1940s, books, historical fiction, history, World War II, writing

WW2: Chapter 2, Zorka Kiss

This is the first draft of The Lost Sisters of Bataan, my dedication to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during World War Two. Your comments and criticisms are welcome.

Chapter 2 

April 1, 1942 

Zorka Kiss hated her name. How flamboyant the sound when she heard someone pronounce it. Her classmates had teased her by accentuating the Z sound. Add to it the awkward last name with the final drag of the S as though she were a tempestuous snake–suddenly Zorka Kiss sounded obscene. If not a snake trying to seduce, then a secret body part with the capability of kissing. Her mother’s friends were just as bad as her peers. “Give me a Zorka Kiss! Where’s my Zorka Kiss?” When her brother Kade came to visit, he got in the habit of saying to her, “I need a kiss from the Zorka.” Her parents told her she was named after her paternal grandmother. The family name Kiss was a common Hungarian name, but Zorka knew of no other families in Minneapolis with it. Once she looked up her name in the city phone book. There were two Kiss families, a few Kissingers, and a handful of Kitzinger’s. It produced little comfort, but she understood it was not important in light of the times. It was April 1942. She was twenty, and the world had gone mad. 

She finished her morning classes at the University of Minnesota, and the bus dropped her off at Penn Avenue North. She carried her viola case and walked to her rehearsal. Her heart was heavy. The war raged, and here she was, far removed from the attacks and imprisonments, pretending all was normal in her daily routine while the apprehensive eyes of her family constantly reminded her all was not well. When they attended the Sabbath, the 400 member community gathered under a shroud of anxiety. The northside neighborhood exhaled hand-wringing energy that made her insides flip.  

As she walked down 14th Avenue inhaling the crisp air, Zorka pulled back dense curls the color of burnt toast. She wrapped a scarf around the mass that made her head large compared to her slender frame. Her hazel eyes looked to the sky at the globe veiled behind wispy clouds and concentrated on the tips of the trees that sprouted leaves. Zorka counted the yellow and red tulips lining a sidewalk and acknowledged the annual perfection of color and egg shape symmetry with an impulse to wack off their heads. In an ugly world, such beauty seemed rude.   

Zorka picked up a branch and poked at the brick sidewalk like the hoyden from her youth. She turned the poking into a rhythm, and her feet marched to the beat. Dot dot dot dash. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Due to its morse code equivalency of the letter V, the allies adopted the opening of the symphony as their anthem. The “V is for Victory” movement began. To Zorka, there was no victory to celebrate. Discussions and discarded newspapers informed Zorka of alarming incidents as the war continued into 1942. German Luftwaffe night raids pulverized the United Kingdom. News leaked of the deportation of Austrian Jews to ghettos in Poland. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the papers reported one Japanese assault after another upon the islands of Southeast Asia. Scared of a Japanese invasion on the west coast, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing Japanese Americans from their homes to detainment camps. Zorka worried for her sister Barbara stationed at Manila Bay. Barbara’s recent letter notified the family of her retreat to a jungle hospital with an indifference that belied the situation. Zorka did not trust her words. Her penmanship was too slanted like the strokes bore an inexorable weight. Zorka participated in various causes to help the war effort, but recycling rubber and using a ration book felt piddling. She visualized the woes of all who suffered, and her frustration multiplied like cysts growing on her organs, filling her, leaving little room to breathe.

 Her pressing worry was the whereabouts of Aunt Lottie. At times, when Zorka’s mother volunteered at Beth El Synagogue, she snuck into her mother’s desk and read their correspondence. Tied with ribbons, in the bundle labeled “1938”, Zorka’s mother begged her sister Lottie to immigrate to Minnesota. Lottie replied it was too far away to move their bedridden mother. She would not leave Budapest. “Be patient, Margit. Hungary is allied with the Nazis. The restrictions will pass if we are patient.” In the “1939” stack, there was a tone of aggravation in Aunt Lottie’s letters as though she responded to demands made by her sister. “The war will end soon, Margit. My life is here. I did not find a good husband like you. Who will take care of Anja if I leave?” 

Zorka dropped the stick and picked up her pace. Her thoughts went elsewhere, and her heart sank once more. She was embarrassed with the knowledge that she was not cut out to be a nurse. Zorka was woozy at the sight of blood. Body fluids made her gag. She did not like learning the parts of the anatomy, and she fumbled when wrapping a wound of a stranger. This was her second semester, and she hated the idea of becoming a nurse. She thought, How does Barbara stand it?

Zorka arrived at 14th and Penn Avenue. She climbed the steps and entered the grand semi-circle arch of Beth El Synagogue. She met the other musicians of the quartet in the social hall and sat next to her friend, Panna. They rehearsed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14. During the fifth movement, Leib, the first violinist, let the tempo drag which caused the second violinist to stray. Zorka wanted to hit Leib’s pimply face over the head with her bow. Finally, the rehearsal was over. By holding her hand and pulling, she rushed Panna out of the building. Panna adjusted her glasses and almost lost a loafer as they raced down the front steps. 

 “Where’s the fire, Z?”
Zorka puffed out her indignance. “I’m too old to be playing with kids.” 

“Don’t let Leib get to you. He’s trying.”

“How many times have we gone over movement five? Twenty? Forty times? He still 

can’t get it right.”  

“It’s his first time as the lead.” 

They had practiced for almost a year. Zorka memorized her part of the viola months ago and longed for next week’s Minneapolis Spring Festival concert to hurry up and be over. She had outgrown adolescent rehearsals and parent-audience recitals. There had to be something more–adult–to do with her instrument. She did not have a plan, however, and quitting was not an option. Her bow was an extension of her arm, and the viola was her second heart. The viola selected the girl at a young age. Her natural ability delighted her parents and Rabbi David Aronson made a point of praising her abilities. Such reinforcement helped her motivation. Throughout her young life, she aspired to master difficult pieces until she became one of the best musicians in the twin cities.

The two friends walked down St. Paul Street together. The sun disappeared behind treetops, and their shadows grew long. Zorka sniffed the perfume of Lily of the Valley. It meant she reached the corner flower bed at her home. Panna accepted the invitation to dine with the Kiss family; she followed Zorka up the front steps past the porch swing, and they entered the two-story craftsman, careful not to slam the door. The runner absorbed their steps past the dining room to the kitchen at the back of the house. The light was on. Zorka’s mother had bread baking in the oven. It was a large room with tall cupboards and in the center was a metal dinette set. The meal plan was Rakott Krumpli, a potato-egg casserole. Zorka guessed her mother was upstairs freshening up before her father returned from working at his dentist practice. Panna was petite, and the apron she wrapped around her hips overlapped. She giggled at herself. She helped Zorka by peeling and slicing the potatoes. Zorka heated the water to boil eggs and then chopped and sauteed onions in butter. 

Zorka blurted, “I’m thinking I ought to enlist as a WAC and serve like Barbara. Or go to Budapest and find Aunt Lottie.”

Panna grabbed the casserole dish from a cupboard and handed it to Zorka. “Don’t be ridiculous. They’d arrest you, and you’d be a goner like your Aunt.” Panna smacked her tiny palm to her forehead. “Slica, Zorka! That came out terribly.” Her dark eyes watered. “Please, forgive me.” 

