The Meaning of a Date

For most people around the world, August 6 marks the day everything changed. To hasten the end of the war in the Pacific, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

One of the first accounts I read was John Hersey’s now classic piece, published in The New Yorker in 1946. Part of the brilliance of that article was Hersey’s ability to render this catastrophic event in very personal terms. For Hersey, it was the people who mattered.

By the time “Hiroshima” appeared in the magazine, World War II had been over for a year. Survivors worldwide were in various stages of rebuilding. Part of that meant grappling with the realities of living in an atomic age. Human beings now possessed extraordinary destructive power. Every year on August 6, people commemorate Hiroshima and contemplate what led to the decision to use atomic weapons.

The end of World War II also left people grappling with personal issues. Peggy Utinsky, a nurse, spent the war years trapped in the Philippines under an enemy occupation. After the surrender of American and Filipino forces to the Japanese in the spring of 1942, Peggy had one goal: the find her husband Jack, one of the surrendered.

Now labeled an enemy alien in Japanese-occupied Manila, Peggy arranged for fake identity papers and joined a Red Cross medical mission to the Bataan peninsula. Amidst the smoldering ruins of that battle, she treated wounded and sick Filipino citizens, always asking after Jack.

When Peggy learned that the POWs had been put into Camp O’Donnell, she helped set up an underground supply network to make sure the men received the food and medicine they needed. She assumed Jack was there, but couldn’t get confirmation.

When the Japanese transferred the POWs to Cabanatuan, Peggy shifted her operation there. At the end of December 1942, one of her associates, Naomi Flores, made contact with one of the American prisoners working in the camp’s vegetable garden, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Mack. Naomi asked him to find out where Jack Utinsky was, and Mack wrote out a message for Peggy:

“Your husband died here on August 6, 1942. You will be told he died of tuberculosis. That is not true. The men say that he actually died of starvation.”

For the rest of her life, August 6 would have a special, personal heartbreaking meaning for Peggy Utinsky. Every year when she marked the anniversary of her husband’s death, the rest of the world talked about Hiroshima. For Peggy, these two events would always be linked.

In late 1942, news of Jack’s death had a profound effect on Peggy. She still had the rest of the war ahead of her. She had to figure out how to survive it. The rest of her story can be found in Angels of the Underground.

 

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The Day Before

I’ve been on vacation. I try not to work during this time, but trying isn’t quite doing. I had a book review to write and submit by August 1. It was tough, especially since that deadline competed with views like this:

Sturgeon Bay

In the midst of this tranquility, I realized today is August 5. I wonder what that day was like in 1945. By the next day, the world had changed. More on that tomorrow.

 

Celebrating the 4th of July During an Enemy Occupation

On January 5, 1942, days after invading Japanese troops occupied the Philippine capital of Manila, Josephine Waldo and her husband Bill, a Goodyear employee, along with other Allied nationals living in the Michel Apartments, were herded into army trucks and delivered to Rizal Stadium for registration. From there, they were transferred to the campus of Santo Tomas University, which served as an internment camp for Allied nationals for the duration of the enemy occupation.

Santo Tomas

Despite their circumstances, the American prisoners of the Japanese expressed national pride by celebrating holidays, especially the 4th of July. They risked raising the ire of the Japanese guards, but couldn’t stop themselves from marking the occasion.

On July 4, 1942, Josephine Waldo wrote in her diary, “Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes! It seems rather strange to be celebrating the 4th in a concentration camp, but it takes more than that to down the good old American spirit.” To celebrate, she and Bill ate ice cream and chocolate cake with friends, listened to firecrackers going off, and admired fellow internees’ red, white, and blue outfits. The day was topped off with a lecture about Thomas Jefferson and a group sing of “America the Beautiful.”

In 1943, Claire Phillips, an American woman who evaded internment by concocting a false nationality, marked the holiday by launching “Operation Hamburger.” She and some other Manila women had been smuggling food and supplies to Allied military prisoners held at the Park Avenue School for use as forced labor.

Claire and the women of “Operation Hamburger” sliced fifty loaves of rice bread and fried up meat patties to make hamburger sandwiches. They arranged with a local shop owner to slip the hamburgers to the men as they marched past. Nothing could be more American, Claire reasoned, than eating a hamburger on the 4th of July.

On July 4, 1944, the last 4th of internment, Ethel Thomas Herold, interned with her family in Baguio, a few hours north of Luzon, noted in her diary that she “hardly noticed” the day. The war had been going badly for the Japanese, who took their frustrations out on the prisoners. Food became scarce; many of the internees would soon start to exhibit signs of starvation. No one had enough supplies for a special meal or celebration on the 4th.

Still, Ethel described how some of the internees came to her room to look at and touch an American flag that she and some of the other women had been working on. “We women have slowly and lovingly button holed every star and sewed and resewed the seams just to be holding the flag. Whatever becomes of this flag, it serves its purpose in here, by just being secretly looked at and dearly cherished.” Both Ethel and her flag survived the war.

In occupied Manila, on that same 4th of July, Gladys Savary wrote about the day in her diary: “The Glorious Fourth–and I don’t dare hang out the American flag, but I have been admiring it all day, hung up in the bathroom.”

As the wife of a French citizen, American Gladys was exempted from internment, and she spent a lot of her time finding ways to help those inside Santo Tomas. “Can’t be much of a celebration, with nearly all Americans locked up. I am sure they are happy in the camp, what with the good news in the air. I’ve had several smuggled notes from camp and while the morale is good, they are getting increasingly hungry.”

Good morale could only do so much, though. These Americans would wait another seven months for liberation.

 

 

 

My First Bookstore Event

It’s happening on Thursday, at 7:00 p.m. on June 16 at

mysterytome

This wonderful Madison bookstore was one of many independents that showcased my book during the winter after it had been chosen as a January Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association.

Angels Madison

I hope you can come out and listen to journalist Doug Moe interview me about the book, and take part in the conversation.

 

Honoring Servicewomen on Memorial Day, Part II

Nursing was a dangerous occupation for female service members during World War II. Six army nurses, including 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, died in February 1944 when the Germans attacked an Allied beachhead at Anzio, in Italy.

Lt. Aleda Lutz, originally from Freeland, Michigan, was also involved with the battle of Anzio. An ANC general duty nurse assigned to the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transportation Squadron, she took care of the wounded soldiers as they were airlifted away from the war zone. The Germans shot at her, too, but she survived.

Lutz had evacuated the wounded from various areas of the European theater, as well as Africa, ultimately logging 814 hours in the air, perhaps more than any other member of the Army Nurse Corps during World War II.

On November 1, 1944, Lutz embarked on her 196th mission. She accompanied 15 wounded soldiers (some American, some German POWs) from Lyon, France to a hospital in Italy. During a storm, the plane crashed into a mountainside. There were no survivors.

Aleda Lutz was 28 when she died.She had been an army nurse for 3 years. Lutz was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1950, the Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center was dedicated in Saginaw, Michigan. Lutz is one of the servicewomen who deserves to be remembered on Memorial Day.