The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Spades is my suit for Indiana-related short non-fiction works.
The Selection: Eleanor Garen from the book “Profiles in Survival” a collection of stories of Indiana POWs who served in the Philippines in World War II.
The Author: John C. Shively (pictured at left from his amazon.com author page at Utah Beach) is a practicing physician who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is also the author of The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima, published by Indiana University Press.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
Profiles in Survival – Eleanor Garen
“Garen was too busy to be frightened about what might happen when the Japanese arrived. She was ordered to burn her paper money. She still had a little camera with her. Since she did not want the Japanese to have it, she irreparably scratched the lens. After the war she wanted to make it very clear that it was not her idea to give up. She told a friend, ‘I wasn’t defeated, I was captured. I didn’t surrender – others surrendered me!'”
I found this book while on a huge pre-2016 Deal Me In buying spree at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington (an Indianapolis eastside neighborhood). I was scrambling to find suitable “short” non-fiction material to include in my annual challenge. When I found this book I thought it would be great to read a couple of the people’s stories it contained. Though a bit longer than most of my short story reading, I’m glad I made the decision to buy it. My knowledge base of WWII history that occurred in the Pacific Theater – and especially in the Philippines – is shamefully light and this book helped me learn where Bataan and Corregidor actually were (other than just “in the Philippines”). This book also makes a nice partner to some of the work by Ernie Pyle that I’ve read earlier in this year’s Deal Me In.
Garen’s story was the only one of a woman included in the book, so that – and admittedly because it was one of the shorter ones – helped secure its place in my 2016 roster. I learned also that Garen hailed from South Bend, Indiana, where one side of my family is from. As I read I wondered if she ever encountered any of my family in South Bend. My grandpa, for example, worked for a time as a grocer, and I wonder if a young – or adult – Eleanor Garen ever may have handed him a few dollars across the counter to make a purchase. That’s one great thing about “reading locally” – you can sometimes amuse yourself with such speculations… Garen is pictured on the far right in the picture below, from the book, as you can see. 🙂
This was a longer story – about 45 pages – but it held my attention so well I read it straight through without a break, and I am a slow reader. I liked Garen right away – an otherwise ‘ordinary’ person faced with extraordinary circumstances. A patriot. One who was quietly fearless and devoted her career to helping others as a member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. With the little background knowledge I have of this part of the war coming mostly from movies and television, I feared the worst when starting the story of a female P.O.W., but thankfully, she and the other nurses in her group were never subjected to the depravities I feared might be their fate at the hands of the Japanese.
Her Japanese captors, though, rarely missed a beat when it came to looting the nurses of their belongings:
“Most of this looting took place in broad daylight, but Garen was accosted one night while she slept. She was asleep on her cot when she became aware of a presence. Someone was at her side and she quickly realized it was a Japanese soldier. She was petrified, but remained perfectly still as he took her ring and removed her watch. Other than this petty theft, the Japanese soldier did not molest her. Of the things stolen from her, she missed he watch the most. With it she had counted the pulse of many of her patients.”
That last sentence typified the type of character Garen had. It was all about the welfare of others and rarely about herself, even when late in captivity conditions and food supplies ran scarce, resulting in malnutrition and, in some cases, starvation.
I was on the edge of my seat reading the final dozen pages of her story, as the tide of the war was turning against the Japanese, though they often knew little of it, only garnering what news they could on a ‘contraband’ radio they hid well enough to avoid frequent searches for it by the Japanese. The fear that their captors would summarily execute the prisoners if their liberation became imminent was also a very real one, and had happened elsewhere. At one point, they searched her foot locker as part of their efforts to find the suspected radio:
“One night a Japanese soldier demanded she open her foot locker. She had an American flag inside, but when she pulled it out she told him it was a dress. By the way she held it over herself, he did not recognize it as a flag and, not finding the radio he was looking for, moved on.”
Way to go Eleanor! 🙂 I considered her story to be one of probably countless others experienced by the more ‘quiet heroes’ of World War II. Though I’ve only assigned two of the stories in this book to my Deal Me In project, I know I will read the others as well.