Zorka was quiet. She ran cold water over the boiled eggs and peeled them on the front page of the Star Tribune. She responded,  “I know something bad has happened. My mother won’t accept it. We haven’t heard from Aunt Lottie for months.” Zorka sliced up the boiled eggs. She grabbed sour cream and a block of cheddar from the icebox. “You know what I heard the other day? The Germans have built several hundred ghettos throughout Eastern Europe. What if they make a ghetto in Budapest?”

 Panna’s expression hardened. She sprinkled pepper and salt on top of the layers. “My cousins are from Erd. That’s only ten miles outside of Budapest. I didn’t know them, but it is sad to think they are in the path of that megalomaniac. My mother hasn’t heard from our cousins in ages.” 

Zorka looked out the window to the backyard where a few chickens picked at the grass. She needed to put them in their hutch for the night. Zorka tried to think of different news. New news. “The Star Tribune reported that there is a new Japanese military language school starting up at Camp Savage.”

Panna followed Zorka out back and helped her chase the chickens into their coop. “Why on earth in Minnesota?” 

“Since Roosevelt issued the order to gather up Japanese Americans in detention centers out west, no state wants to house a spy school for the Nisei —”

“Nisei?”

Zorka smoothed her skirt and reentered the house. “Their parents are Japanese who immigrated to the states and had children. The Nisei are U.S. citizens.” Zorka stopped at the herb garden on the enclosed porch. She pinched off some parsley and reentered the kitchen. “Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese aren’t much liked.”

Panna joined Zorka at the sink to wash her hands. “But they are Japs, right? I mean, their parents live here, but in their hearts, are they Japanese?” 

Zorka thought about it. “Well, what are we? Are we Hungarians, or Americans? Or worse–Bohunks?”

Panna looked into a mirror in the hallway and smoothed her straight hair. “Tsuris. I’m American! Our parents speak Yiddish, but I rarely do unless at home. I’ve been told my whole life to act American and to fit in at the public school. I speak English. Buy Christmas presents for friends. Go to baseball games. Just like you, behind closed doors, we are Hungarian Jews honoring the traditions.”

Panna returned to the kitchen to help clean up. She lifted the newspaper holding the potato peels. “Do you suppose the grown children of the Japanese–Nisei–think of themselves as American?”
Zorka shrugged. “How would I know?”  

Panna blinked away the topic. “Let’s go downtown tomorrow night.”

“To do what?” 

Panna inhaled sharply. “Let’s go dancing.” 

“How can you think of dancing? There’s a war on, you know. Besides, the pickings are thin.” 

Panna held the entertainment section. She bent her head sideways to decipher the page and said, “I’m tired of thinking about the war. Let’s go to the World to see a movie, then.” 

“Fine by me. I’m tired of studying the Endocrine system. Big test on Monday.”  

“Bambi is playing.”

A cartoon for children. Zorka rolled her eyes. “Bambi. Oi vey.” 

* * * * * 

At The World Theater, Zorka and Panna sat at the back of the lower level. From there, they admired the pretty hats and slicked-back hair of the couples in front of them. The theater filled quickly. A female usher wearing a blue suit and a pillbox hat walked down the aisle. She carried a tray of candies, popcorn, and cigarettes. They paid for a bag of popcorn. When the film began, Zorka felt exasperated. It’s Thursday night. I’m twenty. The best I can think to do is to watch a movie for children? When the scene came to when Bambi’s mother was shot, Panna started to cry. Zorka suggested they step outside. The lights from window displays and the steady line of cars passing by suggested possibilities; it was not long before Panna recomposed. They walked in silence at a loss of anything important to say.    

Zorka and Panna turned down a side street to where a diner’s neon lights pulsated at them. They entered, slid into a booth, and ordered french fries and a Coke to share. A Johnny Mercer tune played on the jukebox. In a booth next to them were two Japanese men in Army uniforms each drinking a cup of coffee. Zorka tried not to look, but she kept stealing glances at their mannerisms. When Zorka heard them speaking English, she leaned toward them and asked if they were associated with the new intelligence base. Panna’s eyebrows raised in shock. 

The soldier nearest to Zorka surveyed her face and smiled. She said a silent prayer of thanks that tonight she remembered to apply fuschia lipstick.   

The soldier’s eyes were the color of roasted almonds. “I’m Joe and this is Sam.” 

Zorka rolled her eyes. “Stop it. I’m not stupid.” 

He laughed at her. “Sorry, pretty girl. Really, it’s Ken. This is Frank.” His companion had narrow shoulders and bony facial features. He looked as though he had eaten bad oysters.       

Zorka wasn’t sure if she should believe they had American names, but she let it go. “Are you two stationed at Camp Savage?” 

“Yes, we sure are. We have R&R tonight. Want to join us?” 

“Sure!”

Panna frowned. Zorka ignored her and moved across the aisle to sit next to Ken. Panna had no choice but to join them in the booth and distanced herself from Frank.    

Zorka asked, “Tell us about the intelligence base. What do you do there?”

The skinny man called Frank leered at her and over-enunciated, “It’s top-secret.” 

Zorka tried again, softening her voice. “What can you share that won’t compromise your position?” 

Frank lit a cigarette. Ken took Zorka’s hand and examined it. “Come on, Frank, ease up. Do these look like the hands of a spy?”

Frank was smug. “That’s what we are, ladies, spies for the U.S.A.” 

Panna turned in her seat to face them, her curiosity getting the better of her. “You enlisted, then, to come here? What about those new Jap camps in California?” 

Ken winced. “Please, that’s harsh, eh? They are Japanese Internment Camps. The Army asked me to recruit at Manzanar. I convinced Frank to enlist.”

Zorka blurted, “Why would you join the Army when the government put your people in camps?”

“Wow, you sure get to the point.” Ken wiped his face pretending she had thrown a glass of water at him.

Zorka blushed. “I’m sorry–not very lady-like, I get it.” 

Panna added, “We don’t see many Japanese in Minneapolis. You are an anomaly.” 

Ken shrugged off his irritation and laughed. “That’s a new one. I like it. Hey, Frank, we’re anomalies.” 

Panna scooted out of the booth. “This was a bad idea.” 

Ken tried to stop her by placing his hand on her forearm. Panna raised her eyebrows, and he removed his hand. He returned his gaze to Zorka and admired her dainty nose and lips like a Japanese flower in bloom. “We don’t get out much. It’s very nice to sit across the table with pretty girls. There’s only a few at the school.” 

“What do you do there?” 

Ken took a drag from his cigarette considering the question. He exhaled above their heads. Zorka appreciated the courtesy and liked how his expressive mouth made his words more lively. “We’re linguists. We’re learning how to read and decipher Japanese. We will be assigned as interpreters and shipped somewhere where there’s a need.” 

Zorka concentrated on his lips, but Ken’s friend interpreted something different. Frank’s scowl reappeared as he studied Zorka’s mystified expression. “We’re Americans, dammit. I grew up in Seattle. He’s from Kansas City. Our parents wanted us to enlist to demonstrate our loyalty because they were upset by how many white people think we aren’t American.” He inhaled his cigarette deeply and exhaled. “We went to American schools. We watch American movies.” He leaned back in the booth and closed his eyes until they were slits on his face. 

