And If I Perish was recommended to me by the nurse re-enactors of the Conneaut D-day event as a source of information on American medical staff during World War II. I needed to place my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, in the European Theater as a surgeon, but I truly had no idea how to incorporate a civilian doctor among the ranks of military personnel.
Thanks to Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s thoroughly researched book, I not only had a way to place Dr. Welles in the war, I had firsthand accounts via actual medical staff of what he would have encountered.
And If I Perish is a treasure trove of information not to be missed. I highly recommend it to students of nursing and history. While the contribution of doctors is also noted, the focus of the book is on the nurses who responded to the call to tend American soldiers fighting in North Africa, Italy, and at the Normandy landings through to the end of the war in Europe.
Often without footwear and uniforms in their sizes, yet an abundance of nylons, lipstick, and face powder supplied by the military, the nurses who participated in World War II made tremendous sacrifices and improvised on the spot to ensure that American and Allied soldiers received the best in medical care. They even gave the best they had to offer when working on German POWS who, with the exception of SS officers, were often grateful for the care they received once they overcame the fear of being captured.
It was no small challenge for the nurses to assist doctors while only a couple of miles from the front lines, often in horrible weather, and sometimes during retreats with the threat of being left behind hanging over their heads. And they did it without the benefit of weaponry to fight back.
The nurses endured bombing, strafing, and even evacuation from a hospital ship that had been attacked by unscrupulous pilots of the Luftwaffe contrary to the Hague Conventions. Occasionally they lost one of their own, a fact that further solidified their sense of family. All this they endured at less pay than their male counterparts.
With the equality that women enjoy today in many fields of work, it is difficult for me to comprehend why, for so many years, the nurses’ stories were overlooked and why they didn’t receive as many promotions and awards as the men serving. Hopefully, Mrs. Monahan and Mrs. Neidel-Greenlee’s book came in time for all of them to know how loved and appreciated they were and are for the sacrifices they made in serving their country.
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