. Their commanding officer, General MacArthur, was long gone. The cavalry wasn’t coming to rescue anybody. They were on their own. But that morning, Sally would always remember the natural beauty all around them, and it was hard to believe at that moment that they were in any danger.
It was a short trip to the peer on the island, and the group got there safe and sound. The nurses were surprised when they got off the boat. Corregidor–The Rock–was a bustling Army installation. There were administrative buildings, a base exchange and commissary, a movie theater, a barber shop, and many more buildings to serve the needs and to entertain US and Filipino troops stationed there. The island was home to dozens of tropical plants and trees, a refreshing backdrop for the austere structures used by the troops.
But Sally and the other nurses were not here to work in the large hospital “topside.” They were on Corregidor so they could escape the enemy’s advances and be safe if—when the Japanese would claim victory. The nurses’ place of employment for the Army was inside the sprawling Malinta tunnel. After their arrival at the pier on Corregidor, the nurses found transportation to the mouth of the great tunnel system.
Another group of nurses arrived after Sally’s group, and they reported a similar experience in getting the man with the small boat to take them over the channel. In fact, small groups of nurses arrived all day long, talking incessantly when they reached what would serve as their barracks. Some reported being strafed by bullets from Japanese planes flying low over the little boat. Luckily no one was hurt, but that was the closest the nurses had come to being part of the very real war raging all around them.
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.