Mama Josie and the Angels of Bataan

World War II both brought many and shone a light on many horrors. (See my post on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) But among the awfulness there were shining stars. This is the story of Mama Josie and the Angels of Bataan.

The Angels of Bataan stepping off an ariplane

Early Life

Josephine Nesbit was born on the family farm in  Butler, Mo on December 23, 1894. Nesbit was the seventh of ten children. Farm life was hard. Even the children rose at dawn and did chores. 

Both her parents died before she turned twelve. Orphaned first her grandmother and later a cousin in Kansas took her in. She left high school at 16.

Nursing as a Career

Her sister was a nurse. After Nesbit spoke to her sister’s supervisor, she chose to become a nurse. Nesbit became a registered nurse in 1914. 

An army recruiter came to Kansas City in 1918. He wanted nurses to join the Army Nurse Corps to help with the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Nesbit joined the Reserve Army Nurse Corps.

By 1941 Nesbit had been an Army Nurse for twenty-two years. She’d enjoyed the travels of a peace-time nurse.

On her second tour, Nesbit was a lieutenant and second-in-command at Stenberg General Hospital in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. She was responsible for the nurses’ work schedule. Known for her sensible military demeanor and maternal affection for her staff, the American nurses called her Josie. Her Filipina nurses called her “Mama Josie.” She called her staff “her girls.”

Manilla was a dream location—a city on a beautiful topical island with great weather and plenty of free time to enjoy the locale.

World War II

On December 8,1941, Nesbit was the acting chief nurse because the chief nurse, Captain Maude Davidson, had been injured in a night raid. Information about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor trickled in by radio. The nurses’s reactions escalated from denial to concerned about family and friends in Honolulu to near panic.

Nesbit told the staff, “Girls, you’ve got to sleep today. You can’t weep and wail over this because you have to work tonight.”

Less than nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed the Philippines. They destroyed most of the American B-17 bombers on the ground at Clark Field. The hospital filled with patients.

The Angels of Bataan

By Christmas, they’d retreated north and east to the steamy jungles of the Bataan Peninsula. They set up a field hospital with eighteen open-air wards. 

For four months the nurses dressed wounds, fought mosquitoes, malaria and dysentery, while the bombs fell all around them. Food supplies dwindled. They cut rations from three meals a day to two. Over the four months in Bataan, they cared for 6,000 sick and wounded soldiers.


In April 1942, Bataan fell to the Japanese, the nurses, along with the 80,000 Allied troops were ordered to retreat to the island of Corregidor.

Col. James E. Gillespie, the medical commander, ordered Nesbit to get her American nurses to his office by 20 hundred hours and only take what they can carry. When Nesbit asked what about her Filipina nurses, he stated only the American ones. Nesbit refused to go. Gillespie got permission to evacuate all the nurses — Americans, Filipinas, and the civilian women working with them. 

Malinta Tunnel

Malinta Tunnel hospital where Nesbit and the Angels of Bataan worked.

On Corregidor, the hospital was in Malinta Tunnel. Originally built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a bomb-proof storage & personnel shelter, it became a 1000 bed hospital. There was a main tunnel and 25 lateral tunnels. Medical personnel and patients were subject to fetid air and constant concussive bombing. 

On May 6, Corregidor Island fell. The Japanese took the remaining Allied soldiers, nurses, and their civilian staff prisoners of war.


Among the captured Allied forces were 11 Navy nurses, 66 army nurses, and 1 nurse-anesthetist. The nurses were taken to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. The Japanese cut their rations to 700 calories per day. Disease was rampant.

Nesbit and her former superior, Maude Davison, ran the camp hospital that ministered to soldiers, nurses, and captive civilians from August 1942 to February 1945. They established routines and required the nurses to work four-hour shifts every day. When a nurse was too weak to work, Nesbit often substituted herself for that nurse’s shift.

Nesbit took care of “her girls.” She’d find bits of cloth for underwear and tiny pieces of meat for extra protein.


Image of the Angels of Bataan during or shortly after liberation

In January 1945, Allied forces took over the Philippine Islands. Soon, 3,700 prisoners of war were liberated. The nurses had lost an average of 30% of their weight. Some were too weak to stand. But all 77 nurses had survived.

After the War

Nesbit retired from the military on November 30, 1946, as a major with 28 years of service.

She married a soldier, William Davis, in June 1949. Davis had also been interned in the war. They lived in California.

Nesbit wrote the Veterans Administration when it slighted nurses who had been POWs. She reminded them of the sacrifices these women made. And she sent cards and notes to every nurse from her Philippine staff for every birthday and Christmas for 49 years.

She was unable to attend the ceremony celebrating the Angels of Bataan in Washington DC in 1992. But she sent a note “embracing her girls.”


Nesbit died August 16, 1993. They scattered her ashes off the San Francisco coast.


Nesbit earned 11 ribbons and medals during her service.

