Graceann's Reviews > American Nightingale

American Nightingale by Bob Welch
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's review
Nov 21, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: history
Recommended for: Everyone
Read from August 13 to 17, 2011

Frances Slanger is probably not well remembered today, as those who were most directly affected by her services and sacrifice are leaving us at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. She was an Army Nurse, the first American nurse to die in combat in the European Theatre of Operations.

The day before Slanger's death, she wrote and mailed a letter, printed in Stars and Stripes, expressing the gratitude she felt to the soldiers. Many were moved at the time, and more were shocked by her death when they heard of it.

Frances Slanger was one face among many who served and suffered. She was an imperfect person, just as every person is, but a thoughtful one. A particularly moving story in the book concerns one of her fellow officers, his pain over a difficult case, and a fresh egg. She wanted to be a writer and was "always scribbling," as those who were trained and served with her noted. Her poetry was heartfelt but generally awful, it must be said, but her prose, what can be found of it, carries with it all the internal struggle that she clearly carried as a woman fighting the expectations of her family back home and the calling she felt to serve. An added and no-less-important layer to the story is the anti-Semitism she faced and the fact that she was serving in a theatre of operations where her family members were being annihiliated (only one of her relatives still living in Europe at the time of WWII survived the Holocaust).

All of that struggle, all of that pain, all of that determination comes through in that final letter. In plain, simple, exquisite language, she takes eight paragraphs to describe what the life of a nurse is like, and why the life of a GI is so much harder. She, in essence, says "thank you."

Bob Welch uses the opportunity of this book to tell us how she got to this point, where every step was a battle of its own, and to tell us what was going on at various points in other parts of Europe. The layout of the story and how it all makes a difference is skillful writing on Mr. Welch's part. He was also able to interview many of the people who knew and served with Frances Slanger (some of them only just in time), and his research is impeccable. Don't skip the notes at the end explaining how he came to find some of his information.

American Nightingale boils down to one simple question that I will ask myself often. It asks us to consider what we did today that will leave this world a better place. As the quote found in Frances Slanger's "chapbook" reminds us, every pebble leaves a ripple. It was an honor to learn about the ripple left by Frances Slanger.
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