Profiles of American Service: 2nd Lt. Frances Slanger
May 5, 2009 -
Written by Janet Holsinger, History Associates Incorporated
“For you we have the greatest admiration and respect.”
In 1920, 7-year-old Frances Slanger escaped from increased Jewish persecution in Lodz, Poland, and arrived in Boston. The daughter of a fruit peddler, Slanger dreamed of becoming a writer, and as she grew older, her aspirations expanded to include nursing. “I want to serve they who are less fortunate than I,” she wrote in letter to the Boston City Hospital School of Nursing, where she enrolled in 1934. Often reprimanded for being too caring and compassionate towards her patients, Slanger graduated from nursing school three years later. After World War II started, Slanger joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1943. Originally limited to stateside service because of her poor vision, Slanger pleaded with the Army to allow her to serve in France alongside the front line soldiers. Desperate for nurses in Europe, the Army granted her wish to serve overseas.
Frances Slanger was among the first nurses to arrive on French soil following D-Day when she landed with the 45th Field Hospital Unit at Normandy on June 10, 1944. As they traveled across France and into Belgium, Slanger’s unit treated the most severely wounded soldiers who would likely die without immediate surgery. Working tirelessly, Slanger exhibited the same compassion for these GIs as she had in nursing school.
By October, the 45th Field Hospital Unit was stationed in Elsenborn, Belgium, where it tended soldiers from the Battle of Aachen. The night of October 19, Slanger couldn’t sleep. She and her tent mates had been discussing the heroism of the men who put their lives on the line every day, and she felt the need to set her thoughts to paper. The next day, she sent her letter to the Stars and Stripes editors, which ran in the November 7 edition.
Frances Slanger did not live to see her letter published. On October 21, just after the Allies wrested control of Aachen away from the Germans, the field hospital came under attack. Hit by artillery shrapnel, Slanger died shortly after. Unaware of her death, Stars and Stripes published her words which still resonate today:
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. But you, the men behind the guns, the men driving our tanks, flying our planes, sailing our ships, building bridges and to the men who pave the way and to the men who are left behind – it is to you we doff our helmets. To every GI wearing the American uniform, for you we have the greatest admiration and respect.
Yes, this time we are handing out the bouquets…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. Seeing them gradually brought back to life, to consciousness and to see their lips separate into a grin when they first welcome you. Usually they kid, hurt as they are. It doesn’t amaze us to hear one of them say, “How’ya, babe,” or “Holy Mackerel, an American woman!” or most indiscreetly, “How about a kiss?”
These soldiers stay with us but a short time, from 10 days to possibly two weeks. We have learned a great deal about our American soldier, and the stuff he is made of. The wounded do not cry. Their buddies come first. The patience and determination they show, the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold. It is we who are proud to be here. Rough it? No. It is a privilege to be able to receive you, and a great distinction to see you open your eyes and with that swell American grin, say, “Hi-ya babe!’
Three days after being killed, Slanger was buried at the US Military Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, and the November 22, 1944, issue of the Stars and Stripes reported Slanger’s death as the “1st ETO Nurse Killed in Action.” In 1947, her mother requested that her body be brought back home to Roxbury, Massachusetts.
On Memorial Day, 1945, three weeks after V-E day, the US Ambassador to Belgium spoke about Frances Slanger at the Henri-Chapelle cemetery. “Her courage, her strength, her endurance, and her unfailing hope are the essence of the things which have given us this victory and which we believe will never die.”
The National Museum of Americans in Wartime honors the service of Frances Slanger, and all other Americans who have served the cause of freedom.