The summer of 1941 went by in a flash. The dresses the nurses bought in Manila were put to good use as each of them accepted invitation after invitation to accompany handsome young service men to night clubs and concerts in Manila. There was dancing on outdoor terraces amid fragrant blossoms beneath moonlit skies. There were bottomless cocktails with exotic titles served up in sparkling fancy glasses or hollowed-out pineapple and coconut shells. The local cuisine included ocean fish and sea food caught the same day they were prepared, and over-the-top desserts like flaming Bananas Foster and Coconut Mango Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce. The entertainment in Manilla riveled anything offered in any other well-known metropolis in the world. In fact, Manilla was dubbed the Havana of the Pacific The decadence was enough to make a young woman’s head spin. Enjoying that decadence with a handsome man in an all-white dress uniform took the experience to a whole new level.
The climate in the Philippines is tropical and maritime, with warm temperatures and high humidity, coupled with abundant rainfall. In Luzon, the area where Clark Field sat, it was not uncommon to have 150 inches of rain a year. This dampened many evenings of dancing under the stars, but there were plenty of indoor opportunities to enjoy. Gambling, legal and illegal, has been available in the Philippine archipelago since the sixteen hundreds, and the US military personnel spent many hours supporting the gambling establishments. Manila also offered a full array of indoor cultural events, including concerts, operas, and plays. Entertainment was available in Manila rain or shine.
It wasn’t long until the nurses began to talk among themselves about Christmas and all the opportunities to wear new and different dresses to the festivities planned in Manila and right on the Army base. The officers club would of course have its own gala, and every club and venue in Manila was poised to offer the best and most memorable holiday experience. Movie theaters were showing “Ball of Fire” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart.
Back at Clark Field and Stotsenburg Hospital, Sally noticed a difference in the men who were coming to serve there. For one thing, they were greater in number, and for another, they didn’t seem to have their dress white uniforms with them. Was it possible they were coming in as part of a troop build-up, and not to escort pretty nurses to fancy balls and renowned concert and plays? The news told of increasing allied military presence in other places in the world, like the United Kingdom, North Africa, and the South Pacific (on the doorstep of the Philippines). One would have to be blind not to see the “rumors of wars” in other parts of the world. But nothing had been said and no training held about what to do if war came knocking at the doorstep of the Americans in the Philippines.
One night at dinnertime in the hospital staff dining room, Sally and some other nurses were invited to sit at the table with the chief nurse and other higher-ranking officers. Sally leaned over and quietly asked the chief nurse, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea for us to get some heavy clothing organized and ready to wear in case we had to move into Manilla and had to bivouac on the way down?” The chief nurse was from Canada and Sally knew the Canadians displayed a lot of pomp and circumstance.
Her superior officer looked Sally square in the face and said, “I shall do no such thing…unless and until we receive orders from headquarters!” And with that, all talk about the potential for war was immediately stopped.
Little did the young nurses know that the “orders” would definitely come, sooner rather than later, “from headquarters.” The “orders” would come from the Japanese “headquarters.”