The waitress set the plate of fries and a glass of Coke with two straws at their table. She plopped down the red ketchup dispenser. Frank’s eyes opened and stared hard at Zorka. He reached over and grabbed a crinkled french fry and blew on it. “We went to college before the war broke out. I studied accounting, and Ken is an architect.”  

Panna looked at Zorka with impatience. Annoyed eyes behind her glasses said, Are you satisfied? Can we go? 

Zorka looked at Ken. She wished he’d pick up her hand again. Instead, he looked at her fingers, noticing the depressions in the digits of her index finger, and the way the tips of her fingers curled gracefully on the table.  “Ah, you are a musician. Violin?” 

Zorka smiled brightly. “Viola.” 

Resigned, Panna added after a moment, “I play the cello.” 

Frank ate their fries one by one without apology. Ken volunteered, “I like to play the piano.” He wrote down the name Ken Suzuki with his phone number on a napkin and passed it to Zorka. His eyes shone as if they had been dipped in chocolate. “Your name?” 

She thought of saying, Sue or Jane. Something American. “Zorka. Zorka Kiss.” 

Ken’s grin revealed a perfect line of white teeth. “You are a killer-diller.” He rubbed the back of Zorka’s hand with his index finger. “Next time we have the day off, Zorka and–”

“Panna.” 

Ken’s voice was energetic. “There’s a jazz bar a few blocks away. The place will be empty, and we could play together? Have our own jam session? Are you free on Friday or Saturday?”

Zorka said, “Better make it a different day. We observe the Sabbath.” 

“Oh, Jews.” He said it like he had found a unique shell on a beach. “I’ve never met Jewish girls before. What do you do during Sabbath? Wait! Nevermind. Tell me all about it next time we see each other.” He smacked the table with confirmation. “Alright, I’ll put in a request chit for a Monday or Tuesday off. The bus ride isn’t long from MISLS.”   

Panna took a polite sip of the Coke. “What’s that stand for?”

“Military Intelligence Service Language School.” 

Zorka tried to be friendly to Frank. “What do you play?”

“Nothing.” 

Panna’s round eyes pleaded to Ken. “Maybe you have another friend who plays an instrument?” 

“Sure, sure. I got friends. Don’t mind Frank. He doesn’t like anything.” Ken twisted his torso to look for the waitress. She stood at the cash register skimming through a magazine. He set two quarters on the table to cover the tab. “Nice to meet you, Zorka and Panna. Call that number soon. Ask for me. We’ll set it up.” 

Later that night in bed, Zorka recreated Ken’s face in the dark. She liked his friendly demeanor. She liked his muscled arms. His big hands. She imagined him touching the keys on the piano. She imagined his hands touching her body with the same sensitivity. It would be a long few weeks, but she was glad there was something to think about other than the war.

* * * * *

Zorka skipped her classes on Monday. Instead, she reported to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Red Cross center and volunteered to fill care packages for the Europe Production Corps. Second Lieutenant Mary Stone was a silver-haired, WWI veteran in charge of the local chapter. Every time Zorka volunteered, Stone’s sales pitch was only a matter of time. “There are eleven branches of the Red Cross, Zorka. Why don’t you pick one and sign up to be a leader? You can make a big difference in the war effort. How about working for the USO? 

“Can you get me a job and send me to the Pacific?”

“Wouldn’t you rather work in Europe at an allied base for the USO?” 

“I’m not interested in serving coffee and donuts, Lt. Stone.”

“How about the administrative corp?” 

“I can’t type.” 

“Nurses assistant? Blood donor program? Aren’t you studying to be a nurse?” 

“Turns out I’m squeamish about blood.”  

“What about the Motor Corp? You’d be transporting the sick and wounded and delivering supplies. It’s a crucial part of the war. Much more interesting than passing out donuts.” 

Zorka bit her lips in consideration. The pause was enough for Lt. Stone to proceed. “Of course, as a part of the Motor Corp, you’d receive training in auto mechanics as it would be expected you’d fix your vehicle if it broke down. We could send you on a troopship to the Pacific. Where did you say you wanted to go?” 

“The Philippines.” 

“Okay. Let me see what I can find out. Can you volunteer this Wednesday or Thursday? We’re packing comfort kits.”   

“Sure.” 

Zorka stopped going to classes. She avoided Panna. On Thursday, Zorka arrived at the Red Cross station and packed various items in goodwill boxes heading to Europe. This week the station packed raisins, coffee, corned beef, sugar, dried milk, biscuits, orange concentrate, chocolate bars, and cigarettes. Other packages contained medical supplies, clothing, toilet articles, seeds, and gardening materials. At the end of her shift, Lt. Stone requested Zorka to come to her office. “There’s a spot needed in the Motor Corp in the Philippines. The steamer Orinoco is leaving San Francisco in a week. After an introductory session of what to expect, the Red Cross will send you to the Philippines. We will pay for your tickets to get to San Francisco.”

Lt. Stone’s expression clouded over. “Zorka, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that what you’re requesting is a danger zone. The Japanese have taken control of Manila. I can’t guarantee your safety. We’ve heard of evacuations and quite honestly, there’s been reports of the Japanese not allowing Red Cross packages through to U.S. soldiers.” 

Zorka thought of Barbara. Backed into a corner in the jungle of Bataan. Was she even alive?    

* * * * *

Zorka and Panna took a cab to the address of the jazz club Ken suggested. It was three in the afternoon, and they entered the club carrying their instruments. Panna whispered to Zorka, “I don’t know how to play jazz. Are there jazz cellists?” Zorka sighed. “Who cares? We’ll improvise.” On the small stage, Ken played the piano while another Japanese American soldier improvised playing the drums. The owner was away from the bar, so Zorka helped herself to a rum and Coke. Panna had a Coke minus the alcohol. The music was soothing as they positioned themselves on the bar stools. When Ken turned his head and recognized them, he waved them over with that boyish enthusiasm that appealed to Zorka. Zorka took out her viola and jumped on stage, the white horse hairs of her bow finding the pure notes on the strings. Panna joined in, too. After a bit, she grew awkward and the notes stumbled.  She could not break free from structure or maybe she did not want to be a part of the loose, improvisational experience. She retreated from the stage and hid in the shadows to watch. 

Zorka let Ken kiss her cheek. After two stiff drinks, she relaxed and wanted to dance. They started dancing. Zorka told Panna to stop pouting and play something on her cello. Ken pulled her close and put his cheek on hers. How wonderful to smell his aftershave. How wonderful to have a handsome man have his hand on her back. She was sitting on a cloud of delight and decided to ruin it.  

“I’m leaving next week.”

Ken pulled back and then closed his eyes and swung her around. “Oh, yeah? Where you going?”

“I signed up with the Red Cross. I volunteered to go to Manila. My sister is there.”

“Umm. Not a good idea, you know. The Japanese Imperial Army took over the city.”

“How do you feel about that? Ach, sorry. How strange to be you!”

