Boston nurse was the first nurse to die in combat
When: October 18, 2004, 1 pm
Where: Nurses’ Hall, State House, Boston
BOSTON — Sixty years from the week she died in World War II after her field hospital tent was shelled, the Massachusetts State Legislature will honor a Boston nurse (and MNA member) on October 18th in a 1 p.m. ceremony in Nurses’ Hall of the State House. Lt. Frances Y. Slanger, the daughter of a Jewish fruit peddler, was the first nurse to die in combat after the landings at Normandy.
Oregon newspaper columnist Bob Welch, author of American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy, will offer the keynote address. American Nightingale was released last June and has been featured on such programs as "Good Morning America" and "Chronicle." Rabbi William Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel and Chaplain of the Massachusetts State Police will offer the invocation. Plans for a plaque in her honor will be announced by State Representative Bill Galvin (D-Canton) who, along with State Representative Lou Kafka (D-Stoughton), assisted in getting official recognition for Slanger in a process that’s taken more than a decade. "Sometimes, our heroes lie hidden in the shadows," said Welch "This amazing women’s memory will now be brought to light."
What made her death so notable was a letter she’d written that paid tribute to the American GI of World War II. She wrote it by flashlight from a tent and mailed it to Stars and Stripes newspaper the next morning. The following night she was killed when the field hospital was shelled by German troops. When Stars and Stripes published the letter, not knowing Slanger had died, her words triggered scores of letters from grateful GIs. More came later when the newspaper reported her death. "She wrote as a GI Jane to a GI Joe deeply involved in a bloody business called war, asking not for understanding, expecting no mercy, but giving to her limits in both," wrote David McClure, a soldier serving in Belgium at the time. “And we knew there wasn’t a false word in the letter, and we grinned in appreciation, knowing that we read the letter of a girl already dead, and her words fixed beyond alteration. They were sealed with her blood.”
Slanger was born in Wodz, Poland. At the age of 7, she landed at Ellis Island with her mother and sister, her father having settled in Roxbury, his family unable to join him due to World War I’s freeze on immigration. Against her parent’s wishes, Frances enrolled in Boston City Hospital’s School of Nursing where she earned her degree in 1937. With dozens of other nurses from the Army Nurse Corps, Slanger splashed ashore from a landing craft four days after D-Day, her 5′ 1" frame burdened by men’s fatigues and a 3 pound helmet. She nearly drowned. Once ashore, these first nurses to land in France were greeted by 17 truckloads of wounded soldiers; more wounded would join them daily as their makeshift hospitals followed the front lines east into Germany.
Just miles short of the German border, as an October storm howled and shells thudded in the distance, Slanger penned her letter. Soldiers had been praising the nurses in print, but Slanger said the GIs had it wrong. "We wade ankle deep in mud, you have to lie in it…….Sure, we rough it, but in comparison to the way you men are taking it, we can’t complain, nor do we feel that bouquets are due us. To you we doff our helmets….But after taking care of some of your buddies; seeing them when they are brought in bloody, dirty, with the earth, mud and grime, and most of them so tired. Somebody’s brothers, somebody’s fathers and somebody’s sons." Slanger compared the lives of the wounded to the fire in the tent’s potbelly stove. "If it is allowed to run down too low and if there is a spark of life left in it, it can be nursed back….So can a human being. It is slow, it is gradual, it is done all the time in these field hospitals." The soldiers’ concern for each other touched her. "The wounded do not cry. Their buddies come first….the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold. It is we who are proud to be her. Rough it? No. It is a privilege to be able to receive you….."
Lt. Frances Y. Slanger died the next night, one of three people killed during the shelling. She was 31 years old.
The October 18th State House ceremony, hosted by State Representatives Bill Galvin and Lou Kafka, is open to the public. Along with author Bob Welch, members of Lt. Slanger’s family, veterans, nurses and other officials will be attending. Lt. Slanger’s plaque will proudly hang in Nurses Hall in lasting tribute to her spirit which symbolizes that of all Massachusetts nurses who have selflessly served our country.