Prisoners in Paradise

Natalie Crouter, a forty-six-year-old American wife and mother living in the Philippine Islands, sat down at the end of an evening in late October 1942 to write in her diary. She recounted a school pageant, which her two children, Fred and June, participated in, celebrating both Halloween and Thanksgiving. Natalie was especially moved by the Thanksgiving portion of the show, which retold the familiar story of the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Rock. This year in particular, she felt a personal connection to the tale of people in a strange land worrying about food, getting along with an alien population, and just surviving.

Natalie ended her diary entry that evening lamenting that “we are waiting for America.” Her contemporaries may have regarded those five words as an opening phrase that would end “to win this war.” In the fall of 1942, Americans waited, hoped, and prayed for the United States to win its arduous battle against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. But American women did not wait in idleness. They expressed their patriotism and support for the war through action, taking up a variety of work ranging from riveting in airplane factories to enlisting in the armed forces to serving donuts and lemonade at USO socials.

In many ways, Natalie Crouter waited for victory just like other American wives and mothers. She kept a close eye on the activities of her two children, monitoring their progress in school, keeping track of their health, and discussing the war and its possible implications for their future.

A smart and resourceful woman, Natalie adjusted to doing without materials and foodstuffs, substituting new items into her family’s wardrobe and diet to replace the unattainable ones. She generally expressed optimism for a decisive Allied victory, but at times she despaired because it was taking so long.

The longer the delay, Natalie knew, the more likely she and her children, confined to a concentration camp, would die.

Coinciding with their attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck at other American territories, including the Philippine Islands. The Americans living there were trapped. When the Japanese invaded and occupied the islands in January 1942, the Crouters became enemy aliens. To prevent sabotage and humiliate the Allies, the Japanese rounded up all Allied civilians, including women and children. The Japanese viewed them as hostages, valuable bargaining chips.

Natalie, her husband Jerry, and their two children were interned along with about five hundred other civilians in Baguio, a mountain resort city north of Manila on the island of Luzon. Altogether, close to fourteen thousand American civilians spent about three years as prisoners of the Japanese.

The Crouter family was relatively lucky, since they managed to stay in the same camp. But to frighten and demoralize their captives, the Japanese decreed “no commingling” and forbade families to live together. Natalie and the children lived in one barrack, with Jerry housed separately. Visits were allowed, but touching was limited. Family life was altered, strained, with the children struggling to adjust and make sense of their new reality. Fear was a daily companion.

The Japanese understood what they were doing. They not only had hostages, they had compliant hostages. The adults in the camps proved reluctant to overtly resist Japanese authority. Parents like Natalie and Jerry did not want to risk any retaliation that might be taken out on the children.

To find out what happened to the Crouters and other Americans, you can read

or my own,

978-0-7006-1003-7

which opens with Natalie’s story. The cover photo was taken in the Baguio camp, before the worst of the wartime deprivations took hold.

An edited version of Natalie’s diary was published in the 1980s:

Image result for forbidden family crouter

 

 

 

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Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day

American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.

This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.

Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.

(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)

A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.

On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

[This post originally went up for Memorial Day 2016.]

 

Mothering in Wartime

Motherhood brings a series of rewards and challenges. And that’s under normal circumstances.

Image result for painting of mother with children

There have been times when mothering has been made even more challenging because of uncontrollable external forces. In January 1942, weeks after the United States entered World War II, Japanese troops occupied Manila, the capital city of the Philippine Islands, an American colony.

Japanese head into Manila 1942

Within days, they rounded up and interned thousands of Americans living in and around Manila, including women and children. For the most part, the internees fended for themselves. This put an additional strain on the women who had children to mother: separated from their husbands, deprived of servants, forced into communal living arrangements, scrounging for food. Read more about their experiences here:

PIP cover

An Unsung Hero

Florence Finch has died. More than 75 years after her heroic actions in the Philippine Islands during World War II, she has received national recognition: The New York Times published her obituary two days ago.

I ran across Florence’s story when I was researching anti-Japanese activity in the Philippines. Her name came up in connection with Claire Phillips, one of the “angels” in my recent book. For a time, the two women were jailed together, having been arrested, questioned, and tortured by the Japanese occupation authorities in Manila.

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch was born in the Philippines to an American father and Filipina mother. In early 1942, she worked for the Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union, which was run by the Japanese. She used her position to divert fuel to the resistance, and in her spare time she helped smuggle desperately needed supplies to American military POWs. For these actions, the Japanese sentenced her to three years of hard labor.

Florence, along with Claire Phillips, was rescued by American troops in February 1945. After joining her father’s relatives stateside, Florence joined the Coast Guard. Later, she received the Medal of Freedom for her resistance work in the Philippines.

Why isn’t Florence Finch more widely known? As her daughter Betty Murphy put it, “Women don’t tell war stories like men do.”

Of course, you can read more about Florence in Angels of the Underground. Learn more about women’s war stories.

 

Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day

American women became a permanent part of the U.S. military in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Prior to that, when the country was not at war, women could only serve in the Army or Navy nurse corps. During both world wars, however, the various branches of the military recruited women for non-combat service.

This didn’t keep servicewomen safe during wartime. In World War II, over 540 women died while on duty. Though most of those deaths were from accidents and illness, at least 16 of them were the result of enemy actions.

Twenty-four-year old 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth was one of six nurses killed during the battle of Anzio.

(Ainsworth, on duty in Italy, is second from right.)

A member of the Army Nurse Corps working with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, Ainsworth was in Anzio, on the west coast of Italy, in early 1944. The Allies were still trying to wrest the country from the Germans, who put up bitter resistance.

On February 10, 1944, Ainsworth was working in a tent hospital on one of the beachheads the Allies had established. German plans bombed and strafed the area. Disregarding her own safety, Ainsworth stayed with her patients. A piece of shrapnel hit her in the chest, and she died six days later. For her bravery, Ainsworth posthumously received the Silver Star. She is buried in Italy.

2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth is one of many servicewomen who deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.