Ken chuckled. “I don’t want to think about how strange I am.” He dipped her and looked into her eyes. “I keep telling you, I consider myself American. I think the Japanese Imperial Army is evil and God Bless America.” He twirled her some more and brought his hand over her tailbone. Ken whispered, “I think you’re perfect. For a Bohunk.” He winked at her. 

Zorka acted offended and excused herself. After more music and alcohol, Zorka was jubilant. Even Panna had one Coke with rum and talked to Ken’s buddy. Zorka felt an emotional tug about saying goodbye. Ken gave her a salute. “Long live the brave Zorka who is leaving us to fly to the Philippines. Who knows what will happen. May she return to Minneapolis older and wiser. What do you say? Let’s agree after the war we meet back here and have a reunion party. We have to keep in touch, okay?” 

Panna sat down. Zorka was tipsy and felt her face flush. 

Panna said loudly, “Brave? You coward! I’m your best friend! How could you not tell me?” She put her violin in its case and marched out of the club sniffling.  Chagrined, Zorka did not go after her. She looked at Ken and put her arms around his neck and asked, “Don’t you have some Japanese girl at home?”

He pushed aside a section of hair that fell in front of her nose. “Nope.” Ken kissed her lips, then whispered, “Wanna be my pen pal?” 

Zorka smiled. “You bet.” She wrote down her address on a cocktail napkin. “In case, after the war, you want to look me up.” 

Ken grabbed another napkin and scribbled down an address. “I can do one better. Write to me at the intelligence school. They will forward any letter you write to my future assignment.”

“Oh, what if we never see each other? Ouch!” 

He kissed her hard. “Bye, pretty girl.” 

Zorka put away her viola and waved goodbye. As she left, she hoped the smile she placed on her face covered the conflicted emotions of sadness, regret, and happiness. 

Thank you for taking the time to read Chapter 2.

In case you would like to peruse a past post about the research, I invite you to check out the following link. https://wordpress.com/post/cindybruchman.com/18646

1940s, historical fiction, history, The Lost Sisters of Bataan, World War II, writing

WWII: The Lost Sisters of Bataan, Chapter 1, (2 of 2)

This is my dedication novel to the women and men of World War II in the Pacific theater. Your questions and comments are welcome!

Hospital No. 2 sprawled outward in size as patients arrived each day. On the third morning, the bombing intensified, and the nurses braced themselves for a grueling wave of incoming casualties. Barbara overheard Lt. Nesbit’s sorrowful tone of resignation. To Sgt. Dulay, Nesbit said, “No more distant bombing. No rear areas. We are backed into a corner.” 

Donning an apron and face mask, XO Fox motioned Lt. Nesbit to bring the incoming patients to the surgical tent from the staging area. Pointing to Barbara and Laura, Nesbit ordered, “Kiss and Wolfe. You’re with me.” Barbara gathered the surgical equipment to be sanitized. She put them in a steel drum pressure cooker over a Bunsen burner. Barbara organized the clean gowns, linen, gauze, towels, and swabs. Lt. Nesbit ordered Laura to get the morphine shots ready. Wolfe gently sharpened the needle tips on a smooth, round stone. She boiled the water and sanitized the needles. Into the glass syringe, she dropped a morphine tablet and watched it dissolve. She repeated the process until her movements were swift and efficient.  All the while, the Japanese planes buzzed above while the angry dialogue in the trees above reminded Barbara of Beth El Synagogue elders disapproving of changes suggested by the young Rabbi, David Aronson.  

Medics worked around the surgical tables, delivering patients and carting them away to convalesce. A truck arrived at the triage station. Nurses filled out the Emergency Medical Tag for each patient they registered. The bedlam of noise distressed Barbara. She recoiled when wheels screeched or patients yawped. The bombing grew louder. More trucks arrived filled with the wounded. Sgt. Cleopatra Dulay orchestrated events by directing the ambulances to triage. Assisting Dulay was Patty Parr. Cleopatra pointed to her clipboard and Patty blasted directions at the incoming traffic. Barbara’s teeth clenched at the sound of Patty’s shrill tone.  

At one of the surgical tables, Barbara provided cotton supplies to Captain Fox, Captain Roland, and Sgt. Ethel Thor. Barbara noticed Laura moving around the surgical tables delivering trays of morphine shots with petrified eyes. She passed by Captain Roland who bellowed at Nurse Thor to compress both hands on a chest wound spouting with blood. As Laura absorbed the scene, she looked faint. Barbara touched her elbow and suggested delivering the morphine to the neighboring surgical tent. Laura staggered away, muttering, “Pretty soon, I’m gonna need some for myself.”   

A Filipino doctor, Captain Garcia, asked Barbara to assist him. He had slicked black hair and a somber slit for lips. He directed the medics to carry eight new patients on stretchers and situate them into ward three. Barbara kept close to him, trying to hear over the nightmarish orchestra of whining humans and machines. Captain Garcia rapidly examined each soldier assessing their needs. Barbara filled out the tags when he announced his verdict.  “Shattered Pelvis.” 

He renamed the patient by the title of their injury. Her job was to match the injury to the name on the dog tag and fill out the form.  

One was quiet. “Superficial head and neck.”

One groaned. “Internal bleeding.” 

Another screamed. “Bullet hole to the femur.”  

One whimpered. “Burn wound on the right arm and hand.”  

Captain Garcia veered to a patient at the end of the line. The soldier breathed with a dry, hacking cough. He panicked and started to shake. Captain Garcia told Barbara to get a syringe and hose, ASAP. When she returned seconds later, the patient stared at Barbara with alarm. She held his hand. “It’s going to be okay. Breathe with me, now. Inhale, exhale. Again. Inhale, exhale. Good.” She looked at his dog tag. Frances Talbot.
“Come on, Frances. She puffed in quick shallow breaths, and they breathed together. Captain Garcia poked a hole through his skin. The air pressurized and caused his lung to collapse. His body thrashed and his eyes rolled back into his head. “Hold him down, nurse. He’s going into Anaphylactic shock.” Barbara grabbed his shoulders while the doctor administered a shot of morphine and inserted the hose into his lung. Soon his breathing stabilized. Captain Garcia exhaled and smiled at Barbara. “Good work, Nurse Kiss.” He looked around him and motioned medics to take the wounded to surgery. “Until the next round arrives, help out where needed.” 

Barbara crossed her arms and shoved her trembling hands under her armpits.  

****** 

The sky transitioned from day to night until someone’s alarm clock chimed it was five o’clock in the morning. They had all worked through the night, and Barbara could not recall when the previous day began. A few of the nurses staggered into the sleeping room and collapsed. Barbara lay on her cot and ignored the pounding of her feet and the stench of herself. She looked at her pruney fingers from being in surgical gloves for too long. Barbara stared into the trees above her. A family of macaques chattered at her like a judge and jury, and she was found guilty. Her dulled senses kept her immobile. Twenty-four hours ago, she flinched at their agitated calls. Now, Barbara would not budge if they shat on her. 

