While involved in other assignments, an unusual story attracted my attention, once more bringing the fall of the Philippines to the forefront. Having interviewed many of the nurses who were imprisoned in 1942, this is an adventure that had gone almost unnoticed, at least by this writer.
Floramund Anna Fellmeth, born in Chicago, became an Army nurse in 1936, after graduating from an advanced surgery program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Assigned at first to Fort Warren, Wyoming, she was anxious to see the world, and in 1940 volunteered to serve in the Philippine Islands. She spent 14 months on Corregidor as the surgery nurse, then transferred to Fort McKinley near Manila. Meanwhile, the families of most military personnel in the area were being sent back to the States, as the Japanese threat was building in the Far East.
War became a reality December 8, 1941, when bombs were dropped on the military bases throughout the islands. Anna and the other nurses cared for the wounded while eventually being sent to hospitals in Manila. Patients were evacuated to Bataan and Corregidor as Japanese troops advanced toward Manila. December 26, General MacArthur withdrew his troops to Bataan along with the medical personnel, but Anna was asked to remain behind.
In her own book, An Angel’s Illustrated Journal, Anna writes,” General MacArthur, under the auspices of the Red Cross, wanted to evacuate as many patients as possible aboard an inter-island coconut husk steamer called the Mactan. He said one Army surgeon and one Army nurse would accompany the wounded soldiers and oversee ten Philippine Islands Red Cross nurses as well as a half dozen Filipino doctors.”
The Mactan was readied for the trip, which was planned to take 300 wounded to Australia, and sailed out of Manila Harbor the evening of Dec. 31, 1941.
Described in her book as a decrepit ship, inter-island rusty steamer, nearly everyone doubted her seaworthiness in stormy ocean waters. The twenty-seven day adventure saw the ship fight through storms, wind, and fire, with patients filling every available space, including on deck. Supervising ten Filipino Red Cross nurses, Anna tells of being the only one who kept track of the medication and administered the meds to the patients day and night.
This is an exciting story of WWII. After reading Fellmeth’s book I found references to it in another and that a book was written about the trip in 1979. But this book, by the one Army nurse to survive this trip, and who avoided being captured by the Japanese, should be read. None of the difficulties and sadness is left out, and the ending is heartwarming, as Anna remains in Australia after they landed, to serve as Chief Nurse for the incoming Army nurses who followed.
The following books are available through Interlibrary Loan at local and university, and through Amazon.com, as well as other used book sources.
An Angel’s Illustrated Journal by Floramund Fellmeth Difford
Mactan: Ship of Destiny by William L. Noyer
At His Side by George Korson