LOS ANGELES -- Jean Kennedy Schmidt -- one of the last survivors of the "Angels of Bataan," the American military nurses who were Japanese prisoners of war for nearly three years during World War II -- died March 3 at age 88.
The nurses stationed in the Philippines became the first large group of US women sent into combat, according to Elizabeth M. Norman, who documented their story in the 1999 book "We Band of Angels."
Within hours of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed American bases in the Philippines. Until then, few of the 99 Army and Navy nurses stationed there had served in war conditions, and they "found themselves almost overwhelmed by slaughter," Norman wrote.
Trapped on the Bataan Peninsula, they established operational hospitals with open-air wards in the dense jungle to help care for the retreating American forces.
"Our nurses' training taught us to improvise and to be innovative, and that came in very handy on Bataan," Mrs. Schmidt said in "No Time for Fear," a 1996 book of remembrances by World War II nurses.
When Bataan fell in April 1942, the nurses "were ordered to leave our patients behind" and go to Corregidor, an island in the mouth of Manila Bay, Mrs. Schmidt said in the book.
On the island, they set up a hospital in an underground maze of tunnels and cared for the wounded, despite almost nonstop shelling.
Because some nurses were evacuated just before the fall of Corregidor in May 1942, "we always thought we'd be going also, until the Japanese came into the tunnel," Mrs. Schmidt recounted in "No Time for Fear."
Despite being racked with disease and injury after being captured in May 1942 and sent to an internment camp in Manila, the remaining 77 nurses continued to practice, treating military and civilian prisoners in the camp.
Liberated when an American tank crashed through the camp's main gate in February 1945, all of the nurses safely returned.
With Mrs. Schmidt's death, only three are now believed to still be alive, according to Norman.