The nurses whispered to one another in the cool morning air. Who knew how long they would be allowed to rest? The sheet dividing the makeshift barracks from the hospital grounds flapped rhythmically in the breeze. Barbara was hypnotized while watching Carol Fitzgerald wash plastic surgical gloves and hang them to dry on a bamboo clothesline. When she finished her duty, Carol entered the room hunched over. She took her time stretching and contorting her body back to an erect standing position. She offered a loud yawn and sagged to her cot, eyes closed, fast asleep. Barbara returned her gaze outside their sleeping quarters and noticed Patty Parr gesticulating in front of Lt. Nesbit. Barbara overheard Parr volunteering to ride with the last transport truck back to the coast at Mariveles to make contact with the new pilot who agreed to satisfy their wish lists.

Lt. Nesbit said, “You two will return by jeep later today. It is a dangerous proposition, Nurse Parr. Are you sure you are up for it?”

Patty scoffed. She pushed back her shoulders and lifted up her chin. “Let the other nurses sleep. I can handle a drive in the jungle.”
Barbara wondered why Patty’s need to be the hero annoyed her. She watched Patty sprint, leap and twist her boyish frame like a track and field star onto the back of the truck. She sat at the edge dangling her feet with one hand on her cap waving goodbye to no one in particular. Go. Bring us the mail, Barbara thought. Bring us our precious delights. Be our Santa Claus. Barbara’s mysterious contempt for Patty grew.  Is it because she acts like a twenty-four-hour shift is nothing? Perhaps she wanted a break from the blood and the guts and the flies. Can you blame her? The gears winced, and the truck carrying Patty Parr disappeared into the jungle foliage. 

At the main compound, Barbara watched Laura staring at a pile of laundry. The duty roster listed Laura to wash the soiled sheets and surgical gowns. A large canvas hamper on wheels overflowed with the gory results of the war. Lt. Nesbit told Laura to drag it down to the river and rinse them out as best as she could. “When you return, the civilians will boil and hang them.” When Barbara thought about the mosquitoes and biting flies that would descend on the imbrued pile, her fear of malaria prompted her into action. Barbara knew she should pretend to be asleep, let Laura do her own chore, but she made the mistake of observing Laura’s devastated expression. Her friend’s eyes pooled with tears, and she stood there helpless as a lost puppy. Barbara could feel her body rise, and she hobbled over to Laura, feeling eighty instead of thirty. She tried to tease her friend. “Laura Wolfe, stop looking so pathetic.” 

“I don’t think I’m cut out for nursing, Babs. I’m a wreck inside.” 

“Push it back down. Remember what Lt. Nesbit said? This is all temporary.”

Laura and Barbara scooted and lifted the hamper into a wheel barrel. It did not fit, but it was easier to move the heavy hamper over the uneven ground. They aimed for a sandy inlet of the Real River. A medic passed by them and smirked, “Watch out for the vipers down by the rocks.” 

Laura’s face blanched and Barbara swore at him. They clumsily rolled away from Hospital No. 2. The sun shone on the shallow river, and the sparkles guided them to the waterside. 

“Babs, recite a poem. It’s such a good trick, that.”  

“I’m too tired.” 

“Did you hear the bushes rustling? What if it’s a panther smelling the blood in this hamper?” 

“I don’t think panthers live in the Philippine jungle,” Barbara replied, although she had

no clue whether or not they did. Better to avoid thinking about predators hiding behind the thickets and vines of the jungle.    

Laura stumbled, and the wheelbarrow scraped against the rocks. She dropped the wooden handle, and Barbara’s sore shoulder stiffened under the weight. Barbara could not suppress her anger and snapped,  “Come on, Laura, lift! Oh, nevermind. Forget the wheelbarrow, and let’s drag this damned hamper the rest of the way to the water.” 

At the clearing, other medical staff rinsed soiled garments in the river.  Two sentries with guns stood nearby overseeing the area. Barbara remembered Lt. Nesbit’s voice buzzing in her head. The Philippine Scouts are militia and agreed to protect the hospital. You will recognize them by the yellow shoulder patch with a red caribou as its marking. Barbara gestured to Laura. “See, we’re safe. They’re keeping watch.” Laura nodded and faked a smile. 

The cool temperature at the river’s edge made Barbara’s skin turn to gooseflesh. They dragged the hamper to the sandy inlet and pushed it over on its side. She took off her headband and wrapped it around her nose and mouth. They bent over and pulled the aprons and bedsheets into the water to soak. Fleshy pieces and blood floated downstream. Laura said, “What a meal for the fish and scavengers, eh?” Laura was too busy gagging to reply. 

To divert her attention from the disgusting job, Barbara considered her friend Laura. They both arrived at Sternberg General Hospital at Manila Bay last October 1941. They shared the same shifts and drank beer at the base canteen during their off time. Barbara responded to the naivete in Laura. She reminded Barbara of her little sister Zorka. There was an invisible pull to safeguard the younger, pretty girl in a place so foreign. While their work solidified a working friendship, she did not know much about Laura other than she was from a family of Swedes who owned a dairy farm in Wisconsin. One evening after a shift, they sipped beer, and Laura confided to Barbara, “When I turned sixteen, my parents gave me two choices. Pick a service career or stay on the farm and help with the milkers.” Her blue eyes blinked and crinkled. “I hate milking cows. So I went to Madison and became a nurse. When the war began, I never thought Uncle Sam would send me to Manila.” 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese turned to the Philippines and invaded. The war became real for Barbara when she watched the plumes of black smoke billowing out of buildings at Manila Bay. Their unit was forced to evacuate Sternberg and retreat to the jungle, and Hospital No. 1 was created. News and communication in the jungle were sporadic. Not knowing if the next whistle from the air would hit its mark affected everyone in different ways. When the Japanese detonated their bombs near the first jungle hospital, Barbara watched the panic permanently set in Laura’s baby blues. Barbara knew caring for her young friend was another way to escape from fully feeling the terrifying situation. 

Now they wrung the aprons and sheets before them. They rolled them up in balls and put them back in the canvas hamper. Carrying it back up to the trail was much harder. Laura waved to two medics up the path who helped them lift it into the wheelbarrow and push it up to camp to a designated area of the hospital where boiling stockpots of water waited to sanitize the balls of rinsed cloth. Filipino women spoke to them in Tagalog. Barbara smiled and nodded her thanks. Finally, they were done. The pair of nurses tiptoed into their partitioned barracks and joined their sleeping sisters.

Next week, Chapter two. Thanks for reading!

1940s, books, historical fiction, The Lost Sisters of Bataan, World War II, writing

WWII: The Lost Sisters of Bataan, Chapter One (1 of 2)

This is my dedication novel to the women and men of World War II in the Pacific theater. While this is historical fiction, I’ve done a lot of research and will present the bibliography soon. My goal is to recreate the historical climate in Manila and the surrounding area. Many of the characters are real, like nurse commander, Lt. Josephine Nesbit of Hospital No. 2, the spy Claire Phillips known as High Pockets, and Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz whose perils represent many soldiers’ experiences during the Japanese occupation. Sharing in installments for easier reading, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Two Jewish sisters from Minneapolis become intertwined in love, racism, and survival in the war-torn Philippines…

January 17, 1942

Barbara Kiss sat on a boulder at the edge of the Real River in the Bataan jungle. It was the first time the nurses had a moment to rest since they vacated Hospital No. 1. and retreated to the interior of the peninsula for the purpose of establishing a convalescent hospital. She used rocks and sand to scrub out the hardened oatmeal that clung to the bottom of a kitchen pot that had not been washed due to the rush. The air was balmy, and the water moving over her toes calmed her. She surveyed her surroundings and focused on the giant fronds of the Anahaw tree. On the opposite bank, she absorbed the contrast of the dark Mahogany trunk next to the bright bamboo leaves flickering in the breeze. She thought that under different circumstances, the Philippines would be an exotic oasis. While Barbara waited for the order to move on, her thoughts drifted home to Minnesota. She strained to remember her life before arriving in Manila, avoiding the bombardment of an enemy trying to take over the world.  