They featured a romanticized version of the Angels in the 1943 movies, “So Proudly We Hail,” starring Claudette Colbert and “Cry Havoc,” starring Margaret Sullivan.

The Angels of Bataan were the first large group of American women in combat and the largest group of American woman taken prisoner in combat. They proved their value and valor.

In 1980, former soldiers who had survived POW camps dedicated a bronze plaque at the Mount Samat shrine “in honor of the valiant American military women who gave so much of themselves in the early days of World War II.

You can find a list of books about these women on the Mighty Girl’s blog.

Horror and Heroism

The horrors of war often bring out heroes, many of them never fomally recognized. But their fellow soldiers and nurses know. And now you know about Mama Josie and the Angels of Bataan.

14 Quotes About Peace

The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have made peace their number one priority. Did you know that school children in Japan take mandatory peace studies? Perhaps everyone ought to take such classes. This isn’t a class, but perhaps these quotes about peace will inspire some reflections and perhaps actions that will bring about a lasting peace.

image of a dove in flight--a symbol of peace to go with these quotes about peace

What Is Peace

Peace is not the absence of war, but a virtue based on strength of character.

Baruch Spinoza

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.

Elie Wiesel

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who Wants Peace?

While there are those who speak of war as some necessary thing, there are those who have been victims of war, soldiers of war—and all they want is peace. Read their quotes about peace.

Peace is our number one priority.

Sachiko Matsuo 83, Nagasaki

The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

Douglas MacArthur

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

How To Achieve World Peace

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.

John F. Kennedy

The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.

Omar N. Bradley

The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.

Norman Schwarzkopf

War may make us great, but let it never be forgotten that peace only can make us both great and free.

John C. Calhoun

The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned.

Sylvester Stallone

If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.

Mahatma Gandhi

Let Peace Rise Triumphant

When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.

Fred Rogers

We humans have the ability to make and live in peace. The quotes about peace above are a small token of the ways we think and yearn for peace. So let’s listen to Mahatma Gandhi and to Fred Rogers. Let’s make peace a priority. Let’s begin with the children. Teach Peace. Sing about Peace. And make it more than a dream.

The Flowers of Hiroshima, A Book Review

When I first read this book, I had just turned 14. I have never forgotten the heartbreak. This is a review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris, re-read more than 50 years later.

image of the cover of The Flowers of Hiroshima.


Told in the first person, this is the story of a Japanese family and their American boarder. The tone is loving and tender and heartbreaking.

Yuka-san, a young housewife, meets Sam Willoughby outside of her home. Sam, a young American on a business trip to Hiroshima, wants to stay with a native family. Yuka’s family could use the extra money. So Sam becomes her lodger.

Yuka-san loves her family, friends, and neighbors. She worries about her husband. Takes delight in her two children, her beautiful sister, and her American lodger. And she hides the ugliness of post-atomic-bomb-life from Sam.

She watches Sam fall in love with Ohatsu and hopes that he will marry her sister and take her to America. But Ohatsu loves another. And Yuka cannot deny her sister a chance for happiness. Then the shadow they live under touches each of them and changes all of their lives.


Fourteen years after the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Yuka and her family live in the “back alley” of Hiroshima. They rent their two-room home with its “handkerchief-sized garden” on a road “as narrow and twisting as a chewed-up string.”

We see lives with limited opportunities and terrible economic and social pressures. And we get glimpses of the stories behind physical and emotional scars.


Edita Morris (1902-1988) was born in Örebro, Sweden, to Reinhold Toll and his first wife Alma Prom-Möller. The youngest of four daughters, she grew up on her grandmother’s farm and in Stockholm. Her “strong-willed divorced mother” and a “good girls’ school” educated her.

While engaged to a young lieutenant from a noble family, she met journalist and writer, Ira Morris. Ira was the son of an American millionaire and envoy to Stockholm. They married in 1925. His political and social interests sparked hers. They traveled extensively and became political activists. During WWII, they lived in America.

Morris had her first short stories published in the Atlantic MonthlyHarper’s Bazaar, and other publications. Her first novel, My Darling from the Lions, was published in 1943.

In 1959, she published The Flowers of Hiroshima. It won the Albert Schweitzer Prize in 1961. Morris wrote many other books, but The Flowers of Hiroshima is her best known work. They translated the story into 39 languages and made an opera. Hollywood purchased the film rights but never made a movie.

Her inspiration came partly from her visits to Japan. But she also drew on the experiences of her son, Ivan Morris. Ivan was an intelligence office in the U.S. Navy. In that role, he visited Hiroshima immediately after the bombing. He later became a distinguished Japanologist.

Morris and her husband founded a rest house in Hiroshima for victims of the bomb. After her death, the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture, usually known as the Hiroshima Foundation, was established.

She died in Paris in 1988.


This is a relatively short and easy read. It moved me as a teen and left an indelible memory. When I decided to devote part of this month to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, I decided to re-read this story.

