Angels of Bataan and Corregidor
The following is from The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 568-569 (Article #781 "Evelyn Barbara Whitlow" by Jeannine D. Whitlow):
Evelyn was born April 17, 1916, the daughter of Robert Norwood Whitlow and Ruth Carolina Stephens Whitlow. She was educated in the Caswell County schools and was trained as a Registered Nurse at Memorial Hospital in Danville, Virginia.She died 3 June 1994 in Los Angeles, California.
She joined the Army Nurse Corps May 1940 at Ft. Bragg, N.C. She was sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, and later to Ft. Benning, Georgia for training. In November of 1941 she sailed on the USS Coolidge and landed in Manila, Philippine Islands, where she served first at Sternberg General Hospital.
World War II began with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands and the attack on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines December 7, 1941. On Christmas Day 1941, Evelyn was shipped out to a hospital on Lamay, an island off Batan. Manila was declared an open city by General Douglas MacArthur on December 26, 1941, after his forces had cleared Manila on their withdrawal to Bataan and Corregidor.
As the Japanese came closer, everyone had to be evacuated, and they went on to what was called Hospital No. 1 where barracks had been prepared for them. Later she was transferred to Hospital No. 2 where nurses were desperately needed. There were no rooms -- only cost awaiting the wounded. The area, deep in the bamboo forest, was very primitive and had no sanitary facilities. Evelyn contracted malaria and was shipped to Corregidor where she remained three weeks in the hospital inside Malinta Tunnel.
About one-hundred Army and Navy nurses staffed General MacArthur's Corregidor headquarters inside Malinta Tunnel, but twenty-one were evacuated before General Jonathan Wainwright was forced to surrender to superior Japanese forces May 6, 1942. Eleven of the nurses escaped in a submarine, and twenty were flown out on an amphibious Convair PBY. Evelyn was one of the last nurses to leave the island before the surrender, but the PBY transporting her and nine other nurses crashed on Mindanao. Inside, water was waist deep before they all got out. They were taken prisoner along with the nurses from Corregidor and sent to Santo Tomas University, which had been turned into an internment camp in Manila.
Santo Tomas had about four thousand civilian prisoners. Each had a measured space of forty-six inches for a bed and personal belongings. For the first two years of imprisonment they had some contact with the outside world through native Filipinos, who were allowed to come to the camp to sell fruits and vegetables to those who had money to buy them. Later these Filipinos were not even allowed to come to the camp to give food to the internees. The Army Nurses interned at Santo Tomas served as camp nurses who took care of civilians interned there.
The drug supply was scarce, and many people died of malnutrition. They were fed two meals a day consisting mostly of rice from which they picked out bugs and other foreign objects. They had some seeds and occasionally water buffalo to eat. Those who were able tended little garden plots on the grounds and supplemented their diet in this way. They were given an ounce of salt a month, which some of them crushed and used to brush their teeth.
Evelyn was reported missing in action May 1942, and it was not until December 1944 that her parents received word that she was still alive.
In describing their liberation by United States armed forces and the events leading up to it, Evelyn said, 'One plane came over the camp and somebody said they dropped a message saying: 'Roll out the barrel, we'll be here tonight.' That night they came. We heard a big noise that night, but for three days we had been hearing the sound of buildings being blown up all over town, and there had been so much of it we couldn't tell what was really happening. Bombardment by our own forces and the Japanese was almost continuous from September 21 until February 3. About 8:30 that night we really began to hear noises. Shrapnel from the Japanese was falling like rain around us. Lights were thrown up that could be seen everywhere. In spite of the shrapnel, we broke over the ropes that had been put up to hold us back, and rushed for the doors. We saw two tanks coming. Someone yelled that they were Japanese and to watch out, but we soon saw they were Americans.
"Everybody was yelling, crying and shouting. We could smell that good American gasoline. We were soon out patting the tanks. They were the most beautiful things we had ever seen."
During their liberation, Evelyn received a small shrapnel wound in the shoulder, but after nearly three years of imprisonment, it seemed of little consequence to her.
The nurses who were taken prisoner were called "The Angels of Bataan and Corregidor." Newspapers carried many stories and pictures of these nurses. From the time they landed in California, newspaper articles reported their progress as they journeyed across the country to be reunited with their families. Upon arriving at home, they were bombarded with requests for speaking engagements. Evelyn accepted many of these requests, one of which was before the N.C. General Assembly at John O. Gunn's invitation. years later he told this writer that Eleanor Roosevelt had been there just before Evelyn was, but Evelyn received a standing ovation and a warmer welcome from the group.
Evelyn left the Army Nurse Corps as a 1st Lieutenant. On January 2, 1946, she married Milton Greenfield, who she had met at Santo Tomas. He was an American civilian engaged in manufacturing in the Philippines when the war began. They were at Las Vegas celebrating their twenty-third wedding anniversary when he died in 1969 following Hong King 'flu and a heart attack. They had no children.
Evelyn has returned to the Philippines many times since her prisoner-of-war days and lived there part of the time with her husband, Milton. Her most recent visit, which she said would be her last, was in April 1980 when she and twenty-five other nurses gathered to take part in a ceremony honoring the "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor." A memorial inscribed with the names of all the nurses who served was placed at the Shrine of Valor at the foot of Mount Samat on the island of Bataan. Two of Evelyn's sisters accompanied her on this trip.
Eight-one women were captured by the Japances in their World War II takeover of the Philippines, becoming the only American women military members ever to be listed as POWs. Of the sixty members of that group still living, thirty-four attended a reunion in Washington, D.C., when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed April 9, 1983, as POW-MIA Day. Evelyn was among those in attendance.
Evelyn Barbara Whitlow Greenfield now lives in a retirement village in Camarillo, California.