Barbara Kiss loved her name. It was the only pretty thing about herself. With a pudgy nose and thick eyebrows, she believed she looked too manly. Friends told her she had expressive eyes and nicely-shaped lips, but when she caught sight of her reflection, she saw frizzy hair the color of a mud puddle. She was built like a poyer and looked like her grandmother in Budapest who suffered from leg ulcers that would not heal. No man had ever kissed Barbara, and the irony took hold. She hoped when men heard her last name, the association would be a subliminal suggestion, but Barbara was thirty and becoming exactly what her mother feared, a spinster.  

Barbara was proud of her intellect. What she lacked in looks she compensated with brainpower. She adapted to public school with top grades. Hebrew school on Sundays with the girls in her synagogue was not difficult. She possessed a passion for literature. She savored the images created in Dante’s Inferno. She contemplated the themes in Shakespeare’s tragedies, memorized Victorian poetry, and wept for Jane Eyre. She admired Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edith Wharton. For the last decade, her mother whined that Barbara wasted too much time reading British poetry when she should focus on obtaining a husband. 

Barbara rationalized that if men would not come to her, then she would go to them. To quieten her mother and increase the odds, nursing became a logical career choice. Barbara graduated first in her class at the University of Minnesota in 1939. She joined the Women’s Army Corps to her mother’s disapproval. She begged Barbara to join the local Red Cross or assist her father with his dental practice. She told Barbara to encourage the affections of David Goldfarb, a widower on 14th Avenue, and stay in the neighborhood. Barbara grasped the second irony about herself. She did not want a man who was old and ugly. Getting assigned to the Philippines at Manila felt like a blessing, initially.  

As a nurse, she was surrounded by hundreds of men, and they all wanted her. Eyes followed as she made her way from ward to ward, bed to bed. It was immaterial to soldiers that she looked nothing like Hedy Lamarr or Carol Lombard. She felt their gratitude when she held their hand or listened to them talk about their lives. Many of her patients looked like petrified boys. She gave them what they wanted, which was a shot of morphine and an embrace with maternal eyes. Her brand of intimacy with men was unusual, albeit it was a real connection. Was this how mothers felt for their suffering sons? She thought. Was this the affinity married couples shared? Barbara felt a kinship with the soldiers in an unquestioning, safe way. They assumed she was Christian. She felt like a Jewish nun. Am I an irony or a walking contradiction?    

The quiet moment at the stream ended when Barbara heard the whistle of a plane dropping a land bomb. The ground grumbled. From the dark recess of the trail from where they had come, the head nurse, Lt. Josephine Nesbit, appeared and performed a headcount of nurses. “Come on, girls. We need to move. Now.”

Barbara rushed to dry her feet and tie her shoes. She lifted the stretcher with her friend Laura on the other end. They were part of a detail assigned to transport mess supplies. Moving quickly, Barbara and Laura stuffed towels around the metal pots to keep them quiet. In the flurry, someone chucked a Red Cross parcel filled with cans of spam onto the stretcher. Her shoulder muscles pulled, but Barbara did her best to ignore the pain. Lt. Nesbit said they had a few kilometers to go, and they would be far enough away from Hospital No. 1 and from immediate danger. Army bulldozers preceded them and cleared a space in the jungle to set up a makeshift hospital for the overflow of casualties. Barbara flinched when an explosion behind her sounded near. Her arms felt rubbery. There was nothing to do but to keep calm and march.

Her mind wandered back to Minnesota to her family. As the oldest child, Barbara Kiss understood her mother more than her brother and her little sister, Zorka. The move in 1910 to Minneapolis had been too much for Margit Kiss. Barbara grew up listening to Anja complain about her new life in Minnesota. After thirty years in her “new” life, Margit still longed for the old one back in Budapest. She wrote weekly letters to her sister Lotti or to her bedridden mother. Margit Kiss felt two emotions. Guilt for leaving her mother and sister behind and resentment toward her husband for dragging her to Minneapolis while pregnant with Barbara. The Depression had not helped. The Kiss savings dwindled as patients had no money to pay to fix their teeth. During the 1930s, Barbara grew up alert and tall while her mother turned querulous and shrank. Margit puffed when she breathed and fretted like a hen trying to keep her chicks in line of sight. She developed the habit of grabbing Barbara’s arm as if she were in a perpetual state of unbalance. Her dependence on Barbara was nerve-wracking, so reading books and reciting poetry had been a way to escape. Barbara shook her head and muttered to herself, “Always trying to escape. First Anja and now the Japanese.”   

 Laura and Barbara were in the middle of the line surrounded by nurses and enlisted men from the medical core. Filipino civilians were a part of the team, and they all hiked near the Real River on a path barely able to squeeze a jeep through. Everyone carried something to the new hospital which was unceremoniously named Hospital No. 2. The bulldozers shoveled the underbrush away to clear a 30×50 feet area. The single-file team emerged to the cleared space, and the canopy of enormous Acacia trees served as an umbrella to hide them from enemy planes.   

The bombs were audible but distant. Lt. Nesbit ordered two civilians to dig holes in a deep trench by the hospital grounds. She supervised the burying of wooden crates. Quinine. Sulfa. Morphine. Vitamins. Carpenters chopped bamboo and made tables and cots for the patients. Civilian women stuffed rice straw into mattress covers. As the task force made beds and benches, Barbara and Laura delivered their supplies to the mess area and introduced themselves to the cook, Staff Sergeant Oscar Wozniak.   

Sweat pooled in droplets on his forehead and made his olive skin glisten. As he carried a stockpot to his propane stove and lit a flame to boil water for rice for evening chow, he yelled, “Move out of my way, you two. Go fix someone and leave the kitchen to me. In Polish he swore, “Zostaw mnie w spokoju!” 

Laura stuck out her tongue at him behind his back. Wisps of platinum hair framed her face. Barbara had an aversion to cooking. She did not mind finding something else to do. She saw movement behind a wall of tangled vines. Someone tied sheets to create a privacy screen. “Come on, Laura, let’s go over there to help.” 

Barbara was impressed by how fast the hospital evolved after a few hours of their arrival. Workers created paths with their machetes and chopped through the brush to make another room. They hacked through the jungle growth until Hospital No. 2 looked like a sprawling ant farm. The creatures of the jungle angrily protested the intrusion. Added to their bleats and mewls, the flies and mosquitoes buzzed. It never occurred to Barbara how loud the jungle would be. A Filipino carpenter named Matibag created fly swatters out of a pile of bamboo reeds and passed them out to the nurses. Matibag skipped around swatting flies with enthusiasm, but Barbara worried about Malaria, and she could barely shape her lips into a smile when he gave her one.  