As an adult rereading the story, I recognized some mild propaganda. There is some dated language but the characters, time, and place are so well rendered that it is easy to overlook. Finally, there are a few places where the Japanese viewpoint slipped into a more American one. These things were minor.

The character Yuka is always compassionate. She never casts blame or expresses hatred, not even when her worst fears come true. It’s a heartrending story of dignity and compassion and suffering. It grabbed hold of my imagination as a teen and in rereading it. Several passages moved me to tears. 

If you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this book. I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris. Have you read any fiction about the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki?

Powerful Quotes About Why War

From toys to poetry, from song to all types of entertainment humans seem obsessed with war. The first recorded war, inscribed in stone, took place in Mesopotamia between Sumer and Elam c. 2700 BCE. Some believe it is an unavoidable part of the human condition. Some come to appreciate that it is a necessary evil. Let’s look at some notable quotes about why war over the years.

green toy soldier represents war

The Art of War

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

Sun Tzu 544 BC-496 BC.
ancient chinese warrior statues why war-is it part of the human condition?

Ancient Wars

Veni, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Julius Caesar,100 BC–44 BC.

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. (If you want peace, prepare for war.)

Epitoma Rei Militaris, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, 4th century.
roman chariot and soldier

Of Kingdoms and Estates

No body can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politic, and certainly, to a kingdom or estate, a just and honourable war is the true exercise.

Francis Bacon, 1561–1626.

Waterloo 1815 

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

Napoleon Bonaparte,1769–1821.

U.S. Civil War 1861-1865

cannon aimed at ocean defends the coast, why war--sometimes it's for defense

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.

John Stuart Mill 1806–1873. 

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.

Robert E. Lee,1807–1870.

World War I 1914-1918

Bristish soldiers in trench during WWI

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874–1936.

World War II 1939-1945

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Sir Winston Churchill British Prime Minister (1940–45, 1951–55) 1874–1965.

Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the U.S.A., 1882–1945.


Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.

George S. Patton, 1885–1945.

The Atomic Bomb

Image of the bomber the Enola Gay which dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Public domain

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form, these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the U.S.A., 1890–1969.

Spanish War 1943

War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.

George Orwell, 1903–J1950.


image of Greek armed forces doing their duty one of the reasons why war

You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.

Robert A. Heinlein, 1907–1988

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children

.Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the U.S.A. 1924—.

You have to make sure you know why you are going to war and then use decisive force to end it as soon as possible.

Colin Powell, 1937—.

Your Thoughts about War

Humankind has an obsession with war. There are thousands of quotes about why war. But is it necessary? Is it part of our human condition? Or have we been conditioned to believe it is? Do you believe in a defensive war? Or do you pray that the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happens again? Perhaps, you believe “we shall have to begin with the children” as Mahatma Gandhi does. Watch for the full quote in next Monday’s post Quotes About Peace.

First Lines for August

August is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So I thought it fitting that I feature novels set in or about World War II in the First Lines for August post. Based on these first lines alone, would you buy the book?

Illustration of a palm tree on one page of an open book. Under the palm tree a treasure chest and pirate. On the other page the pirate's ship. First lines for August might make images in your mind.

At dusk they pour from the sky. 

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Carla knew her parents were about to have a row.

Winter of the World, Ken Follet
cover of Ken Follett's book Winter of the World

The man at the end of the long table—he wore a trimmed black beard streaked white at the ends of his mouth—looked up at the wall clock: three minutes past seven.

Prologue, From Time to Time, Jack Finney

We stood bunched in with the little crowd you can see on the balcony down there at the right—see it?—just over the pillared entrance to the Everett House: Julia and I, her hands in her muff; and our four-year-old son, chin on the balcony rail.

Chapter One, From Time to Time, Jack Finney

SS-Sturmbannfürer Gunther Dettmer had been dreaming of this day since his childhood.  

The Heroes of Sainte-Mère-Église, J.D. Keene

Once Harry made a decision, he rarely looked back.

Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds, Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

Mas Arai worried that the customs officer at Kansai Airport would find his best friend, Haruo Mukai, inside his suitcase.

Hiroshima Boy, Naomi Hirahara

Heavens! Already five o’clock. How time flies! I’ll never get the fusuma put up, or the bedcover stitched, before our new lodger arrives.

The Flowers of Hiroshima, Edita Morris

Yes, the last one has more than the first sentence because the first sentence is so short. And because that book will appear on this blog again. Next time it will be reviewed.

Happy Reading!

Tell, me which ones peaked your interest?

Do you like prologues? Do you read them?

Which ones did you also read the blurb?

If you like reading first lines, you might like Will You Buy These Books Based on the First Lines? and why some first lines work.

A novel’s first line is a powerful thing. A well written line can suck the reader in. A poorly written one can convince the reader to give the book a pass. Are there books you’ve purchased or read simply because of a great first line? Are there any of the First Lines for August that tempted you to buy the book?