Frances Slanger – 1st ETO Nurse Killed in Action From Stars and Stripes

By Arthur W. White

Stars and Stripes Staff Writer.

Just over a month ago, Frances Slanger, a nurse in a U.S. Army Field Hospital, wrote a letter to every wounded American soldier on the Continent. She sent it to The Stars and Stripes and it was printed in this space Nov. 7.



frances slanger

Frances Slanger was killed on October 21, 1944. An hour after she finished writing her letter

In it she thanked the wounded for the privilege of easing their pain and sharing some of their hardships. She said she was proud to be there as they were brought in “bloody, dirty with the earth and grime, and most of them so tired.”

Killed by Nazi Shell

“For a change,” she wrote, “we want the men to know what we think of them.” She was the first American nurse to die in action in the ETO. Two other nurses with her, Elizabeth Powers and Margaret Bowler, were wounded. Maj. Herman Lord of Detroit, the platoon’s commanding officer, and Pvt. Vincent Rivas, of Socorro, N.M., were killed nearby.

When the shelling began Frances Slanger and her friends put their helmets on and huddled together, waiting for a chance to run for shelter. The third shell fell in the middle of the hospital area, and fragments ripped through the tent, hitting the girls as they kneeled with their arms around each other. The shelling lasted 45 minutes.

Her friends said that Frances Slanger knew she was dying, but uttered no word of complaint. Her chief concern was of the grief her death would bring to her family in Boston.



Short and brunette, she was one of the first nurses to land in France, wading ashore with the hospital platoon on D-4. She was up to her neck in water and hung on to the belts of the men to keep from losing balance and going in over her head. From then on Frances Slanger lived to serve the fighting-men, always only a few miles ahead. She sent her letter because she had to let them know how she felt.

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Francis Slanger in uniform

Wrote by Flashlight

“I’m writing this by flashlight. The GIs say we rough it, but we in our little tent can’t see it. We wade ankle deep in mud. You have to lie in it. We are restricted to our immediate area, a cow pasture or hay field, but then, who is not restricted? We have a stove and coal. We even have a laundry line in the tent. Our GI drawers are at this moment doing the dance of the pants, what with the wind howling, the tent waving precariously, the rain beating down, the guns firing…”

“Sure we rough it. But you, the men behind the guns, driving our tanks, flying our planes, sailing our ships, building bridges and the men who pave the way and the men who were left behind—it is to you we doff our helmets…”

Frances Slanger is buried in a military cemetery, flanked on either side by the fighting men she served.



The Original Letter from Frances Slanger:

“It is 0200 and I have been lying awake for one hour, listening to the steady, even breathing of the other three nurses in the tent. Thinking about some of the things we had discussed during the day. The rain is beating down on the tent with a torrential force. The wind is on a mad rampage and its main objective seems to be to lift the tent off its poles and fling it about our heads.

The fire is burning low and just a few live coals are on the bottom. With the slow feeding of wood and finally coal, a roaring fire is started. I couldn’t help thinking how similar to a human being a fire is; if it is allowed to run down too low and if there is a spark of life left in it, it can be nursed back…So can a human being. It is slow, it is gradual, it is done all the time in these Field Hospitals and other hospitals in the ETO.



We had read several articles in different magazines and papers sent in by grateful GIs, praising the work the nurses around the combat areas. Praising us–for what? I climbed back into my cot. Lt. Bowler was the only one I had awakened. I whispered to her. Lt. Cox and Lt. Powers slept on. Fine nurses and great girls to live with…of course, like in all families, an occasional quarrel, but these were quickly forgotten.

I’m writing this by flashlight. In this light it looks something like a “dive”. In the center of the tent are two poles, one part chimney, the other a plain tent pole. Kindling wood lies in disorderly confusion the ground.. We don’t have a tarp on the ground. A French wine pitcher, filled with water stands by. The GIs say we rough it. We in our little tent can’t see it. True, we are set up in tents, sleep on cots and are subject to the temperament of the weather.



We wade ankle deep in mud. You have to lie in it. We are restricted to our immediate area, a cow pasture or hay field, but then, who is not restricted? We have a stove and coal. We even have a laundry line in the tent. Our GI drawers are at this moment doing the dance of the pants, what with the wind howling, the tent waving precariously, the rain beating down, the guns firing and me with a flashlight writing. It all adds up to a feeling of unrealness.

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, ‘Hi ‘ya, Babe’ or ‘Holy Mackerel, an American woman!’ or most indiscreetly, ‘How about a kiss?’

These soldiers stay with us but for 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!”



For More on Frances Slanger Check out:

American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy



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2 thoughts on “Frances Slanger – 1st ETO Nurse Killed in Action

  • Very touching post. Stepping up to do your duty in the face of grave danger makes this remarkable woman a hero in my eyes. Semper Fi, and Rest-In-Peace, Ma’am.

  • Bill Getz says:

    By coincidence we are honoring military nurses tomorrow at a special dinner in our retirement community where we live, including nurses from WWII. I will bring this article to their attention.

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