“No worry, nurse. My fly swatters magic. They keep sickness away.” She nodded her thanks and holstered it to the hemp belt around her waist. 

The afternoon air was warm. Lt. Nesbit ordered the nurses together in formation and stood before them. Barbara found the sound of Nesbit’s high voice unusual but arresting. She churned the words in the back of her throat with humming sounds before she expelled a thought. “Nurses, I just filled out the daily report and there are 178 of us here at Hospital No. 2. Civilians, medics, doctors–the nurses make up an important part of that number. There are 43 regular Army nurses and 22 Filipino nurses among us.” Then she paused, took a deep breath, and charged forth with another statement. 

“Ladies, I’m in charge of 65 nurses. I’ll do my best to keep you safe and help you keep our patients alive. Although this jungle is an unusual place to build a hospital, we will act like we are indoors with a proper floor and walls and a roof.” 

The Lieutenant had a diamond-shaped face. She looked up at the cracks between the branches to the blue sky that dotted above her. “Do not compare our jungle hospital to the conveniences of Sternberg Hospital because you will always be disappointed, and the last thing we have time for is self-pity.” 

After readjusting her glasses, her voice overflowed with resolve. “We will carry water from upstream to our patients for bathing. We will bat the flies and stay sanitized. There’s a spot downstream reserved for when you need the latrine.”

She put her knuckles on her hips as though her hands needed a rest. “I have set up sanitation stations in each of the wards. It’s all our duty to see that our medicine and supplies are carefully organized and administered.” 

Lt. Nesbit paused to think. She tapped her clipboard with her pencil. “In addition to 65 nurses, many civilians are helping us. The Philippine Scouts are a militia and agreed to protect the hospital. You will recognize them by the yellow shoulder patch with a red caribou as its marking.”

She glanced at her report. “In total, at Hospital No. 2, we have become an instant family of 178. Major Bernard Fox is our Executive Officer. The assisting surgeon is Captain Paul Roland. Our Chief Surgeon and CO is Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz. Add the other civilian doctors and nurses, well, you can understand Lt. Colonel Schwartz has a lot to worry about.” 

She pointed away from the main area of the hospital from where the mess and surgical tent were located to a section cleared for personnel. “The men will sleep on the north side of the hospital. We nurses will bunk on the south side.” 

Barbara felt the sweat at the small of her back staining her Army fatigues. She could see her hair frizzing in her peripheral vision and wished she could tuck it back under her headband. Why didn’t you cut it when you had the chance last month? Her hair was heavy, and her neck felt like a pin balancing a bowling ball. Her mind went numb. Her eyelids drooped. Laura nudged her elbow and whispered, “Babs, wake up! How can you sleep standing up?”

Lt. Nesbit paced in front of the nurses while the last of the day’s sun reached through the leaves and struck their faces with slivers of light. Barbara sighed when she realized Nesbit had more to say. She pointed to a nurse in front of the formation. “My job is in the capacity of Chief Surgical Nurse. Sgt. Ethel Thor will take over for me if I become incapacitated.” 

Nurse Thor stepped forward crisply, turned about-face, and saluted the nurses. Her salt and pepper hair was cropped short, and her uniform looked baggy on her. She grinned, which was nice to see, but Barbara wondered if the nurse mocked her position with her enthusiasm, or was Nurse Thor really this excited to be at the jungle hospital surrounded by bugs and humidity? She returned to her spot at the end of the first row. Barbara hoped Sgt. Thor closed her mouth before a fly flew in.

Lt. Josephine Nesbit’s speech was drawing to a close. “Girls, your job is to make sure our soldiers are as comfortable as possible. Your work assignments will be posted daily. There’s no need to complain because I will rotate the responsibilities. The key to enduring this assignment is to remember this is all temporary.”

Barbara read between the lines and whispered to Laura, “Don’t complain when it’s our turn to take the soiled sheets to the river to clean.” Laura rolled her eyes. 

Lt. Nesbit allowed herself a small smile. She swung her head to the left and right looking for someone. “I’d like to introduce to you my new right hand if you will. She is from the Philippine Army. Ladies, Sergeant Cleopatra Dulay. See her for requisition forms and obtaining supplies. By God, where’d she go?”

 Sgt. Dulay backed out of a pup tent which kept the medical records safe. When she turned and saw the platoon staring at her, she nearly dropped a stack of manila files. She stood at attention. Her smooth hair was pulled back into a bun so severe, it made her eyes bulge. She rushed over to Lt. Nesbit and stood next to her. It was a comical sight. Josephine Nesbit was close to six feet tall while Cleopatra Dulay barely stood five feet. Her eyes were alert and shiny like coals in the rain. The toe of her boot tapped the ground as she attempted to hide her nervousness. Barbara thought She can’t be more than eighteen. How is she a sergeant already? 

“Thank you, ladies. Dismissed.” 

They treated dozens of patients. By dusk, the wounded lay on cots low to the ground and covered under a mosquito net. SSG Wozniak hung a cowbell on a tree branch next to his mess station and clambered it. Crude picnic tables set under large canvas tarps. The nurses accepted a tin plate of fried spam and an ice cream scoop of rice. Barbara gave her slice of spam to Laura. 

“This is when I am glad you’re a Jew, Babs,” she said and devoured the slice in one bite. In exchange, Laura rolled her ball of rice to Barbara’s plate.  Lt. Nesbit carried over a bamboo stool and sat down at the head of the long table. “Finish eating, girls, and then we’ll chat.” 

Barbara took out her teabag wrapped in her chambray shirt pocket and stood. She walked over to the SSG’s kitchen to request water for a cup of tea. Oscar Wozniak appeared calmer now that he cooked and served chow. He filled up her tin cup with boiling water.  “How long have you had that teabag?” 

“Hmmm. It arrived last October. A package from my folks back in Minneapolis.” 

He raised his eyebrows. “Does it have any flavor left?” 

“I pretend it does.” 

“I got a whole box of teabags. Want a new one?” 

Barbara thought about her mother’s care package and how this wimpy bag was somehow a piece of her. “Maybe next week, Staff Sergeant.”

He was a beefy man with thick limbs and a massive chest. He squinted at her while he read her stenciled name over her breast pocket. “Nurse Kiss, right?” 

She liked his countenance, complete with kind eyes and voluminous mouth. She motioned “yes” with a nod. 

“Okay, Kiss, you can call me Oscar.” 

“Thanks, Oscar. Where are you from?” 

He began scraping a griddle. Sweat dripped from the fleshy skin around his neck. “Philly. Port Richmond. Salmon Street.” He wiped his forehead with his arm and set down the metal spatula. He looked at Barbara and informed, “The men in my family are butchers and stuffers.”

“Stuffers?”

“I learned how to stuff sausages from my grandfather and make perogies from my babka.” 

Barbara sipped from the tin cup. The hot water nourished her parched throat.  

