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11 Home at Last All months are special-but March 3, 1945, more so to me. Being back in my beloved Georgia, all feeling safe with Daddy and Mother, after a nightmare ofthreats, horrible experiences and such needless starvation, brutal killings, needless suffering, being forced to look on as they tortured the native Filipino work animal, the carabaos. I don't hate anyone, but in my heart, I will never forget. Lt. Frances L. Nash, ANC The world had changed in many ways during the more than thirtyseven months the nurses had spent in a war zone and as prisoners of war of the Japanese. They learned how close they had come to being killed by their captors. The liberation ofSanto Tomas seemed even more miraculous when the nurses learned that the Japanese had planned to kill all the inhabitants of the camp. General MacArthur's orders to the First Cavalry and the Forty-fourth Tank Division to fight their way straight to Santo Tomas more than likely saved the lives ofthe POWs. Lt. Minnie Breese commented on their narrow escape: "They had gasoline tanks underneath the main stairway , and they were going to burn us all to death. That's the reason they locked us in there, but they didn't get around to it. They [Americans] came in too quick. They didn't get around to lighting the fire."l The towns and cities they had left when they went to the peace- Home at Last 171 time Philippines had been changed radically by the world war that had overtaken them far from home, surrounded them with the Battles of Bataan and Corregidor, seen them held by the Japanese as prisoners ofwar, engulfed them in the Japanese shelling ofSanto Tomas, and finally saw them make their way home through wartorn skies. Thousands were busy at work in defense plants, thousands more on armed forces military installations around the country. The nurses had returned home, but home had changed forever . Many found that relatives they had left behind were no longer waiting for their return. Some brothers and sisters were serving their country in foreign theaters of war. Some parents were no longer living, and many had lost friends on battlefields. Lt. Helen Cassiani was heartbroken when she returned to the reality of her mother's death and faced new feelings connected to her imprisonment . She had joined the Army Nurse Corps a naive twenty-fouryear -old and returned four years later, fifty-nine pounds lighter and considerably more mature and with her priorities reordered. "I believe that bad things as well as good things help to mold whatever you become, so I never was bitter about the experience. The only thing I was ever bitter about was the fact that more information , more definite information couldn't have been available to our families. I had left a sick mother. My father had been dead many years. I think the only notice they [she] had was a postcard-type notice from the War Department. 'Your daughter stationed in the Philippines is missing in action.' For almost a year and a half, that's all they knew.... The next communication was, 'Your daughter is a prisoner of war of the Japanese and she is imprisoned in Santo Tomas.' They did say what prison camp I was in and for any further information to contact the Red Cross," Cassiani said. "My mother died, had another heart attack, three days before my liberation . So if I'm sad, and bitter about anything, I feel that my experience and the treatment of that experience [lack of communication with families] very likely contributed to another heart attack , and her death. The fact that my mother died three days before my liberation. This hurt me, you know, very much. So much that, 172 All This Hell yes, indeed for quite a few years, I would have one dream, a recurring dream. Not every night, you understand. But, when I would have it, it was always exactly the same, and it had to do with my mother ... I could see my mother in the dream, but she gave no sign that she recognized me. It was very hard."2 A few learned of a parent's death while they were still in Santo Tomas, but the knowledge came to them long after the fact, and they had to deal with the reality when they returned. Lieutenant Brantley put it thus: "It's strange to learn that...


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