War is hell, whether you are the soldier fighting the enemy, the medic tending the wounded or the civilian caught in the crossfire. Mary Cronk Farrell’s informative, sometimes upsetting book follows a group of U.S. military nurses who had been stationed, quite happily, in the Philippines before Pearl Harbor. “I had no idea there was going to be a war,” one later lamented. “That’s how naive I was.” “Pure Grit” begins with a map featuring Luzon, the country’s largest island and the location of Manila, Bataan and a number of POW camps during World War II. The well-
researched narrative, however, is less about military campaigns than about the drama of the people on the ground, particularly those 67 nurses who became prisoners of war. All they knew about Allied strategy was that they weren’t being rescued. Amid near-constant bombing, food ran short and trenches were dug around makeshift hospitals to protect staff, patients and medical supplies. Thousands of people were transported to a massive underground facility that was safe from bombs but not from “the stench of sweat, blood, disinfectants, anesthetics, overused latrines, and wounds with decomposing flesh.” Farrell doesn’t spare her young readers any grim details, including the physical effects of starvation, malaria and dysentery, as well as the mental strain of caring for the sick, the injured and the dying under harrowing conditions. She includes the challenges these women faced and the joy they felt on returning home. As awful as history can be, now might be the right time to introduce the next generation to this important period.