“The Wozniak Meat Shop. Ever hear of it? ” 

“Can’t say that I have.” She thought of the Jewish women back home who spent their lives cooking delicacies for their families and neighbors. While Barbara did not share their devotion to the kitchen, she happily devoured their tokens of love. “I like potato and onion knishes.”

“You Jewish?” 

She reached for the Star of David hanging around her neck and waved it. 

Oscar smiled. “If I ever see potatoes again, I’ll make you a batch.”

Barbara raised her mug to him in salute and returned to the nurses’ table. Her place disappeared, so she sat next to Patty Parr who swore at her transistor radio to work. Her curly black hair was short. Her eyes were fierce like the pinpoint of a gun barrel. She twisted the frequency knob until she found a signal broadcasting from San Francisco. She turned up the volume knob. It was the voice of President Roosevelt reassuring the Pacific fleet. “Have no fear, the skies will be black with planes over your heads.” The table listened to a commercial jingle for Milk of Magnesia. An announcer in a clipped voice returned. “And now for the week in review.”  

Laura rubbed her neck and yawned. “What day is it?’

Patty shouted, “January 17.”

Announcer: “Today, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9024 thus creating the War Production Board. Gather your bronze, brass, and copper for our men at war, folks. It’s a full-scale civilian effort issued by the president.” 

President Roosevelt’s melodious voice addressed the nation in between static interruptions. “. . . time to revamp our industries to produce items for the war effort. We need planes. Tanks. Munitions. Furthermore, I’m asking all women and children to participate in the fight for freedom on the homefront. Sew parachutes. Recycle precious materials by orchestrating drives. Use your ration cards wisely.” 

The announcer interrupted Roosevelt. “Important commodities needed are plastics, gasoline, heating oil, rubber, and paper. Let’s do our part, America!” The sound of canned clapping and whistles crackled over the airwaves. 

Barbara could imagine him with slicked-back hair hugging the microphone in a closet of a radio house. “After the following announcements from the good friends at General Foods, stay with us at KGMZ for another episode of the newly married couple, “Claudia and David.” 

Lt. Nesbit took out her notepad. She signaled Parr to silence the radio. The head nurse pushed her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “I found a pilot who is willing to smuggle in necessities.” Her voice was high and clear. “I’m making a list, so shout out your requests. No promises.”

The nurses drummed the table. They went around the table taking turns.  

“Lt., I need socks.”

“Yes, and tampons.” 

“Mascara.”

Patty Parr chided, “What’ da ya need mascara for Carol? You’re gonna sweet talk a monkey?” 

The other nurses giggled. Unperturbed, Carol Fitzgerald smoothed her russet waves. “I just met Larry last week at the No. 1. He says he’s gonna hitch a ride over here as soon as he can get away.”

Laura Wolf touched her blonde ponytail. “I left my hairbrush back at Hospital No. 1.” 

“My toothbrush has gone AWOL.” 

Barbara said, “Books. Let the pilot surprise me.”   

Lt. Nesbit told them, “Our mail will be delivered soon. My goal is to establish communication and get supplies and . . .” 

“Cards! A new deck of cards,” Patty Parr blurted. “And shampoo. I hate washing my hair with bar soap.”

Cleopatra Dulay said, “A pair of size four shoes.” 

Lt. Nesbit lifted her hands up in defeat. She raised her voice over their cries. “The pilot I heard from. She’s a civilian who flies for the Red Cross. She’s agreed to deliver the mail and meet our supply requests within reason. Next time she flies into Manila Air Field, she’ll see what she can do for us.” 

Barbara looked around at the jubilant faces. It was easy to ignore stiffness and fatigue when someone promised to deliver toiletries and a letter from home. Nesbit stood up. “Ok, time to turn in. Your barracks are ready.” 

With a long stride, she crossed the compound, and the nurses followed her. Along the way, a patient reached out and waved to Barbara. He pointed to his poorly wrapped arm. “This arm is slashed. Can you look at it? It seems juicy to me.” 

Barbara grabbed a medical bag and squatted down next to him to change his bloody bandage. He reminded Barbara of the neighborhood newspaper boy who had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah before she enlisted. Such smooth skin. “How are you feeling? Where are you from?”

“San Francisco.”

“Ah, in that case,” Barbara gently removed the wrapping from his deltoid and blinked at the infected laceration. She closed her eyes and recited:  

The air is chill, and the day grows late,

And the clouds come in through the Golden Gate:

Phantom fleets they seem to me,

From a shoreless and unsounded sea;

Their shadowy spars and misty sails,

Unshattered, have weathered a thousand gales:

Slow wheeling, lo! in squadrons gray,

They part, and hasten along the bay . . .

Barbara chuckled. “There’s more, but, you get the idea.” It was a lifetime ago since she won first place reciting Edward Pollock’s poem in school.  

He wiggled in his cot. “Wow. That was nice. I’ve heard of it, I think.” 

Barbara sprinkled sulfa powder over the slash as she chatted. “It’s called, “Golden Gate.” She swatted away the flies that instantly appeared. “What happened?”

“I got in between a radiator and a palm tree. I was waiting for the convoy, minding my own business, when a supply truck turned a corner too fast. It bumped me into a palm tree. Sliced me up like butter.”

Barbara finished wrapping the wound with gauze strips. She stood and hailed the civilian doctor walking nearby to ask if she could administer a penicillin shot. He nodded.  

“Roll to your side, San Francisco.” She poked his rump with the needle.  

Laura waved to Barbara. “Babs, hurry up.” 

San Francisco closed his eyes, and she covered him with a sheet.  

Barbara rubbed her aching shoulders and walked to the partitioned section where Laura disappeared. Inside the room hung hammocks attached to Acadia trunks and thick vines. Young palm trees provided natural privacy for a row of crammed bamboo cots. Barbara was the last of the nurses to claim her cot. She was in the middle of the room with little privacy, close to the flap that functioned as a door, and her bed was next to Patty Parr. Barbara frowned but said nothing. Eight Army and four Filipino nurses shared the room. Many were already asleep.   

Barbara collapsed on her cot and covered herself with a mosquito net. It made her feel like she was a corpse. Into her head entered the vision of Emily Dickinson. Barbara mumbled a few lines as she nodded off:

Because I could not stop for Death– 

He kindly stopped for me–

The Carriage held but just Ourselves–

And Immortality. 

Patty rolled away from her. “Damn it, Kiss. Either recite a happy poem or forget about it altogether. It’s creepy you saying poetry all the time.” Barbara only heard mumbling. With closed eyes, she stretched out her arm and brushed the net with her fingernails, and murmured:   

He passed Us–

The Dews drew quivering and Chill–

For only gossamer, my Gown–

My Tippet–only Tulle–. 

Lt. Nesbit entered the sleeping area for a final look. Carol Fitzgerald was bold enough to break rank, her hair loose around her neck. “Thanks, Josie, for the privacy.” 

Patty Parr yawned loudly, “Where’ ya sleeping, Lt.?” 

“I’m right next to you. See, just over there, by the pup tent? Within hollering range. Night, ladies.” 

********************************************

Part 2 in a week or so. Thank you for taking the time to read.