In October 1944, Frances Slanger, a Jewish immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island at age 7 from Poland, couldn’t sleep as shells thudded beyond her 45th Field Hospital tent near the Belgium-German border. So, by flashlight, she wrote a letter honoring the American G.I., guys who, to her, weren’t just numbers on a dog tag. “They were somebody’s brother, somebody’s father, somebody’s son,” she wrote. And were “brought in bloody, dirty, with the earth, mud, and grime, and most of them so tired.”
She sent the letter to Stars & Stripes newspaper the next morning. But that night, the Germans inexplicably shelled the field hospital. Three people were killed, among them Slanger. The newspaper, not knowing she was dead, were so moved by her letter that they published it. It melted the hearts of thousands of GIs, who’s been fighting daily in the four months since the Normandy landings. A week later, when the paper reporter she’d been killed, it broke their hearts. And they insisted, through letters to the paper, that something must be done to remember this heroic woman.
Months later, the finest hospital ship in the fleet was named in her her honor.
After Welch told this story in a December 2000 column in The Register-Guard, he got an amazing phone call. It was from an 82-year-old woman who’d served with Slanger, and whose husband had been a doctor in Frances’s very platoon. He had watched her die.
That led Welch on a four-year journey to tell Slanger’s story in American Nightingale, which was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America and chosen as an Oregon Book Award finalist. $15.00