The first time Clark Field was bombed by the Japanese, everyone on duty knew the plan. At the hospital, the patients were to be moved to the basement of the building where they had the best chance of not being injured. Several storage rooms had been cleared of furniture, scrubbed clean, and made ready for the patients. The bombs kept falling, but not one hit the hospital. The Japanese kept up a continuous barrage every day for almost three weeks. And each time, everyone had to take cover. This lasted from December 8th until the 24th, Christmas Eve. The day before, Sally and a new nurse named Ann were off duty. Ann had been moved from Stermmer Hospital to help out. They decided to go swimming, and both being Midwest girls, they thought donning their bathing suits in December was crazy.  They had a grand time. It was good they didn’t get caught because the head nurse would not have thought it was cute at all.

The next day, things began to change rapidly. The bombs were getting closer and closer to the hospital, and the powers that be decided the patients and the medical staff had to be evacuated. The patients were loaded onto trains, and the medical staff came on board to make sure IVs were still inserted and bandages had not slipped. A small number of doctors and nurses stayed on the train and rode with the patients to Manila. The others were getting ready to board a bus when the air raid siren went off. They all had to take cover and there was a great scramble to get someplace safe. Sally saw a culvert and thought that was a terrific place to take cover. She crawled into a drainage pipe so small, she could not use her arms to move forward; she had to shimmy in. She took a deep breath and then realized there was an iguana not much smaller than her staring face to face at her. She tried to shimmy right back out of the culvert, but she was wearing riding boots, and one got stuck. The iguana did not look happy. Sally couldn’t move. It was a wartime standoff between woman and lizard. Sally shimmied harder and finally got her foot unstuck. She nearly bolted out of the culvert and came face to face with the cook from the nurses’ barracks.

“Oh, Missy Blaine, Missy Blaine, Missy Blaine!” he said, wringing his hands. “I want to help you but I could not do so!”

“I’m okay now,” Sally said, “and the bombs seem to have quit for the moment. Let’s make a run for the buses.”

HEY, EVERYONE! I’m pleased to announce that we have a winner of the Name The Book Contest! My friend Michele Hein submitted the winning title: MERCY MORE THAN LIFE: SALLY BLAINE MILLETT, WWII NURSE. For having the winning title, Michele will receive an autographed and personalized copy of the book when it is published, and she will be included in the acknowledgments page as the person who chose the title. CONGRATULATIONS, MICHELE!


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…